By Drew Baumgartner and Ryan Mogge
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Drew: If there’s a sci-fi equivalent to “boy meets girl…” it might reasonably be “alien race comes in peace, humans react badly.” Where it goes from there depends a great deal on what type of story is being told, but the premise of an earnestly peaceful alien race forced to defend itself against panicky earthlings is full of the kind of themes sci-fi writers love, vilifying the xenophobia and shortsightedness that hold humanity back. Indeed, the human attack on the aliens is so despicable, storytellers have to go out of their way to make the aliens seem somehow suspicious — perhaps they look scary or seem to be keeping some kind of secret from us. That is, while we may come to sympathize with the aliens, there’s often some ambiguity to their intentions. This is decidedly not the case for the Triceratons in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 76, whose intentions are clear to everyone — especially the reader — from the moment they arrive on Earth. It sets them up as the unequivocal good guys, allowing Agent Bishop to really cut loose as the issue’s villain.
Actually, humanity more generally deserves a bit of the blame. While I can’t really fault the citizens of New York for fleeing the monsters walking down their street, it’s hard not to feel a little bad for the poor Triceratons.
As far as they’re concerned, their entire race are POWs, returning home after aeons of enslavement. Moreover, because of their familiarity with the Turtles, they assumed humans would be cool with the whole giant talking reptile thing. But to humans, they’re literal monsters.
In other stories, we might expect a level-headed agency, hoping to avert interplanetary (or interdimensional, as the case may be) war, but instead, we have Agent Bishop and the Earth Protection Force, who seem to have no compunctions about drawing us into armed conflict with a species that is clearly more technologically advanced. It feels profoundly myopic, particularly in light of Commander Zom’s explanation of their motives — why antagonize the Triceratons when they seem to bear us no ill will and could easily destroy us if they wanted to?
In that light “villain” might be charitable — Bishop’s actions seem downright idiotic. Of course, once the repatriation efforts turn hostile, there’s little hope of mending fences — at least, not until everyone cools down a bit. The turtles head out to do exactly that, but are beaten to the punch by the Foot Clan, who bring Zom to heel after she vows to destroy New York City.
Their arrival caught me off guard, though it makes sense that this kind of thing would attract their attention. It also puts Splinter on a collision course with the Turtles, who we last see on their way to TCRI to get some high-tech equipment for stopping the firefight. The Foot seem to have gotten that under control, though I’m almost certain Splinter’s plan for the Triceratons will conflict with the Turtles’. Splinter’s sense of honor may allow him to approach the scene more diplomatically than the EPF, but I’m not sure his attitudes on protectionism ultimately differ that much from theirs. Perhaps his tactical prowess will save him from making the same mistakes, but things don’t exactly seem to be getting off on the right foot.
That’s a lot of conjecture, but as ever, this series has me most excited for what comes next. The turtles get relatively little page space in this issue, but I’m so interested in the motives of all of the other players that it’s hardly a flaw. I do suspect that their arrival to the scene will open up a ton of new dimensions for this arc, but there I go conjecturing again. Ryan, I’m obviously happy to hear your thoughts on what might come next, but I’m also curious to know how you felt about this issue.
Ryan M: In terms of the the future, I also see the impending conflict between Splinter and the Turtles and look forward to whatever angst and emotional fallout result. There is also the potential for a confrontation between the Triceratrons and their former masters the Utroms. The mention of the small group of Utroms on a monitored island worked as Agent Baxter’s attempt to express empathy but seems too “Bond Villain Over-Exposits” to be without potential for the future.
This issue did a great job at setting the table for a new arc while also maintaining a compelling story by grounding it with a sympathetic character. Zom is our point-of-view character, and we are given enough of her story to empathize with her. We can see that she’s earned the support and loyalty of her crew and her interactions with Bishop only reinforce her honesty and forthrightness. She is not on Earth to start a war, and is horrified to find that she is a cause of distress for the citizens. It’s also worth noting that Zom looks like a monster and exhibits kindness while Bishop physically embodies the perfectly average man in a suit, his actions are that of a prideful small-minded evil man.
The first thing we see of Bishop is his gleaming and perfectly straight teeth. His power is limited to whatever he can inspire others to do rather than any intrinsic ability and his generically slick style communicates that he is not to be trusted. We don’t need to see much more than those teeth and the sunglasses/black suit combo to know that Zom needs to watch herself with him. His inevitable betrayal leaves Zom off-guard but only for a few moments.
This is where Zom evolves into another kind of hero. She has just seen her soldiers killed and she transitions from a warrior looking for refuge in her homeland to a warrior bent on vengeance. While one could argue that the latter is a bit more dangerous and morally gray, it’s exciting to see the rage fill Zom as she turns on Bishop. Zom’s relatively kind persona is what helped carry the reader through the issue, but it’s nearly as fun to watch it get torn away to reveal the fighter underneath.
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