Book of the week: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #37
To state the obvious, this past week has seen a resurgence of "Turtle Power". The latest feature film depicting the characters that Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird created hit theaters this weekend, as produced by Michael Bay. Despite absolutely horrid reviews, it ruled the box office and already impressed Paramount enough to warrant a sequel. It brought a lot of talk online about the feat of "reinventing" the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for a new generation as well as what parts of the thirty year lore across various mediums should stay or go. Older fans may remember the original comics from 1984 or cartoon just three years later, while less old fans had the 2003 era animated series as their canon. Today's children have the current CGI animated series on Nickelodeon as well as this latest feature film offering. Such a landscape perhaps magnifies the strength and quality of this oft overlooked "recreation" of the franchise as offered by IDW Comics for over three years.
One can think of no better snapshot of such a run as this issue, as a matter of fact. As always, the writing team mixes the older foundation of the franchise with Kevin Eastman alongside the newer creative vision of Tom Waltz (with Bobby Curnow as a more recent co-writer). And as always, it offers a rising star in the realm of comic book artwork going to town while backed up by the consistently great colors of Ronda Pattison; in this issue's case, that's Cory Smith. While this is a "done in one" story practice, in reality is also is the culmination of years worth of subplots as well as the creation of more subplots for an equal time in the future. More impressively, this issue displays all of this without the actual Ninja Turtles (or Splinter) being anywhere within the pages or cover.
Throughout the course of this series, the titular Turtle heroes have faced antagonism from varying camps of villainy. The biggest include the Foot Clan, as led by Oroku Saki (a.k.a. the Shredder), and General Krang of Burnow Island, who is in reality an interdimensional Utrom alien planning to transform the Earth into a new home for he and the few surviving Utroms left. Their long term manipulation, quests for power and counter moves against each other have not only led to the creation of the Turtles (and many of their allies and enemies), but their perennial danger as well. This issue teases a modern day attempt at the status quo of the original 1987 cartoon; an alliance between Shredder and Krang for nothing less than world domination. However, a meeting between the two in neutral territory finds the amazingly diplomatic and pragmatic Shredder getting on Krang's last nerve, and a struggle breaking out between the two bosses and some of their minions. They include Krang's flunkies, the rock soldiers Tragg and Granitor (who fans of the '87 cartoon will recognize) while Shredder has once again utilized mutants, in this case Koya (a falcon) and Bludgeon (a hammerhead shark). Koya was introduced several issues ago and is a rare female character in comics who hasn't been made "pretty" or posed "sexily", but is presented as being just as savage and ruthless as many of the other evil mutants in the series. Considering that among the Turtles' many imitators were the "Street Sharks", the creation of Bludgeon offers a nice wink in that direction. Meanwhile, a scene between the ancient fox Kitsune and the mutant fox Alopex continues from the theme of the last issue, in that everyone may be a pawn in a game among immortals.
Cory Smith's artwork jells beautifully within a series whose first regular artist was Dan Duncan, and a promise on the letter column that he "will return" is great news for readers of the series. The script gives him tons of high octane action with ninjas, mutant monsters, robots and rock soldiers upon a boat, and Smith goes to town with it. The writers, meanwhile, continue along with their masterful tactic of paying homage to things from the past without slavishly repeating them. Their take on the Shredder in particular - a ninja warlord from Feudal Japan who can be motivated by revenge but has since become far more tactical and manipulative a leader of the Foot - continues to impress anyone with memories of the bumbler from the 80's cartoons or the simple violent savage of the initial comics. Krang seems one note in comparison, but past comics and mini series have at least established that he's a creation of his environment, and to him he's merely seeking to create a new home for his people at any cost (and with no compassion for locals).
On a week where the latest blockbuster film is proving to be a cash cow despite being a creative disaster, it is good to know that fans of quality TMNT stuff which is both innovative and a bit more mature than much of what appears on TV or the big screen. Those not in the know should lap up the IDW trade collections post haste, and get themselves a fresh dose of "Turtle Power"!
Archer & Armstrong #23: Fred Van Lente and longtime regular artist Pere Perez and regular colorist David Baron continue along with their "American Wasteland" arc involving yet another mystical MacGuffin and a very unqiue take on modern "faith" power. Van Lente sees it as moving beyond worship of mere deities, but of pop culture icons like Elvis or even conspiracy theories, which creates many versions of Lee Harvey Oswald. The leader of the latest wacky group to challenge the heroes, the "Lizard King", seeks to manufacture psychic backlash of pain by executing the latest Internet hip hop moron during a concert. However, both the titular duo and Mary-Maria manage to outwit him via their own time travel gambit. Highlights include a very naked Armstrong getting to travel across different eras and interact with himself, as well as Elvis driving a Prius. Despite this being the fifth part of the story, some of the undoing of the main antagonist seems to happen a bit too quickly, but the entire affair is still an entertaining ride.
Amazing Spider-Man #5: Despite having steered the main Spider-Man series into unique avenues of excitement for the first two years of his (mostly) solo run, Dan Slott seems to have hit a long term snag since the end of 2013 that no short term flurrish or competent climax seems able to snap. To this end, this "Original Sin" tie in arc alongside artist Humberto Ramos, inker Victor Olazaba and colorist Edgar Delgado continue along with a story which might be trend setting if it weren't so problematic. The angle of Peter Parker/Spider-Man having any sort of romantic storyline with an Asian-American woman would in itself be a bit of timely diversity in a medium which can often lack it; it is a shame that Cindy Moon (a.k.a. Silk) is practically a textbook example of a "Mary Sue" (she shares all of Spidey's origins and powers, yet has no weaknesses and is instantly his true love) complete with the trappings of many Asian female stereotypes (overly sexual, dresses like a skimpy ninja, etc.). The fact that she literally wears a costume made by her own organic webbing borders on the ick factor as well. The angle of Black Cat trying to integrate herself into the underworld beyond being a mere thief or vigilante is itself sound (even if DC Comics is doing the exact same thing right now with Catwoman in "Batman Eternal"). Unfortunately, while her new costume finally covers her bust, her new attitude seems to run counter to much of what's been written with her for decades, instead turning her back into the unstable nutcase who teamed up with an international hit man in the 1980's. As for J. Jonah Jameson, he's shifting into being a figure on a shameless "Fox News" parody and is also playing to type so firmly that he's bordering on a self satire. The art and colors are vibrant and some of the dialogue is crisp, but after a promising return to normality, this arc seems to struggle under the weight of some of it's own self importance. The cliffhanger isn't bad, even if one can hardly imagine Marvel Comics being willing to return Spider-Man to a status quo that needed "One More Day" to be corrected seven years back. Many new characters aren't made perfect and it is possible Cindy Moon could develop into more of a fleshed out character, but instead she's quickly becoming a cautionary tale of how to get everything so wrong with new characters.
Spider-Man 2099 #2: At a time when "Amazing Spider-Man" flirts with being problematic at best, Peter David's sudden relaunch of his future based 90's spin off is surprisingly becoming the better Spider-comic. Miguel O'Hara is trapped in our modern day, which for him is his distant past, to try to protect his future grandfather and try to make sure his future still exists. However, he's trying to improve upon things in general, but in the short term he's simply trying to get a hold of living in the modern Marvel Universe. That means foiling a bank robbery by obligation and having to juggle interactions between his super, the bluntly named Tempest, and his suspicious boss, Liz Allen-Osborn. The plot is simple, but David's script succeeds on pure execution and on the charms of his lead character. Miguel's tactic of being honest about his time travel shenanigans makes for some great comedy as well as what ultimately becomes a logical way out of a jam. There are some bits about the female characters that are a bit "on the nose" - Tempest is a tempest because she's ill, and Liz seems eager to sow some wild oats - but considering this is the second issue and the ride so far has been so entertaining, David's earned some more slack on the web-line. The artwork by Will Sliney is light years ahead of some of his opening issues of "Fearless Defenders", with Antonio Fabella's colors making it pop like never before. What could have been dismissed as a standard spin off is quickly becoming another enjoyable superhero romp, much as the recent "Venom" or "Scarlet Spider" series turned out to be.
Original Sin #7: It seems to figure that one of the few mainstream Marvel crossover events which is at least succeeding in being a story unto itself that makes some comprehensible sense is also becoming one of its' lowest selling "events" in years. As the title suggests, this issue offers "Nick Fury vs. the World" as the ancient super spy of space goes to battle against almost all of the superheroes he's lied to and manipulated for years, and seems to come out on top so far. Meanwhile, more details of the Watcher's death are revealed, and the Orb continues his evolution into a major villainous force even if it is likely no writer aside for Jason Aaron will capitalize on it. Mike Deodato's art isn't quite at home for epic space action, which is odd since between this and "Secret Avengers", he's had to draw a lot of it over the years. Some panels seem to be such blatent promotions for future comics that one may as well have a Diamond order number included in an editorial note below them. The criss cross between past and present events can be a bit confusing, but compared to series like "Age of Ultron", "Avengers vs. X-Men" or "Fear Itself", the fact that this story even borders on competence says a lot about it, and the state of most crossover events in general.