Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Mirage Comics and… The End of the World!

When I wrote my research article on “The (mysterious) Future Era of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” within the continuity of the Mirage comics, there was something I sort of glossed over.

The end of the world.

Yeah, society collapsed and the world kind of ended in the Mirage series.  It was a major part of those future stories, but when I wrote that article, I wanted to focus on the lives of the Turtles and their various relationships as they wandered into old age.  The actual end of the world scenario in the Mirage comics, however, was built up over several years.

So this time around, I want to take a look at all those little hints that the Mirage authors (mostly Steve Murphy) dropped, ultimately culminating in the Apocalypse.

Background: The Archie TMNT Adventures comics

The architect of the End of the World in the Mirage comics was Steve Murphy, so I think it should be noted that it was an idea that he originated over in his TMNT Adventures series published by Archie.

Under the pseudonym “Dean Clarrain”, Murphy first introduced the ruined future of Earth in TMNT Adventures #7 (December, 1989).  Cudley the Cowlick, an interdimensional flying bovine head, transported the Turtles back from a space-wrestling match to Earth (these comics were weird).  However, he got the year wrong and took them to a future where civilization had been destroyed by ozone layer depletion.

Throughout the series, the Turtles would encounter threats to the ozone layer (TMNT Adventures #14, the Mighty Mutanimals miniseries, etc.).  Usually, it had to do with villains targeting the Amazon rain forest, as its destruction was seen as the key to kickstarting global warming.  Yeah, this comic was just a little preachy.

Murphy revisited this future in TMNT Adventures #42-44 (March - May, 1993), during his popular “Future Shark Trilogy”.  Once again we see the future devastated by global warming, where major metropolitan cities have been flooded and the current denizens of Earth (humans, mutants and aliens) coexist in a post-apocalyptic hell-hole.

We received our most in-depth look at this future in TMNT Adventures #62-66 (November, 1994 – March, 1995), during the “Dreamland” arc.  That storyline took place entirely in the future and we got to see a bit more of the landscape and people.  The Earth is almost destroyed by an asteroid at the end of that arc, because we just can’t catch a break.

Most of these ideas would be imported into the narrative of the Mirage TMNT series by Murphy during his run on Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) between 2004 and 2010: Global warming being the impetus for the end of the world, the mass flooding of cities, the remains of the planet being co-populated with aliens and weird creatures, etc.  He pretty much lifts the ideas wholesale from TMNT Adventures for their use in the Mirage comic.

The Mirage TMNT Apocalypse

I’m going to run-down all the issues I could find that hinted at the impending doom of planet Earth.  Many of these references were brief, sometimes nothing more than background chatter, but they were all clearly deliberate.

For the record, I’ll be listing these stories in what I consider to be their in-universe chronological order, rather than the real-world publication order.  For a bigger list of the order I came up with, see my Mirage Comics continuity timeline (then try not to have a headache).

Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #30, “Circle of Darkness” (December, 2006)

This story was written by Bill Moulage, a collaborator of Steve Murphy’s who worked with him on their environmentally themed indie comic The Puma Blues.  As such, he was likely well aware of Murphy’s plans when he wrote this tale, helping him build toward his ultimate narrative goal.

In this adventure, Mikey rents a room in an apartment so he can focus on his writing when he notices a strange blind man leaving every night.  He follows him and learns that the blind man is actually a prophet name Tiresias, cursed with immortality.  Tiresias has been plagued for centuries by a vision of the end of the world, a mass genocide, and doesn’t want to be there when it happens.  He summons a Lovecraftian god named Ouroboros and offers to cast a spell that will bind the souls of those who die in the event to the god (in exchange for lifting his curse).  Weird stuff happens and it’s not entirely clear if Mikey stops Tiresias and Ouroboros or not.

“Circle of Darkness” takes a more spiritual look at the upcoming end of the world, offering a perspective different from the whole scientific global warming thing Murphy was focusing on.  In that regard, it ties in well with “Twilight of the Ring”, which also offered a supernatural explanation for the looming event.  And it will further tie-in to a later story, “Rocks”, which will also feature a Lovecraftian god ruminating on Earth’s imminent doom.

TMNT (Vol. 1) #37, “Twilight of the Ring” (June, 1991)

For the record, before Murphy decided that human civilization needed to end in the Mirage comics, Rick McCollum and Bill Anderson beat him to the punch.

In “Twilight of the Ring”, the Turtles go on a mystical quest into the forest primeval to get into touch with their reptile heritage.  Along the way, they learn that mammal-reptile dominance of the Earth works in a cycle; for a while mammals are at the top of the food chain, then they decline, then reptiles take over, then they decline, and around and around it goes.  However, mammals (humans) have found a way to unnaturally maintain their grip on global dominance, stunting the necessary cycle (“the ring”).

The Turtles eventually face the avatar of the mammals, the Adversary (a giant rat), and slay him in battle.  This releases the avatar of the reptiles, the Father (a giant turtle), and restores the ring.

…And by restoring the ring, the natural evolutionary cycle of the Earth, the Turtles ensure the end of mammalian (human) civilization.  It is mentioned by the Father that the end of the humans’ dominance of Earth is long past due, which works with how quickly the world ends after the Turtles defeat the Adversary.

Now, it should be noted that “Twilight of the Ring” was a guest story.  It was written to cooperate with the continuity of the Mirage in-house issues (more on that in this article) and was released at a time when Mirage wasn’t so strict about the canonicity of guest vs. in-house productions.  So while some might not consider it canon, and its connections to Murphy’s later end-of-the-world storyline are likely just coincidence, it ties into the tapestry of the Mirage series extremely well, regardless.

Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #24, “Rock of Ages” (June, 2006)

In this story by Murphy, the Turtles encounter a pair of unstoppable robots that had been buried beneath New York City for who knows how many thousands of years.  They eventually make peace with the robots, who take off their armor and reveal themselves to be human-like children.

A video recording shows their homeworld, a once lush and natural planet called Pangea, destroyed by their civilization’s industry.  Ultimately, pollution, deforestation and global warming caused a mass extinction and the Pangeans had to send their children off into space, clad in protective armor, or put them in stasis beneath the ground.

Taking a closer inspection of the recording, Donatello realizes that it’s footage of Earth.  Seeing how things are going in the news, Don becomes increasingly worried that the current civilization will follow in the footsteps of the Pangeans.

Murphy noted later on, in the letters page of Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #25, that this was actually a leftover script he had originally written for TMNT Adventures.  It’s kind of obvious when you read the comic, but Don’s revelation at the end will come into play in later-set stories.  Seeing how a dominant civilization was previously destroyed by global warming, he’ll soon take an intense interest in the subject.

Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #42, “The Curious Case of Mr. Jones” (January, 2008)

Written by Dan Berger, another in-house Mirage creator and collaborator with Steve Murphy, “The Curious Case of Mr. Jones” doesn’t overtly have anything to do with the end of the world scenario.  You’ll see in a bit, though, that it all falls into place.

So in this one, a strange robot falls out of the sky and attacks Casey and Raph.  They fight the robot and destroy it, but immediately afterward, Casey is taken in by a pair of Men in Black for questioning.  They ask him all sorts of questions about aliens, which he answers rather nonchalantly, given his lifetime of experience with the strange and unusual.

Once he’s released, the Men in Black are revealed to be Utroms in disguise (one of them recurring character Glurin).  Evidently, they’re testing the waters to see if humans are ready for First Contact.  Casey’s reaction to an alien robot helps them conclude that they can proceed with their plans.

So this was a prelude for First Contact, a storyline that was built up to in the pages of TMNT Volume 4…

TMNT (Vol. 4) #5 (August, 2002)

Peter Laird’s TMNT Vol. 4 predates Tales of the TMNT Vol. 2, and many issues of the latter series were ultimately written to tie-in with the former.  First Contact was the inaugural storyline of Volume 4 and Laird worked up to it for the first five issues before skipping the narrative ahead six months in the pages of TMNT Vol. 4 #5.

But in this story, the Utroms initiate First Contact and offer humanity the chance to join other developed planets in the galaxy by allowing aliens to immigrate to their world.  It all comes to a head in issue 5, as the Utroms address the United Nations and the governments of Earth ultimately accept their offer.

We’ll learn later exactly why the Utroms wanted to go ahead with First Contact.

Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #16, “Sins of the Past” (October, 2005)

Written by Murphy, Laird and Doug Rice (also the artist), this story follows up on Don’s interest in global warming, though not as the main crux of the plot.

The issue opens with a frontispiece taking place after 2004, in which Donatello reads The Coming Global Superstorm by Art Bell and Whitley Strieber.  Don becomes even more concerned with what global warming is doing to the Earth than ever before and sighs in frustration at all the fools who won’t open their eyes to the dangers they’re creating with pollution and deforestation.

The story takes place in 2001.  Now an alley of the Utroms thanks to First Contact, Don travels to the Utrom Homeworld to research the data they’ve collected on global warming.  Don spends much of the trip referring to humankind as a “malignancy” and cursing what they've been doing to nature.

That’s not the A-plot, of course.  That’s just how the issue opens.  It soon spirals into an adventure involving a ghost ship and an Utrom conspiracy.  But that’s not important.  What we see here is Don researching global warming alongside the Utroms for the first time, showing that the aliens also have an interest in Earth’s depleting ozone layer.

Also, jeez, that intro is as subtle as a jackhammer at 3am.

Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #18, “The Blue Hole” (December, 2005)

Written by Murphy and Laird, this installment sort of follows up “Sins of the Past”. 

Don and the Utroms have begun monitoring Earth’s climate levels and conclude that temperatures are rising and the polar icecaps are melting, etc.  When a research buoy in the Sargasso Sea goes offline, Don and Glurin work together to retrieve it.  Evidently, the buoy has collected vital data on Earth’s pollution and climate change.

Like “Sins of the Past”, the global warming thing only instigates the adventure, which ultimately has nothing to do with pollution and deforestation (in this instance, it’s a weird undersea vortex that’s sucking up ships).  But the story is a natural follow-up to the ones that I’ve listed before, continuing Don’s collaboration with the Utroms and the return of Glurin, who we’ve already seen take a special interest in Earth.

Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #45, “Rocks” (April, 2008)

“Rocks” by Jim Lawson and Peter Laird is something of a thematic follow-up to “Circle of Darkness”, visiting another Lovecraftian deity that has foreseen the end of the world.

The Turtles go on an outing and Mikey is taken prisoner by a bunch of weird monsters who drag him deep underground.  There he is greeted by Karenthog Sar Routolo, Devourer of Worlds.  The tentacled god explains that for every lie man tells, the rocks of the world crack and weaken.  Man has been “lying to himself" about the dangers of pollution, deforestation and ozone layer depletion, and as a result, has been weakening the Earth (yeesh).  Karenthog wishes to escape the planet, as he foresees its doom coming very soon.

So as with Ouroboros, Karenthog is a Lovecraftian deity who knows the Earth’s time is up and many will die.  The whole idea of lies creating cracks in the planet works on a few levels of significance, as I talked about in my other article regarding the future of the Mirage universe (when Raph assures his brothers they’ll always be there for each other, we see a rock split).

Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #17, “Wrong Turn” (November, 2005)

“Wrong Turn” by Lawson, Murphy and Laird takes a bit more imagination to include as part of the build up to the end of the world.  Still, if you view it a certain way, it actually sets up a few things we’ll see later.

In this story, taking place shortly after TMNT (Vol. 4) #11, Glurin uses his Dimensional Grid Shift device to send Don, Raph and Casey to another dimension.  However, there’s a malfunction and he isn’t sure where in time and space they’ve gone.

The Turtles and Casey wind up in Las Vegas, but a post-apocalyptic version of it.  A local explains that after global warming destroyed all the farmland in America, the government instituted the “Anthro Project” to create super crops.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work and only created armies of giant insects, arachnids and other horrible, irradiated monsters.  The Turtles and Casey fight their way through the creatures before Glurin eventually figures out how to bring them home.

It is never stated outright, but the implication is that rather than go to another dimension, the Turtles and Casey are sent into the future.  There’s the reference to global warming destroying everything, but it also explains the presence of the weird radioactive monsters.  We’ll see more of them in the next story on the list, but also other future-set stories like “Silent Knight” (for more on those, see my other Mirage future article).

Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #69, “Dark Shadows” (April, 2010)

Written by Dan Berger, “Dark Shadows” is the second-to-last issue of Tales of the TMNT Vol. 2 and the payoff to all this build-up.  All the stuff Murphy had been seeding throughout the anthology series finally bears fruit and we get a bunch of concrete answers.

The story follows a grown-up Shadow Jones as she navigates the flooded post-apocalyptic world, teeming with weird monsters and other hazards.  She explains that the Utroms initiated First Contact out of a sense of obligation, knowing that global warming would soon destroy the Earth.  Shortly after First Contact, the Utroms begin evacuating the planet.

How soon after?  Well, here’s what Shadow looked like in Volume 4 when First Contact was taking place:

And here’s what she looked like in the flashback showing her watching the Utroms evacuate the ruined world:

As you can see, she’s hardly aged at all (hell, she may have even aged backward), indicating that global warming destroyed the Earth almost immediately after the Utroms came by.

There isn’t much else to say beyond this.  We’ll see more of the post-apocalyptic Earth in other future-set stories, which in their way also helped to tease the end of the world storyline.  But since I already covered all of those in my other Mirage future article, I didn’t want to repeat them here.

I won’t editorialize too much about this storyline.  The global warming thing was pretty in-your-face and could get preachy and overbearing, yeah.  But the whole thing was built up to over a long stretch of time and in more ways than just offhandedly mentioning climate change.  The writers approached it from different angles, both supernatural and scientific, and unlike many storylines from Tales of the TMNT Volume 2, this one actually received payoff.