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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.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) Season One Review

nick_tmnt_wallpaper1280x1024_02Back in September of 2012, Nickelodeon unveiled the newest incarnation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in a one-hour season premiere.  On August 8th, 2013, the first season came to a close with a one-hour season finale.  The symmetrical first season had its ups and downs, but no one can deny it was a smashing success from a commercial standpoint as Nickelodeon has already commissioned a second and third season.  Once again, the Turtles franchise has proven that it’s harder to squish than a cock roach as it rolls on into its fourth decade of cultural relevance.  Such was likely never predicted of the franchise back when it burst onto the scene in the late 1980’s.  I would be willing to bet most adults viewed it as the latest flavor of the month they had to endure to keep their kids happy as toys and various other merchandise was consumed by the millions.  Perhaps more importantly to fans, the first season of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was not only a commercial success, but a creative one as well as it successfully melded the various depictions of the Turtles over the years into an all new show.

I watched and wrote about the season premiere when it first aired and described my reaction as tempered enthusiasm towards the show.  That would eventually be replaced with full-on enthusiasm as I set my DVR to record each new episode (which became a challenge to keep track of as the broadcast schedule was all over the place) to watch at my leisure.  The show got better as the weeks rolled by and the writers seemed to become more comfortable with the characters.  A lot of the humor early on missed the mark but eventually the show found its groove in that department and routinely was able to bring a smile to my face.  The show also introduced a major plot thread that was woven through the entire first season revolving around the alien race known as the Kraang which helped make the show feel more significant for regular viewers.  I’ve always been a big fan of this approach for television over stand-alone episodes.

The Rat King was one of the better redesigns for the show.

The Rat King was one of the better redesigns for the show.

That’s not to say the show didn’t have stand-alone episodes here and there.  And quite frankly, that was when the show was its most uninteresting.  There was a period in the early part of the season where each episode felt like The Villain of the Week where some poor soul would be mutated into a monster the Turtles had to stop.  There was still humor to be found in these episodes and some nice action, but there was little lasting appeal.  Some of these monsters were also severely lacking in the personality department, both in a behavioral sense and visually speaking.  That is definitely one area where the old cartoon still reigns supreme as the villains often had a pretty interesting and fun look to them.  That was probably due to Playmates wanting a fun toy to market, but it worked.  The show did get better as the season went along, with one of my favorite looks for a villain popping up towards the end in the form of a newt with a Punisher-like pattern to his spots.

Overall, when compared with the old cartoon, the show was less reliant on guest spots and was content to rely primarily on a core group of characters.  The Shredder, obviously, was a big part of the first season even if he was secondary to the Kraang threat.  The writers wisely kept him out of action though, which made the episodes where he took up arms against the Turtles extra special.  He’s also a total bad ass when in combat, a far cry from the bumbling Shredder of the 80’s or even the original comic book Shredder who is famously decapitated by Leonardo at the end of the series’ first book.  This Shredder still retains his old look but with more black and bigger blades.  He’s also far more scarred than any other as his face has been badly burned and he appears to be blind in one eye.  Like the old Shredder, this one also has two mutant henchmen:  Dogpound and Fishface.  While these two are not as stupid as Bebop and Rocksteady, they’re not any more successful and are often beaten back by the Turtles.  Baxter Stockman also falls in with the Shredder during season one and provides him with some heightened technology.  Karai, Shredder’s daughter, is also introduced as a bit of tweener villain in that she has a bit of a friendship with Leonardo which serves as the backbone for a series of episodes during the middle part of the first season.  Other characters familiar to longtime fans also show up, such as Leatherhead and the Rat King, sporting new designs and new personalities.  I particularly enjoyed the new design for the Rat King and thought he was among the best of the villains shown off.  I hope to see more of him in the future.

The Karai/Leo subplot was one of the more interesting parts of season one.

The Karai/Leo subplot was one of the more interesting parts of season one.

On the Turtle front, the cast basically stayed the same throughout the first season.  A lot of old favorites were brought back though such as a new take on the Turtle Van which is now a subway car.  The Turtles retain their signature personality traits but they feel more honest this time around.  Raphael, for example, doesn’t just get pissed-off because he’s supposed to and Leonardo is far from being an emotionless robot.  All of them have strengths and weaknesses, and for the most part, they also feel like teenagers.

Of particular enjoyment for long-time fans were all of the little easter eggs and throwbacks inserted into this series.  Metalhead was brought back as a robot constructed by Donatello.  He looks fairly similar to the old one, only much smaller.  There’s even a spot during the episode were one of the bran-like Kraang latches onto his head, which I have to believe is a nod to the original action figure’s sculpted brain.  The leader of the Kraang also inhabits a giant robot body and the antenna on its head evokes images of Krang’s body from the old cartoon.  Little things like that go a long way towards pleasing the older fans and trying to spot them is part of the enjoyment in watching the show for me.  The Technodrome is also introduced during the season finale, and the long-awaited Splinter vs Shredder confrontation takes place as well.  There’s a big reveal in the season finale that I think anyone familiar with the franchise saw from a mile away, but it was still done well and, despite being predictable, is actually a new direction for an old character.

The Donatello/April relationship could have felt forced, but the writers have handled it well and I'm actually curious to see where it goes (expect Casey Jones to eventually butt-in).

The Donatello/April relationship could have felt forced, but the writers have handled it well and I’m actually curious to see where it goes (expect Casey Jones to eventually butt-in).

From an artistic standpoint, the show animates quite well and is far superior to the DC CG cartoons currently airing on Cartoon Network.  The city streets of New York remained pretty barren for the whole of season one with some signs of life in the finale, but otherwise the show looks good.  I like the fact that each turtle has his own shape and anatomy instead of basically looking exactly like the others with the exception of the mask.

All in all, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a good show that strikes the perfect balance between action and comedy.  The story-telling was also better than could be expected and the writing staff will have a hard time topping season one.  Its start reminds me quite a bit of the 2003 cartoon which, for me anyway, fell off quite a bit in the second season and seasons to follow.  Hopefully this show doesn’t meet the same fate.  Because season one was spread out over so many months, the wait for season two to begin is actually a fairly brief one as its set to kick off in late September.  This version of the Turtles may not be violent like the originals, or say “Cowabunga!” like the old toons, but they have a chance to go down as the best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles yet!


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