Tuesday, December 29, 2009

TMNT (Vol. 3) #1

Publication date: June, 1996

Writer: Gary Carlson
Penciler: Frank Fosco
Inker: Eric Larsen
Ink Assists: Chance Wolf
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Editor: Erik Larsen
Assistant to the Chief Executive: Garrett Chin
Sanitized for your protection: Josh Eichorn
Cover: Erik Larsen (colors by Reuben Rude & I.H.O.C.)


The scene opens in the sewer lair, with Donatello being shot pointblank in the torso by a powerful laser gun. Apparently, his brothers and Master Splinter were celebrating Don’s 18th birthday when a posse of cyborgs busted in. The cyborgs begin throwing grenades and ordering the Turtles to give up. Splinter sees to Don’s wounds and the Turtles take on their opponents. Leo slices off the gun-arm of one of the cyborgs, Wilson, though to his astonishment, the arm grows back. Raph then takes it up a notch and chops off Wilson’s head.

Victory is in the TMNT’s hands when they are suddenly met by a masked, scantily-clad ninja woman named Pimiko. She has drugged Splinter and is holding a katana to his neck. She says that she’ll be leaving with Splinter and the remains of Don, and should the Turtles attempt to follow, she will kill them both. One of the other cyborgs argues with Pimiko, saying that he wants vengeance for what they did to Wilson. Pimiko says that she’ll gladly explain both their deaths to their boss, the Dragonlord, if he chooses to stay behind and die. The cyborg concedes the argument. Pimiko then throws a flash bomb and vanishes.

Mike, Raph and Leo aren’t giving up, though, and chase after their foes. They reach the surface, only to find Pimiko and the cyborgs escaping in a helicopter. Inside the chopper, Don is losing mass quantities of blood and will soon be dead. Pimiko couldn’t care less, as an autopsy will retrieve the information that the Dragonlord wants.

Fading out of consciousness, Don recalls his birthday party. As a gift, Splinter, gave him and his brothers a bowl with four baby turtles inside, to remind them of the life they could have led had they not come in contact with the ooze. Don then went to the kitchen to retrieve his birthday cake, only to be met by the cyborgs and their guns.

Donatello awakens from unconsciousness and begins fighting for his life against the nearest cyborg. Pimiko comes to the conclusion that since there are three other mutant turtles, Don is expendable, and dumps both him and the cyborg he’s fighting out the side of the helicopter. High above the clouds, Don prepares himself for a very painful impact.

Down in the sewer lair, the Turtles are enjoying their cake and pondering what to do about Splinter and Don. Raph decides that the first course of action is to put the headless cyborg body, which is still alive thanks to built-in life support systems, out of its misery. As Raph prepares to deliver the blow with his sai, the severed head warns him not to endanger the host body, under lethal penalty. Raph decides to try anyway and gets blasted square in the face by the cyborg’s laser gun. Leo and Mike destroy the cyborg body, though Raph is in pretty rough shape, having had half his face burned off.

As Mike helps Raph to the first aid kit, Leo receives an astral vision from Splinter. Splinter tells him that his body is being taken Northwest, over hilly and wooded terrain. Within the chopper, Pimiko notices that Splinter is astral-projecting and orders her remaining cyborg thug to subdue the rat. Splinter bids farewell as the cyborg knocks him out and ends Leo’s vision.

Turtle Tips:

*This story is continued from TMNT (Vol. 2) #13. The story continues in TMNT (Vol. 3) #2.

*The beheaded cyborg who blasted Raph in the face will return in "Rest in Pieces".

*At some point shortly prior to this story, the TMNT met Grifter from the Wild C.A.T.S. in Shattered Image #2, Destroyer Duck (as Specimen Q) in The Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck #1, fought the Martian invaders in Mars Attacks Image #1 and traded blows with Spawn in "TMNT vs. Spawn".

*Beginning May 23, 2018, IDW Publishing reissued the TMNT (Vol. 3) series with new colors by Adam Guzowski and numerous special variant covers under the title "TMNT: Urban Legends".


The Image Comics TMNT series is something of a strange animal. It’s the source of some pretty fierce scorn by a number of Turtle fans, primarily for the way it chose to gruesomely disfigure three of the four Turtles. On the other hand, an equal number of Turtle fans often praise the series for its gritty storytelling, dynamic art and engaging, on-going plot. So far as my mileage is concerned, it’s a little give and take. On the whole, I enjoyed the Image series a great deal, but even I can’t deny that it didn’t get off to a very good start.

Gary Carlson wove some very intricate and fascinating plot threads throughout his run on this volume that, contrary to popular belief, consisted of far more than a superficial disfiguring of all the Turtles (well, except for Mikey). His ability to map out an ongoing story and build toward certain milestone points is inspired, to say the least. Unfortunately, if Carlson underwhelms in one department, it would have to be in the area of emotional responses and just character dialogue in general.

Don has just been blasted at pointblank range with a laser. He is dying. In front of them. What do the Turtles do? They proceed to make a lot of really corny jokes and show very little concern for their brother’s life. At the end of the issue, Raph gets half his face melted off by a laser gun. Mike responds by…making a bad joke. Leo responds with a resounding “meh”. There’s no sense of an emotional or fraternal bond between the characters. Quite frankly, they just don’t seem to give a shit that their brothers are being killed and mauled all around them. This will eventually reach its worst in a few issues when they genuinely believe Don to be dead and simply don’t react in any way whatsoever (aside from a single panel of Mike weeping). But I’ll harp on that when I get to the issue.

And then there’s some really clunky, purple dialogue from the cyborg Wilson as he describes how his arm can regenerate itself. The entire issue is full of similarly awkward moments, such as Leo of all people going on about “party time” and a dreadful bit at the end where he talks about his katana like it’s an infomercial product. Carlson’s dialogue improved dramatically as the series progressed, if that’s of any comfort to you. But sadly, this first issue is some very awkward reading.

Now, with that bit of pissing and moaning out of the way, it’s time to go on about the good stuff. Frank Fosco’s art is fantastic. His Turtles are grim and menacing in appearance, his environments are beautifully ugly and gritty (particularly the sewer lair), and his action is very dynamic and cinematic. There are plenty of standout pages in this issue alone, but I think the two-page spread on pages 2-3 are my favorite, as the cyborgs invade the sewer lair, holding a gun to Mikey’s head while Raph hides, ready to pounce amongst a cloud of smoke and Leo and Splinter take cover behind an overturned table, tending to Don’s wounds. It just looks amazing. And Mike’s stupid reaction aside, Raph’s “holy shit he just got his face blown off” reveal is a pretty sick piece of art and one of the more memorable moments from the entire Vol. 3 series.

This first issue of TMNT (Vol. 3) is a mixed bag. I appreciate what Carlson was trying to do; starting things off with a bang (literally and figuratively), throwing the audience into a disorienting fray and smashing up the TMNT’s status quo almost instantly. If it weren’t for some really bad dialogue and seemingly out of character responses to the predicament, it really wouldn’t have been a bad way to begin the series. I can’t give him an A for effort, but I do see what he was going for and appreciate the attempt. Still, Fosco’s art hits the ground running and kicks you in the eye socket with how awesome it is. So it’s got that going for it.

Grade: C (as in, “Coulda used some less-confusing inking, though. Particularly on the scene where Don falls out of the chopper”.)