Saturday, February 19, 2011

TMNT (Vol. 3) #23

Publication date: October, 1999

Writer: Gary Carlson
Penciler and inker: Frank Fosco
Letters: Pat Brosseau
Editor: Eric Larsen
Loves soft, furry little animals: Josh Eichorn


In the sewers, Leo is testing out his new prosthetic hand in a sparring match with Mikey. The hand, sadly, cannot remain attached to Leo’s stump in the heat of battle and continues to fall off. Giving up on the device, Leo opts for a metal cap with a switchblade katana, instead. Meanwhile, Don puts the finishing touches on an Utrom exoskeleton suit for the impatient Doctor X, who happily situates himself in the robot body’s tummy. Just then, Shadow comes running in, telling the Turtles to head up to Mikey’s apartment on April’s orders. Never ones to disappoint April, the Turtles follow.

Not far away, at the bank, Casey makes the shocking discovery that the bank account holding the $10,000 reward he earned for killing the man-eating monitor lizards has been “mysteriously” emptied and his check bounces. Casey becomes irate, demanding his money, and is quickly brained by a security guard’s nightstick.

At the apartment, April and Splinter greet the Turtles with a big surprise: it’s their 19th birthday! A full year has passed since all this nuttiness began and the Turtles are happy to relax and celebrate. April has another surprise for the boys: Michelangelo’s romance novel, “A Rose Among the Thorns” has not only been published, but is on its way to becoming a best seller. Leo and Don are quick to congratulate Mikey on his success and chide him for writing a book to impress his new girlfriend, but Mikey counters with the inarguable revelation that his girlfriend has a great rack and she totally gives it away, easy. Oh, and he insists that she’s not retarded.

The festivities continue as Don shows off a new power he’s discovered: the ability to create robotic radio-controlled duplicates of himself with his living metal armor. The amazing spectacle of science is interrupted when Splinter suddenly faints. Doctor X, being a doctor, rushes to Splinter’s side and helps him back to consciousness. Splinter declares that he had the strangest dream; that he was in league with the Shredder and had nearly killed Raphael and Pimiko. The dream may be reality, as Pimiko crashes the party, bearing with her a plot rundown of the last issue. Wanting to save Raph from this new Shredder, the Turtles reluctantly follow Pimiko back to the scene of the battle.

On a rooftop, Cheng, Lady Shredder and the rest of the Foot Clan have Raph chained between two chimneys. Lady Shredder offers Raph the chance to join her Foot Clan or die. Raph rejects the invitation as his brothers and Pimiko drop from above and begin the fracas. As Don frees Raph, Leo takes on Lady Shredder. Lady Shredder insinuates that Leo should recognize her from a previous encounter, but Leo can’t quite place her identity. Meanwhile, as Pimiko dispatches the last of the traitorous Shredder Elite Guard, Raph comes face to face with his own Judas: Cheng. Cheng bests him in combat, revealing that when he psychically linked with Splinter on the Astral Plane, he siphoned off the rat’s ninjutsu mastery as well as his spiritual strength, and has been continuing to do so ever since. Cheng’s exposition, unfortunately, loses him the chance to retreat with the remainder of the Foot, leaving him behind to face all four Turtles and Pimiko alone. Stealing a move from the original Shredder’s playbook, Cheng hurls a thermite grenade at his foes. The weasel escapes as Don loads the grenade into his arm cannon and blasts it into the sky where it safely detonates into fireworks.

Exhausted, the Turtles decide to head back to April’s place to finish their party. Raph invites Pimiko to join them and she agrees, deciding to see how being a member of their family rather than an adversary might feel. As they leap across the rooftops, though, Pimiko swears that tomorrow they will teach the Foot Clan a lesson.

Turtle Tips:

*This story is continued from TMNT (Vol. 3) #22. Originally, this was the final issue of the series. Though it ends on a cliffhanger with many unresolved storylines, Vol. 3 was later retconned from Mirage canon by TMNT (Vol. 4) #1.

*The first attempt at concluding the series was the unofficially published but creator-contributed follow-up, TMNT (Vol. 3) #24. Carlson and Fosco contributed to this conclusion and gave it their creator's blessing, but the majority of work was by Andrew Modeen and Arseniy Dubakov.

*A second, Viacom-licensed conclusion was published by IDW beginning with TMNT: Urban Legends #24.  This version features full script and art by Carlson and Fosco. Although Carlson and Fosco worked on both the unofficial follow-up and the licensed follow-up, the two versions are drastically different in approach and story.

*Pimiko and her cyborg goons crashed the Turtles’ last birthday party in TMNT (Vol. 3) #1.

*Cheng spiritually linked with Splinter via the Astral Plane in TMNT (Vol. 3) #16.

*Cheng’s use of the thermite grenade references Shredder’s use of it in TMNT (Vol. 1) #1.


And lo, we come to the end (or do we? More on that later).

Image’s TMNT series was a title that had its problems which no amount of rose-tinting can cover up. Its two longest story arcs (Warlord Komodo and Deathwatch) were positively dreadful and killed the pace of the series. There was an overall lack of emotional characterization to the Turtles for the first half of the volume; they scarcely seemed to care about one another as brothers for the bulk of the narrative. The delays on this thing were epic; something Carlson vehemently apologizes for in the letters page of this last issue, lamenting all the stories he might have been able to tell had the title stayed on its monthly schedule for just a few consecutive months.

But rather than dwell on the negatives, one should look at all the spectacular accomplishments this series managed, many of which have yet to be equaled by any Turtles publications made after this volume’s cancellation.

Though it was slow going, once Carlson decided to actually get into the heads and hearts of the characters, he showed that he got them as well as any member of the Mirage crew, and perhaps even better than some of them. While many found the “mutilations” of the characters disagreeable (Donny’s was the only one I outwardly disliked), each Turtle actually had their own personal conflicts and narratives progress as their characters did what Mirage so often refused to let them do: develop.

The best example is Raphael. In previous reviews for Raph-centric Mirage stories, I’ve postulated that Raph is ultimately a dull character because he is never, ever allowed to grow and change. How many stories have been written about him dealing with his rage and inner demons, finding an outlet, learning from his behavior, appreciating the value of family or whatever… only to have him regress back to his brooding asshole routine by the next story as if none of his personal revelations ever happened? After about the fourth or fifth go around with that, Raph simply loses his appeal as a character because you know the writers at Mirage will not let him develop.

Carlson, on the other hand, found a clever new outlet for Raphael’s anger, dark side and desperate need for independence from his brothers. Raph leading the Foot Clan as the new Shredder and attempting to steer them toward a path of righteousness was genuinely intriguing and a far more natural direction for the character than you may think. Raph found a passion and a purpose that sincerely meant a great deal to him and gave him something of value to do aside from drink beer with Casey and beat up purse-snatchers. For the first time ever, Raph was really growing as a character.

And since the cancellation of Volume 3 and Laird’s decision to strike it from Mirage canon, how has Raph really developed? Becoming a hulking monstrosity called “Gameraph”? Even with that new malady saddled to him, all Raph does is drink beer and fight purse-snatchers. Or how about his adventures in Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2)? With that being an anthology series with no story progression, he once again hit the brick wall of learning a valuable lesson and forgetting it immediately for convenience’s sake and nothing else.

Volume 3 was Raph’s shining moment and I really consider it his volume moreso than any other character's. He grew. He changed. He was damn interesting. This volume took the character to pretty much his zenith and it’s all been downhill for him ever since, as he’s wallowed in stagnating limbo doing nothing but drink beer and beat up purse snatchers for twelve years.

To focus more on this individual issue’s merits rather than overview the merits of the whole volume, issue #23 doesn’t really feel like anything approaching a finale, leaving a good heap of plot threads loose while initiating brand new ones, but as “just another issue” it is quite exciting. The 19th birthday element does bring the issue back around to the beginning of the volume and its fun to see how the characters have evolved in the last year (Mikey getting a girlfriend and becoming a popular author, for example).

The unfinished elements left behind are a bit staggering, though: Puzorelli attacking the Jones family through their bank account in an attempt to reclaim Shadow. Lady Shredder seizing the Foot Clan and maybe or maybe not being Karai. Cheng leeching off of Splinter’s spiritual energy. Leatherhead being lost in space with the Triceratons. And so on.

The rooftop battle with the Foot and Lady Shredder seems to be an intentional callback to TMNT (Vol. 1) #1, right down to a thermite grenade. The battle-itself, though a bit short, is still pretty cool. Fosco inks himself for this issue (apparently at Larsen’s insistence) and his artwork really pops. Losing him was always a great folly in the world of TMNT and it bummed me out that, throughout a 70-issue run, Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) never got him back to draw an issue.

As an ending, it is bittersweet and the loss of story potential is a downright tragedy. My reviews for the series and letter grades could be harsh at times, but when Volume 3 was good it was one of the best TMNT titles ever published. A rocky beginning, sure, but the last half of the volume is positively superb.

Though is this the end? I told you I’d get back to that.

Turtle fan Andrew Modeen has coordinated efforts between Image series staffers Gary Carlson, Frank Fosco and Erik Larsen, as well as other official Turtles legends such as Dan Berger, Ross May and Jim Lawson, and numerous dedicated fan artists to bring us all a two-part conclusion! The first installment should be on its way very soon, and once it hits, I’ll be sure to review it! Though not an official publication, legally-speaking, it has input from Volume 3’s creative team, so it would be folly to count it out.

But more on that when the time comes. For now, all I can really say is that Volume 3 was definitely one of the most unorthodox TMNT series, and it could be very trying at times, but the entire experience was ultimately worth it. If it had stayed on schedule and found an audience, who knows what sorts of awesome stories we might have gotten or how long the book might have lasted? As it is, I highly recommend all Turtle fans seek the issues out regardless of whether Laird considers them “canon” or not. You’ll be missing some great TMNT storytelling if you don’t.

Grade: B+ (as in, “But the bit where Mikey, completely unsolicited, insists that Horridus is not retarded seems very telling indeed”.)