Friday, August 28, 2015

TMNT: Casey & April #3


Publication date: August 26, 2015

Story: Mariko Tamaki
Art: Irene Koh
Colors: Brittany Peer
Letters: Shawn Lee
Edits: Bobby Curnow

Summary:

The Rat King dines on spare ribs with his bird-like sister, regaling her with the Greek myth about the labyrinth and the Minotaur.  His sister is less interested in the monster of the story and more impressed with what it says about the human spirit and will to survive.


In the labyrinth, April is lost in darkness.  She tries to map out the walls in her head to gain her bearings, but the architecture is spatially impossible.  Suddenly, she sees a vision of herself as a child, giving up on a book report on birds because the subject is too difficult.  Her father reminds her that quitting when things are hard will not only let herself down, but everyone else, too.  April is inspired by the memory, then passes through a wall and plummets into the abyss.

Outside, Casey has arrived at the trailer and is herded through the door by a mischief of rats (I looked that up!).  He soon finds himself navigating the dark passages of the labyrinth and hears clopping hooves and snorting breath approaching him.  Casey eventually stumbles upon a vision of himself as a child.  He’d just been beaten up by his father and is trying to talk tough into a mirror.  Casey pursues the vision.


April eventually winds up in the Japanese mansion hallway she started in and sees a message: “The only way out is in.”  She then hears Casey’s voice and passes back through the wall.  The two spot each other, but are impeded by a wide gulf spanning the abyss with only a path of flimsy stalagmites bridging the way.

Casey tries to cross and the two make up for their earlier fight.  Halfway across, the rocks begin to crumble.  April then begins crossing her half and meets him in the middle.  She tells him about the message she saw and suggests that they both jump into the abyss together to see what’s inside.


They dive into the darkness and land in what looks like a kitchen.  Standing before them is the Rat King, who is happy to greet them.


Turtle Tips:

*This story is continued from TMNT: Casey & April #2.  The story concludes in TMNT: Casey & April #4.

*This issue was originally published with 2 variant covers: Regular Cover by Koh, and Subscription Cover by Marley Zarcone and Ryan Hill.


Review:

Casey & April is gearing up a bit, but still rather incrementally.  Tamaki and Koh are going for the decompressed, atmospheric approach, but for as much as that works, it also comes with an equal array of setbacks.

I don’t think it’s too off base of me to suggest that their style of storytelling is “manga influenced”.  It’s sort of obvious.  But what works in a Japanese comic doesn’t necessarily work in an American one, and I’m not talking in terms of themes, visuals or anything like that.

Manga can afford to decompress the hell out of the story because a tankoban volume is over a hundred pages per installment.  It has room to take its time.  It’s also black and white, published on newsprint-quality paper and priced to match the production values.  Seven bucks can get you 100+ pages of story.

But American comics aren’t made that way, at least not this one.  We’re looking at 20 pages a month, four bucks an issue.  It is a LIMITED medium they're working with, and an overpriced one, so they need to put as much content in there as they reasonably can.  Even when this all gets collected, the end result is going to be 80 pages MSRPed at $19.99.  Are you getting your money’s worth with this storyline? 

It’s apples and oranges; the “manga” approach does not fit American comic books.

And it’s a shame, because there are some interesting story elements going on in here.  The labyrinth/Minotaur angle offers some creepy stuff, relating back to how all the members of the Pantheon are based on mythical entities.  Ultimately, the set piece isn’t used to its fullest potential, as it amounts to nothing but black, empty space for the characters to wander in.  Pair the empty panels with the simplified design aesthetic for the characters and I’m left wondering how this comic could take a month to produce.

The mention of the Minotaur had me hoping to see the return of Chi-You from the recent TMNT/Ghostbusters crossover.  He was left floating in the void of space at the end of that arc, so I was halfway hoping he’d turn out to be the Minotaur chasing Casey in the dark abyss (albeit Chi-You is Chinese, not Greek, but he’s still a bull-headed Minotaur-like creature).

If I’m reading the art right, though, the cloven-hooved, snorting creature chasing Casey in the darkness turns out to be a bunch of generic demon-monsters (vision-Casey swings his hockey stick, briefly lighting the darkness, revealing a bunch of horned beasts).  If that’s the case, then it is a little strange that they’d make a comic about the Pantheon, set-up a bull-headed monster in the darkness and NOT have it turn out to be the bull-headed member of the Pantheon.  There’s still an issue to go, though, so I could very well be wrong.

Tamaki goes for more trite symbolism as the characters see visions of their younger selves overcoming adversity which gives them the will to carry on, to say nothing of the “riddle” that April has to figure out.  It’s all very obvious, much like that dumb heart-shaped rock from the first issue, and doesn’t feel like there was too much thought put into it.

The dialogue between the two leads, as well, is a clumsy thing to read.  They seem to talk at one another in bizarre fragments and nothing in their exchange approaches a conversation.  While I suspect the intent was to show how awkward their reconciliation was, the dialogue gets a bit TOO fragmented at points.  April says, “I don’t know.  It looks.  Tenuous.”

I think there’s one too many.  Periods.  In there.

Look, I know I’m coming down pretty hard on this thing and I haven’t been very supportive since the title began.  I’m not trying to be vitriolic with my criticisms, it’s simply that much of this comic feels very clumsy and maybe even a little amateurish.  IDW was going for something different and it’s always a good idea to experiment, but they can't all be winners.  Doesn’t mean they should stop trying to test the waters with different genres and fresh talent or anything; I just don’t think Casey & April is hitting the mark.

At the core of this book there is an interesting story; horror elements, an exploration of the Pantheon, development of two characters whom the ongoing had been neglecting and set-up for the new storyline once “Vengeance” is finished.  The execution, the presentation, is what is bogging down those interesting aspects and rendering what ought to be an exciting, spooky tale into a tedious bore.

Grade: C- (as in, “Casey & April… I keep typing the damn thing as April & Casey on instinct because, you know, A comes before C and all”.)


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

TMNT (1987) Season 7, Part 2: The European Vacation Episodes (again)


Come Hell or high water, I was determined to get through the European Vacation episodes of TMNT.  And I did!  Check out my review at AIPT.

These were pretty bad.  The quality control was already circling the drain at the start of this "side season", but as we reached the last half of it, the show just began to fall to pieces.


Now, I will say that "Shredder's New Sword" was pretty good.  Along with "Artless", it's one of the only genuinely enjoyable episodes in this arc.

But the rest is pretty lousy.  Especially the one where they go visit Dublin... which is nothing but grassy fields and sheep.  If I have any actual Irish readers here at TMNT Entity, you can tell me whether that was an accurate depiction of Dublin or not.

Anyway, next time I'll be doing the REAL season 7 episodes, and many of those are actually pretty darn good.  So I've got that to look forward to.




Saturday, August 22, 2015

TMNT Amazing Adventures #1


Publication date: August 19, 2015

Story: Landry Q. Walker
Art: Chad Thomas
Back-up story: James Kochalka
Colors: Heather Breckel
Letters: Shawn Lee
Edits: Bobby Curnow

Summary:

Near the docks, Donatello uses his mutagen tracker to investigate reports that their friend, Doctor Cluckingsworth (whom they’d left at the farm in Northampton) has come to New York.  They find the hyper-intelligent chicken chasing Fishface into the water and approach her for answers.  She hits them with a mental attack and the last thing they see before blacking out are the feet of a stranger wearing shoes with a bizarre design on them.  The strangers tells Cluckingsworth that these aren’t the mutants he wants.

The Turtles revive and return to the lair to research the symbol they saw.  Donatello determines that it’s the sign on the Japanese zodiac and this news interests Splinter.  He goes with them to the docks to search for clues.


There, they’re approached by an injured Shredder.  The Turtles attack him, but he handily defeats them all.  As it happens, he hasn’t come for a fight, but for help.  An old foe of both Oroku Saki and Hamato Yoshi, the Zodiac, has returned.  He has kidnapped several of Shredder’s mutant henchman, but more importantly, he has taken Karai.

Pigeon Pete then swoops down to warn them that the Mutanimals were attacked.  A smoke grenade explodes and the Turtles find themselves surrounded by mind-controlled friends and foes: Leatherhead (dragon), Bebop (boar), Tiger Claw (tiger), Dr. Rockwell (monkey), Doctor Cluckingsworth (chicken) and Karai (snake).  The Turtles fight them off, but hold back as they don’t want to injure their friends.


A ram-man whom Splinter recognizes as Tetsumi Onamota then arrives and declares himself to be the Zodiac.  Using some sort of force power, he clears the battlefield, then using a strange machine, he seizes control of Splinter’s mind (as Splinter represents the rat of the zodiac).  The Turtles recover in time to see a mind-controlled Splinter joining Zodiac’s group.


Back-up story:

“Volcano Time”

Down in the lair, Michelangelo has come up with a new way to cook pizza: With volcano power.  Unfortunately, there are no volcanoes in New York… except the small one that just punched through the sewers beneath the city.


The Turtles race to extinguish the volcano, which cannot be stabbed by Raph’s sai (and also melts Mikey’s pizza).  Leo is at a loss as to what to do, but Donatello is on it.  He texts April and asks her to order all the people of New York to flush their toilets.

They do, and the tidal wave of sewage quenches the lava.


Turtle Tips:

*This issue is continued from TMNT New Animated Adventures #24.  The story continues in TMNT Amazing Adventures #2.

*Doctor Cluckingsworth first appeared in the season 3 episode “Race with the Demon” and last appeared in “Return to New York”.

*Judging by the character line-up of Zodiac’s mutant army, this story takes place sometime during the second half of season 3 of the Nickelodeon TMNT cartoon.  It's after “Battle for New York, Part 2” for sure, though it’s a bit of a moot exercise, as Amazing Adventures will be deviating from the continuity of the TV series and going in its own direction.

*Just to be a stickler, “Kaesaremasu" (かえされます) is not "ancient Japanese", as Donatello states.  It's not even complicated Japanese (-masu form, polite form, is the simplest conjugation of Japanese and is how foreigners are taught the language).  Incidentally, it translates to "(he) has returned", albeit the tense is incorrect.

*This issue was originally published with 2 variant covers: Regular Cover by Jon Sommariva, and Subscription Cover by Andy Suriano.


Review:

I commented on what I felt was the book’s failing in the last issue of New Animated Adventures, but to summarize: It was hampered by its need to stick to the show’s continuity.  I did an interview with author Landry Walker not too long ago and he also lamented the frustrations and limitations caused by this edict.

Well, evidently the IDW guys worked things out, as Amazing Adventures will be deviating from the continuity of the cartoon and following its own narrative path.  Exactly HOW MUCH it will deviate remains to be seen; will it go full Archie or will it simply contradict the cartoon while also maintaining its spirit?

Either way, I’m looking forward to how things will turn out.

And to start this book off right, Walker gives us the one thing New Animated Adventures was reluctant to provide: The Shredder!  The previous volume avoided using the Big Bad outside of throne room commanding sessions, as that might disrupt the canon of the TV series, but with that shackle now unlocked, we can finally get Shredhead in one of these freakin’ comics.

Admittedly, he doesn’t do a whole lot aside from help setup the ominous threat of the Zodiac, but it was still refreshing to see him pop up and kick some ass.  There’s some filling out of Saki’s and Yoshi’s history together, or at least it’s implied thus far, and I’m looking forward to seeing that.  The recent season 3 episode “Tale of the Yokai” did some of the same and it was very good.

Walker’s original villain, Zodiac, is one of those “holy cow, I can’t believe nobody thought of this until now” situations.  A villain collecting existing mutants to form a team based on the Japanese/Chinese Zodiac… It seems so intuitive in retrospect.

8 members of the zodiac appear in this issue (Rahzar is mentioned as having been abducted, and he’ll cover the dog symbol, though he doesn’t appear).  Zodiac seems to be filling in for the ram symbol, so that just leaves rabbit, ox and horse.  I wonder who’ll be covering those symbols?  Will they be new mutants cut from whole cloth or will they be updates on classic mutants long forgotten (Groundchuck for ox?).

IDW also selected a great artist to pair with Walker: Chad Thomas.  He was one of the best to come out of New Animated Adventures and I hope he sticks to Amazing Adventures for a good run.  His pencils are kinetic and expressive, but always fun and just a tiny bit cute.  He’s a great match for this title.

The back-up by James Kolchaka was alright, I guess.  He’s very popular among the indie comics crowd and I know he has his fans, but the guy’s humor is so dry it just doesn’t do anything for me.  I tried thumbing through American Elf and the only reaction I got out of that was “creeped out” when he kept drawing his son’s testicles.  I’ve seen a bunch of his “Sponge Funnies” from the Spongebob Squarepants comic posted on image boards and I can’t find the humor in them, either.

But hey, the guy has his fans and if you’re crazy about Kolchaka then you ought to enjoy his back-up.

Overall, this was a very strong start.  They’ve got a solid creative team here and the promise that the book will find its own continuity leaves me with very high expectations.  I hope Amazing Adventures finds a higher sales figure than New Animated Adventures saw in its twilight.

Grade: B (as in, “But, to be a stickler again, Shredder refers to his mutant henchmen by their Michelangelo-coined names, ‘Rahzar’ and ‘Bebop’, whereas in the show he always referred to them by their real names, Bradford and Zeck.  …Hey, this book’s deviating from the show already!”)


TMNT (IDW) #49


Publication date: August 19, 2015

Story: Kevin Eastman, bobby Curnow, Tom Waltz
Script: Tom Waltz
Art: Cory Smith
Colors: Ronda Pattison
Letters: Shawn Lee
Editor: Bobby Curnow

Summary:

At Foot HQ, Koya and Bludgeon observe Bebop and Rocksteady goofing off and wince in disgust at their disrespectful behavior.  Regardless, the pair (who consider one another siblings) are just happy to have been accepted back into the fold by their master.


On the bridge, the Turtles find unexpected help in their battle against the Mousers and Flyborgs: Karai and the Foot Clan!  Karai approaches Splinter and tells him that she still wishes to enforce her master’s command, but finds Stockman’s methods dishonorable and intends to finish her enemies ninja-to-ninja.  Splinter, however, has a better idea and Karai listens.

On Burnow Island, the Fugitoid finishes growing a new shell for Donatello’s comatose body, but balks at the procedure to reattach it.  Harold doesn’t see his dilemma, but the Fugitoid informs him that if he were to take ooze to heal Donatello, then it would kill at least one of the Utroms in stasis.  The Fugitoid and Harold are at an impasse… at least until a scaly, long-tailed mutant gripping a canister of ooze steps into the room and offers a solution.


At Foot HQ, both Baxter Stockman and Shredder are furious over Karai’s betrayal.  Karai returns with the Foot Soldiers and Shredder is about to kill her when Kitsune interferes.  She persuades Shredder to let his chunin speak and Karai explains that all she’s ever wanted was to restore the Foot’s glory.  However, after several costly missteps, such as the inclusion of gaijin associates and the decimation of their ranks at Burnow Island, the Foot Clan is on the brink of destruction… and Shredder’s private feud with Hamato Yoshi only serves to drain more of their vital resources.  (In the confusion, Baxter sneaks out.)

With that, Splinter and the Turtles enter the arena and Splinter challenges Shredder to “The Gauntlet”.  Shredder is about to refuse when, once again, Kitsune persuades him otherwise.  Nobody and Alopex are ushered to the sidelines, where Kitsune explains the Gauntlet to them: Two masters may each choose four warriors to fight on their behalf.  The last warrior standing may join their master for the final battle, as the two commanding enemies fight to the death.


Michelangelo isn’t sure he has it in him to kill anyone, but Splinter reminds him of the conversation they had some time ago; he’s known for quite a while that the only way they’d ever be safe was to kill Shredder.  Karai, meanwhile, is forbidden from joining her master in combat, as Shredder intends to punish her after the fight.

With that, the Turtles and the Foot Mutants enter the arena and begin their battle.  The Turtles put up a good fight, but are ultimately overpowered by Bebop, Rocksteady, Bludgeon and Koya.  Nobody wants to help, but the Foot Elite keep her out of it.  While this is going on, Alopex is approached by Kitsune, who begins to magically mess with her head.


Turtle Tips:

*This story is continued from TMNT (IDW) #48.  The story continues in TMNT (IDW) #50.

*The ranks of the Foot Clan were severely depleted after the events of TMNT (IDW) #44.

*Splinter gave his sons the speech about ultimately having to kill the Shredder in TMNT (IDW) #14.

*Kitsune was last seen manipulating Alopex in TMNT (IDW) #37.

*This issue was originally published with 3 variant covers: Regular Cover by Mateus Santolouco, Subscription Cover by Eastman and Pattison, and Cover RI by Jason Howard.


Review:

I’m pleased that the fight against Baxter’s robots didn’t take up any more time than it already has.  As I remarked last issue, I was getting a little bored with that development and this issue switches gears from that cliffhanger almost immediately.  It sort of turns into setup for the really for REAL ultimate showdown in the next issue, but I still found that more engrossing than robot-smashing.

The character work on Karai was the real star of this issue and something I felt was a long time coming.  She’s been around in the IDW series since nearly the beginning, but her development has been considerably overdue.  While I’m actually impressed the writers took the long road in bringing out her willingness to cooperate with the Turtles (though she isn't yet their ally), much of Karai’s stint in this title has been either as a lackey or an altogether nonentity.

Her change of heart is a natural development; she’s been dissatisfied with her grandfather’s erratic behavior since practically her introduction.  And after the ruin Shredder’s led the Clan into since taking over, her decision to go behind his back certainly makes sense to her character arc.

It’s more the “nonentity” thing that bugs me.  Karai had been out of the picture for such a while, you kind of forgot she was ever supposed to be important.  I’m rather looking forward to seeing Karai (presumably) step up to bat after #50.  IDW’s Shredder has been fun, but his “Raaaarrr VENGEANCE” shtick could only carry on for so long.

Speaking of Shredder and the Foot Clan, I hadn’t really thought about what disrepair they were in until it was brought up in this issue.  I had just assumed that after “City Fall”, the Foot were as powerful as they’d ever been.  And I still sort of feel like maybe we missed some of the whole “downfall” of the Foot we’re just now hearing about.  A lot of Foot Soldiers died on Burnow Island and the Purple Dragons defected, but was there anything else?  “City Fall” saw the Foot rise to the top of the food chain and consolidate all criminal power in New York City.  Now all of a sudden they’re in shambles because some Foot Soldiers died and a street gang decided to quit?

That was a considerably short reign as the criminal kings of New York.

The first half of the Gauntlet was a beautifully rendered montage of fights from Cory Smith, but an epic battle that only spans 3 pages.  I’m sure the Turtles will rally and we’ll get another round in the double-length finale… or at least I hope we do.

There are other things coming to a head, as well.  Kitsune seems to be going all-out, manipulating Shredder’s decisions and playing him for her interests.  I’d almost forgotten that she had plans for Alopex, too, and it looks like we’ll finally see what that’s all about.

But more importantly: Leatherhead!  Perhaps the most anticipated character yet to appear in the IDW books.  Well, he hasn’t “properly” appeared yet, but who else could it be?  No Cajun accent, it seems, but there's always a chance!

Looking at my review, I don’t think I’m being generous enough with this issue.  It features a lot of superb layouts and art from Smith and it’s dotted with strong moments, both large and small (there’s a handsome two-page spread showcasing both sides of the Gauntlet; Stockman sneaking away practically on his tip-toes was pretty funny).  I guess I’m just sort of going through the same burn-out I did toward the end of “City Fall”: Too much epic.  “Attack on Technodrome” and “Vengeance” back-to-back kind of drains you and I’m ready for the event arcs to be over so we can perhaps return to some smaller scale, character-oriented storytelling.

That said, I’m sure #50 will be a blast.

Grade: C (as in, “C’mon, how come nobody ever calls Japanese characters out on their racism and xenophobia when they go into ‘blaaaarrrgh gaijin!’ fits?  They seem to always get a free pass on that in various media”.)