by Taylor Anderson and Patrick Ehlers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Taylor: Sticking the landing is the hardest part of any endeavor. It doesn’t matter if it’s landing a plane, finishing a gymnastics routine, or writing the end to a story: it’s just plain difficult. In all of these examples, sticking the landing is hard because they require one final flourish of skill before the tension in the situation is resolved once and for all. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Ghostbusters II has to stick its landing in this, the final fifth issue. It does so successfully but in a way that is overshadowed by the brilliance that came before it.
There’s nothing so wrong with the ending of this issue as to damn the entire issue. However, I’ll discuss that later because to understand why it underwhelms it’s important to note what happened before the resolution. As the issue opens, the turtles have been granted the fleeting opportunity to visit their mother in the afterlife. It’s a touching scene and the way writers Erick Burnham and Tom Waltz handle it is wonderful.
To each of her sons, Tang Shen gives a compliment and a word of sage advice. This is the cherry on top of a scene full of motherly advice and affection and even the most hard-shelled TMNT can’t help but be moved. Just as in the previous issues of this mini-series, it’s obvious the creators want this issue to actually mean something. They accomplish this by injecting it full of heart and emotion that draws upon 80 odd issues of conflict, love, and brotherhood from the TMNT primary series. It is only because of this excellence that the falling action of this issue is such a let down.
At this point you might be wondering why I’m not thrilled with the ending of this mini-series, but also keep saying it’s OK. To answer that question, let’s take a look at the actual conclusion to the action. The final showdown between the Turtles/Busters and the the ghost of Darius Dunn takes place in Central Park. It involves a surprise attack by our heroes on an unsuspecting Dunn and also some clever tactics. Along the way, the turtles even manage to see the light in Splinter’s decision to execute Dunn which caused all of this trouble in the first place.
The best way to describe how the rest of the scene plays out is “competently.” The turtles and Ghostbusters use some new device to instantly transport Dunn to the Containment Unit in the basement of the Ghostbusters’ headquarters and that’s that. Everything is wrapped up into a neat little package. The problem is that’s just a little too neat. Particularly, the Turtles’ forgiving Splinter for his past sins verges on the realm of being unbelievable. It’s as if, in effort to provide a satisfying ending, the writers abandoned what made this mini-series a success (emotion), and substituted it for generic resolutions.
Even if this final battle doesn’t stick the landing narratively, it does look damn good. Dan Schoening provided solid art throughout this miniseries, and that’s the same case here. My favorite panel of his happens when the Busters and Turtles use their secret weapon to capture Dunn. Cleverly, Schoening shows Dunn being transported with a panel break that doubles as the portal the Ghostbusters use to capture him.
The panel break is so clever that it’s easy to miss. Still, Schoening provides a nice reference point in the red hand of Dunn poking through the portal just as he’s about to be completely sucked into the containment unit. As an added bonus, Schoening includes some familiar ghosts in the background to act as additional reference points to indicate that this is in fact the same Containment Unit housed beneath Ecto-1.
Patrick, how do you think this fifth issue wrapped things up? Were you annoyed by the Ghostbusters insensitivity during the scene where the Turtles met their mom or did you think it was funny? Also, what do you think of Charle Paul Wilson III’s artwork are the first nine pages?
Patrick: Oh, Taylor, I loved Wilson’s art during the Tang Shen scene, but I think I may be most impressed with colorist Luis Antonio Delgado, who is credited with colors throughout the issue. Delgado starts the scene with the pink and purple overtones of dusk in the garden, but alters the light as the scene goes on to actually suggest dusk moving into day. Obviously, that’s not how time works, but the purples turn to peaches right as Shen explains that her garden is an illusion, just as life is also an illusion. Not-so-incidentally, Shen is a connection to Turtles’ shared past, so seeing her in any capacity turns their experience of time on its head. It’s marvelous work from Delgado, truly additive and inspiring.
Of course, this is all especially moving for me, as I’m all-in on TMNT. I think this is generally true of Taylor and the rest of the writers and editors at Retcon Punch — we’re fans of IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. Taylor mentioned the 80ish issues of backstory that’s informing this tearful reunion, but TMNT has seen so many mini-, micro-, and companion-series that the real number’s got to be closer to 150. Either way, it’s a staggering amount of emotional baggage that Burnham and Waltz are willing to unpack here. Doubly staggering when you consider that there are likely to be some readers who reached the final page of issue 4 and didn’t start spontaneously crying at the mere sight of Tang Shen.
Which brings me back around to Taylor’s question about the callous response of the ‘Busters to the Hamato Family Reunion. It’s clinical, it’s supernatural, it’s goofy — in short, it’s quintessentially Ghostbusters. And look, even if we want to say that this moment of emotional honesty is somehow diminished by Ray’s behavior, it looks like Winston agrees with you:
There is a perfectly straight line between this moment and Venkman confronting the Darius Dunn Collector ghosts in Central Park. Peter meets Darius before he/they have an opportunity to do anything bad, which is a damn impressive feat, but Pete waves it off like it’s not some miracle of probability.
I love the way Schoening stages that first panel — it’s like he knows both Venkman and Burnham well enough that he knows to give those speech balloons all the room in the world. Schoening is a master of glowing beasts and kinetic action, but he also knows when to just get out of the way and let the writers show off the Ghostbusters’ superpowers.
The nature of the Ghostbusters’ shared “superpower” is often self-deflating. Kinda by design. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to articulate what’s unique about how the Ghostbusters solve problems, but this issue is helping me zero in on it. They perform massive, genius-level feats of mathematics and science, but are so enamored by the science itself that almost no ego shows in their accomplishments. Part of that comes through as Venkman dismissing Ray and Egon as dorks, but I think the beaten-down ethos of the Ghostbusters is just pervasive throughout the team. Sure, they can save New York (over and over and over again), but that doesn’t make them special in anyone else’s eyes. The resolution to the main conflict in this story does have to happen on the Ghostbusters’ side of the equation, and part of their ability to balance said equation is to be dismissive of it in the first place. It’s a much more grown up, cynical approach storytelling, but that’s the necessary difference between a story featuring teenagers and a story featuring adults.
All of which is to say, I had fun right through to the end. I especially liked Michelangelo bringing up the Ghostbusturtles one more time before stepping out, and everyone erupting into a red-fonted “GHOSTBUSTURTLES?!” Hey, Burnham, Waltz and Schoening — that’s your Part III, right there: the adventures of Ernie, Dan, Bill and Harold, the ghost hunting mutant turtles who are definitely just named after the actors who played the Ghostbusters. Man, what a world to blow out there, right? Hopefully, we can see Kate, Kristen, Leslie and Melissa too!
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?
Hey Patrick, can I ask why you read the opening scene as set at dusk with magical reverse-time lighting, rather than that it’s just set at dawn? Don’t get me wrong — there’s definitely magical stuff going on with the lighting, as the background slowly desaturates to white, but I guess I didn’t read the first hints of those lighting changes as impossible.