Publication date: April, 1990
Story, pencils and inks: Rick Veitch
Letters: Mary Kelleher
Cruising in his Road Runner, the hideous Quake-Butt gnaws his steering wheel as he’s joined by the other members of the Mutato-Heads. The group's poet, Diddy Wah Daddy, pulls up in his cramped European job and the metal-faced maniac, Rusty Dusty, breezes by in his hot rod. They’re then met by their leader, Bone Ugly, a motorcyclist swinging his skull on a meat hook. Now together, they merge onto the Sky Highway (an endless maze of loops and lanes that sprawl in all directions, defying gravity) and begin causing massive pileups, killing as many other drivers as possible. Tired of their rides, they decide to take the nearest exit to another dimension and pick up something more exhilarating.
In the wilderness of Northampton, Casey parks his Chevy at the base of a hill and he and the Turtles break for lunch. Suddenly, a flash of light illuminates the road and the Mutato-Heads come driving out. They’re impressed with the ’57 Bel-Air and Rusty Dusty immediately hotwires it. Before Casey can catch up with them, the joyriders take off with his beloved car. Raph leaps down and clings to the roof as the Mutato-Heads disappear back into the dimensional on ramp. As Casey rants and raves about his car, the Turtles are quick to hijack the vehicles the thieves left behind. Leo takes the Road Runner, Don takes the motorcycle, Mike takes the hot rod and Casey is left with the indignity of the European K-car. They enter the Sky Highway and immediately get lost in the enormous mixing bowl.
As the Mutato-Heads sideswipe some motorists, the jostling shakes Raph, who falls over the side of the overpass and lands into the passenger seat of a passing convertible. The convertible is being driven by a freakishly proportioned woman named Hildegaard Rail, who doesn’t seem to mind Raph’s company. Raph asks where they are and she says Valhalla, as it’s nothing but endless stretches of road with no speed limits whatsoever.
Elsewhere, the Turtles are caught in a traffic jam. Don’s cycle stalls and Mike’s hot rod overheats, forcing them to pile into Leo’s Road Runner. Casey, meanwhile, has ditched his car completely and begun standing in the middle of the road, screaming like a lunatic. The Mutato-Heads send several cars falling down on them from the road above, narrowly missing Casey and tearing the roof off of the Road Runner. The Turtles pull Casey into their vehicle and chase after the Mutato-Heads.
Meanwhile, Raph asks Hildegaard how she wound up on the Sky Highway. She says that she was driving down the Autobahn one day and was transported here in a beam of light. The longer she stays, the more “beautiful” she becomes; an effect the Sky Highway has on all its occupants. Raph realizes he and his brothers need to get out of the place quickly, before they all turn into hideous motor-maniacs like everybody else.
Leo finally catches up with the Mutato-Heads and pulls up behind them. Raph spots them from his overpass and, after an unwanted kiss goodbye from Hildegaard, leaps down into the backseat of the Chevy. Casey is still ranting about his car and Raph suspects the worst. Taking off Casey’s mask, he sees that his friend has mutated into a monster. They decide that time is of the essence if they’re to restore Casey, so Leo pulls up next to the Chevy and, thanks to an oil slick, accidentally sends both cars flying over the side of the overpass.
Luckily, they both happen to land on the dimensional exit and are safely teleported to a parking lot in rural Boston. Casey is back to normal, though he’d still like to have a word with the guys who stole his car. The Turtles approach the Chevy, open the door and find that the Mutato-Heads have been returned to their human forms. They apologize and swear that it was the Sky Highway that made them go crazy. Casey decides not to beat them to a pulp and just wants to go home. The Turtles all pile into the Chevy and they head out for some dinner.
The four humans take a seat in the beat-up Road Runner and head back to their old lives before the Sky Highway sucked them up. They talk about mundane things like being an accountant and a lit major and driving Ford Escorts and such. As they crawl through a 55 MPH stretch of highway, they all begin to get anxious and realize that they miss the speed and freedom of the Sky Highway. They enter the dimensional on ramp and return to the Sky Highway, transforming back into the Mutato-Heads.
*According to Peter Laird, all issues published between TMNT (Vol. 1) #21 and TMNT (Vol. 1) #45, with the exceptions of TMNT #27 and TMNT #28, are non-canon as they were produced by guest creators. Regardless, there is nothing present in this story to contradict Mirage continuity, so feel free to determine for yourself whether it “counts” or not.
*The Turtles will encounter hot-rodding supernatural creatures inspired by Big Daddy Roth again in Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #15.
I spent most of my life in Springfield, Virginia, home of the world famous Springfield Interchange (AKA the Mixing Bowl). Being right at the edge of the Beltway, we have the worst traffic next to New York City and Los Angeles, respectfully, and I quickly grew to dread commuting. It is a heart attack-inducing combination of gridlock, stop-and-go, crazy people trying to kill you and hectic worry as you try to cross 8 lanes to get to your exit before you miss it and have to map out an entirely new strategy and get back around. With a million different ways to go North, South, East and West, and ALWAYS under construction with seemingly new traffic patterns emerging every single day, it is a brutal maze and I'll have nightmares about it for as long as I live.
“Sky Highway” is a story that I’ve always connected with because I feel like I’ve lived it every day of my life, at least until I moved to Little Rock last summer. Unfortunately, were I a character in this story, I wouldn’t be one of the Mutato-Heads ruling the road, I’d be one of the hapless nobodies trying to navigate the labyrinth of off ramps, on ramps, exits and detours, trying desperately to find a way out. The story taps into my fucking phobia and even after leaving Springfield behind, I still find myself wary of using the highway for anything (even though the highway here in Little Rock is far more intuitive and manageable).
Like all of Veitch’s other TMNT stories, this one flaunts a horror vibe, not just in the supernatural setting, but with his nasty renderings of the deformed Mutato-Heads. They’re definitely designed in homage to the work of Big Daddy Roth, albeit more monstrous and horrifying than even his goony style. Quake-Butt’s ever-present inner monologue tends to make the story feel dense with text, but his use of description sets a great mood and lets you better feel and appreciate the mad rush of adrenaline that leads to all denizens of the Sky Highway becoming speed junkies.
Ultimately, the adventure feels rather “small time”, so to speak. When you stop and think about it, the Turtles and Casey aren’t after anything bigger than their stolen car and once they get it back, they’re happy to go about their business. There’s a brief discussion at the end about all the people still trapped on the Sky Highway, but Leo brushes it off as their simply being victims of a natural calamity akin to an earthquake or a flood. “Out of our hands”, essentially. From that perspective, it probably wouldn’t have made for a very good episode of any of the cartoons, as the Turtles aren’t particularly heroic. They just want their wheels back.
You might feel a little unsatisfied by the conclusion, as it’s just a random trip through an insane dimension that ends as abruptly as it began. There’s no payoff to speak of nor any sense of accomplishment, just the characters left wondering, “…So what the fuck was THAT all about?”
What makes “Sky Highway” for me isn’t so much the story, but the way the package is presented. The Mutato-Heads are damn creepy, but I found the nightmarish landscape of an inescapable mixing bowl to be far more terrifying. Veitch’s pencils and inks are lovely and he renders each classic car in minute detail. I’m not a car guy, but I think anyone with a passing interest in motor vehicles would get a kick out of this story.
“Sky Highway” is a weird one and your mileage may vary, but it appeals to me as I grew up in one of the most congested hellholes of the United States. If anything, get it for Veitch’s wonderful artwork.
Grade: B+ (as in, “Between this, Kolchak the Night Stalker and The Real Ghostbusters, headless motorcyclists sure were popular”.)