Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Last of the Viking Heroes Summer Special #3


Publication date: April, 1991
Published by: Genesis West Comics

Drawn and written by: Michael Thibodeaux
Inked by: Marty Lasick, Michael Thibodeaux (pgs. 1, 21, 28-29, 31)
Painted and lettered by: Richard French
Cover: Michael Thibodeaux and Richard French
Special thanks to: Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird

Summary:

Part 1:

Splinter fears that an old nemesis of his, Professor Zion, plans to travel back in time and alter the past so that he, the Turtles and Ted Koppel will never exist.  To counter his foe, Splinter deploys the Turtles to stop him.  The Turtles arrive at his lab too late, as Zion and his robot henchmen vanish on his time platform. 


Looking at a video monitor, they see that Zion has arrived in the year 1048 and has used his time there to construct a great fortress.  One of Zion’s robots confronts a Viking warrior whom Leonardo recognizes as the legendary Erik (mostly because the Viking is wielding an enchanted sword forged from “unobtainium” which damages the robot).

In 1048, Erik is joined by Tomgar and Jon who seek to stop Zion’s takeover of their kingdom.  Tomgar attacks, but is felled by an energy bolt from Brazer (one of the robots).  Erik and Jon reluctantly flee to concoct a strategy.  Zion is furious, as he needs the enchanted sword to rule the world, but figures he can get it by using Tomgar as a hostage and takes him into his fortress.

In 1991, the Turtles decide they have to do something (as Michelangelo vaguely recognizes the Viking Heroes from a dream he once had).  Leonardo and Michelangelo agree to go back and help the Viking Heroes, but Raphael and Donatello are still on the fence.  They witness Zion and Brazer torturing Tomgar, though, and make up their minds to go help (Don being especially impressed by Tomgar’s devotion to his friends).  Together, they pile onto the time platform and hit the switch.

Part 2:

In 1048, Erik, Jon and Sven are praying to their gods for help.  Suddenly, the Turtles appear in a flash of light.  Erik and Sven want to fight, but Jon says he feels a kinship with them and knows that they’ve come to help.  Going over the layout of Zion’s fortress, they determine that the only way in is through a door locked by a digital key number.  Erik recalls that only Zion’s assistant, Brenda, seems to know the code, and she leaves the fortress every Wednesday to get her nails done.


Erik seduces Brenda and gets the access code from her, promising to visit her in bed after dark.  That night, the Turtles and the Viking Heroes find the gate guarded by a robot.  Leo motivates himself with a poster of Ted Koppel and attacks.  Leo is knocked back by a laser blast.  The robot then destroys Mike’s surfboard, causing the Turtle to go on a rampage.  Grabbing Erik’s enchanted sword, he fells the robot.  Don uses the access code to open the gate while Jon leaves to fetch someone named “Windom” who might help the Turtles when all is said and done.

Part 3:

Searching the fortress, Donatello finds Tomgar and frees him from his chains.  Zion and Brazer then enter the dungeon and Tomgar challenges the robot henchman to a fistfight.  Amused, Zion allows it.  Tomgar gets trounced until he recognizes a weakness in the robot’s midsection.  With a precision kick, he cuts the robot in half.  Zion orders Brazer to use his laser, but Tomgr dives out of the way at the last second.  The laser kills Zion and, having failed in its duty, Brazer initiates its self-destruct sequence.  The Turtles and the Viking Heroes (and Brenda) escape just as the fortress explodes.


With the time platform destroyed, the Turtles aren’t sure how they’ll get home.  Jon then arrives with the dimensional traveler, Windom, who uses his powers to open a portal to 1991 (though he can’t be sure of the location).  Don gives Tomgar a big hug and the Turtles bid their friends farewell.  Erik asks if the Turtles will ever return and Michelangelo assures him that decision is up to “Mr. Eastman”.  Returning to 1991, the Turtles find themselves outside Mann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.  They promptly buy four tickets to the showing of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze”.

Back in 1048, several Vikings find Leo's Nightline poster featuring a headshot of Ted Koppel.  This image causes all the Vikings to give up violence, talk out their differences and become civilized, thus changing the course of history.


Turtle Tips:

*Though the second to be published, this is chronologically the third TMNT/Viking Heroes crossover.

*Michelangelo recalls meeting the Viking Heroes in a dream and an editor’s note says the encounter happened in Turtle Soup (Vol. 2) #1.  The story, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle”, was actually published almost a year after this one, in the pages of Turtle Soup (Vol. 2) #4.  There must have been a delay.

*Jon feels he somehow knows the Turtles (vaguely recalling having been turned into one in Last of the Viking Heroes Summer Special #2).

*This issue was collected in The Last of the Viking Heroes Limited Edition.

*As a bonus, this issue also included a sketch of the alternate cover design by Thibodeaux.


Review:

So this was kind of a dumb comic; easy on the “kind of”.  The first “crossover” with the Viking Heroes was definitely neat because it wasn’t really a crossover.  It was very original and unique as compared to the endless number of other TMNT guest appearances in indie comics, so it stood out to me and I enjoyed it for what it was.  The second crossover (chronologically) wasn't much, but it was short and sweet and featured a pin-up from Jack Kirby.

This story, the second TMNT/Viking Heroes crossover published but the third one in sequence, has nothing noteworthy going for it whatsoever.  It hits upon all of the same clich├ęs that pretty much every other TMNT guest appearance does, goes through the motions and then it ends. It’s hard to have a strong opinion about this comic when everything about it is without ambition and unforgivably bland.

In terms of his script, Thibodeaux gets the ball rolling as fast as possible with a wacky setup for the Turtles that begins in medias res.  Apparently Splinter has his own super villain archnemesis and the Turtles are out to stop him once and for all.  Sure, whatever gets us through this comic faster.  Where Thibodeaux fails in terms of using the Turtles is where nearly every other indie creator who borrowed the Turtles failed: He doesn’t understand ANY of them. 

Thibodeaux, like so many of the indie creators who worked on the Turtles, doesn’t seem to understand that they have individual personalities or, if they do, just what those personalities are.  So we have weirdness like Leonardo being the tech guru who figures out the time platform, leaving Donatello to be a touchy-feely spiritual guy obsessed with the magic of friendship.  I suppose he somewhat gets Raphael right, making him unenthused with everything around him and reluctant to help, but it’s hard to really gauge Raph’s personality in this comic as he hardly says or contributes anything of value.  Then there’s Michelangelo, who is his cartoon and merchandising incarnation.  “Cowabunga dudes!  Go green machine!  Mondo tubuloso!  Holy guacamole!  Pizza pizza pizza!  Surf’s up!  Gnarly!”  I think I’m going to gag.

I’m nearing the bottom of these miscellaneous publications done by guest creators, so this might be the last time I get to say it: I really, REALLY hate it when the guest creators do this.  They approached Mirage to get permission to use the Turtles and yet they don’t seem to understand or care about ANY of them.  The Turtles display no personalities that would imply the creators knew a damn thing about them and their inclusion is more a formality than a privilege.  Like so many other creators, it’s evident that Thibodeaux used the Turtles not because he cared for or appreciated the characters, but because “Turtlemania” was in full swing and this was his chance to boost his sales and get his name to a wider audience.

It’s loathsome.

The rest of the script is peppered with crap running gags and a paint by numbers plot complete with a self-destruct mechanism to illustrate how little effort Thibodeaux was putting into writing this thing.  In regards to the running gags, that Ted Koppel shit wasn’t funny the first, second or third time he pulled it.  And yet it went on and on and on.

I suppose where this comic succeeds is in the art department.  Thibodeaux is a MUCH better artist than he is an author.  And that brings me to a tangent...  

The early ‘90s were this weird time in the comic industry where there was a backlash against writers; artists felt that writers were getting too much credit and minimizing their own storytelling contributions. 

You had animators like John Kricfalusi going on the warpath, claiming in no uncertain terms that writers had no place in a visual storytelling medium (be it animation or comics): "People who write cartoons are not real writers." 

There's also an interview he did in Heroes Illustrated #15 from 1994 (archived by Peter David on his website), where he minces even fewer words about writers in comic books: "What I’m saying is neither (comics nor animation) attracts good writers, unless they’re artists who happen to be writers... Good writers write novels. I mean that’s all there is to it. I mean, why the hell would you want to write a comic book if you were a good writer? Are you really going to write about guys in long underwear running around beating the hell out of each other? What’s the attraction to that? There’s no writing in it! It’s about vengeance. It’s about vigilantism. It’s about comic people. Where’s the writing in it? I don’t care who you are. Frank Miller… look at Frank Miller’s movies. My God, they’re embarrassing...  It’s like saying he’s the top writer in bubble gum cards." 

Jack Kirby’s conflicts with Stan Lee were becoming wider known, as Kirby claimed that Lee never wrote a single story or line of dialogue and that the “writers” at Marvel and DC simply slapped their names on the hard work of the artists (contrary to all evidence pointing to the opposite of that claim): "Stan Lee and I never collaborated on anything! I’ve never seen Stan Lee write anything. I used to write the stories just like I always did." 

Then there was the rise of the Superstar Artist; guys like Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld and other Image Comics royalty.  Image Comics in itself was meant to be a place where artists could tell the stories they wanted without icky writers getting in the way. 

You've all likely read Image co-founder Erik Larsen's infamous (and cowardly because he had his name withheld) letter to the Comic Buyers Guide in which he told all the comic writers in the industry, "...We don't need you, and more than that, we don't want you." 

Or perhaps you've read about Todd McFarlane's challenge to Peter David, burdening him to prove that writers still had a place in the industry through an open debate (in addition to issuing the challenge, McFarlane chose the venue, the judges, the moderator and published numerous attack ads against David in the run-up to the debate).

Incidentally, after establishing Image Comics as a club exclusive to artists to tell stories without writers... Todd McFarlane relinquished writing duties on Spawn after issue #7.  He then proceeded to bring in dedicated writers to script his comic for him; guys like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison.

Likewise, Jim Lee abandoned writing WildC.A.T.S. after issue #9 and began hiring authors like Chris Claremont and James Robinson to do it for him.

The point I’m getting at is that the early ‘90s were a time in comics when writers were being dismissed and artists were taking center stage.  As a result, a LOT of artists decided that since they do all the REAL work, they might as well write their own comics, too.

And that’s how we all found out that just because you can DRAW a comic, it doesn’t mean you know how to fucking WRITE one.  And Thibodeaux is exactly that.

Thibodeaux’s art is excellent, going for that faux-Silver Age style with the chapter breaks introduced with splash pages.  He’s perhaps a bit too influenced by Jack Kirby (it seems his infatuation with Kirby went beyond professional respect and entered the creepy zone of obsessive idol-worship) and at times feels less like an homage and more like a pastiche, but the end result is still a rather pretty comic.  

Thibodeaux’s Turtles are… unique in appearance and I’m honestly not sure where he got so many of his design cues.  The Turtles have huge, flared nostrils and dog-like muzzles, accompanied by large fangs and these weird pincer-like spikes protruding downward from their jaw-line.  Throw in the inexplicable talons jutting out of their fingers and they wind up having this Oriental dragon vibe going on.  I’m guessing that’s what Thibodeaux was going for, anyway.  It’s one of the strangest interpretations of the Turtles, but it sticks out (probably the only memorable thing in this whole issue).

This is not a good comic; at least, not all of it.  Thibodeaux’s art is wonderful, but he’s another one of those artists that just didn’t have the chops to also be a writer (like, well, most of the Image Comics founders).  This is the blandest of stories punctuated with a string of moronic gags and it’s more fun to flip through and look at than to actually sit down and read.  The other two TMNT/Viking Heroes crossovers had something about them that made them “neat”, even if it was just a brief gimmick.  This one offers nothing.


Grade: D (as in, “Did Mr. Eastman ever give the TMNT the go-ahead for another visit to 1048?  Doesn’t look like it.”)

 

2 comments:

John Pannozzi said...

Speaking of artists vs. writers in the 90s, Erik Larsen wrote an anonymous letter back around 91/92 to the Comics Buyer's Guide about how artists didn't need writers. Don Simpson satirically referenced that in Splitting Image, an authorized Image Comics self-parody.

Funny thing is, I think Larsen is one better writers, if not the best writer, out of the Image founders, though most of them have had their moments (I've heard good things about recent Spawn issues written by McFarlane, Valentino can definitly tell a good story, and Lee and Silvestri have done writing that ranges from okay to pretty good).

Most of my favorite comics writers are also artists, aside from Larsen, there's. Bryan Lee O'Malley, Chynna Clugston-Flores, Adam Warren, Evan Dorkin, and of course, the Mirage guys.

Adam Winters said...

I think your big critique probably encapsulates what went wrong with comics in the 90s better than anything else I've ever read.