Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #69


Publication date: April 21, 2010

Script/Art: Dan Berger
Letters: Eric Talbot
Frontispiece: Michael Dooney
Cover: Dan Berger and Steve Lavigne

“Dark Shadows”

Summary:

Frontispiece: While navigating a raft through a flooded, post-apocalyptic city, a fully-grown Shadow remarks on how quickly time can pass you by.

Rowing her boat through a ruined and flooded Japanese city, a scar-faced adult Shadow in ninja garb laments that since the day she killed her moth during birth, she’s always attracted death and misery. As she takes in the surroundings, she remembers back to when the world started to end.



The Utroms came to integrate alien races with Earthlings and broaden humanity’s potential…or so everyone had thought. In reality, they were aware of the effects of global warming on the environment and had calculated the cataclysmic destruction it was about to reap. They then rounded up all the willing Earthlings for a planet-wide evacuation. Unfortunately, the Jones family, the Turtles and many others chose to stay behind and try to work things out. The world flooded anyway.

Shooing away the memories, Shadow lands her boat on an island. She realizes how crazy her life has become, but acknowledges that because of her uncles, her life has always been crazy. Entering the main building on the island, she’s attacked by dozens of Foot Soldiers. Remarking how much she misses her “Sensei”, Shadow carves her way through all the ninja. Going further inside, she remembers how cruel she was to her adoptive mother, April, and regrets her behavior to the utmost. She’s then approached by the Foot’s Elite Guard, who warn the “devil child” to leave. Shadow kills them all.

More Foot Soldiers enter and a voice orders them to stand down. A feeble old man, their leader, enters the room, prepared to talk to Shadow. Shadow reveals him to be Cha Ocho. She demands he tell her where her Sensei is. Cha warns her that the one she seeks will likely kill her if she attempts to speak to him again, not being generous enough to stop at scarring her face like the last time. Shadow “encourages” Ocho to tell her what she wants, and he sends her to Yamanashi.



Several weeks pass and Shadow makes it to the swamps of Yamanashi. Within, a cloaked Turtle slowly builds a fire. He hears Shadow coming a mile away and reveals himself to be Raph. Shadow wants to try and work things about between them, but Raph won’t entertain the idea. Apparantly, Shadow accidentally “did something” to Donatello many years ago. Raph won’t forgive her for it and Shadow blames him for her miserably insane life and all her emotional and psychological traumas. They go back and forth for a bit, but no progress is made. So they fight.

As they fight, Shadow thinks about how similar they really are, and how they’re holding back in battle, not so much out of love as out of nostalgia. Shadow eventually gains the upper hand, slicing Raph’s eye out of his face with her katana. As Raph lay on the ground, unconscious, Shadow considers finishing him off, but relents.


From a distance, “present day” Raph and Renet have observed the whole thing. Renet explains that if Raph proceeds to teach Shadow martial arts, this is the likeliest outcome. If he chooses not to, then the likeliest outcome is that she will be murdered by a Foot Mystic at age 23. Raph doesn’t like either option, and Renet explains that this is the very reason why looking in on your own future is never a good idea. Raph thanks her for the favor anyway, and Renet tells him that she owed him for saving her from a t-rex.

Returning to the present day, Raph finds a goth, teenage Shadow beginning her martial arts training with Casey. Raph knows he can’t talk her out of it, but asks that she call him “Sensei” from now on.



Elsewhere, back at Renet’s place, she’s approached by Lord Simultaneous, who tries to tell her why she should never show other people their futures. Depressed, Renet says she’s figured the lesson out the hard way and will never let herself forget.


Turtle Tips:

*The “present day” part of this story takes place shortly before the events of Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #7.

*Gabrielle died while giving birth to Shadow in TMNT (Vol. 1) #58.

*Shadow says she does not know who her biological father was. In the Image series, it was revealed in TMNT (Vol. 3) #8 that she is the daughter of mobster Albert Puzorelli. Whether a revelation from the Image series has any relevance to the Mirage canon is questionable considering Volume 3's dubious continuity status.

*The Utroms revealed themselves to the world in TMNT (Vol. 4) #5. Since Shadow is seen as still being a teenager when the Utroms evacuate the planet, that would mean the global catastrophe occurs very shortly after the Utrom's arrival.

*Leonardo inadvertently ensured the downfall of "mammal" (human) civilization by destroying the Adversary, freeing the Father of All Reptiles and restoring the Ring in TMNT (Vol. 1) #37.  While the canonicity of that story is a matter of debate, it presages this event rather well.

*The global catastrophe was predicted in Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #16, Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #18Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #24, Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #30 and Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #45.

*Cha Ocho was a character introduced in TMNT (Vol. 4) #6. His origin was explained in Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #6. He formed a friendship with Raph in Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #28.

*Raph was first shown living in a swamp, missing an eye, in The Puma Blues #20. “Present day” Raph eventually saw this potential future for himself in Michaelangelo (microseries) #1 (2nd printing), in the story "A Christmas Carol".

*The implication is that Shadow is the one who blinded Donatello, who can be seen suffering from the malady in the 2007 Tales of the TMNT Vol. 1 frontispieces and epilogue.

*The Turtles and Renet battled t-rexes in Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 1) #7.

*Chronologically, the Turtles last met Renet in Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #51. They'll meet her again in TMNT (Vol. 4) #11.

*Kirby’s crystal-powered pencil from Donatello (microseries) #1 can be seen in Renet’s room along with other relics, such as Splinter’s staff and several of the Turtles’ weapons.

*Shadow's future will be seen again, briefly, in "Christmas Past".

*This issue featured a bonus pin-up, “Reap What You Sow”, by Dan Berger.


Review:

Berger really pulled out all the stops for his final issue of Tales of the TMNT. I had thought that his previous offering, issue #65, would be a tough act to follow, but Berger really went all the way, laying the emotional impact on thick, but tying it all into so many aspects of the TMNT mythos that it didn’t feel needlessly sappy or heavy-handed.

What really struck me about Shadow’s inner monologue in this issue was how much she seemed to be reading my own mind, addressing so many of the concerns I’ve had about her character for years. She remarks on her rebellious teenage goth years, which I’ve always found to be the most obnoxious and unlikeable era of her character. She agrees with that assessment whole heartedly and laments her bratty behavior. Thank you!

But then she ties it into another concern I’ve always had with her character, that being her relationship with April. In all the years that Shadow and April have coexisted, you can probably count on one hand the number of times they’ve been seen sharing a mother-daughter relationship. Although their affection is demonstrated from time to time, I’ve never really felt the “love” in their relationship, so to speak. Shadow acknowledges this, too, lamenting how she never gave April a fair chance because she wasn’t her biological mother and was outwardly cruel to her during her teenage years. That portion of the inner monologue makes up only a small part of the issue, but it really hit me in the gut as someone who has a lifelong emotional investment in the characters and for personal reasons. I’ll just say that those of you who still have your mothers in your lives should show them as much love as you possibly can while you still have the chance.

And in addition to all that, “Dark Shadows” goes into another area of Shadow’s character that I’ve always wanted to see explored; just how unfair her upbringing must have been. I’ve remarked on this before, but the TMNT can’t go ten minutes without being attacked by aliens, ninja, mutants, ghosts or some combination thereof. They are walking time-bombs of disaster and pain. Bringing a child up in that sort of environment can’t be healthy, and while I’ve always loved how Shadow was raised by these freaky looking reptile monsters but never thought twice about it because they’d always been there as family, I’ve always wondered if maybe, for the sake of her health, it would have been better if Casey and April had kept her away from the Turtles. I know it’s not the Turtles’ fault that danger follows them like a plague, but “fairness” is immaterial when the life of a child is involved.

Shadow harps on this incessantly through her inner monologue, eventually blaming her Uncles for all the woes of her upbringing. Raph, being Raph, proceeds to play the world’s tiniest violin at her accusations, making the situation darkly amusing in its tragedy.

And perhaps least of all in this story, and you wouldn’t think it would be “least” when it’s really very exciting, is all the work Berger did tying together various disparate aspects of the TMNT mythos and shedding some light on the enigmatic “future” era we’ve been glimpsing for twenty years. At very long last, we finally know why Raph lives in a swamp in his old age and how he lost his eye. Seeing Cha Ocho make a cameo was a welcomed sight, even if he’s always been rather shallow in characterization. Renet tying everything together was a wonderful idea and really helps to show the burden of her job as Timestress. We’ve seen bits and pieces of the crushing weight of knowing how all your friends and family are going to die in stories like the Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 1) 2007 TPB frontispieces and conclusion, but this story really drove the point home. You get a feeling that the Valley Girl act is just her way of trying to inject some levity into an otherwise unspeakably bleak career choice.

Though if there’s any aspect of the story that bothered me, it would have to be some of the questions Berger left open (he actually acknowledges and apologizes for this in the opening editorial of the issue). So every future story we’ve seen in the Mirage comics aren’t all part of one fluid timeline, but are all just peeks at potential futures, thus explaining why not all the futures we’ve seen link up to one another? I can buy that. But what I really want to know is, will the Earth in the Mirage continuity really be destroyed by global warming just a few years after Volume 4 ends?

The reason I ask is that the future Renet showed Raph was in regards to Shadow’s choice to pursue martial arts and the outcome it would bring. Unless Shadow somehow singlehandedly destroyed the ozone layer with a jumpkick, then the Earth getting flooded back to Noah is a done deal. That’s… pretty depressing, if you ask me, but I suppose that it could still be written off as just another “potential future” even if Shadow’s choice to learn karate has nothing to do with the environment.

“Dark Shadows” was a real masterpiece of an issue and one of the best in Dan Berger’s run on the series. It’s likely to mostly appeal to longtime readers of the book who know the ins and outs of TMNT continuity, but I can’t hold that against him. Accessible or not to casual readers, this story was a labor of love to the diehard fans, boasting some of the most emotional depth and intricacy of any TMNT comic. And best of all, it doesn’t even matter if you like Shadow or not. If she’s a favorite character of yours, then you’re no doubt going to be thrilled to see her in the spotlight. If you’ve always been annoyed with her, well, she pretty much apologizes to you for all her past behavior in this issue.

It’s a win-win.

Grade: A+ (as in, “And I guess this means that ‘Road Hogs’ is canon again?”)

6 comments:

Nacho said...

Thank you for taking the time to post the summary and the review.

Adam Winters said...

Well said, Mark. I can tell this issue has struck a personal chord with you. This is the only TMNT issue that has caused me to take an intentional break half way through to digest the intensity of it all. I'd have to sit down and make a list, but I think it's probably in my top 5 Mirage TMNT issues of all time.

Just out of curiosity's sake, does this issue or anything particular in it make your list of the Top 25 moments in TMNT history?

MachiasBanshee said...

I envy your review writing skills. :) Fantastic job. This issue seems so bittersweet... I can't wait to get it.

Nacho said...

loved the issue, even if i thought she will have a brighter future.

Anonymous said...

Life at best is bittersweet.
PL said somewhere (on his blog I think) that Volume 4 WILL tie up everything including the break-up between the Jones and the Turtles. That would be so sad. I feel depressed now.

Tony Jamm said...

Just read this issue. Even though I have missed a lot of Shadow's story I loved this book.

I don't think you mentioned the art. This is the most superb stuff I have ever seen from Berger. I think it rivals a lot of what Eastman and Laird did. Just the way he illustrates Raph without his mask is so solid and emotional. He might me my favorite unmasked turtle artist (don't like his portrayal with the mask as much.)

Great review.