Wednesday, October 30, 2013

TMNT Villains Micro-Series #7: Bebop & Rocksteady

Publication date: October 30, 2013

Story: Ben Bates and Dustin Weaver
Script: Dustin Weaver
Art: Ben Bates
Letters: Shawn Lee
Editor: Bobby Curnow


Two gang members, Bebop and Rocksteady, are currently taking a pounding from their leader.  The hood drums them out and tells them never to show their faces again.  Bebop and Rocksteady return to their rattrap apartment to sulk, having been kicked out of every gang in New York for screwing up even the simplest jobs.  They’re sick of being small timers and want to gain power and notoriety, so they hit up the bars, looking for work.

At one bar, a mouthy shlub tells them he works for the guys who work for the guys who work for the Foot Clan, the most powerful gang in New York, owned and operated by the Shredder.  Bebop and Rocksteady are immediately enamored with the idea of the Foot Clan and the Shredder and agree to take a few jobs. 

They eventually work their way up from the wannabes to the lowest ranks of the Foot Clan, mostly by beating and killing people with brute force.  After meeting Alopex, they decide they want to become mutants, too.  Eventually, they earn the chance to participate in a life-or-death brawl set up by Karai: Winner gets to be a mutant.  They are victorious and shortly afterward are mutated into a "rhino-saurus" and a warthog.

After two weeks of training, Karai orders Bebop and Rocksteady to join her on a routine “peacekeeping” mission to visit Xiang Fei Tong, leader of the Triad sect the Ghost Boys.  Karai wants to intimidate Tong and keep the Ghost Boys in line.  However, she ONLY wants to intimidate and orders Bebop and Rocksteady to just stand still and do nothing.  On the ride down to Chinatown, Bebop and Rocksteady get in a lengthy conversation about how cool the Shredder must be, much to the annoyance of the Foot Soldier sitting across from them.

At the palatial HQ of the Ghost Boys, Karai sits down for a talk with Tong while Bebop and Rocksteady stand outside with the Ghost Boy security team.  Bebop decides to play the old “what’s that on your shirt?”/nose-flick gag on a Ghost Boy, and not knowing his own strength, breaks the thug’s nose.  This escalates into a firefight.  Tong, hearing this, accuses Karai and the Foot of trying to eliminate her gang and declares war.

Karai tries to defuse the situation, but Bebop and Rocksteady only make things worse by going after Tong (who is inhumanly fast).  As Tong escapes into the innards of the building, Rocksteady gets the bright idea to barrel through the many walls as a shortcut.  He does so, but only ends up bumping into Bebop and the two imbeciles let Tong make it out the front door.  Police, responding to the racket, try to arrest Tong, only for the entire building to collapse (because of all the walls Rocksteady knocked down).  Bebop and Rocksteady panic and plow through the cop cars in a mad rush to escape.

At a train yard, they proceed to evaluate their performance.  They’re pretty sure Karai died when the building collapsed and see themselves getting kicked out of the Foot Clan for their incompetence.  Rocksteady suggests that since Karai is dead, they return to Foot HQ and just say that she deserted.  Karai isn’t dead, however, and has overheard the entire mutinous conversation.  She orders her Foot Soldiers to execute Bebop and Rocksteady.  A massive brawl ensues and the mutants proceed to kill every last Foot Soldier in a blind fury.

With that out of the way, rather than attack Karai, they ask her to give them one more chance.  They really like the Foot Clan and really respect the Shredder (though they’ve never met him) and don’t want to be kicked out.  Karai is shocked to seesuch loyalty, especially after she tried to have them killed.  She quickly disables Rocksteady and holds a sword to the roof of his mouth.  She tells the mutants that they may remain with the Foot, if only as blunt instruments, but they must remember that they belong to the Clan.  The mutants happily agree and Karai sheathes her sword.  They apologize for screwing things up, but Karai informs him that the Ghost Boys were planning a coup and the Foot were going to destroy their organization eventually, anyway.  Rocksteady wonders if the Shredder is as mean as Karai, but Bebop assures him that the Shredder has to be a pretty solid dude.

Back at their rattrap apartment, the two mutants briefly consider getting their punk band back together before discarding the notion as they now have better lives and more important things to do.  They then realize how much they hate the old apartment and proceed to gleefully tear down the whole building.

Turtle Tips:

*This issue takes place between TMNT (IDW) #25 and TMNT (IDW) #27.

*Bebop and Rocksteady were shown talking to Alopex about becoming mutants in TMNT Micro-Series #1: Raphael.  Karai held her tournament to determine who would become mutants in TMNT Villains Micro-Series #5: Karai.  Bebop and Rocksteady were finally transformed into mutants in TMNT (IDW) #25.

*This issue was originally published with 3 variant covers: Regular Cover by Tyler Walpole, Cover RI by Bates, and Cover RE Double Midnight Exclusive by Chris Uminga.


This was without a doubt the longest simmering plot thread in the IDW comic.  Bebop and Rocksteady, as human thugs, were introduced back in December of 2011, making foreshadowed comments about their desires to become mutant henchmen.  It took nearly two years to see that plot thread brought to fruition.  Was it worth the wait?

Some folks might be disappointed in IDW’s incarnation of the two brainless hench-mutants.  Two years is a long time to anticipate something and it gives you ample opportunity to imagine just how YOU would like to see the characters reincarnated.  I know a lot of people were expecting them to be more serious threats, discarding the silliness of their Fred Wolf cartoon counterparts in exchange for more effective villainy.  And it’s not exactly like IDW hasn’t set a precedent for that sort of thing, either.  When they resurrected the Neutrinos for the “Krang War” arc, gone were the Beatnik-isms and fun-loving hijinks, replaced with grim, ultra-serious angst and intrigue as the hot rodding teenagers from Dimension X became brutal, tactical commandos for the military.

So seeing these updated incarnations of Bebop and Rocksteady display the exact same level of intellect as their kid’s cartoon counterparts… I can see how some crowds might have interpreted that as a letdown.

But not me.

If you take away the bumbling stupidity or the braindead comedy aspect of Bebop and Rocksteady, then they just aren’t Bebop and Rocksteady.  Being dumb as rocks is a fundamental part of their character and going for a completely “straight” version of them would strike me as missing the point.  Being stupid or being humorous really has never been the “problem” with Bebop and Rocksteady.

What matters is whether or not they’re effective in a fight.

Bebop and Rocksteady work as weapons of mass destruction you just point, unleash and then take cover.  As long as they can give the Turtles a run for their money and KEEP proving themselves to be viable threats, then Bebop and Rocksteady can be as stupid and silly as the writer wants them to be.  But if they start fucking up every mission, handing victories to the protagonists because they can’t get anything right, devolve into pitiable gag enemies whom the Turtles handily defeat with relative ease in every encounter, THAT’S when things start to go wrong.  

I would like to think that the current writers at IDW are cognizant enough of this fact and won’t relegate them to worthless foul-ups.  This issue seemed to illustrate exactly that, too, as Bebop and Rocksteady get their one fuck-up out of the way in their initial mission.  It’s a nice way of showing that they aren’t going to be the self-defeating mongoloids of the Fred Wolf cartoon, as Karai realizes that they’re best used as brute force and nothing else.  Likewise, despite their stupidity, they prove nigh-invulnerable to all forms of attack and waste an entire unit of Foot Soldiers.  I don’t think we have anything to worry about.

Dustin Weaver and Ben Bates plot a pretty good story, but like all the Villain Micros, it’s more of a “to be continued in City Fall, happening now!” sort of thing.  What I appreciated is that it deviated from the format of most of these Villains Micros, which have relied on an ever-present narration or inner monologue from the star character to feed details and back story to the reader.  This installment eschews that angle (likely because a dual monologue would have been unwieldy) and just features Bebop and Rocksteady blundering their way through a simple mission, making things worse and worse the more they try to “fix” it.

I do think there was some inconsistency in the dialogue, though.  Weaver can’t seem to settle on how “stupid” he wants Bebop and Rocksteady to sound.  At times they’ll use poor grammar such as “we wasn’t”, while elsewhere they’ll speak properly with a “we weren’t”.  And some dialogue just didn’t sound right coming from them, like “Plus, no one else will have us”.  That's just a little too eloquent for Rocksteady, don't you think?  Weaver could have pepped that up to something like, I dunno, “Dat, ‘n we ain’t got nowheres else ta go”.

The dialogue doesn’t give them very strong “voices”, either.  And not just in terms of inconsistent good/bad grammar, but with the lack of any sort of verbal tics.  Even Steve Murphy, when writing the Archie TMNT Adventures comic, kept in their goofy habit of pronouncing “turtles” as “toitles” in the written dialogue.  It’s a little thing, but again, it goes a long way in giving them a stronger voice.

Ben Bates is just great.  I only have, like, 10 books on my pull list and by some divine grace he has shown up as an off-and-on penciler for 4 of them.  It’s really impressive the number of varying styles he can adapt to on the fly whilst still giving his work a unique quality.  This issue was a weird mix of heavy duty violence and goofy comedy, but Bates transitioned the scenes quite well.  You’ve got goofy moments where Bebop and Rocksteady are taking crap from a Foot Soldier that can’t stand hearing them yammer, or their struggle to keep pace with Tong as she flees down the halls.  But then there are action sequences loaded with kinetic energy, such as their flight through the police cars.  And all that eventually segues into a brutal montage of them tearing a unit of Foot Soldiers to pieces in the midst of a berserker.  The gears shift really well and I never felt like the attitude was erratically jumping back and forth.

Well, it was a ridiculously long wait, but IDW’s introduction of Bebop and Rocksteady gave me pretty much what I was looking for.  Some elements could have been stronger (the dialogue), but I am happy that the humor of the characters made the transition intact.  It remains to be seen how IDW treats them from here on out, but I trust they didn’t bring them back just to waste them as ineffectual comic relief.

Grade: B- (as in, “Bebop kinda got the short end of the stick in this issue, though, as he didn’t really have any kind of obvious animal-related power to exploit in battle”)


Ioannes Paulus said...

I'm still not sure who the guy with the Shredder shadow at the end of the Raphael micro is supposed to be. Wouldn't make to much sense for him to be Shredder.
One thing I felt was inconsistent with the first micro and this one was the "I'm a goddamn rhin-" line in the former and the "rhino-saurus" joke in the latter.
And I'd also like to point out that Bates keeps Rocksteady's human tats while Santolouco chooses not to.
All in all, this one was a fun read for me too. The nostalgia did come back indeed. I just needed to replace some dialogue and recall the Cam Clarke and Barry Gordon performances and all was well. :)

Killer Moth said...

In terms of tone, I thought the micro nailed the essence of Rocksteady and Bebop, enjoying their new lives and new forms. And then, messing things up, yet things worked out for them, sometimes (Karai said the Ghost Boys would have been dispatched, eventually). Dialogue issues aside, they had the right amount of personality to carry the story, which, if you think about it, is rather depressing (as fighting a rival ninja clan would be), with little asides like "got something on your nose" done in a funny but morbid way. Which is the exact kind of humor expected from B/R.

As for the B/R dialogue itself, you rightfully point out a major flaw, Mark, yet given this is the first time in almost two years the duo had major dialogue (since the Raph micro), I'll give IDW some benefit of the doubt (or I'm being too generous than I probably should be). And if they do make the pair a wee bit smarter, I'd be fine with that. I don't want B/R as rocket scientists, but I wouldn't want a rehash of the 1987 series' middle years with the constantly pointing out "look how stupid they are," either.

If anything, I was more bugged by the plot and Karai's behavior. When The Outhousers site did its review, it praised the issue, but noted why would Karai took the pair on such an important diplomatic mission. Yes, she said, 'be there to be intimidating,' and then she later realizes they're only good at brute force..., and why didn't she think of that beforehand? You mutate two thugs into powerful rhino and warthog mutants, she had to consider things might have gone out of control. (Or to borrow Hob's remark in #27, "We're not going to a tea party.) On top of that, she decided briefly to kill them after everything, which is rather counter-productive, given the expense and effort of creating them in the first place.

Sorry, rant done. On the other hand, it was beyond amusing to have the pair call Karai, "Boss," as she's standing in for the Fred Wolf Shredder archetype until the pair meet the real deal.

Anyway, I really don't want to be too down on the issue, as I really enjoyed it. Particularly with the Foot Soldier losing it and Bebop's later "you don't get to be the king of New York being a jerk." That's probably my favorite line of dialogue in the series so far.

And Ben Bates even made Bebop's purple sideburns awesome, and visually, the issue was exceptional. And man, did Bebop take the abuse, gunshots, stabbings and everything. Rocksteady has super-hard skin to block some of that, but what about Bebop?

More to say later, but, yes, the issue was worth the wait, more or less. Definitely.

LBD 'Nytetrayn' said...

Near as I can tell, this sounds good. They need to remain dumb, but at least here, they sound like they're believably dumb, like the kind of dunces you'd see screwing up on the internet. But not so dumb that it's particularly cartoonish.

And now an actual threat. =)

Killer Moth said...

What LBD said: be dumb but not cartoonishly dumb. Been there, done that.

One thing I really did like about the issue is their motivation: to belong and be way more gung-ho about being with the Foot Clan (since the 1987 series addressed the ninja organization so superficially). One interesting observation the TMNT Dissected website had with the 1987 series with B/R's devolved, pitiable man-child forms, is "if the Shredder is so abusive toward them, why not just leave?" Logically, the subtle answer is, because he mutated them, where else could they go or who would have them? I know Fred Wolf's writers never intended such subtext, but it was nice to see a version of that play out with these two, except it's their human forms that feel that way.

And now, I'll wonder, between the Foot Soldier berating them and Karai doing what she did, on whenever they'll figure that life in the IDW Foot Clan isn't as wonderful as they think it is. That should make for a fun subplot.

And finally, I really liked the fact Weaver and Bates gave us some kind of reason why the punks picked "Bebop and Rocksteady" as code names. And was anyone else amused about Bebop's punk band remark? Because I totally can see these guys rocking out at a mosh pit. Heh.

E. Wilson said...

I haven't gotten to pick up this one either, (my comics money went to the "Death of the Family" hardcover this week), but I like how the scans posted here alternate in making the pair look hilarious, and then totally fucking terrifying. It's a hard transition to juggle well.

Seriously, Rocksteady's red eyes are going to be haunting me for a bit...

Arun said...

Picked this up today. I really enjoyed it, and that's considering I don't care much for Fred Wolf-era TMNT stuff. But then, I've liked, overall, how IDW has been handling those, and it's refreshing to see.

The overall story cracked me up, though I'd hate to say I was somewhat underwhelmed by Bates's artwork this go around. He's great (I loved his "Krang War" stuff and everything he's done for the Sonic comics), but there's a real sketchy quality to his pencils this issue. You can still see a lot of underdrawing poking through the linework.

I don't know if it was a rush job, and I still think he does well, but the unfinished/sketchy look kinda bugged me. Though, reading #26 of the on-going right after with Santolouco's gorgeous inks helped balance things out.

Michale M. said...

I didn't think I could like B/R more... And then I read this issue and was proven wrong. This is easily the best Villains micro! And I didn't even read Shredder yet! (slowly catching up). I want to see Rocksteady tangle with Slash! And win!