Despite being one of IDW Publishing’s best selling lines of licensed comics, the current “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” ongoing series seems to get far less critical attention compared to some of the other titles under IDW’s umbrella. Their “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe” comics, for instance, tend to benefit from regular reviews on lofty websites such as Comic Book Resources. Yet it is their TMNT line which appears to be among their best selling as well as most consistently terrific lines within their entire company. Elegantly and seemingly effortlessly managing to combine nostalgia with innovation, writers Tom Waltz, (franchise co-creator) Kevin Eastman, and (editor) Bobby Curnow have spent almost five years crafting what may be the most inclusive and fascinating recreation of the saga put to any medium. Reunited with artist Mateus Santolouco (who has become the lead artist and character designer for the series) alongside their stalwart colorist Ronda Pattison, this month’s installment succeeds by doing what the series has always done. It offers consistent quality storytelling in which all actions have consequences and virtually any character from any incarnation of the series – such as the 1987 cartoon, the 2003 cartoon or even creations from the time when the Turtles were being published by Archie Comics – is fair game for reintroduction and interpretation.
As the cover suggests to virtually any Ninja Turtle fan worth their bandanna, Leatherhead the adult mutant gator makes his long awaited appearance within this series. Created in 1988’s “Tales of the TMNT #6” by Ryan Brown, he underwent a drastic (and arguably stereotypical) recreation in the animated series of the time soon after. Therefore in the minds of the public there seem to be two versions of the character which are more common; the original version which is calm and intelligent albeit struggling with a sporadic temper, and the trash talking, heat wearing Cajun cliche from the animated series (and some classic video games). The version which is introduced in this series is closer to the former than the latter. Yet he’s hardly the only iconic character who is formally introduced within this issue!
Ever since the extra sized fiftieth issue, the four titular Turtles haven’t spent much time with each other. This is specifically due to Splinter’s decision to take over running the Foot Clan after Shredder’s defeat, which led to Michelangelo leaving his brothers in disgust. Always the most innocently moral of the group, he’s had a hard time adjusting and finding his place in the world alone or with any other group. But, at the end of the last issue, his brothers returned and offered a reunion for a trip to Burnow Island on behalf of their allies Harold Lillja and the Fugitoid. The former stronghold of general Krang since the 18th century, it was where he built his army and constructed his “Technodrome” for the purpose of terra-forming the Earth to be more suitable for his Utrom race. Although the Turtles defeated Krang and delivered him to inter-dimensional justice, the shadows of his war machine and efforts remain. Now it seems that the entire island is quickly becoming inhospitable for earthlings at the same time as the few surviving Utroms which Krang had in stasis are at risk of dying, and the Fugitoid needs help to revive them. In addition, he’s also made a bargain with the mysterious Leatherhead. Partly responsible for saving Donatello’s life last year, he’s either a misunderstood monster or a shifty character who plays at manipulation better than he implies. Unfortunately, he’s not the only leftover secret of the island; two figures seem to be lashing out for the sake of survival (or revenge), and one of the sleeping Utroms is revealed as one of Krang’s “deadliest warriors”. One vicious attack makes for a very dramatic (and brutal) last page cliffhanger. Meanwhile, Kitsune and the Rat King have an interesting meeting as Splinter seeks to test his wayward ninja, Jennika.
While this issue may serve as an introduction to Leatherhead (and features a lot of exposition about his origins), Waltz and Eastman shine by showcasing the variety of their characters. Raphael is the most suspicious, while Donatello is always curious about anything involving advanced technology or aliens. Leonardo is there to oversee things and ensure the aiding of innocents, and Mikey is just happy to be having a long missed adventure with his brothers again. Having formed a critical bond of friendship with the similarly misunderstood Slash, Mikey seems to be the first Turtle who offers an olive branch to the very verbose Leatherhead. The two mysterious strangers on the island are likely two of Krang’s leftover “stone soldiers”, who were genetically modified by experiments undertaken by Baxtor Stockman (back when he worked for Krang). Leatherhead himself has a very intelligent air to him, akin to Beast from the X-Men, and his redesign by Santolouco is simply magnificent.
Yet a figure who is arguably a bigger deal is Chr’ell, who is introduced as one of Krang’s deadly generals and seemingly the only one of the surviving Utroms who is a warrior. He was the central villain for much of the 2003 era “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” produced by 4Kids Entertainment for at least half of its run. Overseen by franchise co-creator Peter Laird, that series created an original Utrom character and had him fill the role of the Shredder for four seasons, making for a very original and effective twist (and the first truly accurate adaptation of the Shredder to animation). Considering that Krang was wholly a creation of the 1987 cartoon (even if he was based on the Utroms from the original Mirage Comics), Ch’rell was the first depiction of such a creature who was a genuine villain and never played for laughs. When Waltz and Eastman went whole hog on Krang for this series, making him the evil warlord of the Utrom alien race, it seemed unlikely that Ch’rell would appear. However, as Tom Waltz, Bobby Curnow and Kevin Eastman are showing no signs of slowing down despite having their run surpass fifty issues, it stands to reason that they will need new villains and threats for their leads to face without merely relying on the same two figures endlessly. He’s hardly the first fixture from the early 21st century cartoon to make the cut for this series; Hun, Angel, Agent Bishop, and Darius Dunn have all made the leap into this series as well. Considering that both Krang and Oroku Saki are off the table for the moment, it may stand to reason that Ch’rell could retake his identity as the Shredder at some point later on.
Ultimately, this is another issue of an excellent serialized comic book. It may be the start of an arc, but it also embellishes the ramifications of previous arcs and lays in a lot of pipe for stories for the next year to come (if not longer). For so many years, IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has proven to be a genuinely great franchise comic on every level, and deserves to earn more sales and accolades than it does. Anyone who has ever been a fan of the heroes in a half shell who isn’t already engrossed with this series need to grab some trades or digital issues and catch up, pronto! As awesome as the series has been so far, the best may still truly be to come!
Below is a belated honorable mention. “Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” may be the best that her majesty’s secret service can offer, but he can’t overcome Turtle power this week!
James Bond #5: This incredible mini series by Warren Ellis, Jason Masters, and colorist Guy Major reaches its penultimate issue with this explosive installment. Having been left in a deathtrap by the psychotic technological tycoon Slaven Kurjak, Bond has only seconds to use his surroundings to his advantage to survive before he is burned alive. Thankfully, Bond has as good a talent for escaping certain death as he does with luring in beautiful women. Finally managing to report his findings to his superiors at MI6, what began as a near routine investigation involving a lethal strain of drugs hitting London has turned into a full scale investigation involving an international megalomaniac who specializes in biological weapons – both as drugs and in people. Bond gets another look at Kurjak’s handiwork when he has a second showdown with the cybernetic Dharma Reach, who has sworn to avenge the man that Bond slew last issue. As with every issue, the flow of the action scenes are extraordinary as Ellis not only finds an excellently timeless voice and depiction of the iconic spy, but also the world around him. He’s managed to take elements from the novels and combine them with innovations from the recent films to craft something new for fans of both. The art is simple yet detailed enough to craft a realistic (but not “hyper realistic”) surroundings around Bond, and gives the action a quality akin to film storyboards. It would be a shame if the next issue is the last, as Dynamite Entertainment have seemed to crack the riddle of how to make the world’s most famous spy work in comic books.