Thursday, May 23, 2013
Hoo boy. A lot of shit in this batch of six episodes from season 3. An Irma spotlight, two Zach the Fifth Turtle episodes in a row, a confused plot about Michelangelo turning human just so April can join a gang, a reminder that the Neutrino's still exist, and god damned Mister Ogg.
TMNT (1987) Season 3 Part 7 Review at Adventures in Poor Taste.
On the bright side, I'm almost done with season 3. Just one more of these to go (and thankfully, the upcoming final batch of 5 episodes are almost all pretty good).
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Publication date: May 22, 2013
Script: Erik Burnham
Art: Andy Kuhn
Colors: John Rauch
Letters: Tom B. Long
Editor: Bobby Curnow
The present. Burnow Island. Baxter Stockman is working tirelessly in a lab. He considers to himself how General Krang’s plan to terraform the Earth with the Technodrome and essentially eliminate human civilization is rather bad business. As Mousers aid him on his latest side project, he thinks about how he can overcome this problem.
The past. Baxter is a small boy playing chess with his father in the park. Baxter thinks the game is dumb, but Mr. Stockman insists that chess enhances one’s ability to think and problem-solve. Baxter suggests luck has more to do with it, enraging his father, who insists that outcomes are the result of a person’s mind and nothing else.
The present. Baxter gets a message from Krang, who demands a status report. Baxter tells him that the Technodrome is proceeding on schedule. Krang is disappointed, as he wants the Technodrome completed AHEAD of schedule. Furthermore, he’s annoyed that Baxter is wasting time on a side project. Baxter claims that his “side project” is actually intended to speed up the construction of the Technodrome. He introduces Krang to the Flyborg, a combination of mutant fly and cybernetics. When built into drone units, it will be markedly more efficient than the current laborers. Krang offers Baxter a backhanded compliment and signs out. Baxter starts to lose his temper, but recalls what happens when one loses their cool.
The past. Baxter, a teenager, is playing chess in the park with his father. Mr. Stockman chides his son on his slow move-making. Frustrated, Baxter makes a thoughtless move, setting himself up for defeat. Mr. Stockman warns him that getting angry causes an individual to make poor, self-destructive decisions. Baxter asks for a do-over, but Mr. Stockman reminds him that there are no do-overs in the real world.
The present. As Baxter takes the Flyborg for a test run, he considers his many options; most of which end in his loss of “the game”. A unit of Rock Soldiers stop him and demand to know what his creature is. The Flyborg suddenly shows a burst of sentience and free will. Speaking, it says that it does not want to be an expendable slave and rebels. Baxter’s override systems fail and the Flyborg takes down all the Rock Soldiers. Baxter flees for his life, contacting Krang and asking him to send more guards and to guide him to a saferoom. Krang laughs at Baxter’s misfortune and offers his help, but only after Baxter debases himself for the General’s amusement.
Baxter takes shelter in the heavily fortified control room, but the Flyborg enters through a ventilation shaft. Upon entrance, it destroys all monitoring equipment. Seeing his carefully laid plan a success, Baxter initiates his true override protocols, incapacitating the Flyborg. As it happens, the entire Flyborg project and rampage was Baxter’s design. Now with complete access to the control room and no one looking over his shoulder, he downloads all information regarding the Technodrome and Krang’s many nefarious schemes. Once he gathers all he requires, Stockman feigns helplessness and draws the guards to the control room. The Flyborg begs to be spared, but the Rock Soldiers kill it.
Later, Baxter goes over the files he downloaded and is disturbed by Krang’s plans. The files contain enough data that he can use to seize control of the Technodrome, but he can’t do it alone. Looking over a profile of the Fugitoid, Baxter thinks he can manipulate the robot into helping him. Smiling, Baxter believes he has Krang in check.
The past. Baxter, an adult, meets his father for a game of chess in the park. Before even playing, Baxter tells his father he has him in check. He then presents Mr. Stockman with documentation of a hostile takeover that gives him complete control of Stockgen, ousting Mr. Stockman. Mr. Stockman can’t believe his own son would do this, but Baxter simply knocks over his father’s king, saying that he taught him everything he knows.
*As the events of TMNT (IDW) #20 are referenced and Krang has fully healed, I would place this issue after TMNT Villains Microseries #1: Krang.
*This issue was originally published with 2 covers: Regular Cover by Tyler Walpole, and Cover RI by Kuhn and Daniel “PeZ” Lopez.
The origin of Baxter Stockman; that’s a tough one to retell. You see, “Insane in the Membrane”, the notorious “banned episode” of the 4Kids TMNT series, was pretty much the essential Baxter Stockman origin. It was also one of the best Ninja Turtle stories ever told. So the idea of an author going back and doing a new origin for Baxter left me a tiny bit incredulous. How do you top “Insane in the Membrane”?
Well, I wouldn’t say that Burnham tries to "top" that story, but he does offer a very fitting glimpse at the origin for this universe’s Baxter Stockman. Burnham opts to focus on Baxter’s relationship with his father (whereas the 4Kids episode focused on his relationship with his mother) and the lessons he learned which shaped him into the super villain he is today. The flashbacks are rife with subtleties in Baxter’s upbringing that I felt offered quite a bit of depth for 3 whole pages. Baxter’s dad is caring (taking the time to teach his son valuable life lessons and improve upon his natural intellectual gifts), but unforgiving (he vocally attacks Baxter for every poor decision and denies excuses or second chances). He’s profound (likening the numerous nuances of chess to practical values), but contradictory (losing his temper when Baxter mentions luck, then telling him never to lose his temper because that breeds mistakes).
There’s a surprising richness and sincerity to their relationship that, again, packs a lot into just 3 pages. The broader details of Baxter’s relationship with his father are unknown to us, but we can see in that last page that he resents him to some degree (enough to steal his company). Whether this was supposed to imply that Baxter was naturally a corrupt individual or if he despised his father’s unflinching parenting and that’s what corrupted him (he uses what he’s taught against his father), there isn’t enough material to really say, but I think we all get the gist of it.
And it doesn’t necessarily contradict any of the origin material from “Insane in the Membrane”, either. There’s no telling what Baxter’s relationship with his mother was like in IDW or if she died when he was young as in the 4Kids cartoon (and perhaps being raised exclusively by his demanding father without the softer guidance of his mother is what “turned” him). I don’t mean to sound like a stickler for older material, and I know I shouldn’t be actively comparing these new stories to what’s come before, so please forgive me for that. I just feel that you can effectively combine both origins together and come away with an even fuller picture of Baxter’s personal history than before.
As for the present-set stuff, we get a blunt reference to Baxter’s fly mutation from the Fred Wolf cartoon in the form of the Flyborg, but it’s not particularly bothersome. Baxter commanding an army of Mousers and Flyborgs, combining his two most notable character traits from earlier incarnations, is a fun prospect and I look forward to seeing his machinations develop. While Baxter comparing all his actions to a game of chess is a bit of a cliché, it works alongside the flashbacks and I enjoyed the opportunity to see how his thought process worked (going over his various options and their various outcomes several moves in advance, so to speak). In a way, it kind of reminded me of April’s microseries issue, where we got a peek into her noggin and witnessed how she weighed and considered actions preemptively. Considering the close ties between April and Baxter, the similarities paint a rather interesting picture as to how they mirror one another.
Andy Kuhn is back on art duties. Not to beat a dead Mouser, but I feel compelled to reiterate that the primary grievance with Kuhn’s work on IDW’s TMNT books (from myself and, as I’ve witnessed, many fans online) has been the way he chooses to render the faces of the Turtles. Now, give us an issue with no Turtles in it (save a one-panel flashback) and what do you end up with? A clear look at Kuhn’s art without that one negative element distracting you from processing his work. And he’s really very good. The characters are expressive, the action flows nicely and he uses space exceedingly well. His panels never feel cluttered, but nor do they feel empty. He only employs as much background detail as is needed to tell the story so your focus is never lost. The guy has grown considerably since his debut on the Michelangelo microseries.
I’d also like to point out that the cover by Tyler Walpole is quite possibly the most perfect image of Baxter Stockman I’ve ever seen. It says so much about the character. His look is intense and reflective (ha ha) as he ponders the Mouser in his hand, denoting his intelligence and focus. Yet he’s also menacing, frightening, not only because of his intensity, but because of the eerie creations that swarm at his back. Walpole’s cover is just a superb piece of art that really defines the character in one singular shot; very impressive.
While this issue may not be notable for its action, as the “threat” of the Flyborg’s rampage is dampened by the advanced knowledge that Baxter is plotting the moves of a “game”, it’s a wonderful insight into the scientist’s brain. Even if you feel compelled to compare this origin with his 4Kids origin, you’ll find it acts more as a compliment than a contradiction and shows us a different side of the bad guy’s upbringing. There’s great subtlety in the relationships between the characters, even when their interaction is limited to just a few pages, and the art ain’t bad, either. A nice, if belated, second epilogue to the Krang War arc.
Grade: B+ (as in, “Baxter’s Flyborg being a cheeky combination of the two things he’s known for being turned into gives me hope that Baxter might stay completely human for the duration of IDW’s TMNT comic”.)
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Publication date: August, 1995
Story and pencils: Jim Lawson
Inks: Eric Talbot
Letters: Mary Kelleher
Colors: Eric Vincent and Altered Earth Arts
Cover: Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman
“Descending into D.A.R.P.A.”
At the apartment, Casey gets off the phone with his mother, telling her about the break-in he, April and Shadow came home to the previous day. There’s a knock on the door and it’s Lou Braunze. He asks to see Casey in private, as he has some news.
They go for a walk and Braunze tells Casey that he’s the one who scared off the burglars yesterday, except they weren’t burglars but government agents. Braunze tells Casey about DARPA (Defense and Research Projects Administration), a covert branch of the CIA that works outside of government approval and oversight. He goes on to say that DARPA has Raphael and that they’re keeping him in their Nevada research facility. He tells Casey to gather all his friends who can help so that they can free Raph.
At the DARPA lab, Raph wakes up strapped to a table. He breaks the straps and stumbles off. Injured, he hobbles into a room where several aliens are being held in stasis tubes. One of the aliens, a Triceraton, awakens and seems to recognize Raph. Suddenly, Raph is attacked by a toothy, tentacled alien. He’s in no condition to fight back, but the noise attracts several guards who proceed to tranq him and the alien.
Down in the sewers, Braunze tells his story to Leo, Don, Mike and Nobody. Don doesn’t trust him and wants to know what his connection to DARPA is. Braunze concedes, explaining that back in the ‘50s, he was one of 18 people that volunteered to undergo mental enhancements at DARPA. Many of the participants died, but he was one of the few who successfully gained mental powers. In his case, he can read minds and shape the thoughts of others so that they believe whatever he tells them. He used the latter power to escape DARPA by making everyone think he was dead. With no other choice, the Turtles, Nobody and Casey agree to follow Braunze to Nevada.
Three days later, they arrive in Lincoln County, Nevada by van. Hiding their getaway vehicle, they proceed on foot. A helicopter flies overhead, but it hasn’t seen them. The DARPA guards are shooing away a pair of observers trying to catch a glimpse of something unusual at the nearby DARPA facility. Laying low, Leo thinks the observers may just get their chance.
*This story is continued from TMNT (Vol. 2) #9. The story continues in TMNT (Vol. 2) #11.
*This issue was 8 months late, apparently.
*This issue also contained a back-up story, “Bog, part 2 of 5” by Ryan Brown, Chris Allan, Matt Roach, Dave Vance and Altered Earth Colors. Yes, part 2. The editors got the order of the back-up strips wrong and published part 3 first by mistake.
So, the DARPA arc begins. I have mixed feelings about this one, most of which I’ll get to when it’s relevant (their treatment of Casey and Nobody, for instance). While it ties into everything that’s been going on since Volume 2 began (the dreams, Baxter’s whereabouts, etc.), the setup in this issue felt very rushed and convenient.
So the guy living in April’s apartment building just happened to have once worked for a covert branch of the CIA which happened to be the same covert branch of the CIA that kidnapped Raph? And when he goes and tells all this to Casey, the Turtles and Nobody, they just believe him immediately (except Don)? I guess arguments could be made that Braunze used his mental powers to calm the others and keep them from disbelieving or getting volatile (though Don seemed immune, maybe because he’s smarter), but jeez, doesn’t it all just seem rather lucky?
Braunze, as a character, has no personality or charisma. He’s used as a tool in this volume to facilitate the conclusion and get the Turtles where they need to be. He isn’t interesting and I couldn’t tell you a damn thing about him other than the fact that he’s bald and can read minds (but isn’t stuck in a wheelchair like that other guy). Braunze is sort of the start of a trend you’ll notice in Vol. 4: Bland characterization. In Mirage’s (Laird’s) never ending quest to make characters feel more “real”, what we wind up with is a whole bunch of really, really boring guys that all talk with the same verbal tics (“Ummmm”, “Hmmmm,” “Mmmm,”) and mumble about dull bullshit all the time. Having a unique power (telepathy) isn’t the same thing as having a unique personality. Making a character bland doesn’t make them more “real”, it just makes them boring.
Granted, I’m getting ahead of myself here, as that’s more an epidemic that’ll plague Volume 4, but Braunze really is the beginning of it. You can also see it creep into pre-established characters, too. Whatever happened to Nobody being the Batman-esque vigilante loon? All he does now is stand around and go “Hmmmm,” or “Ummm,” or “Mmmm”. April? She sits around reading magazines, now. And all her dialogue starts with “Hmmmm” or “Ummm” because if you can’t tell that shtick REALLY annoys the hell out of me.
I guess that’s one of the other reasons why I dislike this arc. The “new trend” of Mirage’s TMNT writing starts to stick out around here. I’m sure it was there back when the volume began, but 10 issues in, you really start to notice it. It’s not to say that there aren’t elements of the DARPA arc that I don’t like (great throwbacks to the outer space adventure arc of Volume 1), but it’s full of problems and the volume starts to fall apart during it.
Grade: C- (as in, “Could the book suddenly starting to suck have anything to do with the 8 month delay between issues? Because they sure weren’t using the extra time to polish the artwork; this is some rough stuff by Lawson”.)
Saturday, May 18, 2013
Publication date: December, 1994
Story and pencils: Jim Lawson
Inks: Eric Talbot
Letters: Mary Kelleher
Colors: Eric Vincent and Altered Earth Arts
Cover: Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman
Down in the sewers, Baxter wakes up. His repair systems had overridden all his other functions and forcibly powered him down. Much to Baxter’s surprise, he’s found that his right arm has begun to “grow” back. He wonders if perhaps he made his regeneration systems ‘too’ intelligent and now they’ve gained a sort of survival instinct capable of overpowering his own commands.
In the apartment, Casey gets off the phone with Nobody. According to Nobody, there are no reports about Raphael in any of the police databases; in fact, there are no reports about ANY of them despite all the eye witnesses to the fight scene. Donatello suspects a cover-up and suggests they find Baxter’s robot, as its origin may be the key to finding who took Raph and where they took him to.
After they leave, the Feds staking out their apartment run a thermo scan, finding only a cat still inside. They’re ordered to ransack the apartment and take the cat (Kluuuunk!), as it may be extraterrestrial. The Feds begin tearing the place apart, but their noise alerts Mr. Braunze down in the basement. He runs up to the apartment and tells them to drop Casey’s things and beat it. The Feds pull out their guns, but Mr. Braunze exhibits amazing physical prowess and takes them all down. He then grabs the Fed named William and orders him to talk. William refuses, but Braunze says he has no choice as strange hypnotic rays come out of his eyes.
Back in the sewers, the Turtles and Casey follow the trail left behind by Baxter. They hear a tapping on a sewer pipe up ahead and follow the noise. They walk right into Baxter’s trap, as he was making the noise and leaving the trail to lure them. From a vantage point, he opens fire with his machinegun, forcing the Turtles and Casey to take cover, then runs down another tunnel.
They follow him into a section of the sewer covered in ankle-deep water. They realize it’s a trap too late as Baxter appears on a ledge above them, holding a live power cable. Baxter drops the sparking cable, but Leonardo reacts instantly by throwing his katana at it. His sword pins the cable to the wall and the electricity arcs up to the ledge, striking Baxter. The power is too much and Baxter explodes into a million pieces.
Once the smoke clears, the Turtles and Casey inspect the remains of the robot. They find Baxter’s old glasses and wonder what they were doing inside the robot. Donatello discovers no central memory bank and comes to the conclusion that Baxter WAS the robot. However, with his brain missing or possibly destroyed, they’ve no one to question and are back to square one regarding Raph’s whereabouts.
*The events of the miniseries Donatello: The Brain Thief take place between this and next issue, explaining what happened to Baxter’s brain and what the deal with his regeneration systems is.
*Although the cover and indicia date this issue as August, 1995, the official Mirage TMNT website gives the proper date as December, 1994.
*Due to a printing error, the “Bog” back-up was once again delayed and does not appear in this issue.
The Baxter Stockman arc concludes, ending on a pretty exciting note, too. While the “rematch” doesn’t amount to much of a fight, I think we got the big action sequences out of our systems in the last issue. This showdown illustrates a bit more cunning on Baxter’s part, as he lures the Turtles into a trap he took time to set-up beforehand. It’s a crude one, sure, but it shows his resourcefulness. His first encounter with the Turtles was very brazen; drawing them out into the open with a show of force and trying to crush them all with nothing more than brute strength and weaponry. I rather liked seeing Stockman take a different approach for this issue’s big finish rather than just giving us another drag-out brawl.
And man, the page where Leo throws his katana at the live wire and pins it in midair was just a great bit of work from Lawson. I went on about his layout prowess in my last review, so I won’t repeat myself, but when that guy is firing on all cylinders, his stuff is incredible. (For an example of him *not* firing on all cylinders, well, proceed into my reviews for “The Brain Thief”.)
Speaking of “The Brain Thief”, well, it DOES follow-up on the big plot point that Baxter brings up at the start of this issue: his regeneration systems attaining low level sentience. Like a lot of plot threads introduced in this volume, the early cancellation left it unfulfilled. Much of the Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) era and its character-themed miniseries were spent tying up the myriad loose ends leftover from Volume 2’s unceremonious death, so whether you like “The Brain Thief” or not, it at least provides closure for something this issue spends 5 pages waxing on but never addresses again.
Mr. Braunze, in case you don’t recall, was briefly introduced a couple issues ago in a bit of foreshadowing. He’s a big part of the DARPA arc that will finish off Volume 2, but since we haven’t quite gotten there yet, I’ll save my thoughts for now. All I’ll say is that he’s one earring away from winning the Mr. Clean lookalike contest.
What else is there to say about this one other than KLUNK! They finally remembered Klunk! Sure, we don’t SEE him, but he’s mentioned. I was starting to worry about that little kitty.
Grade: B- (as in, “But seriously, The Brain Thief is like 1 issue of content, 3 issues of Donatello running down sewer tunnels. Lawson’s great at cinematic decompression with his layouts, but sometimes he goes a little too far”.)