Publication date: September, 1990
Story and art: Rich Hedden and Tom McWeeney
In an abandoned warehouse, a goon named Joey is being worked over by some mobster thugs. Joey’s boss, his Uncle Guido, wants to know what Joey did with his delivery van. Joey tries to explain that while he was making the delivery, he was hijacked by four giant turtles carrying weapons who beat him up and stole the van. Guido isn’t buying the story and once again demands to know where his van is.
Suddenly, the van crashes through the side of the warehouse and the Ninja Turtles attack the thugs. At the sight of the Turtles, Guido has a heart attack and his (very large) dead body collapses onto the badly beaten Joey. In the scuffle, the warehouse catches on fire and the flames loom closer and closer to several drums of fuel. The Turtles pull the battered Joey out of the warehouse just before it explodes and leave him for the police. As the cops take him away, Joey insists that it was all the work of turtles. The cops think he’s nuts.
Sometime later, Joey has been incarcerated in an asylum, being looked over by Dr. Fritz. Joey now sees everyone as giant anthropomorphic turtles and has completely lost his marbles. Once Dr. Fritz goes home for the evening, though, Joey overpowers the orderlies and escapes from the asylum.
Seeing everyone in the city as a giant turtle, Joey starts going mad and causing a scene. Some cops try to calm him down, but he sees it as turtles attacking him. Joey escapes from the cops via the sewer systems and decides to give the turtles a war. He knocks over a Soldier of Discount military surplus store and arms himself to the teeth.
Later, Dr. Fritz appears on “Tough Talk” with Tom Hype to discuss the rampant killings and acts of violence perpetrated by “The Turtlenator”, otherwise known as Joey. Dr. Fritz suggests that Joey’s psychosis could be rooted in an unhappy childhood, though the true cause of his mental disorder is unknown.
Down in the sewer lair, the Ninja Turtles are watching the report. Splinter suggests they be on their guard, as he fears “The Turtlenator” has been using the sewers to evade capture. Leo thinks it’s silly to worry, as there’s no way anyone could find their hidden lair. Suddenly, one of the walls explodes and Joey comes charging into the lair. He’s about to gun down Leo when Raph stabs him in the back with one sai and disarms him with the other. Joey counters with a pair of knives, which Leo breaks with his katana. Mike and Don then kick Joey into the rubble.
With the television still on, Splinter overhears Dr. Fritz suggesting that Joey sees all living things as turtles. Joey grabs Splinter and puts a gun to his head. Splinter then tells his sons to stand down and welcome their “brother”. Joey doesn’t understand, so Splinter suggests he look in a mirror. Seeing himself as a turtle, Joey puts his handgun in his mouth and commits suicide.
As the Turtles help Splinter to his feet and survey the damage, Tom Hype promises that in tomorrow’s episode they’ll discuss the rash of mysterious turtle sightings and then wishes his audience a good night.
*Having been published during the Vol. 1 “guest era”, this issue is not a part of Mirage TMNT continuity “proper”.
For all the crap I give Rich Hedden and Tom McWeeney’s contributions to TMNT Vol. 1… This issue was actually pretty good. In fact, it’s one of the better installments in the “guest era” that adopts a sillier tone (though this one can get pretty dark, too).
I honestly don’t know what happened between “Toitle Anxiety” and “Spaced Out” that made Hedden and McWeeney suddenly suck so much. The art style and storytelling structure between the two stories is very different, so maybe Hedden had more to do with “Toitle Anxiety” and McWeeney had more to do with “Spaced Out”, or maybe McWeeney had more to do with “Toitle Anxiety” and Hedden had more to do with “Spaced Out”. I don’t know. All I DO know is that “Toitle Anxiety” is surprisingly enjoyable while “Spaced Out” is the ultimate low of TMNT Vol. 1.
But I’ll save my vitriol for “Spaced Out” once I get there (and I’m not looking forward to getting there). “Toitle Anxiety” is a brisk, but well-structured one-shot with some very elaborate art that, again, looks very different from what you probably think of when you picture “Hedden & McWeeney” art.
While the story follows Joey exclusively (the narrative is shown from his perspective from nearly start to finish) and the Turtles take kind of a back seat, this isn’t the same sort of problem as TMNT (Vol. 1) #23 or TMNT (Vol. 1) #29. In those stories, the Turtles were sidelined during the narrative so the issue could focus on the guest creator's “awesome original character”, serving as little more than a back door introduction for their own creator-owned spin-off series. Joey is different. His story begins and ends in this issue and it is inextricably linked to the Turtles, whether they get a lot of pagetime or not. Stories like the aforementioned “Totally Hacked!” and “Men of Shadow” suffer because the Turtles become guest stars in their own book. But with “Toitle Anxiety”, the impression the Turtles leave on the lead character is ever-present and drives his actions; the TMNT are still at the heart of the narrative.
“Toitle Anxiety” can probably best be described as “bipolar”. It utilizes goofy and cartoony art aesthetics here and there (rats are constantly observing the story and reacting like audience members) and yet the overall story is quite dark. The book opens with a man (Joey), bloodied and beaten. A fat guy has a heart attack. “The Turtlenator” proceeds to gun down crowds of innocent people, with the aftermath being shown in a sobering, realistic light. When Joey attacks the sewer lair, there is no humor to the battle and the Turtles are fighting for their lives. And, of course, that ending is rather brutal.
And yet all this grimness is punctuated by Joey screaming about how he hates “toitles” even more than brussel sprouts, silly cartoon effects like twirling stars and elastic facial expressions, a satirical sense of humor present in the “Tough Talk” segments and all the goofy “turtle people” populating New York via Joey’s hallucinations.
While I don’t really think the humor and the drama blended quite so well, it does make for a very bizarre sort of comic that stands out amongst other installments in the Vol. 1 guest era.
And what really helps “Toitle Anxiety” is that there is a focused narrative from beginning to end. No stream-of-consciousness “ran-dumb” bull crap like in their “Spaced Out” arc, but a coherent and competent story. The overall tone dabbles in extremes (as Kevin Eastman points out in his introduction), and while I don’t think the plot provides as much social commentary as it thinks it does, it’s just a solid one-shot story. It was very much a pleasant surprise to have enjoyed “Toitle Anxiety” this much, as I’ve always viewed the names “Hedden & McWeeney” as a veritable Seal of Crap.
Grade: B (as in, “But unfortunately, they’d never produce anything this enjoyable ever again”.)