Saturday, December 22, 2012

TMNT (Vol. 1) #37


 Publication date: June, 1991

Story, art, inking, lettering: Rick McCollum and Bill Anderson

“Twilight of the Ring”

Summary:

Journeying deep into the woods of Northampton with their camping gear, Don leads his brothers toward the place of his “spiritual experience”.  Raph and Mike are incredulous, but Leo believes that Don at least saw something.

The previous day, Don comes running back to the farmhouse, having returned from the spiritual journey Splinter sent him on.  Along with April (Casey is out bashing skulls), the Turtles and Splinter gather around a bonfire to hear Don’s tale.  Don tells them about his brief glimpse of the Father of All Reptiles, leading Mike and Raph to laugh at his claim.  Splinter silences them, reminding them of their spiritual connection to all reptile life.  He even reminds them of their adventure in the time of dinosaurs with Renet; how when they returned, all they could talk about with the feeling of kinship and belonging they had felt during those three months.  Splinter tells them how the reptiles once ruled the Earth, but their time ended early; the ring was broken and the age of mammals began.  Considering pollution and war, Raph labels the age of mammals a disaster, prompting angry glares from Splinter and April.  Splinter then tells his sons to follow Donatello to the place of his experience.

Back in the present, the Turtles reach the place where Don glimpsed the Father, but find nothing out of the ordinary save some loopy tree formations.  Leo decides to make camp and their first night in the wilderness begins.  Mike takes first watch and wanders off into the darkness.  He is distracted by a tiny fleeing lizard and fails to notice the massive, furry claw sneaking up behind him.


The next morning, they find Mike's broken 'chakus and a blood spatter.  Raph suggests they stray from their path to find him, but Don (now speaking in a strange voice) tells them that that’s what the Adversary wants.  Don tells Raph that they need to keep to their path and “keep faith”.  Raph argues Mike could die before they finish their journey, but Don reminds him of the time he devolved into an ordinary turtle and his brothers “kept faith” that he would be restored.  Leo begrudgingly concedes to continue the quest and they follow Don.

The day ends and the Turtles journey deeper into the woods.  As night falls, a thick fog covers the land and the Turtles decide to hold fort for the night.  As the hours go on, Raph is lost in the fog, leaving behind only a broken sai as a sign of struggle.  Still possessed, Don tells Leo that they must not stray from the path, as the Adversary is trying to break them apart.  Leo wants to know who told Don all of this and Don replies that it was the Father.  Seeing that Don is beyond reason, Leo agrees to continue with the journey.

As the landscape becomes more and more unearthly, Leo struggles to fight the flora with his swords and carve a path.  Don, following the voices of the forest, merely slips between the thorns and overgrowth with minimal effort.

Some miles away, Mike and Raph have found each other and are nursing their wounds.  Covered in blood and bandages, they take inventory of what few weapons they have left (small knives and shuriken) and prepare to hunt down the Adversary that attacked them.

Elsewhere, Leo gets the strange sensation that they’re being watched.  He and Don stumble into a dark part of the forest where there is absolutely no light and they are besieged by a large, hairy beast.  The Adversary slashes them with its claws, but Leo manages to chop the vermin’s arm off and send it into retreat.  He and Don leave the dark part of the forest and continue their quest.


As the third night wanes on, Donatello has completely given into his mania.  Now wearing mud like war paint and cloaked in a shroud, he has declared himself to the Shaman for the Father of All Reptiles and preaches an end of the Adversary.  Leo thinks he’s nuts.  Eventually, they both fall asleep and dream the same dream.  They see what the present might be like had mammals not broken the ring of the reptiles and assumed evolutionary control.  They view birds as traitors, as they were once reptiles who stole the secrets of warm blood and fled from the mammals to the safety of the skies.  And they see the mammals, preying upon turtles in swarms and scavenging defenseless eggs.

They awaken and continue into the alien forest.  A thick fog appears and they know the Adversary is close.  The giant one-armed rodent attacks and retreats after landing a single blow.  It continues this all day long, wearing the Turtles down.  Eventually, it breaks Don’s leg and then vanishes along with the fog.  Leo offers to help Don finish the journey, but Don has a revelation: He’s not the Shaman, Leo is.  Leo is reluctant to leave Don behind, but Don tells him that if he fails, all they’ve lost will be for nothing.  Leo leaves Don one of his katana and continues the journey.  In the distance, he hears Don scream, but carries on in tears.

The voice of the Father speaks to Leo as he climbs a mountain.  The Father tells Leo that he has been trapped for millennia by his own melancholy, brought on by the slaughter of his unborn children at the hand of the mammals.  Leo reaches the top of the mountain and finds a huge reptile egg.  The Father tells him that the Adversary is the combined spirit of the vermin that devoured his unborn children and broke the ring.  The Adversary then appears before Leo for one last battle.  Appearing in the clouds, the Father gives Leo the strength of all the reptiles of the past, which Leo uses to finally vanquish the Adversary.


Down below, Mike and Raph find Don.  At least returned to his senses, Don tells them that the journey is over.  Mike thinks he sees a giant turtle in the clouds, but it vanishes an instant later.  Don says that he’ll wait at the base of the mountain while they go up and check on Leo.  Mike and Don climb to the top and find Leo sitting exhausted at the base of a giant hatched egg, surrounded by the scattered remains of the Adversary.  Leo says that they have freed Father and the restless spirits of all the unborn reptiles killed by mammals.  And thanks to them, the ring has been restored and the cycle can continue as it was meant to.


Turtle Tips:

*This story is continued from “Donatello: The Ring”, where Don had his encounter with the Father of All Reptiles.

*The Turtles went back in time with Renet and met dinosaurs in Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 1) #7.

*Raph devolved in TMNT (Vol. 1) #24 and was restored in TMNT (Vol. 1) #26.

*By restoring the Ring, Leonardo inadvertently ensures the downfall of "mammal" (human) civilization.  This will come to pass in Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #69.

*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.  Regardless, there is nothing in this issue that would contradict Mirage continuity.  So decide for yourself what “counts” and what doesn’t.


Review:

McCollum and Anderson’s stories, as I mentioned in my review of their last one, put a heavy focus on the TMNT and their relationship to the natural world as animals rather than their relationship to the modern world as people.  Some might argue that they don’t really have a “reptile heritage”, as they were mutated into anthropomorphs when they were babies and raised in a manner similar to human children (TV, schooling, chores, exercise, etc).  But the fact remains that for at least a brief span of time, they were regular old animals and thus they still, in some small, forgotten way, have a connection to the natural world.  At least in the spiritual universe fabricated for this comic, anyway.

Michael Zulli’s “Souls Winter” trilogy did a fantastic job exploring this idea with its last chapter and McCollum and Anderson delve into it even deeper with “Twilight of the Ring”.  Being animals that were turned into men, the Turtles have roots in both metaphysical realms, which is clearly the lesson Splinter was trying to impart on them by initiating their journey into the wilderness.

The story seems to glorify reptiles and villainize mammals, though some measures are taken during the flashback at the beginning to remind the Turtles not to get too carried away with blaming everything on the fuzzy warm-bloods.  Splinter, April and Casey are all mammals, after all, and they’re pretty alright.  Really, “Twilight of the Ring” is a bit more of a supernatural rescue mission, as the Father and the spirits of all those killed by the Adversary are trapped and need to be freed.  Meanwhile, the Adversary wants to keep things as they are and they have to defeat him to restore the “ring”.

On the subject of the “ring”, my interpretation was that the ring was the growth and life cycle (rise and fall) of the reptiles that was broken when the mammals took over.  The reptiles being ousted by the mammals was a natural part of the cycle (the fall), but the Adversary has kept the ring broken and thus preventing the reptiles from ever ousting the mammals (the rise).  The Turtles were sort of a “cheat”; reptiles gifted with the skills from the world of the evolved mammals who were destined to restore the cycle.

I’ve got to say, such an interpretation kind of sucks the joy right out of that ending.  By defeating the Adversary, who had kept the mammals at the top by trapping the Father and breaking the ring, Leonardo inadvertently dooms all of mankind to an inevitable fall (and eventual rise of the reptiles).  Had the Turtles done nothing, the mammals would have continued their dominance in perpetuity and never lose control of the world again.

While I wouldn’t call the message a nihilistic one (“For every rise there is a fall”, “What goes up must come down”, and so on), it paints a harsh reality for the reader.  The dinosaurs were once top shit, but they eventually died out.  We may be top shit now, but we’re going to go down sooner or later.  Factor in that human civilization is destroyed shortly into the 21st century according to Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #69 and we may very well have Leo to blame for killing everyone.  What a jerk.

Art-wise, I love the scenery in this issue.  When the Turtles enter the forest, it’s a pretty normal place.  But as the issue progresses, the flora becomes weirder and weirder.  First looping and bending at angles in a weird way, then the knotholes take on strange shapes like eyes and by the end, actual faces and teeth start to sprout out of the woodwork.  This aspect of the environment isn’t directly addressed by the narration or the dialogue, it’s strictly a visual to let the reader know the Turtles have left our plane of reality and are venturing deeper and deeper into the foreboding unknown.  Once the Adversary is vanquished, all the trees lose their leaves and the landscape returns to relative normalcy, implying that they have returned to the physical plane.  It’s a great way of telling the story through the art and letting the readers pick up on it by themselves, though they may not realize it at first.

“Twilight of the Ring” is a great story to sit and think about after you’ve read it.  The Turtles “do the right thing”, but in a spiritual or cosmic sense.  They doom humanity to their inevitable demise by restoring the ring, but that’s just part of nature.  Everything has to die, eventually.  It’s a “happy ending”, but it’s certainly not a “feel good ending”, if that makes any sense.

Grade: A (as in, “Although the Father appearing in the clouds has been forever tainted by ‘The Lion King’.  Never forget who you are, Leonardo!”)

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