Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Michelangelo: The Third Kind #4


Publication date: December, 2008

Story and art: Jim Lawson
Inks and letters: Eric Talbot
Cover: Jim Lawson and Steve Lavigne

“The Third Kind, Part 4”

Summary:

Strolling down the street, Michelangelo meets up with Klag (who is wearing a “skin suit” to disguise himself as a human).  Klag tells Mike that he called him with urgent news: H.A.A.R.M. has placed bombs all over the city and is threatening to detonate them unless Ambassador Cesse Mon Zir Te is handed over to them for execution.  Mike asks why the Utroms don’t just do a weapons scan on the city like before, but Klag says the atmospheric rings would tip off H.A.A.R.M. and they’d detonate the explosives.  Klag asks Mikey to come with him to the park where they’ll be making the exchange and try to help him resolve the conflict bloodlessly.  Mikey hops on the hovercraft and they vamoose.


At a park near the docks, Klag parks his hovercraft and tells Mikey that he has to coordinate the NYPD standing guard, but asks Mikey to keep watch in case things go sour.  Mikey finds the H.A.A.R.M. mob in a clearing as the Utroms deliver the Ambassador to them.  Jingo then comes strolling to the center of the clearing to the tune of a standing ovation from his loyal followers.  Jingo asks them to settle down, as he has a speech to deliver.

Jingo says that he’s taken the time to reflect on his behavior and has come to the conclusion that he was motivated out of fear and distrust.  However, he says he realized that in order to move forward as a person, he needed to overcome that fear.  He tells the crowd that they, too, need to overcome their fear and accept the change with an open mind. 


Barry erupts from the crowd, saying that the aliens have brainwashed Jingo and pulls a gun on the Ambassador.  Before he can fire, Mikey knocks it from his hand with a shuriken and asks Jingo to finish his speech.  Jingo simply says that they must overcome their basic urges to fight and lash out with violence so that they can learn and grow as a people.  The Ambassador shakes his hand, settling the feud.  Detective Clover and the NYPD then take Barry into custody.  Clover sees Mikey disappear into the woods but, after having witnessed him save the Ambassador’s life, chooses not to pursue him.  Mikey waits for Klag by the hovercraft but when he doesn’t show, he decides to fly it back to the Moon-Island.

Landing the craft, Mikey hears a thumping from the trunk.  Opening it, he finds the real Jingo bound and gagged.  Klag then approaches him and explains that he was the "Jingo" who gave the speech, having worn a skin suit in Jingo’s likeness.  Klag apologizes for the deception, but says he felt that it was the only way to quell the violence and inspire the people to reconsider their opinions.  Mike asks what will become of Jingo and Klag says he will have his memory of the incident wiped before being returned home unharmed.  Mike suggests that Jingo will simply go back to being a bigoted hatemonger, but Klag assures Mikey that humanity possesses the ability to change more than any of them realize.

The End.

Back-up story:

“Life on Earth”

Story, art, inks and letters: Jim Lawson

Traveling in a hover-van from the Moon-Island, a pair of Utroms drop off a small, tentacled alien (the same on who was almost lynched) and wish him well on his daytrip to New York City.  As the alien silently traverses the city, he bears witness to a number of reactions.  Protestors yell at him, cabbies tell him to get out of the way, oblivious businessmen mistake him for an ashtray, dogs pee on him, girls flash him, tourists crowd him for photos and street musicians tell him to get off their turf.


At last, the alien crosses paths with a homeless man.  The bum looks into the creature’s face and his eyes glow with enlightenment as he witnesses the broader scope of the whole universe.


Turtle Tips:

*This story is continued from Michelangelo: The Third Kind #3.

*Klag will appear again in Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #62.


Review:

And so “The Third Kind” just sort of… ends.  All of the characters, story arcs and concepts were set up in advance in this miniseries and nothing feels out of the blue or anything.  It just sort of starts and stops and starts and stops and then ends.  The pacing of the narrative is bumpy with odd time gaps between chapters and includes characters who just sort of appear and disappear with varying degrees of importance.  I mean, just look at Barry.  He got the lion’s share of attention in the first issue then disappeared altogether for the middle of the series and then appears suddenly here at the end and has his storyline resolved.  Detective Clover was looking like she might have a big impact on the storyline but her conflict with Mikey is resolved with a silent nod.

It’s a clumsy read, as characters drift in and out of the story with lopsided amounts of attention and even Michelangelo is just sort of there.  He takes orders from Klag and helps save the day, but his dialogue is dry and lifeless, pretty much just going through the motions.  Jim Lawson wanted to tell a story about prejudice on a global scale and Michangelo is merely along for the ride.  That’s fine, since First Contact is much bigger than the Ninja Turtles and they very much ARE “just along for the ride” in this scenario… but man does it make for a dull read.

And yet, there are moments that I really love.  This issue starts with Michelangelo just cold walking down the street in broad daylight and totally not giving a fuck.  It’s something he’s never been able to do before in his life and he is taking absolutely NO joy in the experience.  H.A.A.R.M. thugs try to attack him, pedestrians either scream or chatter behind his back… He finally gets to socialize and be amongst the people as himself and it blows.  Lawson doesn’t spell it out with an internalized monologue or anything and the scene doesn’t go on for too long; you just observe it and you can tell exactly how Michelangelo is feels.  This is everything he thought he wanted his whole life and it’s nothing like he imagined it would be.

The twist ending with Klag masquerading as Jingo came not so much as a surprise but felt like more or less the only means to resolve the conflict.  It was deceptive, but presented as a case of the ends justifying the means.  Taking a messiah-like entity and having him sing a different tune in order to sway the masses was pretty fitting strategy from the Utroms; a non-violent solution though one that poses an ethical dilemma.  

At the same time, however, “The Third Kind” is very much a Big Picture kind of story.  New York City is just one city in the whole world; there are 6 billion people reacting to First Contact and the Utroms are likely going to have to deal with the same issues all over the globe.  And with a one year deadline, they can’t really take the time to gradually coax the masses into coming around at their own pace.  Subverting the populace by masquerading as influential figures has a "They Live" feel to it, yeah, but it gets the job done without killing anybody.

“The Third Kind” is also a lot of preaching.  Lawson goes on and on about how awful humanity is with the attitude of someone whining, "God, aren't people just the WORST?"  But unless I’ve been mistaken all these years, I figure Lawson is a human being, too.  It’s this holier than thou shtick that you get from a lot of folks who generalize humanity as being inherently evil or selfish or cruel or bigoted… all of humanity except the people preaching against humanity because they know better, right?  “Everybody is awful but me”, that sort of attitude.  At the end of the day, Lawson is trying to lead his readers to a very simple conclusion (“Racism Bad.  Change Good”) but takes a ponderously long-winded route to get there with a lengthy diversion through Narcissism Country.

As for the back-up, it summarizes the message Lawson spent four issues running into the ground with only four near-wordless pages.  "Everyone on Earth is terrible except one guy and that one guy is totally enlightened and understands the universe better than everyone else."  Or maybe it was something about an open mind or whatever and I'm just being cynical, I dunno.

Anyway, “The Third Kind” is a bore but it shows us the sweeping change in the Mirage universe that before now had merely been summarized in a narrative caption.  Because of the broad scope the actual Turtles feel like small fish in a big pond, which isn’t out of line, but it makes for a dull, plodding yarn.  So this was a boring comic that told an important story.  Do the ends justify the means?  Presumably Klag would think so.


Grade: C- (as in, “Can’t say that I’m not personally guilty of standing on a soapbox and preaching my opinions to people.  This is a blog, after all”.)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Michelangelo: The Third Kind #3


Publication date: November, 2008

Story and art: Jim Lawson
Inks and letters: Eric Talbot
Cover: Jim Lawson and Steve Lavigne

“The Third Kind, Part 3”

Summary:

With New York City under curfew and the National Guard moving in to try and quell the unrest, gang violence and looting begins to break out.  H.A.A.R.M. members seem to be at the epicenter of the worst of it, even going so far as to bomb power substations in addition to looting shops.

Mikey gets a call from Klag to meet him in Union Square and leaves the lair (against Leo’s orders).  Klag picks him up on his hovercraft and tells him that he’s been researching H.A.A.R.M. and has found out where their headquarters is (Oberon Bros. Garage) and who their leader is (a guy named Jingo).  Klag wants to try and talk things out with Jingo but asks Mike to come with him in case things get violent.  Things get violent as soon as they approach the garage and while Mikey and Klag fight off the thugs, Jingo flees.


At the same time, weird energy rings appear above the city.  Ambassador Cesse Mon Zir Te comes on TV to tell the public that the rings were an atmospheric after-effect of a scan for weapons of mass destruction.  He explains that the scan was performed with the cooperation and approval of the US Government and the energies that were used would cause no harm to anybody.  Nevertheless, this puts people on edge.  The news then picks up a story about a strange object appearing in Central Park.  The NYPD evacuates and cordons off the park until the situation can be examined.

After dark, Mikey sneaks into the park to get a look at the weird monolith.  He imagines that it might be a giant box containing a killer robot, but snaps out of his daydream when he notices a signature at the bottom of the monolith.  Mikey hears voices and flees to the trees.  Jingo and a mob of H.A.A.R.M. thugs come storming in with a small alien in tow.  Jingo gives a speech about taking back America from their cowardly government and suggests they start by lynching the alien on his own monolith.


Mikey drops down from the trees and protects the alien from the thugs.  Suddenly, Detective Clover appears from the bushes, flashes her badge and all the H.A.A.R.M. thugs (and the little alien) scamper off.  Clover tells Mikey that the monolith was a piece of modern art stolen from a recent exhibit.  Jingo and his H.A.A.R.M. lackeys put it in Central Park to stir up trouble and unrest.  Clover then tells Mikey that he’s still wanted for being an unregistered “alien” and pulls out a pair of handcuffs.  Mikey immediately vanishes into the night.


Turtle Tips:

*This story is continued from Michelangelo: The Third Kind #2.  The story continues in Michelangelo: The Third Kind #4.


Review:

Well, the most exciting part of this issue turned out to be a daydream sequence (the giant robot), so we’re still in dullsville with “The Third Kind”.  There are a lot of interesting ideas floating around in here, like the City being under lockdown with xenophobic gangs rioting and blowing up buildings and the citizenry panicking as aliens scan the skies… But damn if Lawson isn’t sapping all the life out of it.  I know he’s going for a really grounded look at the whole scenario, but it’s hard to believe such a tumultuous period in the TMNT timeline can yield such a tiresome yarn.

And most of the metaphor and subtext is pretty on-the-nose, particularly in regards to the character Jingo.  So we have a guy with a name that invokes the term “jingoism” giving long-winded anti-government speeches about taking back America from the bureaucratic fatcats in Washington.  And I think he’s a black guy maybe (hard to tell with his model fluctuating in every panel), so the scene where he tries to rally a mob to lynch an innocent alien is supposed to be, like, cruel irony or something.  Yeah, real deep, man.

I guess if one good thing came from this chapter, it’s that Mikey’s screw-up at Pier 41 is finally catching up with him.  I complained last issue that Mikey shouldn’t have been thanked for causing a huge publicity crisis for the aliens and here he’s actually being invited to suffer the legal consequences for his behavior.  He bails, of course.

Ah well, we’re nearly at the finish line for this thing.


Grade: C- (as in, “Can’t say I find a giant killer robot LESS horrifying than a modern art sculpture.  I work at a college and that shit is littered around the campus like breadcrumbs”.)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Michelangelo: The Third Kind #2


Publication date: October, 2008

Story and art: Jim Lawson
Inks and letters: Eric Talbot
Cover: Jim Lawson and Steve Lavigne

“The Third Kind, Part 2”

Summary:

Making his way through the alleys, Mikey figures he’s in no shape to fight anybody else (having been hit by a bus a few days ago and now having been maced).  He sees a group of thugs wearing alien grey masks curb-stomping a kid in a Star Trek t-shirt.  With no choice, Mikey intervenes and beats up the thugs. 


After they run off, Klag swoops down on a hovercraft, having followed Mikey to make sure he got home safely.  Klag gives Mikey a lift to a rooftop and tells him that they met once before.  Klag was a guard at the TCRI building when the Turtles returned from the Triceraton Homeworld.  When the Utroms began prepping Earth for First Contact several years in advance, Klag signed up to live amongst humanity in disguise.  He gives Mikey a communicator in case he ever needs to get in touch with the Utroms and the two part ways again.

At Barry’s mom’s apartment, Detective Clover meets up with Officer Murphy to investigate the body.  They go through the list of possible causes of death and settle on murder, with Barry being needed for questioning (although they have no motive).  Detective Clover sees the old lady’s cat with a dish named “Roswell” and starts to get edgy.  The city has been in an uproar since First Contact and all the paranoia has gotten her anxious.  She pulls out a picture of Mikey from the Pier 41 riot and says that the aliens claim to be cooperative, yet they allow one of their own to run around the city unregistered.


Mikey makes his way across the rooftops when he notices more of the masked thugs putting up flyers.  He jumps down the streets and reads one.  The flyer encourages citizens to report aliens for execution and is signed by H.A.A.R.M. (Humans Against Aliens Resistance Movement).  Infuriated, Mikey enters the middle of the street and yells for the thugs to come and get him (frightening several pedestrians).  A number of masked thugs descend upon Mikey and he realizes he’s in no shape for a confrontation, especially one that would make aliens look dangerous in front of a crowd.  Mikey flees into the sewers before the H.A.A.R.M. thugs can catch him.

Entering the lair, he’s greeted by his brothers as well as Ambassador Cesse Mon Zir Te from Pier 41 (flanked by several Utrom bodyguards).  The Ambassador tells Mikey he stopped by his home to thank him for defending him at the riot.  He has received numerous threats on his life from gangs like the Madhattan Maulitia and H.A.A.R.M. and is happy to see an Earthling trying to help him for a change.  Leonardo offers to protect the Ambassador fulltime, but the Ambassador declines.  He feels that if he is to gain the trust of the people, then he must be seen working with legitimate Earth authorities.


After he leaves, the Turtles have a discussion about just how the Ambassador and the Utroms found their “secret” lair.  Mikey swears he wasn’t followed, but Leo suspects the Fugitoid probably gave them directions.  Donatello and Raphael call attention to a news report on TV.  Apparently, in the wake of all the anti-alien violence, National Guard troops have entered the city and the Mayor has issued a curfew.  Leonardo tells his brothers that Mikey has caused enough bad publicity for aliens and that they need to stay in the lair until the situation settles.

In an alley up above, Detective Clover and her partner are investigating another murder.  This time, it’s a Guerrotopsian (an alien that “sees” through the eyes of other lifeforms around it).  They pull a .38 slug from the tentacled corpse and Detective Clover figures this is the first murder of an alien since First Contact occurred only two days ago.


Turtle Tips:

*This story is continued from Michelangelo: The Third Kind #1.  The story continues in Michelangelo: The Third Kind #3.

*Mikey was hit by a bus in TMNT (Vol. 4) #1.

*Klag mentions having met Mikey back when the Turtles returned from the Triceraton Homeworld to the TCRI building via the transmat in TMNT (Vol. 1) #7.  The editor’s note mistakenly identifies that event as having happened in TMNT (Vol. 1) #4, but there’s no saying Klag wasn’t present in that issue, too.

*The Turtles showed the Fugitoid down to their lair in TMNT (Vol. 4) #5.


Review:

“The Third Kind” is… slow.  Really, really slow.  It is an interesting look at how the world of the Mirage universe changed in-between pages of TMNT Volume 4, but it is not a very thrilling narrative.  I can only recommend “The Third Kind” to the most hardcore Ninja Turtle fans who are already well-versed in the lore of the comics, because this story doesn’t stand a chance of exciting newcomers.  As a hardcore TMNT fan well-versed in the comics, I personally enjoy the miniseries for what it offers to the ongoing development of this world, but I’ll be the first to tell you it’s pretty damn boring.

Michelangelo actually gets some attention in his own miniseries starting with this chapter.  Here we see him suffering the fallout of his stupid mistake at Pier 41.  I was really disappointed that the alien Ambassador visiting the lair didn’t tear into him for all the trouble he caused, but instead chose to thank him for coming to his aid (when really it was Klag who got the Ambassador to safety). 

Michelangelo set off the powder keg at the event which was meant to be a show of good will and cooperation; proof that the alien visitors were obeying the orders and limitations given to them by the Earth government.  Michelangelo pretty well fucked that up for them, getting a lot of people hurt and “proving” to the people that aliens were breaking travel restrictions and hiding out amongst humans.  And at a media event, no less.  Michelangelo made a HUGE mistake and really shouldn’t be thanked for jack shit.

Barry’s subplot has now shifted over to Detective Clover, further showcasing how average people are dealing with this situation.  It’s slow, plodding stuff.  Lawson’s dialogue is the same as it ever was.  Way back when I reviewed TMNT Volume 2, I remarked that Lawson wrote dialogue by abusing humming noises for “realism”; characters are constantly going “Mmmm”, “Ummmm” and “Hmmmm”.  It is really obnoxious and 15 years later, he’s still doing it.

We’re halfway across “The Third Kind” and while I’m digging all the atmosphere it’s setting up, the characters remain dull as dishwater and the dialogue is even worse.  So it’s give and take.


Grade: C+ (as in, “Clover’s partner… does he have a glass eye or did Talbot just fuck up the inks on Lawson’s pencils?”)


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Michelangelo: The Third Kind #1


Publication date: September, 2008

Story and art: Jim Lawson
Inks and letters: Eric Talbot
Cover: Jim Lawson and Steve Lavigne

“The Third Kind, Part 1”

Summary:

It’s been two days since the Utroms arrived on Earth, initiated First Contact and set up their Moon-Island base in New York Harbor.  On TV, the President of the United States addresses his people from an undisclosed location.  He assures them that the alien ambassadors (of several races) who have arrived on Earth have done so purely out of diplomacy.  They are also under strict orders to remain on the Moon-Island until the situation has been settled.  The President tells the American people not to panic, that he has spoken with “the visitors” and found that they simply want to share a cultural exchange and broaden humanity’s scope of existence in the universe.

The President informs the people that the rumors of the Utroms having a cure for cancer is unfounded.  However, the Utroms have promised to work with Earth’s scientists, combining their technology and research to hopefully speed up the discovery of a cure.  He asks the people to keep an open mind and not to judge the visitors by their appearance or to immediately suspect they have ulterior motives.  He also reassures everyone that the Earth will ever remain the planet of Earthlings and that the visitors are just that: Visitors.


Watching the broadcast, a gang of "patriots" grows furious that the President is allowing the aliens to stay; they wanted him to nuke them.  One of the gang members, Barry, suggests they see what the aliens have to offer; maybe they CAN find a cure for cancer using their knowledge and technology.  Another gang member, Jingo, mocka Barry and says he only feels that way because his mother has stage four cancer.

Down in the sewer lair, Michelangelo is watching the media coverage.  The anchormen say that the President has authorized the alien diplomats to leave the Moon-Island for a press conference on Pier 41.  The NYPD requests that civilians not attend the conference due to the unknown nature of the aliens.  Michelangelo immediately drops his remote and rushes out the door.


At Pier 41, the NYPD are struggling to keep a huge mob under control.  There are several alien ambassadors on the stage, waiting to address the people.  Michelangelo, disguised as a bum, is among the mob.  However, he bumps into a thug who gets mad and rips off his coat and scarf.  The mob mistakes him for an alien trying to hide among them and freaks out.  The NYPD immediately take control of the situation and escort Michelangelo onto the stage (even though he’s not among the registered aliens in their handbook).  The alien ambassadors are confused, as they don’t know Michelangelo, but the Utrom there says that he’s heard of him and that he poses no threat.  Ambassador Cesse Mon Zir Te asks Mikey to play along in order to avoid a riot and to explain everything when they’re done.  Mikey uncomfortably agrees.

A riot is inevitable, though, as the mob thinks that aliens are hiding among them and go berserk.  They begin to storm the stage and Mikey keeps the ambassadors safe by fighting off some thugs.  The NYPD indiscriminately fire cans of tear gas and Mikey goes blind.  The Utrom finishes helping the ambassadors to safety but turns back to help Mikey, who is about to get pummeled.  The Utrom uses the repulsor rays in his suit to disperse the crowd, then he and Mikey flee backstage.  The Utrom introduces himself as Klag and after shaking hands, the two part ways.


Elsewhere, Barry goes to pay his mom a visit.  As she makes him some lunch, she goes on and on about how much hope the potential for a cure has given her; she’s very excited about what the aliens have to offer.  Barry gets upset and tells her that the aliens can’t be trusted.  She thinks that Barry has been hanging out with his gang too much.  Barry gets angry and becomes delusional.  He sees his mother as Ambassador Cesse Mon Zir Te and thinks she’s been replaced.  Barry then pulls out a gun and shoots her.


Turtle Tips:

*The story continues in Michelangelo: The Third Kind #2.

*This story takes place early in the six month time gap from TMNT (Vol. 4) #5, when the Utroms made First Contact on Earth.

*The President says that the Utroms have no cure for cancer, but can work with humanity to research one.  The Utroms will be shown fulfilling that obligation in Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #68.


Review:

TMNT Volume 4 handled the First Contact storyline pretty much ideally, so far as the flow of its narrative was concerned.  By skipping ahead six months, it bypassed the doddering diplomacy necessary to integrate aliens into Earth society and fast forwarded the reader right to the good stuff.  Having to actually endure all this extraterrestrial acclimation stuff would have stopped Volume 4 dead.

BUT, it was a story that needed to be told at some point and a period of time with lots of room for exploration.  Until "The Third Kind", the only issues in Tales of the TMNT Volume 2 that actually explored these six months of mystery were some adventure stories, usually involving Donatello travelling with the Utrom Glurin to alien planets or wherever.  They were fun adventure stories, don’t get me wrong, but there was a whole societal upheaval going on that those one-shot tales paid no mind to.

With “The Third Kind”, we get to see that time period explored more in-depth; how the arrival and integration of aliens affected human culture and the slow grind necessary to achieve acceptance.  Jim Lawson, as an author, is one of the TMNT’s more cerebral writers and he enjoys penning existential tales about finding the Turtles finding their place in the universe.  He’s also a big fan of decompression, for both good and ill, so he was the obvious choice to tell this missing chapter in the TMNT’s timeline.

For a miniseries named after Michelangelo, his narrative rubs off as almost the least important in this first issue.  Barry gets considerably more focus than Mikey and the story seems more about him than anybody else.  It’s important stuff, though, since “The Third Kind” has to do a lot of world-building and we need to see how “normal people” are acclimating to First Contact.  Barry, so far as a member of the Madhattan Maulitia is concerned, starts the issue as a seemingly decent guy who hangs around with a bad crowd.  However, as the issue progresses, the stress and fear starts to get to him and he snaps.

Likewise, we have the mob at Pier 41.  When we first see them, they’re a healthy mix of jerks holding “get out” signs and pleasant people holding “beam me up” and “welcome” signs.  Not EVERYONE in that crowd was xenophobic.  However, once Mikey fucks everything up and fear starts to spread, even those good people descend into fight-or-flight madness and a riot breaks out.

With Barry and the mob, Lawson seems to be trying to illustrate how even “good” or “normal” people can become just as dangerous and unpredictable as the Madhattan Maulitia or other thugs, simply by virtue of the situation.  It sells the atmosphere of unrest and paranoia that establishes the setting of this miniseries, and even though Michelangelo has to take a backseat in the first issue of his own title, such groundwork was essential.

So far as Mikey’s part in all this goes, he really fucks up big time.  It does offer an interesting character study on him, though.  Mike’s in his thirties by this point in the timeline, so he really ought to know the dangers of trying to mingle with an anxious crowd, especially considering what they’re anxious about (weird-looking aliens).  However, he lets his enthusiasm to see the aliens up close get the better of him and he makes a huge mistake; an “intergalactic incident”, as it were.  So we can see that even though Michelangelo is very much an adult, he still let’s his naive enthusiasm get in the way of his better judgment.

“The Third Kind” was probably my favorite of the Turtle-themed miniseries that Mirage put out in the ‘00s even if I don't feel all that passionately about it.  It isn’t really all that exciting, but it tells a story that needed to be told and helps build the world.  I was glad Laird skipped these six months in Volume 4 for the sake of pacing, but it’s a good thing we’re being filled in after the fact.


Grade: C+ (as in, “Come on.  Tuna burgers?  Those sound… those sound… Actually, those sound delicious”.)