Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #70

Publication date: May 26, 2010

Plot: Eric Talbot and Jim Lawson
Script/Pencils: Jim Lawson
Inks/Tones/Letters: Eric Talbot
Frontispiece: Michael Dooney
Cover: Jim Lawson, Eric Talbot and Steve Lavigne




On a massive pile of corpses (of the Foot Soldier variety),
Raph waxes on about memories with questionable sobriety.
He says details can trigger memories of some long-forgotten worry.
With the philosophy out of the way, he asks to tell you a story…

Violently dropping down from above, Raph began an altercation
With a quartet of Foot Soldiers (who lost despite their determination).
Raph screamed questions at his victims, to tell him just what was going down,
But they died without answering (something that made Raphael frown).

Thinking back a couple of days, Raph recalled the words of his brother;
Leonardo, whose bossiness was really starting to smother.
Back on the farm in Northampton, the pair of Turtles had a fight.
Raphael proved victorious and slipped away into the night.
He valiantly returned to New York (oh man, do you see what I did there?)
And began battling the Foot Clan for control of the sewers where
His oddball family used to live (but hadn’t for a very long time).
Raphael would have remembered more, but then he smelled something in the slime!

It was something very familiar, but he couldn’t figure just what.
Then a raging Triceraton emerged and kicked Raphael’s butt!
Though Raph broke off one of his horns, the alien still came out on top
After hitting him with a punch that would have made an elephant drop!
The Triceraton (who was named Zog) was crazy like dude, holy crap.
He chained Raph upside down from the ceiling and to prove his mind had snapped,
He took “orders” from the rotting skull of his long-dead commander.
His “orders” were to guard the tunnels where he’d aimlessly meander.

While all this craziness was happening, Mike, Leonardo and Don
Exited the box car of a train that they had hitched a ride on.
The brothers had returned to New York to track down the rogue Raphael.
Mike swore they were doing the right thing, but Leo was still pissed as Hell.

Tied-up on the floor next to Raph was a helpless Foot Soldier goon,
Who had been down there for two days and knew Zog would be eating them soon.
The Foot Soldier offered a truce (without sounding incredibly sincere)
And told Raph to reach for his yari (that’s fancy ninja-talk for a “spear”).
Raphael snatched-up the weapon, but found that it couldn’t cut his chain,
So he gave it to the Foot Soldier (all the blood must’ve rushed to his brain).

The Foot Soldier cut through his bonds and then, predictably enough,
He attempted to murder Raph, but homie wasn’t haven’t that stuff!
Raph regained the weapon from his foe then impaled the ninja loser
And freed his chains from their hook in time to hear the Triceraton bruiser!

With all his options limited, Raph concocted a real morbid scheme,
Using the skull of the commander of Zog’s Triceraton team.
Wearing the skull as a helmet, Raph made a crazy impersonation.
But since Zog was a crazy guy, he made no retaliation.
He said he was Commander Zoraph and that he could "change his appearance"
To better interact with the Earthlings with minimal interference.

Zog fell for it hook, line and sinker and swore an oath to obey.
Raphael accepted his pledge and declared back-up was on its way…

Turtle Tips:

*This issue takes place between pages 31 and 32 of TMNT (Vol. 1) #19.

*This issue came with a special “flip cover”. The main cover featured the grey borders reminiscent of the ones used for the original “Return to New York” issues, while the back cover featured the same image but sans-border to keep it standard with the rest of the Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) covers.

*This issue also contained a bonus pin-up “The Tortoise and the Hair” by Fernando Leon Gonzalez and Ryan Brown.


Well, I wanted to do something special for the last issue of Tales of the TMNT (and maybe the last Mirage Turtles comic ever) and this was all I could think of.

I’m very, very sorry.

Anyway, we’ve known this day was coming since January and no matter how hard you try, you can’t stave off Father Time. Goodbyes are always bittersweet and this is maybe the biggest “goodbye” us Turtle fans will ever have to say. With the TMNT now owned by Viacom, Mirage is closing its doors for good, as parting letters from Jim Lawson and Dan Berger have assured us. Though the studio still retains the rights to publish up to fifteen Turtle comics a year, Laird has stated on his blog that he has no plans to exercise that right and instead wishes to focus on reconnecting with his family and friends (and no one but the Grinch could possibly blame him for that).

So Tales of the TMNT #70 is, in fact, goodbye.

For their big farewell issue, the guys at Mirage really threw in a lot of extra “oomph” to the comic that went a long way with me. No, it wasn’t some double-sized book-length extravaganza and it wasn’t in color and it wasn’t full of free trading cards or what the Hell ever Marvel or DC might do for a farewell issue. Instead, the parting gifts came in the details that would best be appreciated by the long term, hardcore fans.

This issue features the return of “duo tones” to Jim Lawson’s art, a glorious step that had been skipped by Mirage for years and really added an extra layer of atmosphere to the black and white comic. Throughout Tales (Vol. 2) and TMNT (Vol. 4), Lawson’s art had looked very shallow and empty without the duo tones, often inviting the criticism that it looked like “a coloring book”. Their return here in #70 is a welcomed sight and adds a coating off nostalgic grit even if you can still detect the digital sheen.

The other detail that put a humongous, moronic smile on my face when the girl at the comic shop brought me my issues on Wednesday was the cover. That beautiful, beautiful grey border. We should all thank TMNT fan Andrew Modeen for the border, as it was he who suggested the thing to the guys at Mirage and even threw together some mock-ups with the released cover art from their website. Mirage, being the fan-friendly guys they’ve always been, ran with the idea and I couldn’t be happier.

Little things, sure, but it’s the little things that count.

As for the story-itself, you could say that it tells a rather unnecessary chapter of the “Return to New York” saga, and that may be true, but it was still an amusing story. Zog insanely bowing to Raph as his commander during some event that happened “off screen” always seemed a little “sloppy” to me when I was reading that storyline. One of those “Oh, by the way, this, this and this happened while you weren’t here and holy shit it was so cool you shoulda been there, but ah well” moments that happen from time to time in comics that just irks me. “Zog” fills in that minor storytelling gap nicely and, even if it’s a brisk tale that embraces Lawson’s decompressed style (something I've criticized repeatedly), it was a story element that only had so much substance in it, anyway.

The highlight of the issue is seeing just how bat-shit crazy Zog really is, as he takes orders from the skull of his dead commander, chaining whoever he stumbles across from the ceiling like something out of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. I love horror elements like that, and Lawson’s continuous use of the skull as set dressing made for a really freaky touch. The Foot Soldier betraying Raph was a bit obvious and I don’t think they really tried to pass it off as anything more, but it did facilitate some more action. And it really shows how useless the Foot can be sometimes, when even a half-dead Raph, hanging upside down from the ceiling, can best one of their highly-trained assassins.

I don’t know if it’s the duo tones or what, but Lawson’s art seems different from his recent stuff. It seems rounder in this issue, at least in regards to the Turtles’ faces, and not as obnoxiously boxy. I mean, it doesn’t look much like the style he used when he actually drew the original “Return to New York” issues (where he was aping Eastman and Laird’s style more-so than doing his own thing), but it doesn’t look quite the same as his recent Tales issues. And hey, I’m not complaining.

In the end, this is a rather thin story that benefits from a prestigious presentation and a lot of emotional energy because of what it represents, more than what it’s about. But even when I turn off the waterworks for ten seconds, I still think this is a fun issue with a lot of good action and some great, eerie atmosphere. It won’t go down in history as one of the greatest Turtles stories ever told and it may not be the big bang ending you’d expect from a finale, but it’s still a pleasant note to end on.

How’d those sappy words from Donatello (microseries) #1 go? “Life, at best, is bittersweet”? Well, this is a bittersweet issue.

Thanks for all the memories, Mirage. Thanks Dan and Jim and Steve and Eric and Michael and all the rest. You guys were the heart and soul of the Turtles. They just won’t be the same without you.

Grade: B (as in, “But it would’ve been really cool if the commander had been Zule from the Grunts story”.)