Saturday, August 23, 2014

TMNT Annual 2014

Story: Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz
Script and art: Kevin Eastman
Colors: Ronda Pattison
Letters: Shawn Lee
Editor: Bobby Curnow
Dedicated to: Robert E. Howard, Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith


The Turtles have just returned to New York from Northampton and Donatello has spent the time since upgrading the church lair’s security.  In addition to his upgrades, he and Michelangelo have put together an elaborate Rube Goldberg-style trap, intending to dunk Raphael in a pool of water once he returns from his jog.  With Leonardo out searching for Foot Clan activity at the George Washington Bridge and April and Casey off on a date, they’re sure only Raph will succumb to this pratfall (though Splinter disapproves of the hijinks).  Much to their misfortune, Raph and Leo arrive home at the same time and either one of them might spring the trap.

Suddenly, in a flash of light, a blond girl in an ugly helmet wielding a scepter appears in the lair.  She introduces herself as Renet, apprentice to a Dimensional Councilman, and apparently she met the Turtles but earlier in HER timeline and not THEIRS.  She explains that there’s a serious problem at the Center of All Realms (the “nexus”) and her boss has sent her to find great fighters to solve the problem.  Before the Turtles can even figure out what she’s talking about, she zaps them away with her time scepter (interrupting Splinter's bowel movement in the process).

They arrive at the Center of All Realms (a city on a cone-shaped asteroid floating in space) and the Turtles are immediately taken prisoner; the guards believing Renet has fetched more fodder for the Dimensional Council.  Renet reassures them that she has a plan and that they need to hook up with her boyfriend on the inside.  They’re taken to their cell where they meet Baltizar, a warrior who has been trapped in the Games for a while (and also Renet’s boyfriend).  He explains that the Council steals warriors from across time and space to participate in gladiatorial combat and the losers are instantly teleported (a second prior to a killing blow) to a slave mine.  The winners supposedly get to live on a paradise, which appeases the audience but the truth is that the winners are also sent to the mines  He doesn’t have much faith in the Turtles, but with the next round starting, they all gear up and head into the arena.

The Turtles and Baltizar take on a horde of armored aliens and succeed.  Baltizar and Raph, in particular, form a friendship as they team up.  They’re returned to their cell to await tomorrow’s Games.  While lounging, Baltizar explains that he’s from a violent world where his life is in peril from sunrise to sunset, hence his proficiency in battle.

Elsewhere, Renent visits her boss, ex-Councilman Simultaneous, in his jail cell.  Apparently, he disapproved of the Games and Councilman Nieli had him incarcerated for it.  Simultaneous is low on spirit and doesn’t believe Renet’s chosen warriors will be able to inspire the people to revolt against the Council.  Renet believes in them, though.

In the dungeon, Baltizar talks with Rangor, another warrior, and the two agree that they need to unite the gladiators for an uprising, though it may be difficult as they’re all so culturally different.  The next day, moments before the Games begin, a guard cattleprods Baltizar, incapacitating him.  Apparently, Councilman Nieli wants to make sure Baltizar doesn’t win.  The Turtles help him out into the arena and vow to keep him safe until he regains his strength.  The battle begins and the Turtles face down another army of aliens, this time led by the hulking Tricerton Zog.  As the Turtles take down the aliens and Baltizar gets his shit together, Rangor gives an inspiring speech to the other gladiators.

In their booth, the Dimensional Council watches and Nieli is furious.  He doesn’t like to see anybody win in his Games and orders more gladiators to rush the Turtles and Baltizar.  The other Councilmen quietly comply.  The guards and the audience begin to see how unfairly Nieli is stacking the odds against the heroic gladiators and public opinion turns against the Council.  Renet stirs the embers in the audience then joins the fray in the arena until only the Turtles and Zog are left to fight.  When Rangor and Simultaneous arrive with the gladiators in a revolt against the Council, Zog lays down his arms and joins them.

They rush the booth and Nieli demands the guards protect him, but they turn on him.  The Council also reveals that they’re sick of Nieli’s Games and expel him from their circle, inviting Simultaneous back into the fold in exchange.  The Turtles then give a rousing speech about the Olympics on Earth, and how they’re games of sport where victory is celebrated and defeat is not the end, but a chance to work harder and compete another day.  Councilman Gauge is inspired by the concept of the Olympics and proclaims that the Games shall be rebranded in their image as the Battle Nexus.

Nieli is taken away by the guards.  Simultaneous congratulates Renet on her hard work (though refuses to give her a raise) and thanks the Turtles and Baltizar for pulling it all together.  Renet then sends the Turtles home (giving Mikey her ugly helmet) and they arrive in the lair… right at the trigger for Don’s contraption.  Leo is plummeted into the water and Splinter, annoyed by all the noise they were making while he was taking a shit (no, really), storms out of the bathroom and shoves the other Turtles into the drink.

In the Cretaceous period, Renet and Baltizar enjoy a picnic together.  Baltizar wonders if they’ll ever see the Turtles again and Renet suspects they will.  They then teleport to 14th century China for some authentic Chinese food.

Turtle Tips:

*According to editor Bobby Curnow, the events of this Annual occur between TMNT (IDW) #32 and TMNT (IDW) #33.

*The Turtles will meet Renet again in TMNT: Turtles in Time #1.

*Councilman Nieli is named after Ciro Nieli, showrunner for the 2012 Nickelodeon TMNT cartoon.

*Zog last appeared in TMNT: Utrom Empire #3.

*This Annual met with major delays and was published several months after the Turtles in Time miniseries had been out, creating a good deal of confusion for readers.  Since it was released after Turtles in Time was halfway finished, an editor’s note was included on the inside front cover, helping readers with the chronological placement.

*This issue was originally published with 3 variant covers: Cover A by Eastman and Ian Herring, Cover RE Jetpack Exclusive by Eastman, Cover RE Jetpack Exclusive by Eastman (different from the other one).

*On December 10, 2015, the Annual was rereleased in a Deluxe Edition containing full color on all pages as well as layouts and bonus sketches.


This new Annual from Kevin Eastman is basically a mash-up of every John Carter of Mars cliché in the book and there’s nothing new or exciting to see here.  It runs through the motions so formulaically and mechanically that there aren’t any surprises or fresh ideas or anything to capture your interest.  It’s just plain old boring. 

The character of Baltizar is a loose pastiche of Conan the Barbarian, specifically, the Marvel Comics incarnation as brought to life by Roy Thomas and Barry Windsor-Smith (great comics, by the way).  While he looks identical to the Windsor-Smith version of Conan (well, with a soul patch), he talks with the dull intonations and slang of a California teenager, perhaps to mirror the Valley Girl aspects of Renet.  The parody falls apart in that regard, as he’s just a guy who looks exactly like Conan but is programmed with an entirely different personality, making the homage seem pasted on after the fact.

While it doesn’t suffer from the “running battle” style of nearly everything Eastman has ever written in his entire career, it’s still a Kevin Eastman “characters flying by the seat of the their pants and don’t know what’s going on and don’t have time to catch up” story.  So if you’ve read enough Eastman comics in your lifetime, you ought to be familiar.  

What’s irritating is that the story is NOT complicated.  Like I said, it hammers home every single John Carter cliché that has been rehashed a thousand times over in the world of science fiction (the Turtles have been doing this shtick since the Mirage days, too).  So what makes things so annoying is that the characters within this story can’t seem to grasp the simplistic plot and have to have it described to them AT LEAST three fucking times.  Renet tells them about it when she meets them.  Baltizar tells them about it when they get to the arena.  And then Baltizar tells them about it AGAIN.  And each time, the Turtles go uncharacteristically moronic and fail to figure out the fucking basic concept of “fight in an arena or go to a slave mine”.

Having the characters act like a plot is complicated isn’t the same thing as having a complicated plot.  All it does is make the Turtles come across as uncharacteristically stupid and as a reader you can’t believe you’re going over the SAME SHIT for the third time in six pages.  It’s ridiculous.

And the way everybody talks… Holy fucking shit, SHUT UP.  All the characters speak in these exhaustive monologues, but they don’t provide enough information to fill their girth, they just… talk.  And talk.  And TALK.  Meandering nonsense and drivel that goes nowhere and adds nothing; they reiterate the same points over and over again and bloat their speech with useless asides and random babble and my god, this thing is no fun to read.

Even worse is how the gimmick of going from color in the present day segments to black and white in the arena segments just destructs the comprehensibility of the whole narrative.  You see, when the Turtles are in black and white, there are two things that allow them to stand apart from one another: Their personalities and their weapons.  When they arrive at the arena, they all take weapons from the racks, so you think you’ve got it figured out: The Turtle with the weapon similar to their usual one must be the same Turtle.  But no, turns out the one with swords is Raphael.  And I can’t decide which one has the trident… Is it Donatello?  Does the letterer even know?  Because none of the Turtles speak with distinct voices; they’re all in silly mode, talking with slang and making goofy comments about cake and helmets.  If it IS Donatello, he's acting a lot like Michelangelo.  I mean, Leo talks like Raph talks like Don talks like Mike and you can’t INVEST in the fucking comic if you can’t tell who should be speaking at any given time.

And just… just… WHY is the Council so afraid of Nieli?  He doesn’t seem to have any greater powers than the other Councilmen, considering he was just dragged away by guards without any hassle the moment they stood up to him.  And what does Nieli have to gain from the Games, anyway?  Does he have a deal with the slave traders on the side?  What are his reasons to be so evil beyond just being evil for the fuck of it?  He’s the main villain of this whole story and no effort was put into giving him a motive.

And what was with that diversion with April and Casey at the movies?  They don’t factor into the story whatsoever, it’s just a waste of time.  Heck, if that page had been omitted, Eastman would have freed up a page to cover Nieli inner monologuing his sinister scheme and BAM, at least one problem would have been solved.

This thing is just… awful.  It’s boring and it’s hard to read and the characters introduced are positively obnoxious.  If Eastman was trying to parody things like Conan and John Carter, he doesn’t put enough effort into the “parody”; it’s just a lot of silly, stupid nonsense that feels utterly incongruous to the rest of the IDW TMNT universe, especially in character portrayals (Splinter’s dialogue is fucking AWFUL and that’s before we even get to the running gag about him taking a shit).

Eastman’s art is Eastman’s art.  It’s classic and you may want to pick up the Annual for that.  I was forgiving toward the previous Annual because, at the time, it was the first full-length TMNT story Eastman had drawn in over ten years and the nostalgic novelty was enough to carry interest.  With this, though, that novelty has elapsed and you actually have to judge this thing on its story and script, both of which are horrendous.  I guess if anything comes of all this, it might be that with the Battle Nexus now established, it’s possible we could get some good stories out of that later on.  Or it could be like the 2012 Annual, where the dozen or so new characters introduced in that tale go on to do positively jack shit in the ongoing series.  Only time will tell.

This thing was definitely not worth the two or three month delay, though.

Grade: F (as in, “For those of you with a mild interest in Roy Thomas’s and Windsor-Smith’s Conan the Barbarian comic, please don’t judge its quality by these shitty parodies.  It’s actually an excellent book; one of the best comics to come out of the ‘70s”.)