Saturday, October 10, 2015

TMNT (IDW) #50

Publication date: October 7, 2015

Story: Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz, Bobby Curnow
Script: Tom Waltz
Art: Mateus Santolouco
Flashback art: Cory Smith
Colors: Ronda Pattison
Letters: Shawn Lee
Edits: Bobby Curnow

"Vengeance, Part 6"


In the arena, Donatello-Metalhead keeps the Foot Mutants at bay with his armaments while the other Turtles rally.  Splinter tells his sons to use strategy and skill to counter the wild fury of their enemy.  Splinter then begins to meditate, searching the astral plane of his memories to find a means to defeat the Shredder.

Feudal Japan.  Oroku Saki tracks Hamato Yoshi down and orders the execution of him and his sons.  He tells Yoshi that he has betrayed the Foot Clan, though Yoshi begs for his sons to be spared.  Saki says that when they were the same age, they joined the Foot Clan willingly and were aware of the consequences.  As such, Yoshi’s sons are just as guilty as he is and must share his fate.

The present.  On Burnow Island, the Fugitoid and Harold accept the ooze from the scaly, reptilian stranger and infuse it into the healing chamber containing Donatello’s body.

Feudal Japan.  Saki catches Yoshi meditating in the dojo and admonishes him for wasting time praying when he should be taking action against their enemies.  Yoshi claims that their masters Masato and Maji would disagree, having instilled in them lessons on both inner strength and physical strength.

The present.  In the arena, Raphael and Michelangelo discover that they’ll never be able to make a dent in Bebop and Rocksteady on their own, as the only things powerful enough to hurt Bebop and Rocksteady… are Bebop and Rocksteady.  Realizing this, the two Turtles lure the mutants in close and strategically dodge their attacks, causing the imbeciles to hit each other over and over.  As for Leonardo, he’s taking on Koya, who has been striking him from the air.  Leo manages to slice her in the wings, permanently grounding her.  Bludgeon, distracted by Koya’s screaming, becomes easy prey for Donatello, who uses his headlights to blind the shark’s sensitive eyes.

On the sidelines, Kitsune continues weaving her invisible spell over Alopex, informing her that when the dust settles, it will be the foxes who claim the spoils, not the victors.  Nobody notices something wrong with Alopex and tries to snap her out of it.

Bludgeon and Koya are taken out of the battle, though Leo and Don spare their lives.  Bebop and Rocksteady are still going, though, and seem to have wised up to Mike and Raph’s tactics.  Suddenly, Donatello gets a message from the Fugitoid.  He acknowledges and tells his brothers to stand back.  He then closes in on the mutants and activates his self-destruct.  The explosion knocks the bad guys down and when the dust clears, the real live Donatello teleports in.  He then uses his new metal staff to knock Bebop and Rocksteady unconscious.

Splinter is overjoyed to see his son well again.  With the first round over, Shredder takes the battle to the roof of Foot HQ where he will face the Turtles alone in combat.  Leonardo and Donatello are the first to attack.  They land blows, but the Shredder ultimately knocks them down, mocking Leonardo as the failed chunin and likewise mocking Donatello for his failure to deceive the Foot Clan.  Splinter, on the sidelines, continues to meditate.

Feudal Japan.  A young Saki and Yoshi spar on a log spanning a creek.  Master Masato warns Yoshi that his anger will get the better of him and also warns Saki not to be too eager to exploit an enemy’s weakness.  Both children attack one another fall into the creek.

The present.  Locking weapons with Raphael, Shredder offers him a place in the Foot Clan.  Of course, Raph refuses, and is knocked down.  Michelangelo strikes, having finally snapped with anger, but he too is defeated.

Feudal Japan.  A very young Saki gets into a brawl with another student at the dojo.  Yoshi pulls him off and asks why he attacked the boy.  Saki explains that the boy is a bully who claims to be the strongest student in the dojo; by defeating him, he has proven that HE is the strongest.  Yoshi tells him that there’s more to strength than power, but knowing when to pick your battles.  Saki thinks Yoshi is challenging him, but Yoshi declines to fight.  He does, however, remind Saki that he’s not intimidated by him.

The present.  With the second round over, it is now time for Splinter and Shredder to face each other.  Splinter awakens from his meditation, having found the answers he sought for, and arms himself with Donatello’s staff.  He and Shredder battle and throughout the fight, Splinter grabs the weapons of his sons and lands blows on Shredder in their honor.

Shredder lays a dire cut on Splinter and the pair trade barbs about the nature of power, strength and duty.  Splinter tells Shredder that his mistake is thinking that he can find weaknesses to exploit in any enemy, including death-itself.  No one can conquer death forever, he reminds him, and grabbing Leo’s katana, he lands a mortal wound across Shredder’s chest.  Shredder falls to his knees, defeated.

Saki accuses Yoshi of having turned his back on him long ago and thus setting into motion both their miseries.  Yoshi tells him that they were once friends and he never turned his back on those memories, but on what Saki had ultimately become later in life.  Yoshi offers Saki the opportunity to die with honor and Saki, removing his gauntlet, assumes the position to commit seppuku.

Saki tells Karai that he has always valued her loyalty and strength, and any discipline he gave her were simply a means to make her stronger.  He then turns to Kitsune and tells her that death is just another path and he will someday find the one that leads him back to her.  Finally, he tells Yoshi that he will see him again in the forest where they played as children.  Splinter reconciles their brotherhood and, as Saki stabs himself in the stomach with his gauntlet, he decapitates him.

With the battle over, Karai tells Splinter that she cannot take the role of Master of the Foot Clan, even though as chunin it is her right.  She says she still has much to learn from the past and must return to Japan.  She offers Splinter the honor of Master and he accepts it.  Michelangelo, having gone through far too much, has a breakdown.  He drops his weapons and runs away, saying he no longer wants to be a part of any of this.  Splinter allows his son to leave so he can find his own answers, but tells Kitsune to stay so he can keep an eye on her (an order she seems to like).  Splinter then picks up Shredder's discarded helmet and looks into it. 

Feudal Japan.  Saki and Yoshi are little boys, playing in the forest together without a care in the world.  Laughing, they both hope to someday become great warriors.

The present.  Overlooking the city, Splinter tells his remaining sons, Nobody and Alopex that now it is time for them to embrace their own destinies.

Feudal Japan.  As Saki and the Foot Clan abandon the bodies of Yoshi and his sons to rot in the field, General Krang (in the guise of the Iron Demon) overlooks the chaos from afar.  He orders another Utrom, Lieutenant Sulfurch, to contact Chief Science Officer Ma’Riell to collect DNA samples from the deceased.  He figures that if the dead were so important to Saki, then he could use them to his advantage, someday.

Turtle Tips:

*This story is continued from TMNT (IDW) #49.  The story continues in TMNT (IDW) #51.

*This issue was originally published with 17 variant covers: Cover A by Santolouco, Cover B by Eastman and Pattison, Cover C by Gabriel Rodriguez and Nelson Daniel, Cover RI by Jack Kirby and Eastman, Subscription Cover by Eastman, Robert Rodriguez and Tomi Varga, Hero Initiative exclusive blank cover, Jetpack Exclusive by Eastman, Blindbox Exclusive by Robert Atkins, Chuck Arnold and Simon Gough, Golden Apple Exclusive by Phil Postma, Comics & Ponies Exclusive A by Kenneth Rocafort, Comics & Ponies Exclusive B by Rocafort, Yesteryear Exclusive by Jamie Tyndall, Dimension X Exclusive by Simon Bisley and Eric Talbot, Dimension X Exclusive Black and White by Bisley and Talbot, Hot Comics Exclusive by Peter Laird and Eastman, Gallery Dinner Exclusive by Eastman, and IDW Gallery Exclusive by Jack Kirby.

*Jesus Christ.


Waltz and Curnow have long said that they originally plotted out their story arcs to fifty issues, so even twenty-five issues ago, we knew that #50 was going to be the culmination of all their storytelling.  Not a conclusion, because the book would continue on, but the end of perhaps a First Act, so to speak.

I will say that this issue felt pretty damn big and pretty damn satisfying.  While the double-length wasn’t exactly what I’d define as a “bonus” (the issue was also double-price, so we didn’t get those extra pages for free or even at a discount), it certainly gave the physical copy this feeling of importance.  Even before I read the comic, I felt like I was holding something consequential in my hands.

Now, to talk about the “Vengeance” arc as a whole, I’ll be a bit of a bummer and say that I think maybe it went a little too long.  I really enjoyed the 4-part “Attack on Technodrome”, but at 6 issues (8, if you count the Free Comic Book Day special and this issue being double-length), “Vengance” felt bloated and at times strung along.  There were large patches of repetition from the previous “Technodrome” storyline (fighting Mousers and Flyborgs… again) that came across a bit like filler.  In fact, most of the stuff with Baxter Stockman probably could have been excised for the arc’s benefit.

Ideally, I think a more character-oriented two-parter in-between “Technodrome” and “Vengeance” would have been preferable; maybe even something to spotlight Donatello dealing with being trapped in Metalhead’s body.  As it ultimately ended up, Donatello adapted to being a robot way too easily.  And when read altogether, “Vengeance” only spans a day or two (most of it takes place on the same night), so Don wasn’t stuck that way for very long.

Really, it feels like the meat and potatoes of “Vengeance” are right here, in this issue.  Everything in the arc leading up to #50 was at best, fun, and at worst, filler.  The entire arc was gorgeously drawn by Smith and Santolouco and there was never a feeling of corner-cutting, so I don’t want it to sound like I hated the arc or anything.  It certainly felt BIG and for what it was intended to accomplish, that was definitely a vital priority.

Now, with #50 being the loadbearing member of the arc and the climax of four years of storytelling, does it pull its weight and get the job done?

Oh yeah, it does.

Waltz, Curnow and Eastman (to whatever extent his contributions are) pull together a LOT of what they’d been doing over the past 49 issues plus miniseries.  However, it’s not so much through references to issue numbers, but in the details we’ve learned about characters over all this time.

The big focus is, of course, on Shredder and Splinter.  We’ve learned a lot about them in all the issues taking place in Feudal Japan and those works (which had major contributions from Erik Burnham) form the emotional backbone of this chapter.  It’s a reminder of the various ways the writers turned the Saki/Yoshi back story on its head, recalling the rather tragic pre-destiny of Saki and the hotheaded irrationality of the young Yoshi.  We get to see once more how different they were in their younger days, as Saki was the one folks were rooting for to overcome his reincarnated fate and Yoshi was the one on the verge of self-destructive anger.

The backward momentum of the flashbacks was another nice touch, starting at the despicable outcome of Saki’s and Yoshi’s relationship, then incrementally dialing back to the days when they were genuine friends with hopes and dreams.  By the time we get there, the present-day battle is over and we’re ready for Shredder’s more-or-less redemption.  And you buy it; that Shredder could be deserving of the chance to die with honor and reconcile with his former brother.  The flashbacks are distributed strategically and the issue is paced so well that everything works in tandem to gradually alter your perception of the characters.

And going back to “turning things on their heads”, when offered the chance to commit seppuku, Shredder takes it.  It was a nice throwback to the original Mirage TMNT #1, when the Turtles gave him the same opportunity and he chose to die dishonorably, instead.  But IDW Shredder is a very different character from Mirage Shredder (who was barely a character to begin with) and the opposite outcome we see here feels organic to this incarnation.

As for the fights, there’s blessedly little of the “villain decay” phenmomenon and I’m grateful for it.  The writers (all of them) don’t forget that they’d established Bebop and Rocksteady as being practically invulnerable and their defeat is a hard-won victory for the Turtles.  I loved the throwbacks to the old cartoon, with them hitting each other (especially when they ram into one another in homage to their first appearance in the cartoon), but the humor never diminishes their threat.  The Turtles have to really WORK to take them down and Donatello ultimately gets his revenge with the final blow.

The fight between the Turtles and Shredder here sort of redeems how disappointing their first encounter was way back in TMNT #12, where Shredder went down like a punk.  Either he’s gotten stronger or they’ve gotten weaker, but whatever the case may be, he puts up a MUCH better fight than the first time.  Yet, he’s still not portrayed as untouchable (ala the Nickelodeon Shredder) and takes plenty of blows from the Turtles before knocking them down.  It’s a nice compromise; he still beats them because he’s better, but he isn’t a hundred miles out of their league or anything.

The final round between Splinter and Shredder is a surprisingly bloody affair, at least for this book (which mostly avoids the red stuff).  While not as gory as it could be, it finds a decent middle-ground and the various cuts traded between foes look appropriately devastating.  And in the end, it’s what they don’t show that makes the presentation feel more tasteful and dramatic.  Splinter cuts Shredder’s head off, but we don’t see a fountain of gore spewing from the stump; instead, we see the cut and then how the characters react to it.  I found that far more effective.

Of course, for as much an ending as #50 is, it is every bit a setup for the next Act of IDW’s TMNT series.  Kitsune is up to something with Alopex, Michelangelo is having a breakdown, Leatherhead is about to show up as more than just an arm and a tail, Karai is off finding herself in Japan, Splinter now leads the Foot Clan, and what the HECK was that stuff with General Krang collecting the DNA of Yoshi and his sons all about?

We’ve reached the end of an era, but we’ve already started a new one, so there’s no need for tears.

On the art front, I’m running out of ways to compliment Santolouco, but since he won’t be the main artist on the book after this, I might as well get it out of my system.

This is maybe his most gorgeous issue to date and it is just exploding with kinetic energy.  I positively love that first two-page spread, particularly the wide panel at the top.  You can sit there and inspect every inch of it and follow what the characters are doing in the fight, from Donatello zipping across the floor and leaving behind a trail of smoke to Koya dodging a flurry of shuriken being hurled at her by Leonardo.  It’s phenomenal stuff. 

And there are so many panels, too!  It takes a while to go through each page, as even the spreads have a bevy of sequential work to them for you to digest.  Santolouco’s style has that “cinematic” look to it, but doesn’t forget that this is still a COMIC and not a movie, so he still draws for the medium he’s working in.  So many artists today want to go for that “cinematic” look and give us splash pages and spreads and it feels like I’m looking at storyboards for a movie, not reading a comic book.  Seriously, Image.  Knock it off.

But something even more impressive needs to be pointed out, and that’s how harmonious the trio of Santolouco, Smith and Pattison work together.  The pencils for “Vengeance” was handled by both Santolouco and Smith, with both providing pages for this final issue.  Their styles have their own unique flavor and details, but ultimately blend together really well.  You don’t get that distracting gear-shift feeling as you go from one chapter to another and immediately notice that it looks totally different.  And I’m sure Pattison’s lush coloring work is also a large part in synchronizing the pencils so that everything tessellates perfectly in the end.

Was the “Vengeance” arc flawless?  No, it had its problems which I mostly summarized at the start of the review.  Much like Dark Leo in “City Fall”, the Donatello-Metalhead thing didn’t hit the mark.  What should have been a big character struggle was overshadowed by the epic event status of the storyline.  That and the inflated length of the arc were my only qualms, though.

I think, here in the final stretch, “Vengeance” felt pretty damn good.  And it certainly looked REALLY damn good.  I’m sure if I ruminate on it some more, I may find other little foibles here and there (the Foot Clan is out of the picture, but were they really such a bother up until now?), but I’d rather reflect on what I enjoyed over what I disliked.

With both the Foot and Krang down for the count, there’s a lot of open territory for the IDW series to explore as they go forward.  And hey, they’re keeping the numbering!  For now, anyway.  Cross your fingers and maybe we’ll finally get a TMNT series that makes it to #100.  We can dream.

Grade: A (as in, “And Santolouco stopped drawing Mikey with big buck teeth!  A shame he waited until his last issue, but I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth”.)