Saturday, June 23, 2018

TMNT Universe #23


Publication date: June 20, 2018

Writer: Ryan Ferrier
Artist: Pablo Tunica
Colorist: Patricio Delpeche
Letterer: Shawn Lee
Editor: Bobby Curnow
Publisher: Greg Goldstein

"...And Out Came the Reptiles, Part One"

Summary:

MAIN STORY:

At Mutanimals HQ, Mondo Gecko tries to cheer up the disembodied remains of Mutagen Man, but his best friend seems more sullen than ever.  Lindsey takes Mondo aside and explains that Mutagen Man is dying and there's nothing she can do without the proper EPF equipment.  Mondo asks Lindsey to put Mutagen Man in a coma to keep him stable long enough for him to retrieve the equipment.  Hob forbids the mission, but Mondo blows his "dad" off and storms out on his own.


He visits Michelangelo at the lair and asks to see the EPF personnel data he gave to Donatello.  With it, he plans to interrogate an EPF goon and get details on how to get into their base.  Concerned, Mikey comes along.  They arrive at the EPF soldier's home and Mondo immediately begins beating the man senseless in front of his young daughter.  Mikey drags Mondo away, insisting that what they're doing is wrong, even if the EPF are their enemies.  He suggests to Mondo that they can find another way in.


Together, Mondo and Mikey take down one of the guards at the base and use his fingerprint and retina scan to get inside.  Things are going well until Mondo finds the cell where the EPF had previously incarcerated him and the other Mutanimals.  Going berserk, Mondo throws a fit and begins destroying everything, vowing to take down the fascist establishment that's been putting a jackboot to his neck all his life.  Mikey calms him down, reminding him that Mutagen Man's life depends on their success.


Just then, Agent Bishop and some EPF Guards arrive and corner them...


BACK UP STORY:

Writer: Rich Douek
Artist: Brahm Revel

"Nobody Cares"

In the wake of the Triceraton invasion, an EPF truck transporting Triceraton corpses to headquarters is attacked by Zodi.  The mutant scorpion almost succeeds in killing the guards, only to be stopped by Nobody.


Nobody makes short work of Zodi, leaving her unconscious body with the EPF.  While she doesn't know what Null wants with the bodies of Triceratons, Nobody is sure it was for no good.


Turtle Tips:

*This issue is continued from TMNT Universe #22.  The story continues in TMNT Universe #24.

*Mutagen Man was last seen recovering in the back-up story in TMNT Universe #18

*Mondo Gecko and the other Mutanimals were taken captive by the EPF in TMNT Universe #67.  Mondo stole the EPF personnel data while escaping in TMNT (IDW) #69.

*Zodi last appeared in TMNT Universe #20.

*This issue was originally published with 3 variant covers: Cover A by Freddie E. Williams II and Jeremy Colwell, Cover B by Pablo Tunica, and Incentive Cover by Marco Itri and Brittany Peer.


Review:

Man, TMNT Universe has been pretty, er, heavy lately, hasn't it?  The last arc dealt with the futility of warring races trying to live in harmony together within the same nation.  Now we're diving headfirst into some Brian's Song stuff about the tragic mercy of medically assisted suicide?  Cowabunga, dudes.

I suppose due to these much, much darker elements, TMNT Universe has been feeling like the more substantial book lately, compared to the main series it supplements.  Perhaps by virtue of being a tie-in book that deals with ancillary characters, it has the freedom to cover some riskier material than the primary title that is going to be seen by a wider audience.  I'm grateful that Universe has been giving us these sorts of stories, as they provide a solid contrast with the ongoing's often lighter atmosphere, and I hope that after Universe ends with #25 and the tie-in books return to periodic miniseries, we don't lose these more challenging storylines as a consequence.

Seymour's (Mutagen Man's) life was no picnic from his very introduction, but he's been in even more rotten shape for quite some time now.  We got a brief update on his condition several issues ago, but his fate has been a lingering thread.  His terminal illness and basically begging to die with a final shred of dignity and peace is an all-too-real scenario that may hit closer to home for some readers than others.  Mondo's predicament, where his concern for his friend outweighs his friend's sincerest wishes, puts him in that difficult space where he can't be sure if what he's doing is in Seymour's best interest or to satisfy his own potentially selfish desire to keep his friend in his life.  This is... This is a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles book, right?  Yikes, man.

Mondo's confrontation with Hob addresses a dynamic that I never really considered before now: Hob created Mondo and is essentially his father.  At the very least, he's Mondo's paternal figure, what with the gecko being the one member of the group to be stuck in "rebellious teen" mode.  It's an angle I hope the writers run with in future Mutanimals stories, the father/son thing, as it has the potential to carve out a unique dynamic for these two characters.

Michelangelo and Mondo as best buddies is one of those staples of their relationship that's been consistent in every incarnation of the franchise that Mondo has appeared in.  IDW hasn't had the opportunity to explore their friendship much before now, so it was fun to see that buddy-buddy dynamic finally get a spotlight in this universe.  Well, "fun" might not be the word for it, as Mondo spends the issue raging against the machine and lamenting his impotence in the face of his ill friend's certain death.  Bossa Nova.

Tunica's art is as wild as ever, but his Mondo takes the cake.  He goes all-out with the metal-head aesthetic and Mondo looks like something a mosh pit spat out.  He isn't cute (Tunica doesn't do "cute") and is extremely ugly, but in an almost endearing sort of way.  His excessively wrinkly, frog-like appearance reminds me of how Gollum looked in the old Rankin-Bass Hobbit animated film.  I dunno, it just did.

The back-up is another brief tease that Null is up to something.  It was fine for what it was, but didn't exactly move that storyline along or anything.  I assume that next time we see Zodi, she'll be in EPF custody?  Someone make a note of that, because I'm going to forget that this back-up ever happened by the time we get there.

This penultimate story in TMNT Universe is harsh and aiming for some serious juxtaposition, putting the franchise's two most Wild and Crazy Guys in a dark drama about the futility of resisting a terminal illness.  Turtle Power, dudes.




TMNT (IDW) #83


Publication date: June 13, 2018

Story: Kevin Eastman, Bobby Curnow, and Tom Waltz
Script: Tom Waltz
Art: Dave Wachter
Colors: Ronda Pattison
Letters: Shawn Lee
Editor: Bobby Curnow
Publisher: Greg Goldstein

"Kingdom of Rats, Part 3"

Summary:

In the frozen wasteland, the Turtles try to talk to Manmoth, but he insists on hunting them, instead.  They make a break for it, but Manmoth quickly tracks them down and a head-on fight ensues.  The immortal Manmoth is unstoppable, so Michelangelo tells his brothers to keep him occupied while he sets a trap.  The Turtles take it on the chin until Mikey goads Manmoth into pursuing him.  Manmoth steps into Mikey's trap, a snare, and falls to the ground where the other Turtles put their weapons to his throat.  With humor, he yields and agrees to speak with them over dinner (taking a particular shine to Mikey).


At TCRI, April and Baxter watch news anchor Irma Langenstein's coverage of the "hero" Baxter Stockman.  April tries to pry info from Baxter regarding his meeting with Agent Bishop, but Baxter merely threatens her ego by mocking her scheme to keep tabs on him for the Turtles.  April reminds him that it was her plan that made him a "hero", but Baxter in turn reminds her that when the fickle populace forgets about his supposed good deeds, she will then be disposable to him.  April renews her worth, reminding Baxter of both the rat infestation plaguing New York as well as his Mouser robots being a potentially lucrative solution.


Elsewhere, the Rat King leads the hypnotized children to the ruins of a bridge and mocks them before playing his pipe that will send them to their doom.


At the restaurant HQ of Lupo's mob, Jennika confronts the crime lord and demands he renew his allegiance to the Foot Clan.  Lupo reveals that he knows about Splinter's defeat at the hands of the Turtles and, sensing weakness, orders his men to gun down Jennika's Foot Soldiers as a message.  Before Lupo can kill Jennika, Casey, Hun and the Purple Dragons burst in and beat everybody up.  Jennika wants to kill Lupo for revenge, but Casey talks her out of it.


Back in the frozen wasteland, Manmoth tells the Turtles that he was once like his siblings and played "the game" with them: Utilizing mortals as pawns to one day claim ownership of the world.  Using others to fight his battles for him made him weak, and when he recognized that, he swore off the game and came to the wastelands to live as a hunter.  The Turtles ask if he will tell them how to defeat the Rat King, but Manmoth confesses that despite how he feels about his family, he will never betray them.  He does say that they are all slaves to their whims and cannot overcome who they ultimately are on a fundamental level.  This triggers something in Leonardo, who tells his brothers that it's time to leave.

Manmoth leads them to a series of caves and tells them which one to go in if they wish to be led to wherever the Rat King is.  They thank him and enter the cave, though Manmoth gives Raphael some parting wisdom, suggesting that he will never find peace until he comes to terms with his own desire for isolation away from his siblings.

The Turtles arrive at the bridge in New York, moments before the Rat King sends the children to their deaths...


Turtle Tips:

*This story is continued from TMNT (IDW) #82.  The story continues in TMNT (IDW) #84.

*If I'm not mistaken, this issue marks the IDW debut of Irma.  With Burne having made his debut a few issues ago, I guess that just leaves Vernon as the last lingering Channel 6 personality.  Is the world ready for a new Vernon?  Can't be any worse than the Will Arnett version.

*This issue was originally published with 5 variant covers: Cover A by Dave Wachter, Cover B by Kevin Eastman and Tomi Varga, Retailer Incentive Cover by Ulises Farinas, Denver Comic Con Exclusive Cover by Eastman and Varga, and Tri-State Comic Con Exclusive Cover by Billy Tucci.


Review:

"Kingdom of Rats" is still slogging along, taking twice as long to say whatever exactly it is that it's trying to say.  It seems like the IDW series is spinning its wheels in anticipation of the milestone 100th issue, and so everything between now and then is just an exercise in stretching plots out and delaying progress until they get to that "event" issue where something notable can finally happen.

Which is weird, because in summary, it certainly doesn't SOUND like nothing is happening.  Krang just died, the Triceratons just invaded New York, the Rat King just kidnapped dozens of kids... But Lord Almighty, it's all so plodding and dragged out that it doesn't FEEL like anything is going on.  But that could just be me.  And it could just be fatigue from three or more IDW TMNT books a month for seven years.  But after an upswing in momentum during the "Trial of Krang" arc and issue #75, it feels like the book is losing steam again.  Reminds me of the rather listless arcs that immediately followed the conclusion of "Vengeance" and the #50 milestone issue.  This series seems to save all its energy for those "divisible by 25" issue numbers and then go into hibernation for a stretch afterward until the next Arbitrary Collector's Issue comes around.

Then again, maybe everyone else out these is having a blast with this arc and I'm just being cynical.  I've been known to do that.

Onto the specifics, though Manmoth was introduced some issues back, this was his big spotlight.  He's got a great look and is a fun update from his Archie Comics incarnation, keeping the "barbarian savage" motif whilst forgoing the "dumb caveman" elements that limited what that character could accomplish.  Wachter gives us a fun little game of tag between him and the Turtles (and that's much closer to what it is, as opposed to a "hunt"), though Mikey's trap that wins the day seemed so telegraphed and obvious one wonders how Manmoth survived five minutes in the wild.  They might as well have just put some M&Ms under a box propped up with a stick; he'd have probably fallen for that just as easily.

Baxter and April playing each other, while only two pages, struck me as much more exciting than the actual action elements of the issue.  They're stuck in this sort of chess game, where each is trying to maneuver the other into check, though they craftily find ways to slip free.  It's a reminder that these are both genuinely intelligent characters, with April's characterization recalling her excellent portrayal way, way back in her Microseries issue.  Each knows exactly what the other is up to, though both need the other for their own ends at the moment, yet both are trying to find ways to gain the advantage and oust the other.  It's just two pages, but it's very engaging.  And much like the dissolving relationship between Splinter and the Turtles, it's one of those ongoing "background" storylines that has kept me picking the book up even if the primary arcs in the foreground have been leaving me cold.  I guess the difference is that even when the story arcs aren't all that interesting, the characters remain vibrant and fascinating, so I'm still invested in what they're up to even if it's comparatively mundane.

But then there's Jennika's continued flirtations with Casey, which I don't particularly care about.  More power to you if that's your thing, though.  I do want to see what Hun's game is, getting back in good graces with his son.  I've got my guesses, but time will tell.  And if the book has me thinking about its plot threads and trying to draw conclusions, that really does mean that it's doing a good job of keeping me on the hook, contrary to my earlier griping.

Oh, and the Rat King was in this issue.  He's the motivation for the Turtles doing everything they're doing in this arc, but boy has he been sitting things out for three issues.  The finale next month had better deliver.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

TMNT (2003) Season 3, Part 4 review up at AIPT


My review for TMNT (2003) Season 3, Part 4 is up over at AIPT!

Season 3 really brings its A-game in the backend.  "Time Travails" and "Hun on the Run" are great (especially the latter, which has possibly the best fight scene in the series).  While the "Return of the Ultimate Ninja" arc gets off to a bumpy start with some dull Super Turtles and Planet Racers crossovers, it goes full throttle when it hits "Same as it Never Was".

Hope to finish up season 3 soon; possibly before the site's 10th Anniversary at the end of the month.


Sunday, May 27, 2018

TMNT Universe #22


Publication date: May 16, 2018

Writer: Paul Allor
Artist: Mark Torres
Colorist: Ronda Pattison
Letterer: Shawn Lee
Editor: Bobby Curnow
Publisher: Greg Goldstein

"Lost Causes, Part Two"

Summary:

MAIN STORY:

Commander Zom meets with Ma'Riell to go over the peace treaty between the Utroms and the Triceratons.  Both seem hesitant about the chances of success, given the history between their races.


Elsewhere, Donatello hacks into the Burnow Island security systems to open the door to the armory and finds several sniper rifles missing.  Realizing Kleve is about to make his move, he confronts the rogue Utrom, disarming him and knocking him from his bubble walker.  Donnie interrogates him and realizes that Kleve does not wish to assassinate Commander Zom at the signing of the peace treaty, but Ma'Riell.

Donnie heads to a vantage point overlooking the fields where the signing will take place, expecting to find Utroms he can easily take down.  Instead, he finds the Triceratons Drel and Tarsa.  He fights a losing battle, but manages to get Drel to confess his scheme.  After Drel had failed to kill Kleve, Kleve actually came to him with his plot to assassinate Ma'Riell.  Realizing that the assassination order didn't come from Zom, Tarsa throws away his rifle.


The peace treaty is signed as planned and Ma'Riell and Zom reveal that the combined science of their races has yielded the technology needed to grow food in the inhospitable soil.  Elsewhere, Kleve has come loose from his bonds and found that Donatello didn't just unlock the armory, but all the doors in the compound.

Later, Ma'Riell and Zom thank Donatello for his discretion, reveal that Drel and Tarsa have surrendered, and vow to track down Kleve.  Donnie congratulates them on getting the crops to take hold, but they confess that it was all a lie; the saplings were transplanted from a lab to create the illusion of progress.  They still have no plan in place to solve their food and space problem.


In the stasis chamber, Kleve succeeds in reviving Ch'Rell who is informed of General Krang's death.


BACK-UP:

Writer: Ross May
Artist: Chris Johnson
Colorist: Mark Englert

"Dangerous Waters"

On the shore of Burnow Island, Leatherhead makes his escape into the ocean.  He follows a white seal cub and both are attacked by a squid, mutated by the Technodrome's terraforming radiation.  Leatherhead kills the mutant squid and saves the baby seal.


Arriving on the shores of a human city, Leatherhead sneaks into the sewers and vows that he will use his strength to protect the world from dangerous mutants and ensure that abominations like himself and the squid are never created again.


Turtle Tips:

*This story is continued from TMNT Universe #21.  A new story begins in TMNT Universe #23.

*This issue was originally published with 4 variant covers: Cover A by Freddie E. Williams II and Jeremy Colwell, Cover B by Mark Torres, Incentive Cover by Fico Ossio, Showcase Comics Exclusive Cover by Tim Lattie.


Review:

"Lost Causes" forms a solid epilogue to "Invasion of the Triceratons", ultimately succeeding in decompressing what was a very compressed conclusion to that story arc.  Allor includes plenty of political intrigue and provides a resolution that feels more like a stopgap measure to postpone further hostilities rather than solve any actual problems.  It's a dark and more-bitter-than-sweet finale to this lengthy arc, undoing the frustratingly convenient resolution of "Invasion of the Triceratons" by offering a more complex and sobering insight into how bad things really are for these characters.

It doesn't feel like anyone really wins with this one.  Zom and Ma'Riell discuss the futility of their endeavor, resort to lies to push their agenda, and all they truthfully accomplish in the end is to buy some time.  The Utroms and the Triceratons still hate each other and they STILL don't know how to make food grow without grinding each other up for fertilizer.  What they accomplish feels less like a peace treaty and more like a ceasefire.  It's dark and it's harsh, but the sort of thing this storyline needed.  Anything more hopeful would have felt insincere and inappropriate.

"Lost Causes" is a lot of political intrigue and a meta-commentary on the naive fruitlessness of believing two centuries-warring races can ever truly get along.  You can project that lesson onto whichever real world hostility suits you; I don't think Allor was picking on any specific conflict and instead making more of a general observation.  Whatever the case may be, it makes for a fascinating story built upon years of IDW mythology, though I can't say it was very action oriented.  Torres provides some good punches in the sequences that call for them (enjoyed Donnie's brief skirmish with Kleve, especially), but this is more of a suspense-thriller story than an action-adventure.  I don't see the kids flocking to this one, personally (and it was just announced that TMNT Universe will be cancelled after issue #25, so I guess they didn't).

The big stinger is the revival of Ch'Rell, whom we've been waiting anxiously for ever since his existence was revealed.  We knew this was coming, it was really just a waiting game.  Now it'll be another waiting game to see what part he plays in the grand scheme of things, if he'll take after his 4Kids counterpart and become a version of the Shredder, but at least we're past the first step to get him there.

The back-up with Leatherhead doesn't tell us anything about him that we don't already know, it just confirms his worldview and role in the IDW narrative.  He's a mutant who hates mutants and wants to destroy them all.  I guess it manages to show us that he's no longer on Burnow Island and is back in civilization, but it ultimately doesn't do a whole lot.

Be that as it may, it was nice to see Ross May back in a TMNT book.  For what the story was, Ross writes it well; he wrote one of my favorite issues of Tales of the TMNT, after all.  While this is more an affirmation of Leatherhead's philosophy and motivations, for those uninitiated with the character, Ross delivers the viewpoint well.  Chris Johnson's art and Mark Englert's colors are very nice.  That opening panel of Leatherhead on the shore is gorgeous and maybe one of my favorite images of the character.

All in all, "Lost Causes" wasn't a fun story, but it was a good story.  It helped fix a problem with the pace of the arc it acts as an epilogue to, gives us some genuine insights into the IDW Utrom/Triceraton mythology, and even moves a plot element forward at the very end.  As for TMNT Universe winding down and all the talk about that, I'll save my commentary on that for the final issue.  My thoughts won't come as a surprise to anyone, just as the cancellation didn't come as a surprise to anyone, either.