Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tales of Leo #4, on second thought...


You ever have one of those moments where you inexplicably find yourself thinking about a story you initially had a concrete reaction to, only to suddenly look at it from a new angle and come to a completely different conclusion?

Well, I had such an epiphany about the ending to the miniseries Tales of Leonardo: Blind Sight, and added an update to my review to account for that.  It's a little thing and not a substantial update, but I figured I'd post it.

I don't think it changes my emotional evaluation of the ending (I still don't care for it), but I can at least give Lawson credit that maybe he was going for something entirely different from my initial interpretation.  If anything, this was more an exercise in reevaluation and sometimes that can be a cathartic experience in and of itself.

So for all those out there who liked "Blind Sight" and didn't appreciate my initial negative reaction, maybe I'm starting to see things your way.  At least a little bit.  (Leo is still a prick at the end of the arc no matter how you slice it, which might have been Lawson's bleak and cynical point.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Mirage TMNT short comics


As you are no doubt well aware, Mirage published a boatload of short-form Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics during the 25 years they spent as stewards of the franchise.  These stories were scattered across back-ups in Mirage titles (sometimes exclusive to later printings), segments in anthology titles, bonus features in reprint collections, and as guest content in books from other publishers.

While trade paperbacks such as Shell Shock have made an attempt to collect many of these stories, there's no single way to snatch them all up at once.  So for ease of reference, here's a listing of all the short-form TMNT comics either created by or published by Mirage, in alphabetical order by title.  Exceptions include back-up strips from TMNT publications that didn't feature the TMNT (such as the Space Usagi and Gizmo back-ups).


Altered Fates
Apocalypse Vow
Apparition
Awww... rats!

Bearing the Burden
Bottoming Out

Casey Jones, Private Eye
Challenges
Channeling
Choices
Christmas Carol, A
Community Service
Complete Carnage an' Radical
Crack in a Hard Heart
Crazy Man
Credo
Crossing, The
Cure, The
Cyber Strike!

D'Ants Fever
Digital Webbing Presents: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Donatello: The Ring
Don't Judge a Book...
Doors of Deception, The

Failed Instant
Fathers and Daughters
Fifteen Years Later...
First Mud
Forgotten TMNT Adventure, A
49th Street Stompers
Fugitoid, The
Fun With Guns

Ghosts of Christmas Past
Ghouls Night Out
Grape, The
Green

Howl, The

It's a Gas

Junk Man

Klunk Adventure, A
Kung-Fu Theater

Lasagna Loves
Lesson, The: A Tale of the Triceraton Marines
Lessons, The
Life on Earth

Meanwhile... 100,000,000 BC
Mid-Afternoon of the Living Dead
Mission, The
Mother of All Anger, The
My Hero!

Name is Lucindra, The
New Comic Day!
New York Ninja
Night Life
Night of the Ninja Girl
North by Down East (Part One)
North by Down East (Part Two)
Not One Word!

O-Deed
Old Times
One's Shadow!

Perrier (a Green-Grey Sponge-Suit Sushi Turtles Solo Adventure)
Pesticide
Purpose of Fear, The

Question, The

Raisin', The
Raphael: Snapper
Ready Set Go!
Ring of Death, The
Rippling, The
Risen, The
Road Hogs
Road Trip, The
Rockin' Rollin' Miner Ants feat. the TMNT

Secret Spirit
Showdown
Spinal Tapped
Splinter in the Eye of God?, A
Survival Game, The
Sweat, Sweat, Sweet Renet

Tales of Alternate Turtles on the Moon!
Tales of Alternate Turtles on the Moon! part two
Tales of the TMNT Treasury Edition epilogue
Technofear!!!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (by Thibodeaux)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (by Dooney)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (by Dowling)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The (by Hembeck)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Attack!!! Part 1
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Attack!!! Part 2
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Attack!!! Part 3
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Attack!!! Part 4
Teen Techno Turtle Trio Plus One!
Terror by Transmat!
This Mortal Shell
Thoughts on Paper
Threads
Toyoduh (a Green-Grey Sponge-Suit Sushi Turtles Solo Adventure)
Treaty, The
Trophy, The
Turtle Dreams
Turtle Power!
Turtle Soup and Rabbit Stew

Untitled Nobody story

Velveeduh (a Green-Grey Sponge-Suit Sushi Turtles Solo Adventure)
Viceroy (a Green-Grey Sponge-Suit Sushi Turtles Solo Adventure)

Word Warriors

You Had to be There
You're in the Army Now

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #41


Publication date: December, 2007

Story: Steve Murphy and Steph Dumais
Script: Steve Murphy
Cover and art: Steph Dumais
Letters: Eric Talbot
Frontispiece: Antonio Montalvo

“Swan Song”

Summary:

Frontispiece: As Leonardo unsheathes his sword, he states that there are few things in the universe that can surprise or impress him.  However, given all he’s been through during his life, he often reflects on what has been and what is yet to be…

2099.  Leonardo descends from the temple in Mt. Fuji where he’d meditated for the past seven years, finally feeling that he’s ready to reenter civilization.  The elderly Turtle travels across the world, revisiting places that are of great sentimental value to him.  At last, he arrives at the end of his journey: San Francisco.


Many years ago.  Leo feels like he’s reached a block on his studies in spirituality and so he reunites with Radical.  She takes him to the southwest and teaches him a greater sense of spiritual enrichment through the natural world.  Leo realizes he never could have made it to this point without her help and the two fall in love.  They spend many years together, retreating away from the unnatural world of civilization.

After some time, they decide to return to civilization and go to New York to visit the other Turtles.  Radical lays her feet on asphalt for the first time in years and suddenly senses something wrong.  Before she can react, Complete Carnage rises from a brick wall, grabs her and breaks her neck.  He then vanishes before Leo can do anything.  The Turtles bury her in her homeland in Massachusetts and Leo embarks upon a mission of revenge, determined to kill Complete Carnage.


Several more years pass and when Leo fails to find his prey, he considers suicide.  When he passes that up, he joins a sect of monks in Mt. Fuji and finds inner peace, attaining the rank of Bodhisattva.  After years among the monks, Leo returns to civilization and hears the news that many people have been taken hostage in Hong Kong… in a building encased in stone.


Leo goes to Hong Kong and infiltrates the building through the sewers.  He finds the hostages ensnared in stone tentacles, being lorded over by Complete Carnage.  The villain mocks Leo, but Leo tells him that he hasn’t come to fight.  Rather, he’s come to forgive him for killing Radical.  Complete Carnage laughs at the idea and snaps the neck of one of the hostages.  Leo erupts into a blind rage and the two fight.  Eventually, Leo slices Complete Carnage in two right down the middle, killing him.  Realizing he’s failed in his mission, Leo discards his katana, swears off killing, cleanses himself and retreats once more from civilization.


2099.  After meditating upon all of this, the elderly Leo climbs into a small treehouse to rest, saying that he’s at last ready for the next life.


Turtle Tips:

*The flashbacks in this story take place in the future era of the Mirage universe, sometime after Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #69 (due to Raph’s missing eye), but sometime before the epilogue in Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #55 (where Mikey was declared missing).  The framing sequence takes place at about the end of the timeline, just before the Tales of the TMNT Treasury epilogue.

*This story explains why 45 year-old Leo in Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #13 and #14 was so grouchy.  The origin of elderly Leo's cybernetic bokken was also explained in that story.

*Radical last appeared in TMNT (Vol. 4) #11.

*Complete Carnage was thought dead in TMNT (Vol. 1) #27.  The Turtles defeated a clone of him in The Savage Dragon #22.

*This issue also came with a bonus story, “Fathers and Daughters” by Tupper and Kudranski, and a bonus pin-up, “Winter Walk” by Michael Dooney.

*In an "Ask Peter" Q&A on Peter Laird's TMNT blog (posted Nov. 18, 2013), a fan inquired as to Laird's personal thoughts on "Swan Song".  His response was thus: "I have to admit, with a bit of embarrassment, that there are some 'Tales of the TMNT' stories which I have not read, or even reviewed the premises for, and that I believe is one of them. So I can't really comment on that. I will say this, though -- I've never been a fan of the 'human/Turtle love story' thing."


Review:

“Swan Song” is a very frustrating story, mostly because it has the potential to be a classic but falters on some unforgivable levels.

What we have here is the final tale of Leonardo.  At the time, Murphy was getting into telling future stories that saw the Turtles meet some rather depressing ends (see my article on the future of the Mirage universe for more on that) and this was Leo’s big finish.  He wastes what seems to be the last half of his life (or maybe more than that since he lives to be over a hundred) first on a mission of revenge and then on a mission of forgiveness (both for himself and his enemies) that ultimately fails.  It’s kind of sad to know that when looking at the entire lifespan of Leonardo, more than 50% of it is spent in misery and failure.

You’ll notice a pattern in this story as the narrative works in a cycle: Living in the natural world of the wilderness, living in the unnatural world of human civilization, living in the natural world of the wilderness, and so on.  Back and forth.  What you’ll probably also notice is that things don’t start to go wrong in Leo’s life until he reenters civilization, and the only times things go right in his life is when he retreats into the wilderness. 

Living in civilization, he was unable to achieve spiritual oneness.  But then when he and Radical retreat to the southwest, he attains a higher plane and also finds love.  When they return to civilization, though, Radical dies and Leo wastes years of his life fruitlessly hunting for revenge.  When Leo retreats to the monastery in Mt. Fuji, he attains inner peace and learns about forgiveness.  When he goes to Hong Kong, he flips out and kills Complete Carnage, failing in his training.  Then when he goes back to Mt. Fuji, he calms down again and comes to terms with everything.  But when he goes back to San Francisco, it’s to die all alone (or so is the implication, but never stated outright).

You see the pattern here, right?  It actually follows the theme of “Dreams of Stone” in a way, which was the story that introduced spirituality and the concept of “man vs. nature” to Complete Carnage and Radical.  Basically, it boils down to “Man = Bad” and “Nature = Good”.  Not nearly as deep a philosophy as Murphy’s script would like you to think it is.

What sticks a knife in this story isn’t the philosophy or anything like that.  What hurts it is the utterly insincere romance between Leo and Radical which this entire tale hinges on.  Their pairing is so utterly, inexplicably random you’d think you were reading something from Fanfiction.net.  In none of their appearances together had Leo and Radical ever intimated a romantic interest in one another.  There was never any build up to this positively vital, life-changing relationship.  They hook up for the first time on Page 6 and by Page 8 they’re soulmates who were destined for each other and are forever bonded in a spiritual oneness light years beyond the frail human concept of “love”. 

The story has to TELL you how in love they are because none of the groundwork was ever laid for their romance, so the entire emotional center of this story rings hollow.  And really?  Radical?  The Mirage TMNT canon isn’t exactly spoiled for choice when it comes to recurring female characters.  I imagine if the dart had landed elsewhere on the board, Leo would have had an eternal bond of spiritual synchronicity with Robyn O’Neil.

Also, Radical is reintroduced to the TMNT comics for one reason and one reason only: To die so that Leo can feel sad and have a more interesting story.  Now, I really don’t like to use internet buzz words like “fridging”, because more often than not, people use the term so casually and improperly that it’s lost all genuine meaning (“female character dying” does not always equate to “fridging”).  However, in this instance, it really is a genuine case of “fridging”.  Radical was plucked randomly from the depths of TMNT obscurity for no other reason than because she was female and because Leo needed a female character to die and make him more interesting.  It’s really pretty awful.  Radical amounts to nothing more than a prop in this story, far be it a real character.

And jeez, what is with her dialogue?  Remember Radical, the super heroine with an attitude and a sense of humor who made quips?  Well, in this story she talks exclusively in stilted pseudo-spiritual babble and odd, unnatural phrases.  She awkwardly refers to Leo as “my love” (as if she’s reminding the audience for the dozenth time how in love they are) and only speaks in these labored soliloquies about the cycle of life and death.  Here’s a prime piece of dialogue for you to mull over.  Leo says, “And then we step into the great unknown.”  Radical replies with, “Perhaps.  Or perhaps into the great… KNOWN.”

Oh holy shit, shut the fuck up.

And other things don’t add up.  Like, how did Complete Carnage come back to life, anyway?  He was robbed of his powers by the great spirits and dissolved into nothingness on the astral plane.  No explanation is ever offered.  And why is he suddenly a mass murderer and implied rapist?  He was a goof in all his other appearances.  And how the fuck does getting chopped in half KILL him?  Remember when he was completely disassembled yet all his dismembered parts continued to live autonomously?

So much of this story is sloppy beyond reason.  That’s why I said the whole thing reads like fanfiction.  Established characterization and internal logic is jettisoned when it proves inconvenient to the story Murphy and Dumais are desperately struggling to tell.  I WANT to like this story for the broad strokes involving Leonardo’s failures and how he conquered them into old age, but the SUBSTANCE of the story just isn’t there.

Steph Dumais’s artwork goes for this sort of ultra-flat, almost woodcut style and it certainly stands out amongst the other artists on Tales of the TMNT.  I remember disliking it when I first read the issue, but the more I go over these pages and evaluate them, the more I appreciate the simplified aesthetic take.  I wouldn’t want to read too many issues of TMNT with this look, but it’s a fresh break from the usual.  

What Dumais mostly draws, unfortunately, are scenes of traveling.  Leo walking through cities, through the southwest, through fields, along dirt roads… So much of this story involves that cycle I talked about (retreating from civilization, going back, retreating, going back) that the narrative is reduced to a lot of walking.  Dumais doesn’t get the most exciting material to draw, but the fight with Complete Carnage looked alright even if the lack of lineweight to accommodate the flat style made the chaotic pages a little tough to read.

“Swan Song” is… well, it’s a swing and a miss.  I appreciate that it TRIED to tell this grand epic that covered the depressing (yet somewhat hopeful) end to Leonardo’s life, but it still strikes out for all the reasons I mentioned above.  Still, it ties in to a LOT of other stories in the Mirage canon and plays an important role in the grand scheme of things.  So I guess I like “Swan Song” in how it affects other TMNT stories, not so much for what it actually is on its own.

Grade: D- (as in, “Don’t try to tell me Leo and Radical didn’t do it in that tent.  The sword plunged into a crack in the earth wasn’t exactly subtle symbolism”.)


Saturday, October 25, 2014

TMNT: The Movie


Originally published by: Mirage Comics and Archie Comics (see Turtle Tips)
Publication date: Summer, 1990

Adaptation by: Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman
Layouts: Kevin Eastman
Script: Peter Laird
Pencils: Jim Lawson
Inks: Eric Talbot, Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird
Color: Steve Lavigne
Lettering: Gary Fields
Dedicated to: Steve Barron

Summary:

Channel 6 news reporter April O’Neil is covering a recent crimewave plaguing New York; one she doesn’t feel the local authorities are doing anything about.  As she heads to her van after dark, she’s attacked by a group of thugs, but saved by a quartet of shadowy figures from the sewer.  As she purloins a fallen sai and heads to the police station, those shadowy figures in the sewers turn out to be…


The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!  They’re celebrating their first battle, except for Raph, who wants his sai back.  They return home to Splinter and order some pizza while Raph goes out for a movie.

Meanwhile, a crazy man sits in his apartment watching the news on TV.  He finally snaps and decides to do something about all the crime in his city.  Later, as Raph leaves the theater, he stops a purse snatching and follows the criminals into central park.  The crazy man, Casey Jones, gets to them first and begins beating on them with a hockey stick.  Raph intervenes and he and Casey fight.  Casey slugs Raph and gets away.  The Turtle goes back home to the lair and Splinter calls him over for a talk, warning him to get his anger under control.


At April’s apartment, her boss Charles and his delinquent son Danny stop by to see that April’s okay.  April shoos them away and heads to City Hall to antagonize Police Chief Sterns for not taking the Foot Clan connection regarding the crimewave seriously.  The Turtles watch her on the news and Raph sees a chance to get his sai back and leaves.  Another figure dressed in armor watches the same report and dispatches his henchmen to deal with her.  And at the same time, Danny is arrested and taken past Chief Sterns’ office.

In the subway, April is attacked by several Foot Soldiers who want to silence her.  She’s saved by Raph, but knocked out in the process.  He takes her back to the lair, unaware that a lone Foot Soldier is following him.  When April awakens, and when she calms down, Splinter tells her the story of how they came to be: The baby turtles in the sewer, the canister of chemicals that bathed them all in ooze, etc. 

She then invites them back to her apartment above the Second Time Around Shop and after they get to know each other, the Turtles head home.  Unfortunately, they find the lair in shambles and Splinter missing.  They return to April’s apartment, unsure of what to do.  Meanwhile, Sterns finds out about Danny’s arrest and presses Charles to get April to drop the case.  Charles and Danny stop by her apartment and while Charles tries to get her to let the Foot Clan case go, Danny thinks he glimpses the Turtles hiding.


At a warehouse on East and Lairdman, the Foot Clan and their band of young thieves assemble.  Their leader, the Shredder, and his lieutenant, Tatsu, punish several young thieves who were caught and had to be bailed out of jail.  The Shredder tells the teens gathered that if they want to be a part of his family, they must earn their place amongst the Foot.  Of interest, he wants to know more about the freaks who have become a threat to their operations.  Danny then raises his hand.

Later that night, Raph gets fed up with waiting around in April’s place instead of looking for Splinter and goes to the rooftops to cool off.  He’s spotted by Casey Jones, but even worse, he’s attacked by the Foot Soldiers and Tatsu.  The fight spills into April’s apartment and even though Casey shows up to help, the Turtles are outnumbered.  They gather up the injured Raphael as the building catches on fire and escape through a back door.  As Casey holds back the Foot Soldiers, he hears a message for April from Charles, firing her.  They all escape in April’s van and flee the city.

Witnessing the violence, Danny regrets his actions and returns to the warehouse to talk to Splinter (who has just survived an interrogation session from Shredder).  Shredder blames Tatsu for letting the Turtles get away and in a rage, Tatsu murders one of the young Foot Soldiers who was under his command.  Danny watches this in horror as Splinter tells him about the true nature of family.


The Turtles escape to April’s old family farmhouse in Northampton.  Leonardo takes to watching over the recovering Raphael, while Donatello begins a friendship with Casey Jones and Michelangelo begins training more seriously.  April also develops a relationship with Casey, albeit a budding romance.  Raph soon recovers and Leo receives a psychic message from Splinter.  The Turtles gather and focusing their minds and bodies, speak telepathically with their father.  Knowing that Splinter is alive, the Turtles decide that it’s time to return to New York.

Quietly, they go back to the lair, though Casey stays on the streets to stand guard.  They find Danny hiding in the place and April allows him to stay for the night on the condition he go home to Charles in the morning.  As they sleep, Danny steals one of April’s drawings of the Turtles and sneaks back to the warehouse.  Casey sees him leaving and follows.  Danny goes to talk to Splinter again, who tells him about Oroku Nagi, Hamato Yoshi, Tang Shen and Oroku Saki (you know the story).  Splinter also tells him about how he was unable to save Hamato Yoshi, but did scar Saki’s face in the fight.  The Shredder catches Danny, finds the drawing and realizes that the Turtles are back.

The Turtles are prepared for the attack (having woken up and found Danny missing with some of April’s drawings) and ambush the Foot Soldiers when they show up.  Meanwhile, Casey frees Splinter and Danny, defeating Tatsu in battle.  He also inspires the teenagers to abandon the Foot Clan and return to their real families.


The fight escalates onto a rooftop, where the Turtles face down the Shredder (only to get trounced).  Casey shows up with Splinter, who enters the battle and reveals that he was the one who scarred Shredder’s face.  Shredder attacks and Splinter flips him over the edge of the roof, evidently killing him.

The police arrive to clean up the mess and the teenagers Casey inspired tell Chief Sterns that he’ll find all the evidence of the Foot Clan at the warehouse on East and Lairdman.  Charles reunites with Danny and then rehires April (who finally kisses Casey).  The Turtles and Splinter celebrate their victory with a cowabunga.


Several weeks later, April and Danny pitch the idea of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the Mega Comics publisher.  The editor rejects the idea for being too farfetched.  The Turtles, watching from a window, find that assessment insulting.


Turtle Tips:

*The story continues in TMNT II: The Secret of the Ooze.

*Obviously, this one-shot comic is an adaptation of the 1990 “TMNT: The Movie” motion picture from Golden Harvest.

*3 versions of this comic were released simultaneously by Mirage Comics and Archie Comics.
**Mirage Edition (black and white, bonus pages)
**Archie Newsstand Edition (flat colors by Barry Grossman, no bonus pages)
**Archie Prestige Edition (painted colors by Steve Lavigne, no bonus pages)

*On September 16, 2014, IDW released an updated version titled TMNT the Original 1990 Motion Picture: Special Edition with new digital colors, all the bonus pages from the Mirage Edition and Kevin Eastman’s original layouts and notes.

*Mirage published an official parody of the film/comic adaptation: Green-Grey Sponge-Suit Sushi Turtles #1.


Review:

Note: The only version I own is the Archie Prestige Edition, so that is the version I am reviewing.

I don’t normally care much for comics that adapt movies and TV shows, as it always seems like a “why bother?” sort of situation, but this first adaptation of the live action film series is a little different.  Having been adapted from an earlier draft of the screenplay, it contains a lot of scenes that were either altered or deleted from the finished film.  It sort of gives you a peek into the movie we might have gotten, though largely it plays the same.

A few of the more interesting differences include the epilogue with the comic publisher (which was filmed, but never used) and a back story that actually included Oroku Nagi (the version in the film combines his character with Oroku Saki).  What I really thought was cool was that this adaptation contained the original version of the scene where Tatsu punishes the young Foot Soldier, murdering him.  The scene in the film is exactly the same, but they dubbed in groans to indicate the teen survived (though the reactions from everyone around him are incongruous; they clearly think he’s dead).  There are other snippets here and there, like Casey watching April’s news report and being inspired to fight crime (in the movie, he just randomly shows up already as a vigilante with no build up) and a bit of character development for Michelangelo, who takes being defeated the hardest and begins to train more seriously.

It’s a bizarre situation, because while these little odds and ends that were cut from the film but retained for the comic adaptation actually help to improve the narrative cohesion of the plot, the flow of the story is INCREDIBLY condensed.  They compress the whole film down into a 50-page graphic novel, and it’s impressive how much content Eastman and Laird were able to keep, but this thing flows FAST.

The story doesn’t suffer so much as the action does; fight scenes are very brief and over as soon as they start.  Eastman’s layouts are great and for 50 pages he crams in as much as he can (this was a very action-heavy film), but the epic showdown with the Shredder spans a whopping two and a half pages (the Turtles only battle him for the “half” portion of that “two and a half” pages).  It’s my understanding that the Mirage edition (and thus the IDW edition) contains bonus splash pages and spreads which decompress the action sequences so that they aren’t so brisk.  I’ll have to check that edition out some day and see if it reads better than the Archie version.

The adaptations for the sequels aren’t as good as this first one and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend those comics to anyone, but I do think this first adaptation is pretty cool and worth checking out.  Lawson’s finishes over Eastman’s layouts look excellent and Steve Lavigne’s painted colors give it a nice feel (though he miscolors the bandanas during the campfire sequence, making it a little confusing).  I don’t know about the colors in the other versions, unfortunately.

There’s also the fact that all the characters are drawn with their Mirage Comics models, so it looks like the Mirage characters are summarizing their own adventures (the movie adapted all the Foot Clan arcs from TMNT Volume 1 #1-21).  It sort of reminds me of Now Comics and how they adapted “Ghostbusters II” by drawing all the characters in their Real Ghostbusters likenesses (an easy way to avoid having to license the likenesses of the actors).

Anyhow, you’re kind of spoiled for choice when it comes to versions of this thing, but while I like Lavigne’s colors in the Archie Prestige Edition, I can’t argue that IDW’s edition is likely the best version out there (all the bonus pages, in color, with Eastman’s complete layouts).  I’ll have to grab that one of these days.

Grade: B- (as in, “But what, no dump truck?  That was Casey’s big moment!”)