Sunday, February 16, 2014

TMNT (Vol. 4) #1

Publication date: December, 2001

Writing, lettering, inking, toning: Peter Laird
Penciling: Jim Lawson
Cover painting: Michael Dooney
Production assistant: Dan Berger
Dedicated to: Kevin Eastman


On the surface of the moon, a big robot stomps around until he finds the Apollo 11 lunar landing site.  The big robot enjoys the history and then reconvenes with an Utrom.  Overlooking a large complex secretly built into the surface of the moon, the pair contemplate the shocking plans they have for the Earthlings.  The big robot thinks about how he’s only met a few Earthlings in his time, and they weren’t even human.  The robot asks how their "guests" are doing and the Utrom mentions that they are indignant about being confined, but are managing.  He also says that their vehicle has been stowed.

Down in a snow-covered alley in New York City, the Ninja Turtles find themselves cornered by the Madhattan Maulitia, a gang of militant thugs out to kill any and all “aliens”.  The Turtles try to explain that they aren’t aliens, but the Maulitia isn’t listening.  The Turtles take the thugs down pretty easy and then escape into a nearby abandoned building.  Resting, Michelangelo ponders how throwing down with street hoods was a LOT easier 15 years ago. 

Leonardo rallies his brothers and they make their way to the rooftops.  As soon as they get there, they’re attacked by more Maulitia thugs, this time riding snowmobiles across the rooftops.  The Turtles take down several of the thugs, but they decide to cut and run and escape by splitting up (much to Raphael’s annoyance).  Donatello escapes to an alley and finds one of the Maulitia’s snowmobiles.  Deciding he could put it to better use, Don takes it for a joyride.

Michelangelo runs out into the street to flag down Donnie, but his brother fails to see him.  Mikey, meanwhile, fails to see a bus which clips him with its fender and  knocks him out.  A strange figure wearing a helmet and a cape, and named “Magnrok”, finds Michelangelo and pulls him into the safety of an alley.  Magnrok then radios for an immediate pickup.

Donatello proceeds to drive his new snowmobile down into a subway tunnel and onto the tracks.  The snowmobile doesn’t maneuver well without snow and bucks Donnie as it skids along the rails.  The snowmobile hits a wall and explodes (because I guess snowmobiles just explode when they hit things).  Once the smoke clears, Don looks through the hole in the old brick wall and finds a dusty old armored car, hidden away for years.

At the Jones residence, April Jones is getting anxious.  Casey tells his wife to relax; that their appointment with the doctor isn’t for another hour.  April is just antsy, however, as she wants to find out what their prospects for having children are.  Together, they get into the Chevy and head out.

At Stainless Steve Steel's farmhouse in Northampton, Shadow is busy sparring with diminutive android and Justice Force member Metalhead.  After a good workout, Shadow calls it quits and thanks Metalhead.  Splinter enters the room and tells the teenage girl to be patient; her father will call with the news about April’s appointment soon.  Shadow knows she shouldn’t be anxious, but she can’t help but feel like something big is on the way that will change everything.

Turtle Tips:

*This story is continued from TMNT (Vol. 2) #13.  The story continues in TMNT (Vol. 4) #2.

*When he began Volume 4, Peter Laird chose to ignore the continuity of Image’s TMNT Volume 3, rendering its events non-canonical.  Laird explains his stance in the letters page of TMNT (Vol. 4) #2, "As I've said before, I greatly appreciate the fact that Erik Larsen stepped up and published the TMNT book at Image, and Gary Carlson did a lot of interesting work on that series.  But as I've also said, it's not the direction in which I would have gone had I been writing the book.  Now that I am back and writing this new series, it makes the most sense as far as I am concerned to ignore what happened in those Image issues, and move forward using only what I think of as 'Mirage continuity'."

*As a result of omitting the Image series from continuity, there is a large gap of time between TMNT Volume 2 and TMNT Volume 4.  Numerous issues of Tales of the TMNT Volume 2 were written to account for the missing years, creating a “Mirage Volume 3”.  For a listing of those issues, see my Mirage Comics Continuity Timeline.

*The identity of the Utroms' "guests" will be revealed in TMNT (Vol. 4) #4.

*Chronologically, the Madhattan Maulitia first appeared in Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #57.  The Turtles last encountered them in Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #66 (which takes place shortly before this issue).

*Metalhead last appeared in TMNT (Vol. 1) #15.

*This issue received a second printing in February-March, 2003 (cover says March, indicia says February).  There is no additional content in the second printing.


Eastman and Laird are two creators with two starkly different sensibilities.  Eastman likes gratuitous gore, fast-paced action to the detriment of story, gritty urban settings, F-bombs, and Julie Strain.  So much Julie Strain.  Laird is the other side of the coin.  His stories veer toward science fiction more often than not, he’s reserved to the point where he won’t even permit his characters to curse (“holy hippo spit” is the closest you get), he prefers decompressed prattle between characters over excessive action, and his work is generally more PG-rated than Eastman’s stuff (Eastman’s the editor of Heavy Metal magazine, after all).

Together, Eastman and Laird struck a great balance in storytelling.  Their contrasting tastes compromised somewhere in the middle and as readers we received comics that were equal parts urban adventure and science fiction, explosive action and character portraits.  Individually, however, the seams of their storytelling styles stand out like blinking neon.

Back when I reviewed Bodycount #1, I talked about Kevin Eastman’s solo TMNT work; the sort of signatures, tropes and clichés that define his individual style.  Now that I’m getting into TMNT Volume 4, it’s time to take a look at Peter Laird.

The man likes his science fiction and the opening pages of TMNT (Vol. 4) #1 make no effort to hide that fact.  The first thing we see are robots and aliens exploring the moon.  When the Turtles finally do show up (in an homage to TMNT Vol. 1 #1), they’re misidentified as aliens by the antagonists.  The stage for Volume 4 is set immediately and this is going to be a VERY science fiction-centric volume.  Lots of aliens, lots of outer space exploration, lots of robots and lots of super technology.  This first issue is very upfront about the direction the series will be taking and if you’ve never been a fan of sci-fi themed TMNT stories, then you may want to opt out.

While the action in Laird's books tends to be decompressed to the point of losing all kinetic energy (the “running battle” cliché of Eastman’s work may be tired and overdone at this point, but the man can lay out a frenzied action sequence like nobody’s business), he does slow down to give characters the time to talk and digest the situation.  This is both a blessing and a curse, as Laird’s dialogue is tedious and doddering.  While not yet inundated with the “ummm”, “uhhh”, and “hmmm” noises that polluted the scripts for TMNT Volume 2 (which were scripted by Lawson, I believe), the man is a thousand times guilty of abusing the ellipses.  Characters talk with an excess of awkward pauses that don’t so much succeed at giving them a unique or “realistic” voice as it just makes them all rub off as slow and dull-witted.

Seriously, count the number of fucking ellipses in this issue.  It’s obscene.

BUT, what Laird does do, and what kept me reading through TMNT Volume 4 even… when… I… couldn’t… stand all… of the… ellipses… was the STORY.  Laird can plot a solid long-form story. TMNT Volume 4 truly does feel like a definite change for the course of the narrative and the places he takes many of the characters are certainly engaging.  We haven’t gotten there yet, but there’s going to be a big status quo changer in a couple of issues that will put the characters in a completely new situation.  A few issues after that will be a tragic sequence that, again, truly imparts the idea that these characters are growing and changing with time.  While the execution of these stories can be meandering, to put it politely, the actual CONTENT of the stories is fascinating.

If you read the letters pages throughout Volume 4, you’ll frequently see Laird responding to criticism by telling his unsatisfied readers not to buy the comic (before obliviously spinning yarns about how the comic doesn’t turn a profit).  Mirage’s slogan changes from “If it Ain’t Late, it Ain’t Mirage” to “Mirage: If You Don’t Like it, Don’t Buy it”.  And you know what?  I can’t argue with his logic.  If you hate an ongoing series, you really can’t expect the writers or the editors to change it just to suit your expectations.  And if all something does is bring you frustration and disappointment, then dude, just drop the book.  I used to have the “collector’s mentality”, that I had to own EVERY issue of a series because I’d already invested so much into it, but I eventually outgrew that when some of the ongoing comics I was reading started to really, REALLY suck.

For me, I don’t hate TMNT Volume 4.  There are aspects about it I don’t care for in the slightest, but disliking a PART of something doesn’t equate to disliking the WHOLE.  “Ghostbusters” is my all-time favorite movie, but even I will admit that some of the special effects look like shit; you can like or even love something and still be critical of a few of its components.  As I said before, the dialogue in this comic is awful and the characters are bland as balsa wood, but the overarching narrative and the direction the established characters go in is genuinely fascinating.  There’s enough good in TMNT Volume 4 to outweigh the negative and as a result, I continued to read it all the way up to its unceremonious “indefinite hiatus” (at which point, Mirage once again changed its slogan, this time to “Mirage: We Never Finish What We Start”).

Anyway, that’s enough waxing on Volume 4 as a whole and Laird’s signature style.  What about this issue on an individual level?

Well, the opening is, as I said, a fine way of indicating right off the bat just what genre this series would be miring itself in.  The Utroms and the giant robot set an ominous tone with their plans and I love how the story jumps straight from the grand scope of outer space directly to the “small time” action of the Turtles fighting thugs in an alley.  The action sequence is rather crude and drones on for way too long, but the need to establish the Madhattan Maulitia and their fear of alien invaders (through clumsy dialogue) was necessary, as again, they’ll play a major part in the sci-fi themed narrative of this volume.

What you’ll notice with this issue is that the storytelling is not especially tight.  The Turtles fight a bunch of thugs for a really long time and then just suddenly Mike is hit by a bus and Don finds an armored car in the subway.  The pacing is all over the place and there isn’t a beginning-middle-end structure to this adventure.  It’s just a whole lot of stuff that happens and then the comic runs out of pages.  TMNT Volume 4 is HEAVILY serialized in its storytelling, so this is how all the issues are going to be.  The issues don’t end because the story reaches an organic breathing point, but because the comic runs out of pages.  You’ll just have to get used to it.

Anyhow, Volume 4 is not everybody’s cup of tea.  I know that.  But when it introduces good ideas, they’re actually GREAT ideas.  The fact that it doesn’t have a conclusion or anything approaching closure to any of its storylines is concerning to some, but let’s be frank, when I pulled that “Mirage: We Never Finish What We Start” gag, I was talking about more than just TMNT Volume 4.  Read through Tales of the TMNT Volume 2 and you’ll be pulling your hair out in frustration at the number of plots and storylines that are initiated and never resolved.  From 2001-2010, Mirage just loses any and all ability to focus on a storyline and bring it to a satisfying conclusion (or ANY conclusion, really) and the decade is defined by their refusal to finish anything they start.  It’s hard to get mad at Volume 4 for petering off into oblivion without tying up its loose ends when practically every major Mirage storyline from the decade did the exact same thing.

That ball of negativity aside, this first issue lays everything out on the table for you in terms of the direction this book will be taking.  Not just the plot and genre, but the storytelling style.  Either you can acclimate to it or you can’t, but don’t expect it to change.

Grade: C+ (as in, “Come and enjoy all the wonderful inking and toning work on this issue, by the way.  It’s quite good.  But enjoy it while it lasts.”)