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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The Ultimate Collection Vol. 5

tmnt vol5It’s been a long break in between posts about this subject. So long that I’d rather not point it out any further! At long last though I have finally finished reading fifth volume of The Ultimate Collection, a line of hardbound, oversized, compendiums of comic books spanning the Eastman and Laird era of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Mirage Comics. The volumes are published by current TMNT comic publisher IDW and are presented in their original black and white appearance with new artwork by Kevin Eastman used for the back and front cover. Both Eastman and TMNT co-creator Peter Laird provide thoughts and reactions following each issue as they provide insight into their thought process and elaborate on where an idea may have come from.

This fifth volume is essentially the finale to this series, though two additional volumes follow. This one wraps up the City at War arc (issues #56-62) which was basically the grand finale for Eastman and Laird. At this point, they already had stopped drawing and inking the books and had moved onto managing the brand more than anything. These seven issues were originally published in 1993 when TMNT was past its peak, but still very much a money-maker. Artist Jim Lawson had basically taken over all of the pencil duties and was even contributing to the story at this point. Keith Aiken and Jason Temujin Minor handled the inking while Eric Talbot did the tones and Mary Kelleher the lettering.

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Karai has arrived and is ready to make her move.

In case you haven’t read my write-up on Volume 4, City at War tells the tale of the Turtles returning to New York to find that the Foot Clan has split into various competing factions with the loss of Shredder. Karai, leader of the Foot Clan in Japan, has arrived to clean things up and she’s targeting the heroes in a half shell who are currently holed up in an abandoned water tower. Splinter is injured and trapped by the Rat King, making his mainline debut. Meanwhile, April is off living in LA with her sister Robyn while Casey is engaged to a pregnant woman named Gabe and trying to start a new life himself after giving up on chasing April.

I found many of the issues in Volume 4 of this collection to be long and slow. It didn’t help that I wasn’t enamored with Jim Lawson’s take on the Turtles and I was badly missing the art of Eastman and Laird. Even though their art was often rough and had an amateurish quality at times, it was a good fit for the property and it was also improving. It was rewarding to see that maturation take place right before my eyes.

For this round of issues, my enthusiasm is much higher. It gets right to the point with the revelation of who is holding Splinter captive and also has Karai spring her Foot ninja on the Turtles early. This sets up the main conflict which is Karai’s wish to take out Shredder’s remaining Foot Elite, and she wants the Turtles to help. There’s a good scene of the brothers debating the merits of jumping back into the fray. They acknowledge, for the first time, that a lot of the violence is the result of their lost master’s quest for revenge. They were born to avenge Splinter, and they were successful, but their actions have not lead to a better New York for anyone. It’s a really introspective look at the Turtles and not something I was expecting. My only disappointment is that it didn’t eventually lead to a conversation on the subject with Splinter himself.

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Splinter goes through some real shit in these books.

For April, these issues also bring her back to New York. Her father passes away suddenly forcing her and her sister to come to New York for the services. Once there, she decides to stay, and it’s only a matter of time until her path crosses with her old friends. For Casey, tragedy brings him back as well in a rather bold way. The writing for him isn’t as strong as it is for the Turtles, but it still covers subject matter I wasn’t really expecting. For Splinter, he spends much of his time in a delirium and his sequences are pretty visceral. I am not sure what the overall message is supposed to be with Splinter, I guess they wanted him to embrace his primal side at the expense of his learned humanity. It was interesting though and it was nice to finally care about Splinter.

As would be expected from a title with the word “war” in it, there’s a lot of action across these pages. This is where Lawson gets to shine as an artist. His style seems to improve throughout and by the time I made it to the end I was onboard with his Turtles. He is able to convey movement so well and some of the detail work is gorgeous. This is easily a much nicer book to look at than the previous one, and Lawson is the main force behind that.

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I was way more into the artwork this time around and a lot had to do with the brilliant sequencing by Jim Lawson.

The story is a pretty satisfying one, though the ending is a bit unexpected. This is possibly the best arc Mirage ever tackled and much of the good stuff is contained in these issues. I am definitely glad I finally got around to going through it, even if I’ve had it since it was released. Eastman and Laird don’t provide too much in their comments. Eastman is at least good at setting the mood and placing the reader back in 1993. After that, he mostly just gushes about the talent involved in this project. Laird is a bit more critical and willing to point out things that didn’t work, though ultimately he just plain has very little to say.

A sixth volume in this set was released following this one, but it’s just one-shots and short stories not done by Eastman and Laird. A seventh volume is supposedly on the way as well which is basically going to be an art book. If you’re like me and just wanted to experience the original creators’ interpretation of these characters, then the five volumes are the only ones you need to concern yourself with. I’m not sure if any are still in print, but they have yet to become expensive to acquire. This is a good gift for any Turtle-loving person in your life. Though I feel obligated to point out that these stories are intended for mature audiences as these aren’t the pizza-loving dudes from the cartoons, but chances are if you’re even interested in these works you’re well aware of that fact.


NECA 1990 TMNT Movie SDCC Set

neca TMNTFor the past several years, the folks over at NECA have been making San Diego Comic Con an annual event for fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I mean, it’s always an event, but it’s been especially fun for TMNT fans because NECA has been able to release limited action figure sets based on the property. These sets have been wildly popular and thus a bit hard to get ahold of for fans not attending the event. They often sell-out and command big mark-ups on the secondary market. As a result, while enthusiasm remains high, there can be some backlash for those who are unable to secure a copy at MSRP.

The reason for all of this is essentially Playmates. Playmates was a partner with Mirage Studios and Fred Wolf Productions in bringing the TMNT from print to the small-screen. In the 1980s, getting a show to air for boys often necessitated a pairing of show with toys in a symbiotic relationship. The franchise was viewed as risky, and creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird had a hard time finding a toy company to make their dream happen. Playmates eventually jumped-in, but got a pretty nice deal out of the whole thing thanks to the desperation of those trying to make money off of this thing. As a result, they still hold the master toy license for the franchise and can dictate who can and can’t make toys based on the franchise here in the United States.

About 10 years ago, NECA was able to release a set of TMNT based on their original Mirage look. They were specialty shop toys and were very well received. NECA would also release an April O’Neil and show-off a Shredder, but it never made it to retail. At this time, Playmates was still consumed with making toys based on the Fast Forward cartoon produced by 4Kids and likely didn’t feel threatened by another company releasing collector toys based on the comics. Eventually, maybe after seeing the success NECA was having or due to diminished interest in the cartoon, Playmates would engage the collector crowd with their own Mirage Turtles which may be why NECA’s line ended with April.

Ever since then, NECA has had to find a way to create product based on the franchise (a favorite of NECA Director of Product Development Randy Falk) that works for them as well as Playmates and Nickelodeon (the current owner of TMNT). As a sort-of compromise, NECA has been allowed to produce 6″ scale figures as convention exclusives only. In addition to being allowed to sell them at conventions, they’re also permitted to sell them online as a pre-sale in advance of the event, but not after or in perpetuity. The only exception has been the quarter-scale line which NECA has been allowed to produce and release to retail, presumably because Playmates has no interest in figures at that scale.

Via these convention exclusives, NECA has been able to finish off their old Mirage line by releasing a set containing Shredder and some Foot soldiers. They also did figures based on the original TMNT arcade game and just last year released a massive set of 8 figures based on the first season of the 1987 cartoon. For 2018, NECA may have felt pressure to out-do that 2017 set and once again turned to the 1990 film – which is perhaps the greatest version of these classic characters. For the past two years, NECA has been releasing these figures in its quarter-scale line, a line I loved and own each figure from. A lot of fans have been begging for a release of these same figures in a 6″ scale and now they finally have their wish.

I was one of the lucky few to score a set during the pre-sale on NECA’s website. Two versions were offered:  the set of four turtles and a set of four turtles with a diorama. The set ran for $125, and the diorama set was $250. The diorama is going to be released to retail in a slightly more generic format, but it captures the grit of NYC from the 1990 movie. It’s also huge, which is why I passed on it as I don’t really have room for it. I was content to just settle for the set of action figures, and I am quite pleased with the product delivered to me roughly two weeks after San Diego Comic Con commenced.

The four brothers come housed in packaging designed to mimic the original VHS release of the 1990 film. It’s obviously over-sized to properly house the figures and all of the images of the characters have been replaced with photos of the actual action figures and it’s pretty damn remarkable how close to the actual thing these look. If it weren’t for the fact that Donatello is smiling on the original release, you probably would be fooled by the cover. The reverse side has the film critic quotes replaced with quotes from folks in the toy (and wrestling) world praising the set. It’s not as durable or as resplendent as the case released with last year’s set, but my fondness for this movie means I probably prefer this one to last year’s Archie inspired case.

The outer case is a sleeve that slides right off once you get past some tape. Behind it are the figures in a window box setup. They’re not as easy to remove from the packaging as last year’s action figure case inspired design as the feet are actually through some holes, but you’re unlikely to destroy the packaging when removing these treasures. In addition to the four turtles and their weapons, NECA also included a second set of bandana tassels, four sets of interchangeable hands, an ooze canister with removable top, and an entire pizza broken out into individual slices housed in a paper box. The sets of hands should be familiar to those with the quarter-scale versions as they’re all from there: a set of slightly open hands, a set of completely open “high-five” hands, a set of thumb’s up hands, and a set of pointing hands. It’s slightly disappointing that we don’t have four open palm hands to recreate a cowabunga pose, but otherwise it’s more than adequate. The turtles themselves have tighter fist hands by default for holding their weapons.

The hands and bandana tassels are all easily swapped in and out. Action figures that take advantage of swappable parts are often tight and even a little scary, but these figures are pretty effortless. If anything, the pegs on the other hands are moved too freely as that’s the only challenge in pushing them in as they want to move around on you a bit, but it’s no big deal. The wrist bands on each turtles are now molded to the figure which also makes swapping the hands easier. The bandanas are just as easy. The quarter-scale version had fabric tassels, but these versions opted for plastic which is why there’s some options presented. You basically can just decide if you want your turtle’s tassel to flow left or right. It’s not as good as the quarter-scale ones, but it’s fine.

The real star of the accessories though has to be that pizza. It may sound ridiculous, but it might be my favorite part of the set. NECA earlier this year released a set of baby turtles for their quarter-scale line that contained a box for the pizza released with the main figures as well as the rest of the pizza. This is basically a down-scaled version of the same. The box is designed to resemble a Domino’s box as seen in the film only it’s from Tile Game Pizza instead due to obvious licensing issues. It looks remarkable and there’s tons of little detail including a coupon taped to the top and little grease smears. It’s so lovingly detailed that it borders on absurd and it makes me want to order some pizza every time I look at it.

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It slices, it dices…

The figures themselves, the real stars of the set, are down-scaled versions of their quarter-scale cousins. This means they possess basically all of the pros and cons of those figures, and in case you’re wondering, there were very few cons. Let’s get to the few differences first, shall we? I already mentioned the bandana and wrist band difference, but the only other main difference is the loss of Donatello’s straps for his bo staff. You can basically just jam his bo under his belt to achieve the same thing though. This also may be unique to my set, but my Raph is also a bit cross-eyed in comparison with the quarter-scale version with his right eye looking down instead of straight-ahead. He has really narrow eyes so it’s not that noticeable unless you’re holding the figure right in front of your face. A difference in a positive area though is these guys have slightly more articulation than the larger toys. And since they’re lighter, their joints don’t have to be as tight and they can be posed a lot easier as a result.

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Do you like penicillin on your pizza?

The figures are a nice, soft, plastic that reminds me of the old Playmates Movie Star Turtles I adored as a kid (and still have). The texture on the flesh is exquisite and perfectly captures the look of the film. Each figures uses the same base body with a different belt, head, and shell. The shell itself is actually the same, but each turtle has unique blemishes and such with Raph’s being significantly more battle-damaged. The only drawback to the figures using the same base is that they’re all the same height. It’s an issue the quarter-scale ones possess as well. They were all different heights in the film, though the only one that stood out is Mikey who was shorter than his brothers. He looks a little off as a result, but it’s obviously not a deal breaker.

If you were lucky enough to get ahold of this set then you will likely have a ton of fun trying to recreate poses from the film. Especially if you grabbed that diorama or have some fun custom ones of your own. These guys really look stripped from the film and it’s so rewarding to pair them up with the quarter-scale versions. NECA is prepping an already gave a peek at their quarter-scale Foot Soldier and a Shredder is expected as well. Naturally, this has fans hoping for 6″ versions of the same to pair with these to really complete the set.

If you were unable to score one of these sets then I have some good news for you. NECA recently reached a deal that will allow them release TMNT product at retail in a 6″ scale. Randy did say the movie figures will remain convention exclusives, but maybe that only refers to this specific set. Could single-packed figures make it to retail? Who knows? I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up, but maybe hold off on paying eBay prices for now and take a wait and see approach. These figures are so damn good that it’s kind of a shame if they remain exclusive to this one set, but at least we have them as-is and I can’t wait to see what NECA does next with the franchise. They have yet to disappoint.


Ranking the Many Versions of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Turtles in TimeWith Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hitting the airwaves, it felt like a good time to sit down and take a look at the various incarnations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As you are likely aware, the TMNT got started back in 1984 when writer/artists Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman created their debut comic. Since then the four have become international superstars and seen their likeness adapted for television, film, a stage tour, and other comics over the years. Across these many mediums we’ve seen the four brothers sport many different looks, display different personality traits, while mostly adhering to the core of being mutated turtles that practice ninjitsu taught to them by their surrogate father – a rat named Splinter.

Whenever a new show based on an old property is unveiled, there’s almost always an immediate backlash by a certain portion of the fan base. It doesn’t even matter if the fanbase is inconsequential or even non-existent, as was seen recently with the She-Ra images unveiled, there will always be those who hate the new and prefer the old. And who am I to say they’re wrong? Hate it all you want, but you’ll always have what came before. I draw the line when folks say “they’re ruining my childhood” because that’s preposterous. Your childhood came and went, it’s history, there’s nothing to ruin. I’d encourage everyone to be open-minded and don’t be a slave to nostalgia because you’ll ultimately find more things in life to enjoy with such a mindset, but to each their own.

For this ranking, I am weighing the general design heavily above all others. This ranking is subjective and largely about how appealing I find the design of the four turtles to be. I am also giving a little added weight to the quality of the medium as well – does it hold up? Is it entertaining for children? All ages? And so on. I’m also just sticking to the comics, television, film, and stage show and not video games or toys. Most of the video games were based on one of those other things or strongly resemble another and the same is true for the toys. I don’t want things to get too unmanageable, so some of this may feel a little condensed, but you’ll see what I mean when we get to each one as I’ll note if there are any deviations. With that said, most of these all have some aesthetic charm to them, with only the very back-end of this ranking being particularly poor. Let’s get to it then, shall we?

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What have we unleashed upon the world?

13. Coming Out of Their Shells Turtles

I ended up with 13 distinct flavors of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and by far the most dreadful would be the stage show Turtles from the Coming Out of Their Shells Tour. If you weren’t alive in 1990, basically the brand was on fire. No one could really explain it, and still can’t since the premise is so preposterous, but everyone was pretty sure it wouldn’t last much longer. Anyone with a financial interest in the TMNT was rushing product to shelves to capitalize as quickly as possible and someone thought a live show was a worthwhile endeavor. Utilizing two sets of costumes, the Turtles would appear on stage in some radical threads and would sing, dance, and mime fights with the bad guys from the cartoon. There were also backstage segments that were pre-taped featuring more conventional play style sequences for plot points. These costumes weren’t really meant to be seen up close since they were for the stage, and it shows. There’s no nuance to their mechanical mouths which just flap around. They have these crazy wide-eyed expressions and the added clothing items just look dorky, to put it simply. What was crazy though, is that these costumes weren’t confined to a live show. They had them appear on Oprah and in home videos so you could see just how terrible they looked. The home video and Christmas Special probably came out after the money had been made on the actual tour, but the Oprah thing still blows my mind.

Bay TMNT

These guys smell.

12. The Michael Bay Turtles (2014 Film)

I know I look like some old curmudgeon for sticking one of the most recent incarnations in the 12th spot, but I can’t help it – I really hate these guys. It wasn’t a surprise to see the newest films opt for CG over costumes, even if it was still disappointing, nor was it a surprise to see a new look for the gang green. However, could they have made these guys look any uglier? They’re a monstrous mess, just a pile of weapons, belts, and clothing. They embody the same personalities we’ve known for years and yet feel so lifeless. Even only four years after the first film, and a mere two after its sequel, these guys already feel forgotten and that doesn’t bother me one bit. I really have nothing nice to say about them. I guess Bebop and Rocksteady were cool?

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Talk about a downgrade.

11. All Effects Turtles (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III)

The third film in four years for TMNT was the abysmal Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III. I liked it well enough as a kid I suppose, though it definitely was my least favorite of the trilogy. As an adult I find it mostly unwatchable. I suppose it can be laughed at in a manner befitting only bad movies, but my word do those costumes look awful. The first two films featured costumes designed by the Jim Henson Company and were remarkable for the time. For the third film, Golden Harvest and New Line Cinema contracted All Effects and the results were less than spectacular. The main bodies of each turtle looks fairly similar, but with less texture. They clearly looked like rubber suits. The heads though were awful. The dynamic expressions of the earlier costumes were gone replaced with something more static and soulless. I am not certain, but my guess is All Effects just went with one head design for its costumes as opposed to Henson’s multi-head approach. These ones are a bit more frog-like and just off-putting. Making these worse, the personalities of the Turtles were also less defined. Corey Feldman reprised his role as Donatello from the first film and apparently was considered the star as his character had way more lines. Everyone was kind of jokey and just along for the ride with only Mikey displaying much range. A very unsatisfying end to the trilogy. The feudal costumes at least looked kind of neat.

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They kind of look like they’re melting.

10. The Saban Turtles (The Next Mutation)

It feels like I’m picking on the live-action costumes in the early going, but I guess it’s to be expected with such outlandish characters that originated in print. And it also has to do with money. The third Turtles film was produced on the cheap, and the stage show certainly was as well relative to a film budget, and if you know much about TV cartoon development in the 90s then you know Saban is notorious for being cheap. Saban is most famous for bringing us Mighty Morphin Power Rangers which took film from the Japanese show Super Sentai and dubbed it for American audiences as something different. That’s about as cheap as it gets for show creation. It’s actually a surprise that the company even wanted to do a live-action series of TMNT in 1997 well after the franchise’s peak years. Titled Ninja Turtles:  The Next Mutation, it required all new costumes and sets and must have been rather expensive relative to other Saban entertainment. Even so, there was no way it was going to match the costumes from the film series, and while you could argue these are worse than what All Effects gave us, at least they tried to change things up. This show also famously added a fifth turtle, Venus de Milo, and it sort of followed the continuity of the other live-action heroes. It was pretty hokey and more than a bit cheesy, but I suppose it has its fans.

TMNT 2007

Passable, but also forgettable.

9. Imagi Turtles (TMNT 2007 film)

In what was a bit of a surprise, Warner Bros. tried bringing back the Turtles with a CG sequel to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III 14 years after that film had been released. In truth, audiences didn’t need to know much about those previous movies to see this, just a general knowledge of who the Turtles were since a lot of time had passed in universe as well. The movie was okay, not bad but not exactly good either, and the CG was befitting that of a major studio. The characters mostly embodied the archetypes established in the first film, but the visual style was very different. The Turtles were more rounded with squished faces. Their skin was smooth and mostly free of any texture. They looked slippery and ever more frog-like than what we saw in the third film. It animated well, but the stills are some-what lackluster. It’s not the design I would have picked, but it was fine and not really noteworthy as this film is easily the most forgettable of the first four.

Rise TMNT

I don’t hate this.

8. The Flying Bark Turtles (Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

It seems premature to even include the newest version in these rankings, but here we are. I said a lot about them in my write-up for the first episode, but as designs go I don’t hate these. I appreciate the willingness of the producers and the animators at Flying Bark to try something pretty new. There are elements of the older designs in the new ones, but with this show the brothers are, for the first time, different subspecies of turtles. Even though I didn’t much care for the show, I can at least appreciate what it’s trying to do. And if we’re just going by looks, it’s definitely got more personality than what was ranked behind it.

4Kids TMNT

A lot more menacing than that old cartoon.

7. The 4Kids Turtles (2003 Cartoon)

We have arrived at what is perhaps our first controversial ranking. The 2003 series produced by 4Kids Entertainment is well-regarded. It came at a time when the kids who had grown up on the TMNT were willing to embrace something that had grown up with them while a new generation was also willing to dive into a show about mutated ninja turtles. The show was a back to basics, taking a lot of the material from the original Mirage Comics run and adapting it for television in a kid-friendly manner without pandering. The old chunky designs were replaced with sleek, muscular, frames and the skin tones of the old Playmates toy line was essentially made canon as each turtle was a slightly different shade of green. The personalities were a bit of an amalgamation of the old cartoon and comic, with Raph, Leo, and Donatello being pretty close to the source while Mikey was a bit more like the old cartoon character. Where this one sort of stumbles for me is with the decision to go with the blank eyed look from the comics and toys. It makes the characters look pretty cool in a still frame, but when they had to emote it looks awkward. A future series would integrate this better. Don’t mistake this ranking as an endorsement of the 87 cartoon over this one as I’d much prefer to watch this series over that one any day.

TMNT 1987

Regardless of your feelings on this show, you can’t deny this is still what most folks picture when you say Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

6. The Fred Wolf Turtles (1987 Cartoon Series)

Here is where we get to the big one, the most recognizable brand of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the one most responsible for the popularity of the franchise. These turtles actually had four some-what distinct looks, but we’ll get to that. In general though, the makers of the cartoon took the designs from Mirage and mostly added color and personality. The Mirage TMNT looked cool, but aside from Raph they didn’t offer much personality. They also looked the same and had those blank eyes which wouldn’t play well on television. To make up for that, the cartoon introduced the colored bandanas and pads unique to each turtle while also giving them actual eyes. Raph was toned down from a hot-tempered malcontent to a sarcastic prankster while Leo mostly retained his super serious persona. Donatello was made a genius, and Mikey a surfer dude. Oh, and they all loved pizza. Like, really loved pizza. It’s stuff you know all about now, and even though the cartoon basically existed to sell toys it at least looked pretty good. The first season, at least. In that one, the Turtles were a more muted shade of green with more musculature and a hint of a beak. Come the second season they were a bit brighter and more rounded. Weapons were de-emphasized and animators saw little need in actually showing their weapons holstered and so forth. By the final season though, they received a fairly radical redesign that introduced more blacks and a more angular shape. It was trying too hard to make the Turtles seem “dark” and “cool” and didn’t really play well. In Japan, a pair of OVAs were released that mostly featured the standard look of this serious, but gave the Turtles crazy transformation powers. You may remember seeing the toys for these on store shelves and wondered where they came from, well there’s your answer. I didn’t think either was really worth devoting a separate ranking to, but felt they were worth mentioning.

TMNT Archie

The storylines in the pages of Archie’s TMNT weren’t much better than the cartoon, but the artwork was a ton of fun.

5. The Archie Turtles (Archie Comics)

Alongside the original cartoon series was the Archie Comics series. This series basically captured the look and feel of the cartoon, but did at least experiment with making things a little more mature. I basically only decided to give the Archie Turtles their own entry because of what they did with Raph. Still keeping him mostly in-line with his cartoon counterpart, he was also made the loner or black sheep of the family and he wore all black for a while. It was confusing for me as a kid and I probably didn’t care for it, but now I look back and give Archie credit for not just adapting episodes of the cartoon into printed form.

Mirage TMNT

I’m guessing you’ve seen this image before, and probably not on the cover of a comic book.

4. Mirage Comics

All style, no substance. That’s pretty much the Mirage Turtles in a nut-shell, or should I say half-shell? While they did get better, initially the four characters were interchangeable. Chunky, but muscular, they were depicted in black and white and were only distinguishable by their weapons. Eventually, the personality of Raphael would be added and he was given a foil in Leonardo and a kindred spirit in Casey Jones. Leonardo would be made the stoic leader, while Donatello the introverted tech-nerd. Mikey never really morphed into the character we’ve seen elsewhere and he’s kind of hard to get a read on. Eastman and Laird’s artwork also improved along the way and their version of the Turtles from say issue 4 on is pretty damn good. Eventually, other artists were brought in to work on the books and you could do a separate listing on the various different takes they had on the characters, but for the purpose of this ranking I’m basically just going with the Eastman/Laird take. The peak of their art is probably best reflected, and most can recall it from the cover art to the first NES game. It confused the Hell out of me to see all four of the Turtles wearing red, but I sure thought it looked pretty bad ass.

Nick TMNT

The show that made April and Casey adolescents and made it work.

3. The Nick Turtles (2012 TV series)

It took some time, but the 2012 version of the characters seen in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did eventually grow on me. As far as personality and so forth was concerned, I was pretty much hooked from the start. The same archetypes were followed that we’re used to, but they felt more malleable and sincere. Leonardo wasn’t just some goody-two-shoes, he often struggled with being a surrogate Splinter when out on the town. Raph was a bit of a hot-head, but he didn’t strike me as being confrontational just for the sake of it. Donatello was a brain, but an insecure one. Mikey was still juvenile and mostly care free, but without being too over-exposed. This show pretty much nailed it as far as that goes. From a looks perspective, they basically went with the first movie, but with colored masks. The Turtles also featured three toes for the first time, an odd choice, but largely inconsequential. They wore wraps on their feet too which was different, but it made sense (those other turtles must have had some serious blisters) and added a little personality. About the only thing I didn’t like was the sometimes boxy-looking anatomy. Their shoulder muscles looked practically square, but it became less noticeable the more I was exposed to it. I loved that each turtle had his own body type and you could tell them apart by that alone. I also liked the little touch of making their eyes go blank when in combat. Definitely a move that’s all style and has no practical explanation in-universe, but it’s a cartoon so who cares? Have fun with it! This television series should be the new measuring stick for any future incarnation of the TMNT. That doesn’t mean they all should take the same approach, but strive for the same level of quality.

IDW TMNT

Maybe the coolest looking version of the TMNT yet.

2. The IDW Turtles (IDW Comics)

Alongside the 2012 reboot came a reboot in printed form. Kevin Eastman returned to the franchise alongside IDW Comics and presented a new version of the TMNT. It basically takes the tone of the original Mirage Comics, while also adding in the more developed personalities that would follow. The artwork is largely great, and the Turtles are back to wearing all red (they would eventually gain some color). If you’re an adult fan still mad about the new cartoon, well just head to a comic shop and read this series. This is the version of the TMNT made for those who out-grew the franchise, and from that perspective it’s pretty good. The Turtles will never be high art, and there’s tons of fan-service plots in this series, but in general it’s what most TMNT fans over 30 probably want.

Henson TMNT

I love these guys.

1.The Henson Turtles (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II:  The Secret of the Ooze)

Could there be anything else? The 1990 movie is still the best adaption of any kind of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Taking the Mirage look, adding in the colored masks from the cartoon, and also its own creative liberties resulted in a near perfect take on this green team. The four brothers all look different, all act different, and all go through their own ups and downs along the way. They have distinct personalities and challenges to face, and most of all the costumes created for these two movies are fantastic. I prefer the more realistic approach of the first film. That one was less intimidated by showing these characters for what they are, while the second one brightened things up and made them a little more appealing to look at from a practical sense. In other words, the Turtles of the first film looked like they lived in a sewer, while the ones in the second looked like they lived in an upscale apartment in Manhattan (which they did for a time). The first film is also very different in terms of style and tone, but the Jim Henson Company worked on both. The costumes received mostly minor tweaks between films, though Donatello looks almost completely different (he also had the biggest personality change as well, I guess because Feldman left the franchise). Both films entertained me a lot as a kid, but of the two, only the first one actually holds up. The second is basically a live-action version of the cartoon, though Raph still gets to inject a bit of conflict into the group dynamics. That first film is the best though. It hits the sweet spot between the gritty violence of the Mirage source material and the playful banter of the cartoon. It’s unlikely we’ll ever receive a better version of these characters, but maybe someone out there is just waiting to prove me wrong. I hope they’re successful.


Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – “Mystic Mayhem”

rise_of_the_tmntOn July 20th, Nickelodeon offered up a preview of its newest take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Dubbed Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the new show is the heir-apparent to the one Nick ran from 2012-2017. Simply titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that show was a modern re-telling of the story we’re all familiar with. It was presented in CG and featured the main characters from the comics and older television shows while mostly adhering to the personalities that had been long established throughout the various media. It was the fourth attempt at bringing the Turtles to television, and by all accounts it was pretty successful. Likely no future version of gang green will ever be as impactful as the 1987 series, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be a success.

The show was well-received and it was one that even I, a 30-something, mostly kept up with. It likely ended for business reasons, though possibly artistic ones as the show-runners may have felt they had told all of the stories they wished to tell. I think it’s more likely the network felt the toy franchise was mostly tapped out and there were probably new contracts that needed to be negotiated. Television shows for older kids are also transitioning away from CG and back to 2D as technological advances have made that medium a lot cheaper, and easier, to work with. Which is likely one of the many reasons we are here today talking about a new version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arriving just a year after the previous one ended.

riseofthetmnt-skylight-turtles-700x318Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an entirely new show with a new cast of characters. In some ways, this is the most ambitious reboot we have ever seen for the franchise. The 1987 series took the most recognizable characters from the Mirage comics and adapted them for television while also stripping out the violence. Each turtle was given his own personality, something they kind of lacked in the comics, and Shredder was made the main villain and given an accomplice in Krang. Ever since that series found success, it would seem each successive iteration tried to incorporate more of the original comic. Starting with the 1990 movie, Raphael would see his prickly and combative nature made his default personality, the tone would be a touch more serious, and Shredder more deadly. The 2003 4Kids series practically adapted the early books, and even Michael Bay’s turtles tried to keep some of that spirit, while also bringing the turtles closer to their cartoon counterparts.

The 2012 series did the same while also making sure to make everything appear modern. It’s biggest change was making April O’Neil and Casey Jones adolescents, but it mostly took the comic and cartoons that arrived before it and melded them together. It was a show that really wanted to appeal to adults who grew up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and likely hoped these adults would get their kids hooked. Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is attempting to no such thing. For the first time since that 87 series debuted, this is a version of the Turtles made to appeal to kids first and foremost. It doesn’t care if you’re familiar with the property. It doesn’t even need to be a TMNT show, but the brand recognition is certainly easier to sell than a new IP.

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April and Splinter are two of the more radical redesigns, but also two of the most effective.

Of course, some things will naturally never change. The Turtles are still Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello. They live in the sewer with their sensei Splinter, a mutated rat, and reside in New York City. Their only human friend is a girl named April. What’s different is both radical and superficial. For the first time, each turtle is actually a different sub-species of turtle. Most notably is the large and spiky Raphael who is a snapping turtle and kind of looks like the old Slash. Donatello is a soft-shell turtle, and as a result, he creates backpack-like shells to wear to protect himself. Leonardo is now a wise-cracking turtle and Raph is an ineffective leader, as the two have sort-of swapped personalities from the 87 show. When the episode opens they all have their signature weapons, but that will change by episode’s end. Splinter is not the stoic Ninja Master we’re used to, and instead is a chubby little rat who likes to fall asleep in front of the television. April is once again a kid, though just how young is hard to gauge. She’s also African American and sports a pair of oversized glasses. In some respects, she reminds me of Irma from the old cartoon.

The episode opens with some light crime taking place in New York and the Turtles on the prowl. We’re supposed to think they’re patrolling the city as usual, but they’re actually just looking to discreetly take a dip in a rooftop swimming pool. It will become clear soon enough that these turtles are not proper ninjas. They don’t really know what they’re doing or appear to have any designs on fighting crime or anything. April is kind of just there and we’re not sure what the relationship is, but at least they appear to be having fun. The palette of the show is incredibly bright and vibrant, but the animation is not smooth in the least bit. Everything feels loud as characters move suddenly and quickly as if frames of animation are skipped. I don’t think this is a cost-cutting decision, but an artistic one to make the show feel heightened and manic and strikes me as an example of the show going for kids.

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On the right, new villain Baron Draxum, and on the left a big, white, blank, space.

The Turtles will encounter a weird teleporting dog/cat creature that takes an instant shine to April. It’s being pursued by some sketchy looking individuals and the Turtles feel compelled to help. This will result in them taking a trip through an inter-dimensional portal where they’ll meet the big baddie of the series, Baron Draxum, and also acquire new weapons. All except Donatello that is, who prefers to stick with his techy-looking bo staff. From here on out, Raph will wield twin tonfa in battle while Leo downgrades to one sword. Michelangelo will wield a kusari-fundo and all of their weapons have some mystical property that they’ll likely need to learn more about as the series moves along. Baron Draxum is a large, some-what Shredder-like figure, who is apparently behind the mutation of the Turtles. He has scores of underlings presumably, and some odd mosquito things that carry mutagen. The episode is an establishing one, and it’s likely the Ninja Turtles will need to get a touch more serious following this episode if they want to challenge Draxum in the future, since their fighting prowess is severely lacking.

It bares repeating that Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a show very much aimed at today’s children. It’s not a show made for me, and that’s fine as the children of 2018 deserve their own TMNT. As a show, it feels very similar to Cartoon Networks Teen Titans Go! It shares a similar look and the show wants to make kids laugh and is less concerned with wowing them via action sequences. The characters take nothing seriously, and I suspect they’ll have some failures along the way. The structure of the show is also to be two 11 minute cartoons for each episode, so the scale of each plot is obviously small.

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I couldn’t get much of a read on Michelangelo in this debut episode, but he definitely doesn’t seem as goofy as other iterations.

The voice cast struck me as fine. Ben Schwartz is Leonardo and he’s essentially just playing Dewey Duck from DuckTales. I thought it would be odd seeing Leonardo act in such a manner, but it was fine. Omar Benson Miller is Raph and he’s obviously being tasked to play a very different Raphael. He’s a leader, which just feels off, and he’s a bad one too, but not because of the usual Raph traits. He’s more indecisive and uncertain as opposed to abrasive and headstrong. Donatello is played by Josh Brener and he’s more or less the same Donatello we’re used to, with maybe a touch of dryness. Michelangelo is played by Brandon Mychal Smith and is the character I felt the least impressed by. I just didn’t get much of a sense for his personality, though he did refer to himself as an artist. The press material labels him a prankster, but we didn’t really see that side of him in this episode. This episode was probably too concerned with establishing Leonardo as the new Mikey type at the expense of the other turtles.

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Looks like there will be no shortage of interesting villain designs.

Splinter is voiced by Eric Bauza, who had previously voiced Tiger Claw for the last TMNT series, doing a stereotypical Japanese master voice. It almost feels out of place with so much of the other personalities mixed-up, though his personality is obviously different as well. He’s rather funny looking, and I presume he will have to actually train his sons eventually. We didn’t see much of the lair, but it appears to follow in the same mold as the other cartoons in that it’s lavishly outfitted with Donnie’s tech. April is voiced by Kat Graham, and she’s another character I didn’t get much of a read on. She seems more heroic than the actual turtles, and obviously felt an instant connection with the little dog/cat creature she acquires in the episode. WWE’s John Cena is Baron Draxum and I forgot he had been cast in this series. Draxum looks like a high resolution Xavier Renegade Angel, which isn’t a compliment, but his personality seems interesting. He doesn’t want to be a foe to the Turtles, though he obviously will be, and he came across as less cartoonish than the villains from the 87 show, which surprised me. He may prove to be a worthy foe after all.

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And don’t forget the toy-line! Meat Sweats is also an awesome name for a mutant pig.

I can see what Nickelodeon and executive producers Andy Suarino and Ant Ward are going for with this show. I also know that very little of it appeals to me. I welcome the change back to 2D, but I’m not crazy about the design of the characters. They’re a bit too similar to the Bay Turtles, which I found gross, but I concede they have a marketable look. I just feel it’s a bit too similar to other shows out there and it doesn’t strike me as unique. I did not enjoy the janky animation techniques and I hope they tone that down. The pivot to humor is fine, and it does feel like Teen Titains Go!, but it’s not naturally funny like that show. I didn’t watch it with any children present, so maybe they’ll disagree with me, which is what matters most. This isn’t a show I’ll seek out and watch as I did the 2012 show, but as a parent it won’t bother me if my kids start watching it. I like seeing the TMNT brand relevant, so for that reason I hope it’s a success.

“Mystic Mayhem” is just the debut for the show. Additional episodes are available right now online via Nickelodeon’s website and app. The actual series premier is scheduled for September 17, and the ever important toy line is expected to launch in October. Each episode will consist of two segments, but this first episode was one long segment. If you’re an adult fan of the brand I would still say give this one a peek just to check it out. Maybe you’ll like it, most likely you won’t. In a world where a lot of cartoons are hitting wider audiences (OK K.O.!, Gravity Falls, Craig of the Creek, etc.) it’s a little disappointing that this one does not, but not everything has to. Sometimes it’s fun for kids to have something that’s just for them.


Neca 1/4 Scale TMNT Movie Leonardo

IMG_1387NECA is now 3/4 of the way through the release schedule of their TMNT 1990 movie line with the release of Leonardo – the REAL leader of the group. And like Donatello and Raphael before him, he’s a pretty impressive specimen.

The original 1990 movie impossibly never had dedicated action figures. Playmates half-assed a line in recent years that didn’t seem like it committed to being a representation of either of the first two films and tried to have it both way, similar to how their own “classic” turtles were an amalgamation of the original cartoon and toy line. These giant figures from NECA have done an admirable job of filling that void, and while I do wish they came in a friendlier scale, I can’t deny how awesome these 16″ behemoths look.

Leonardo has all of the same articulation as his two brothers and that’s primarily because he’s essentially the same figure with a different head and belt. Of the three I have thus far received, I found Leo to be the easiest to pose right out of the box as his joints were pretty nimble and I never felt like I was in danger of breaking anything. His ab crunch however, hidden underneath the shell, is a little loose compared with Raph and similar to my Donatello. This means he has a tendency to pitch forward slightly and it’s hard to get his head to look straight out in front of him. The rest of his joints are tight and accommodating and the paint applications are flawless on my turtle. His belt is film accurate featuring two thing strips of leather crossing his chest from his right shoulder. I have no idea if the sheaths on the back of his shell are film accurate since you never really get a good look at them onscreen, but they look fine to me.

Leonardo naturally comes equipped with his twin katana. They’re very light which kind of surprised me and I do worry some about their durability. Currently, I’m a little scared that he’s going to fall off of my shelf and snap his blades, but hopefully that does not happen. They look pretty accurate to the film, and even have the octagonal hand guards and taped hilts. The film makes them seem a bit more dingy and worn, but that could just as easily have more to do with the lighting of the picture than anything. I can’t deny they look good, and their length seems spot on. Leonardo also comes with the same set of extra hands as Raphael. I’m a little disappointed that his pointing hand isn’t the reverse of Raph’s. He also comes with the same slice of pizza as the other two, but surprisingly he also comes with a canister of that famous ooze. Unlike the canister that came with Donatello, this one does not feature the crack from which the ooze leaked out and thereby justifying its existence. This means Leonardo comes with more accessories than brothers, though not by much. I would have preferred extra pizza to complete a pie, but oh well. Maybe Mikey will comes with that, though I doubt it since his weapons are probably the most costly to produce.

Aside from that, there isn’t much more to say since he’s fundamentally the same figure as the other two I’ve already reviewed. The only real downside to that is Leo should be a little taller than his brothers, and Mikey should be noticeably shorter (we’ll see how that turns out later), but it’s not egregious. The head sculpt looks fantastic and captures that grim seriousness embodied by the character in the film. The likeness is flawless, and I’m really glad to have this version of my favorite turtle upon my shelf. I very much look forward to completing this set when Michelangelo ships later this summer.


NECA 1/4 Scale TMNT Movie Raphael

1200x-Raph9-It took awhile, but I finally have my hands on the second turtle from NECA’s 1/4 scale series of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles based on the original film. Raphael was released back in February, but I left the preordering of this series to my wife who saw them as gifts for basically the coming year for me. My wife, bless her, is not someone who normally orders such things and she ordered from a site I had never heard of that ended up not getting Raph in when they were supposed to, so what was originally planned as a Valentine’s Day present turned into a June birthday gift. Fear not though, I have since clued her in to better vendors so my actual birthday present (Leonardo) should be arriving soon, as I know you are all waiting with bated breath for my reviews.

If you read my review for Donatello way back in January, then you should already be pretty familiar with Raph. Structurally, he’s essentially the same figure as Don as both make use of the same parts. This is both good and bad as it means the things that are great about Don are shared by Raph, and the not so great things are as well. That’s sort of the “curse” of being a TMNT collector as you basically buy the same figure four times, but it’s hard to argue against the practicality of the release.

 

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way before getting to the good. This is a big figure, being 1/4 scale, so he’s also pretty heavy. Being heavy means he needs tough joints or else his arms and legs would be too flimsy for posing. This also means some of the joints are really hard to work, and the cumbersome nature of a turtle shell doesn’t make things any easier. My Raph has a particularly troublesome left shoulder that’s hard to get the socket to work right so that he can lift his arm. There’s definitely some “breaking-in” required for these figures, but since they’ll end up running you over $100, there’s a reluctance to work the joints too hard out of fear of breaking them. While Raph possesses an abundance of articulation, it’s not the most functional articulation out there and the pictures you see in this post are essentially the only poses I was comfortable creating.

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Hey, brother!

These figures are also somewhat minimalist when it comes to included accessories. Raph, by virtue of having two weapons, actually has one more accessory than his brother Don. Don came with five extra hands, a canister of ooze, and a slice of pizza in addition to his bo staff. Raph comes with six extra hands and a slice of pizza to go with his twin sai. Strangely, one set of extra hands is identical to his stock hands so I guess you can break and/or lose a set before you’ll be missing anything. Raph has one unique hand gesture compared with Don, a finger-pointing left hand that can be used to hold his sai in a unique way or use as a gesture. He famously gestures to his holstered sai when confronting a pair of muggers in the film, though sadly his range of motion can’t quite recreate that one. This is consistent with Don who has a thumb’s up hand gesture that Raph does not. The slice of pizza included with Raph is the same as the one Don came with, right down to the placement of the black olives. Laying them side by side, it looks like we’ll need four additional pieces to make a complete pizza so I wonder if Mikey will come with some extra slices when he’s released this fall. The missing accessory here is obviously Raph’s trench coat, hat, and backpack he sports in the film when he heads out to a movie. I can understand why NECA didn’t include such as it would probably be a substantial cost addition, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss it.

 

Raph primarily differentiates himself from Don with his head sculpt. One my favorite aspects of the original film is how the costume designers, the without peer Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, made sure each turtle looked unique. It was really the first time you could tell the turtles apart without their weapons or colored masks, even though they never remove their masks in the film. NECA did a great job with Don, and maybe a better job with Raph. His facial expression perfectly captures his beady eyes and that tough, but sympathetic, aspect of his character. A more serious expression works better for Raph than it did the more jokey Donatello, so it was probably easy for NECA to settle on a facial expression than it was Don. The “tails” on Raph’s mask are also of the same cloth-like material used for Don’s. The color matching between the tails and sculpted plastic of the mask is well done and it’s a nice, authentic, shade of red. The material adds a little personality to the ends of the mask that sculpted plastic can’t replicate. As I mentioned before, aside from the head sculpt the body is basically the same as Don’s. The freckles are different, and I don’t know if they’re just randomized for each turtle or if they match to the actual costumes in the film. Raph’s shell also sports significantly more ware and tear than Don’s, implying he’s probably been in more fights than his brother which certainly fits with his character. The musculature of his limbs is the same though, with an added vein here and there. His belt rides lower, as it did in the film, and the sai fit off to the side just fine, though I find angling them in the same manner as they are on the back of his box a little tricky. And that box, which resembles the original movie poster and VHS release of the film, is a nice way to display the figure for those who do not like to open their toys. I also love how the NECA logo on the rear of the box resembles the old f.h.e. logo of the home video release of the old cartoon.

 

NECA’s Raphael is every bit as good as Donatello which came first and which figure is better is probably determined by personal preference for the characters. Raphael was basically the star of the first film, and it’s great to see him brought to life like this. The 1/4 scale may not be for everyone (he stands over 16″ tall), but it’s hard to deny the level of detail the format allows. Licensing agreements with Nickelodeon and Playmates, who has held the main TMNT toy license since the cartoon was launched, prevent NECA from doing what they want with the license, but it’s clear the company has a love for the franchise. The price, which basically starts at $99.99 but is sometimes priced higher by other merchants, is also steep, but at least the release of each turtle has been spread out to help minimize the impact of such an expensive purchase. The figures are impractical, but if you loved the original film as much as I did, then you can probably talk yourself into collecting this line.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection Vol. 4

1336705It’s been hard for me to find the time to sit down at the computer and contribute to this blog since becoming a dad in the spring of 2015. It has become especially hard as my offspring has learned to crawl, and then walk. Even so, that event occurred well after I posted my review of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:  The Ultimate Collection Vol. 3 in January 2013. Hopefully, no one has been sitting around waiting for this post since then, but at long last, I’m finally getting around to reviewing volume 4 of The Ultimate Collection.

For the uninitiated, The Ultimate Collection is a five volume set of hardcover, oversized comic book compilations chronicling the early years for the TMNT and collecting only the works of their original creators:  Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. The comics are presented in their original black and white with new cover art and liner notes by both creators. As someone who primarily experienced the Turtles as a kid via the cartoon and the films, I wanted to get this collection to experience firsthand the genesis of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

If you go back and read my review of Volume 3, you will notice I apparently took a long time in getting to that one as well. That was due to my lack of enthusiasm towards the product. For Volume 4, much is the same, unfortunately. Though I should point out right off the bat that Volume 4 is a better read than 3 as it compiles the last major arc of the original run:  City at War. Volume 3 concluded with the re-death of The Shredder and Volume 4 picks up right where that one left off with the two-part Shades of Gray plot commencing in Issue 48. This volume runs in perfect continuity as it contains issues 48-55 as it represents a point in time where Eastman and Laird both had a renewed interest in the comic and a desire to put a finishing touch, of sorts, on everything before going their separate ways.

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This encounter ends up making a large impact on Casey Jones.

Shades of Gray focuses on the Return to New York fallout and takes stock of where all of the main characters are presently at, in terms of their frame of mine. The Turtles return back to North Hampton but intend to return to New York after consulting with Splinter. Splinter is not coming with them, and Donatello wrestles with where his place is. Meanwhile, Casey is returning to his vigilante routes and accidentally takes a life in self defense, which gets the attention of Nobody, another vigilante introduced in the Tales of TMNT stories. Casey is spared, with some help from the Turtles, but is a wreck in the aftermath. April is also shown as lost and decides she needs to leave, especially with Casey being so distant. There’s some nice attention paid to Donatello as the story succeeds in giving his character a little more color than usual and he and Casey have a poignant encounter in the woods nearby.

Shades of Gray is basically a setup for City at War as it sets all of the characters out in new directions. April, searching for a fresh start, heads west to LA where her older sister Robyn resides. The Turtles head to New York, and Casey resolves to go after April after he clears his head. City at War also welcomes back Eastman and Laird to the artist’s chair for issue 1. Aside from that though, all of the pencils are handled by Jim Lawson in this collection. Eastman and Laird’s crowded, cross-hatching heavy art lends itself well to the congested city setting and their take on the Turtles is a welcomed return. Their still pretty amateurish when it comes to illustrating the human characters, in particular April, but overall I enjoy their artwork the most in this collection. It’s a shame it’s only for one issue.

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City at War Part 1 marks the return of Eastman and Laird as artists.

The City at War arc is primarily focused on the Turtles and their place in the New York community. They take on a Batman like role upon their initial return which frustrates Raph. The other brothers confide in one another that they’re unsure of what their place is and Leo has the hardest time with it and struggles with his role as leader for much of the collection. Meanwhile, the Foot Clan is in disarray and has splintered off into multiple factions. We see a rag-tag group of the ninjas mostly making trouble, but also a more sophisticated faction that targets the others financially via cyber warfare. And then there’s the Japan faction which is teased throughout the entire collection. They’re lead by Karai, who finally reaches New York by issue 55, but her presence isn’t felt until Volume 5. The Foot Elite are also around making trouble, and their allegiance is unclear. One encounter seems to place their allegiance still firmly with their deceased master making them a chaotic force simply out for revenge. It’s also unclear how large their numbers are, but considering they’re the elite force, probably few.

April’s adventures in LA are shown and they’re dull by comparison. Her scenarios often retread familiar ground as she still feels lost and without a home even with her sister and her sister’s young son. Robyn is the foil who tries to get April to loosen up, have fun, meet a guy, and so on. She humors her sister, to a point, and shows some genuine enthusiasm in the upcoming Christmas celebration she’ll be able to share with her sister, but not a lot happens.

Casey, on the other hand, gets sidetracked out in New Mexico when his truck gets stolen. He falls in with a waitress named Gabby, and the two quickly become an item. When Gabby confesses to Casey that she’s four months pregnant, he seems to find some new purpose for himself. The scenes between the two are hard to get a read on as Casey becomes consumed by this new role for himself. Does he genuinely have feelings for Gabby or is he too just looking for some new purpose for himself? Someone to take care of and protect?

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AC Fairly handles the covers and he prefers a “chunky” kind of turtle that I’m not particularly fond of.

It hurts that Eastman and Laird aren’t the most gifted storytellers or script writers. There’s a lot of groan-inducing dialogue, some intentional as Casey is basically a lunkhead, throughout the two more grounded arcs. The parts with the Turtles have minimal dialogue at times. It is frustrating to see, that after such a strong character-driven opening with Shades of Gray, that the Turtles mostly return to their personality-less roles for City at War. Only Leo and Raph are given room to show-off their personalities, which has become a reoccurring problem for the books as a whole. Mikey is the most criminally overlooked as his comic book counterpart has almost no defining characteristics beyond his weapons. Perhaps it was an unintentional reaction to his oversized personality everywhere else that Eastman and Laird chose to keep the spotlight away from him.

Not to be forgotten, is the Splinter arc which is mostly small, but contains a nice reveal at its end in this collection. Another Tales of TMNT character makes their main-line debut and one that is familiar to longtime TMNT fans. The setup is done well and I really enjoyed the brief depiction of this character. Hopefully it pays off in Volume 5.

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Lawson’s version of the Turtles is not one of my favorites.

As I mentioned before, Jim Lawson handles almost all of the pencils in this collection and it was the reason I grew so disinterested in the volume to begin with. I do not enjoy his take on the Turtles. They’re blocky and his art is sometimes sloppy. I’m mostly okay with his April, even if she seems to not have any of the physical traits of the Eastman and Laird version, and his Casey is fine. His backgrounds are a lot less crowded which works for some of the action scenes but sometimes there’s an emptiness to them. Perhaps the over-sized format draws more attention to all of the white space. He does have some awkward transitions where he tries to convey too much motion on one page, but at least he’s not beholden to the traditional panel approach. There’s also an overuse of splash pages in issues 54 and 55 that feel like filler. Even Laird admits in the liner notes he’s not sure why they went with so many. Lawson’s art does shine some in issue 54 when he gets to depict a cloaked Mikey in the snow. For some reason, the snow is abandoned in the following issue. I guess they had a heat wave.

The cover art and some of the interior art is new and handled by Eastman. It’s in line with the other collections, though not my favorite. I think the back cover would have been better off as the front as it depicts the Turtles surrounded by Foot Ninjas which is a nice representation of what’s contained inside. Otherwise though, it’s fine. The liner notes feel more substantial here as well, especially from Laid. Eastman is still too in love with everything they did while Laird is a little more critical. The quality of the set is once again very high and there’s little to complain about there. The pages are nice and thick and the whole set has a nice weight to it.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles continues to be a mostly action-oriented affair. The attempts at actual story-telling work better here than they did in some of the other issues, but a lot of it is also cliche and amateurish. No one picks up a TMNT comic expecting Shakespeare though, and there are some genuinely good bits of character development contained in these issues. I just wish they had a better artist.


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