Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 69

Today, Taylor and Patrick are discussing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 69, originally released May 3rd, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Taylor: The issue of the turtles secret lair has always bothered me, even as a kid. The turtles live in the sewers of New York which, in theory, need regular maintenance (queue “crappy” job jokes) yet no one seems to ever stumble upon their lair. Pair this with the many times that the turtles have saved the entire freaking city of Manhattan and it becomes ridiculous to think that no one would have ever tried to find them. Issue 69 of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles puts my bothers to rest as the Turtles and the military finally come to blows. Predictably, this means nothing good for the Turtles and has far-ranging consequences beyond just this single issue.

The Turtles are holed up at Hob’s hideout trying to figure out a way to escape Agent Bishop and the military. They launch a misguided attempt to escape and narrowly get away with the help of Sally and some creative driving. Meanwhile, Mondo Gecko infiltrates a military complex and steals the personnel files of those who hunt the turtles. Instead of helping out our heroes, however, it might just make things worse.

The turtles’ escape is the centerpiece of this issue and it’s full of titillating action that is, as always, wonderfully drawn by Mateus Santolouco. However, if there’s one part of the chase scene I like best, it would be Raphael. As he and Donatello are attempting to escape Hob’s hideout from a side exit, Raph gets hit with some tranquilizer darts. The effect the drugs have on Raph is adorable.

The two above panels happen at different points of the chase scene but are so charming I had to include both here. At top, when the Turtles first pile into Sally’s car Raph is mellow as can be, and ventures to even let out a song. Later, as their escape vehicle plunges off a bridge, Raph is nuzzled up to Michelangelo like content cat. There’s no critical reason I can give for wanting to highlight this aspect of the issue except for the fact that it makes my heart laugh. In a way, this demeanor suits Raph: almost like we’re seeing who he really is when his guard is down.

That guard comes back up later in the issue when the drugs wear-off. As the turtles are discussing their next moves, Donatello urges caution, given their inability to counter the manpower and tech the Agent Bishop has at his disposal. Back to his normal, grumpy self, Raph chimes in with his two cents.

That Raph would have such a strong opinion isn’t anything new. However, it stands in stark contrast to the tranqed-out mellow he had earlier, and Santolouco does a wonderful job of illustrating that point here. He positions Raph in the center of these two panels, with first showing the comments he’s responding to. The second panel, if it could be called that, actually doesn’t have any details in it. Rather it serves as an accent to Raphael in the middle of the page. Santolouco highlights Raph’s mood shift by using this panel as a way to accentuate this sudden turn by almost making it look like Raph is being ripped from the page with messy brush strokes. Things like this are what set Santolouco’s artwork apart.

Even though this is an action heavy issue, it opens with a focus on Agent Bishop interviewing his dad, who worked for the Eisenhower administration. While talking to his Father, Bishop learns that perhaps mutants didn’t arise as recently as we might have thought.

According to Bishop’s dad, Eisenhower was so scared of the mutants that he called them monsters and never wanted to know anything about them ever again. This is a potentially huge wrinkle to the origin story of the ninja turtles. We already know that the utroms were on Earth with their mutagen as early as the feudal period in Japan, but little is known about the role mutants have played in history beyond this factoid. The reveal here that mutants have possibly been used by Earth governments for decades would certainly change the way we conceive of mutants in the history of mankind.

Ultimately, that would mean that mutants aren’t the big secret we thought them to be. Patrick, how do you feel about that potentiality? Also, how do you feel about such a heavy bomb being dropped by characters who have been so ancillary to the TMNT narrative thus far? Also, what praise can you offer Santolouco for his art this time around?

Patrick: I was hoping for a “praise Santolouco” prompt!

My favorite beat in this issue is one that shows just how fucking powerful Slash is, and by extension, just how threatening Bishop is. Santolouco uses every trick in the book to sell Slash’s size, including giving his body an absurd about of page real estate and utilizing lens effects to make it look like Slash’s gravity warps the world around him.

Everything else here is incidental. Note how the rest of the panels are inserts, as if to suggest that “oh yes, our characters are also reacting to what’s going on,” but we know that the only thing that matters is SLASH. Even his leap into the air is presented quickly, a single tall panel that subverts the horizontal expectations set up by the previous two. It’s not until that awesome concrete-ripple panel that another image occupies the same width of the page as that first panel. And that’s such a cool visual. Slash is powerful enough to bend the constructs of man as though they were water — it’s no wonder that Agent Bishop feels as unstoppable as he does.

That actually leads me back to the writing in this issue, which is superb. We tend to praise the character work and the tight and intricate plotting of TMNT, but we’re seldom in the trenches praising the moment-to-moment writing. The plotting here remains great, but issue makes a case for Tom Waltz’ strengths as a scriptwriter. He’s absolutely on-point with the balance between quips and tactical banter during the Turtles “exfiltration.” Every line of dialogue is perfectly motivated by character and circumstance, and you sorta have to marvel at how holistically these five personalities play off of each other.

Santolouco, for his part, mostly gets out of the way, and quietly insists on the persistence of this space. (I mean, he’s still a fucking genius — look at how well that window is established in panels 2, 3 and 5, setting us up for the view from outside the window in the final panel. That, of course, leads us to the next page where Hob is now outside the window, laying down suppressing fire. Even when dialogue rules the page, Santolouco is foreshadowing the action!) I laughed aloud at Raph and Hob’s shared disbelief that Leo thinks he has a point, and absolutely love our heroes taking a second to unpack Leo’s tactical language.

But I think the really valuable writing comes earlier in the issue, during Bishop’s visit with his old man. Taylor’s right to suggest that this is a pretty huge mythological revelation, but it’s also laying the groundwork for some awesome thematic stuff, too. Papa Bishop isn’t just revealing that these monsters have been around for decades, he’s suggesting that better, braver men than his son had made the decision to leave them alone. Pops lays every known military superlative at Eisenhower’s feet — warhorse, war hero, etc. — and even descends into state where he can only pitifully utter “I like Ike.” Eisenhower here represents the measured, experienced response. That applies both to his fear of the military industrial complex (real and namechecked in this issue) or addressing the Mutant Problem (fictional). Eisenhower had the perspective to speak clearly and logically about these things, but that’s a perspective that’s not easy — or, more frighteningly, not possible — to impart to people currently in power.

That makes Agent Bishop the avatar of the new generation’s arrogance. Waltz has military experience of his own, so I’m tempted to read this as a condemnation of the incredibly short memory of the US’s foreign policy, particularly as it relates to waging war. A new generation is raised angry and afraid, and militarism grows, both within the armed forces and within law enforcement. Eisenhower learned his lessons from experience and we, as a country, are actively ignoring those lessons, despite overwhelming evidence that this has a negative impact on our communities. Institutions require institutional memory — that’s what Bishop lacks, and that’s why he’s released a radio controlled sidewalk smashin’ Slash-Drone onto the streets of New York.

There are trimmings of Tom Waltz’ The Last Fall buried in here — with themes about responsibility in the shadow of war. We weren’t totally enamored with the blunt expression of those themes in the first issue, but the miniseries evolves into a much more personal story about loss and allegiance and the psychological cost of militarizing an entire population. I see a lot of that emotional work coming out in Agent Bishop and the EPF. TMNT has long been one of my favorite series for its insights on the characters and their own media history, and I’m thrilled by the implication that the series is equipped to tackle socially and politically relevant ideas as well.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

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