Reviews of the best comics from March 20th, 2013 - and it was quite a big week!
Book of the Week: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #20
Past the ides of March comes the finale to the "Krang War" story which has not only developed subplots which have flown through this book since it launched almost two years ago, but pays homage to both the original 1980's comic books and cartoon series. Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz are once again in sync on the story (even if the latter does the scripting and thus likely the lion's share of most issues), and are paired up with artist Ben Bates and regular colorist Ronda Pattison. As the cover shows, this issue features the first showdown between the Ninja Turtles and the Dimension X warlord Krang, whose intergalactic efforts are one of the catalysts which caused their creation.
Borrowing from both the original Mirage Studios canon from the early 80's and the TV animated program of the late 80's, Krang is the only member of the Utrom race of "living brains" who isn't in stasis or dead. He has assumed the throne from his father and is continuing to conquer the stars in general and planet Neutrino in particular. To this end he has set up a power base on Burnow Island (on Earth), assumed the mantle of dictator there and contracted Baxtor Stockman's laboratory to produce genetic weaponry for him. These experiments led to the creation of the mutagen ooze, as well as no end of other things (including Krang's army of stone warriors). Seeking the Fugitoid (a Neutrino scientist trapped in the body of a robot), Krang has kidnapped the royal family of Neutrino to force a final surrender with the rebels. The Turtles were accidentally zapped to Dimension X and into the midst of this war by circumstance, but now are actively engaged in its conduct.
To say that this issue is an action issue is an understatement. This is easily the most over the top battle the IDW Comics incarnation of TMNT have ever faced, and Bates is an ideal artist to depict it. Donatello works on an "ultimate weapon" with the Fugitoid as Raph works on distracting Krang's army as Leo and Mikey stage a rescue with the princess and more rebels. Considering the development of previous issues, this one offers a satisfying battle against Krang himself (in his ever present robot general body) without closing the door on future conflicts, but merely adding to them. Both the heroes and the villain end up with what they wanted, and there is quite a tender reunion at the end of the issue. Not only does the issue offer a lot of fight sequences, but also manages to give the Turtles their chance to shine in their own ways. The Fugitoid and Donatello have a discussion about philosophy, while Raph gets to engage in a big fight, Leonardo leads, and Mikey makes quite an impression upon the Neutrino princess. Gone, too, is the whiny bumbling Krang of the cartoons and a figure likely in part influenced by Chr'ell, the evil Utrom from the 2003 animated series.
Bates apparently will depart the series after this issue, at least in the near future. This makes him the second artist the book has seen within seven issues since Dan Duncan left the series with issue twelve. Eastman will take over art and scripting for the next issue before the subsequent arc gets underway. This series continues to excel at merging the entire mythology of the TMNT from 1984 until now and weave new threads all its own. With both of the "big two" seeming to relaunch many old franchises every few years, they might do well to take notes on how IDW has managed to produce something here which pleases several generations of fans, including new ones.
Saga #11: In merely ten issues, this creator owned series by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples has become the second best selling comic published by Image Comics; right behind Robert Kirkman's "The Walking Dead" which took years to crawl up the top 100 list. "Saga" is comfortably within the top 40 and virtually every issue sees at least one reprint even at this stage; these are not only great numbers for both Image and the creators, but better numbers than Vaughan often saw at Wildstorm. Amid a flashback to the conception of the cross breed child Hazel, the star crossed lovers Marko and Alana (as well as their ghost babysitter and Marko's parents) must escape the vortex of a space monster as well as being tracked by mercenaries hired by their worlds to slay their child. As with many things within this series, it is the execution which counts just as much as the story itself or the imaginative details. Another character passes the mortal coil, in a move which has been fairly well planned for several issues but still bares some weight to it. Meanwhile, the mercenary troupe (consisting of Marko's ex Gwen, the Will, a slave girl and a Lying Cat) are coming into their own as another eclectic family unit. Every issue of this series appears to be a work of art, and it is no mystery why it has become so popular. It is one of the rare examples of an excellent book selling somewhere near where it deserves.
Daredevil #24: Mark Waid and Chris Samnee continue on their yeoman efforts crafting the best run on "the man without fear" that the character has seen in years, if not decades. While some note that this run isn't "as dark" as previous ones that the character is known for, that doesn't mean that dark things don't happen and that Daredevil's enemies aren't vicious - it simply means the comic can strike more than one tone. While Daredevil fights a long term battle against a mysterious foe who is manipulating things from afar (who readers get a glimpse of this issue and may or may not be the weird robot Mr. Kline), his best friend Foggy Nelson is beginning an equally dire battle against cancer. As with the last issue, Murdock is fighting an enemy which seeks to replicate his origin - in this case by sending some "Daredevil dogs" into his office. As always, Waid's already excellent script is flanked by some of the best artwork in comics, and Samnee (alongside colorist Javier Rodriguez) carries on upon the tradition set before him by previous artists during this run. Much like the best stories, the tone of the series is able to change from romantic comedy to action to horror without skipping a beat or appearing jarring. Such things are difficult to execute, yet seem effortless when executed properly. This is the rare Marvel series which doesn't seem to be forced to buckle to the will of a line wide crossover or editorial meddling, but exists all its own to have its way - and readers reap the benefit.
Confusing Read: Action Comics #18, Grant Morrison's bizarre swan song on Superman.
"Meh" Read: Dark Avengers #188
Additional Good Reads: Batman Beyond Unlimited #14 (DC Comics); Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Secret History of the Foot Clan #4 (IDW Comics); Invincible #101 (Image Comics); Indestructible Hulk #5 & Superior Spider-Man #6 (Marvel Comics)