Let’s talk Turtles

Specifically, the teenage, mutated and/or ninja variety. And even more specifically, the IDW universe’s spin on the TMNT.

The gang's all here.

My obsession with the Turtles goes back to elementary school. Like most 80’s kids, I came into the fandom thanks to the Fred Wolf cartoon and only later went on to discover the comics that were the series roots. My first exposure to Eastman & Laird’s original Mirage universe came through a copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness that got passed around the classroom; as memory serves, that might have been my first exposure to tabletop gaming too. Not long after I stumbled across some issues of the Archie-published series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, at a fellow Cub Scout’s house, and I wound up subscribing and following that series for years–not going to lie, Steve “Dean Clarrain” Murphy probably gets some of the credit/blame for my interests in nature and world religions. Once I’d grown up a bit more I began tracking down copies of the original black and white TMNT books and its spin-off, Tales of the TMNT. My fandom has endured–one of the crowning achievements of the time I spent living in Portland was finally beating the arcade game at Ground Kontrol. I ate plenty of Turtle Pies in the 80’s. Hell, I have all four brothers standing watch over my bookcase in action figure form. One of these days I’m going to get black suit Raph tattooed somewhere on my corporeal form. Suffice to say I love me some Turtles. When I walked into Floating World Comics a few years back and saw issues from a brand new Turtles series on the shelves–with original creator Kevin Eastman on board at that–I damn near peed myself.

Now here we are about three years in and the book’s running strong; the IDW universe has firmly established itself not just as a worthy follow-up to what’s come before, but as what may possibly be (in my thoroughly biased opinion) the best iteration of the mythos. Like a greatest hits album with plenty of great new tracks included on the disc, the IDW TMNT book weaves together characters and themes from 30 years of Turtles history while putting its own spin on the backstory and bringing in interesting new characters. (Particularly mutant alley cat Old Hob, who functions like this Turtle universe’s Magneto… how is this a character previous Turtle universes never explored before?) Though TMNT is one of IDW’s top sellers, however, it’s not published by the Big Two (DC and Marvel), which means its exposure is limited and there may still be old fans missing out. And well, I just re-read what’s published thus far of the series for the third or fourth time since it began and want an excuse to gush. So let me catch you up on the comic you should be reading, Turtles fans. And if you’ve already been reading you know we just finished “City Fall” and its coda “Northampton,” a massive set of storylines full of character development, and it’s a good time for a little review before the boys head back to (Return To?) New York.

For today let’s take a look at the book’s first year, a story arc at a time. When it comes to the various one-shot issues I’ll include them where they go in chronological reading order.

Change Is Constant

TMNT #1-4: Story by Kevin Eastman & Tom Waltz, art by Dan Duncan, colors by Ronda Pattison

If you want to jump into this series further on, I’d probably suggest starting with the “Secret History of the Foot Clan” mini-series, which served as a prologue to “City Fall.” But there’s no reason to skip these early issues–this first arc just works. Besides, the continuity has been extremely tight from day one, with current issues still building on stories and themes established in the first arc. Trust me, this is a comic you want to read from the beginning to get the most from every issue. These first four volumes, released before IDW began putting out “micro series” issues on the side, works double-time to familiarize new readers with Turtles lore while mixing things up a bit to keep it fresh for we long-time fans.

(Also a quick note: editor Bobby Curnow doesn’t get credit for any writing on these early books, but interviews and the letter column make it clear he’s a major part of the writing team and has been since the beginning.)

So it begins.

Any 80’s kid probably already knows the basics of the Turtles’ origin: four baby turtles and a rat accidentally wind up bathed in mutagen, a weird alien ooze that causes them to mutate into anthropomorphic forms while also increasing their intelligence. The IDW telling throws a few curve balls, weaving a number of common Turtle universe threads into the origin tale. The rat (Splinter) and the turtles (Raphael, Leonardo, Donatello and Michelangelo) are test subjects at Stockgen, a lab run by tech mogul Baxter Stockman; April O’Neil, an intern earning college credit for her work at Stockgen, names the turtles while studying for a final. The ooze comes courtesy of the enigmatic and ruthless General Krang, who hired Stockman to create an army of supersoldiers, and the accident that results in Splinter and his sons mutating occurs when a group of Foot Clan ninja try to steal the mutagen and test animals. During the break-in Splinter, the test subject for an intelligence-enhancing psychotropic compound even before his mutation, acts to protect April, and his intervention with the Foot ninja as they flee outside leads to the familiar accident of origin. But while Splinter, Leo, Don and Mikey escape to the sewers to begin their new lives in hiding, the intervention of an alley cat called Old Hob separates Raph from the rest of the family. Like Splinter and the turtles, Old Hob is mutated during the accident, a new twist on the old origin story.

When the book begins, Raph has been wandering the streets of New York alone for the past 14 months while the rest of the family searches for him, and Old Hob is working to track the family down for Baxter Stockman so they can be returned to the lab. The origin tale is told in flashbacks scattered across the first few issues. Splinter has the three sons he kept track of, all in the classic red bandanas, searching for their lost brother–whose existence Don is beginning to doubt. Meanwhile, Raph intervenes in a domestic dispute between an alcoholic father and his son, Casey Jones, making his first friend. The two bond over beating up thugs on the streets to vent their respective stocks of steam… to mixed results.

Didn't think that one through.

These would-be heroics attract attention, and soon Raph and Casey wind up surrounded by Hob’s gang in a park. This being a superhero comic, it happens that the other turtles are in the neighborhood looking for their lost brother, and after some ass-kicking the family gets their long-delayed reunion. The fourth issue, and our first story arc, ends with Raph returned to the fold and our status quo for the first year of the book established.

Looking back, this first arc is a quick but solid read. The main story of Raph & Casey patrolling the streets while the other turtles hunt for their brother is pretty basic, as is the resulting showdown with Old Hob, but the B-plot at Stockgen hints at plenty of depth to come (and trust me, the series delivers on all the foreshadowing, especially in the second year). This is easily my favorite Baxter Stockman; brilliant, suave and cocky, he’d be a great role for Will Smith if they ever decided to make a good TMNT movie again (you know, non-Michael Bay). I love the nod to the Mirage books by including the red bandanas in this first arc (if you grew up on the cartoons, you may not know that having unique colors on each turtle was a Fred Wolf invention, though that change has been aped in every iteration since). We also get April as a scientist again, which goes back to her roots; she originally appeared in Mirage’s TMNT #2 as Baxter’s lab assistant (again, the whole reporter thing was a change for the cartoon–though this version does seem to share Fred Wolf April’s love of yellow clothes). It’ll be some time before April meets the turtles, which makes Casey their first human friend, and this is a big change for the series, but it’s a change that works; Casey quickly becomes “the fifth turtle” of the series, jumping into frays alongside the brothers.

Though there are artists who work on the book later whom I prefer, I can’t complain about Dan Duncan’s pencils on the first year of the run. He has a talent for portraying movement and action in his panels, and he nails Old Hob’s character design right from the beginning. Something about Duncan’s art lends TMNT that indie comic vibe–and, well, the Turtles are probably the most successful indie comic license of all time. Until Peter Laird sold the rights to Nickelodeon in 2009, the Turtles and Mirage Studios were owned by the original creator(s) since their inception in 1984. To be honest I prefer the way Duncan draws the mutants to his human characters–April in particular seems a bit off in a few panels to me, though it’s probably more a matter of personal taste than anything. But you can really read the emotion on the faces Duncan draws, and that bit of visual storytelling goes a long way sometimes.

Enemies Old, Enemies New

TMNT #5: Story by Kevin Eastman & Tom Waltz, art by Dan Duncan (present day New York) & Mateus Santolouco (feudal Japan), colors by Ronda Pattison

Though technically the beginning of the next arc thanks mostly to the demands of trade printing cycles, #5 wraps up the origin story, explaining how Splinter managed to train his sons in ninjitsu in just over a year and why Raph takes to it so quickly after having just been reunited with the rest of the family. This issue also serves to firm up the Turtle family’s connections to the Foot Clan, a constant feature of series lore. The way the writers pull that off makes this one of the more controversial issues of the series and sets this version of the Turtles apart from previous universes. In a word: reincarnation.

Shredder doesn't fuck around.

The framing story for this issue has Splinter evading Old Hob’s thugs while he returns home with a bundle of gifts for his sons. As Splinter plays Solid Snake across modern New York’s rooftops and alleys, he recalls his past life as Hamato Yoshi, a chunin of the Foot Clan in feudal Japan. Yoshi’s wife, Tang Shen, was girlfriend-in-the-fridged by assassins under orders from Oroku Saki, a longtime rival who seized power over the Foot (a story told later in more detail in “Secret History of the Foot Clan”). Instead of charging off on a mission of vengeance, Yoshi honors his dying wife’s wishes and takes their four young sons into hiding; he then spends the next decade or so training them in his clan’s arts. Unfortunately, Saki’s agents eventually locate the family, and Yoshi watches helplessly as the Foot executes his teenage sons before losing his own life. Once Splinter returns home, he relates his story to his sons and gives them each gifts–bandanas in each son’s favorite color for Leo, Mikey and Don, and a pair of sai for Raph. Meanwhile, Casey learns he’s to be cut from the college hockey team–and will thus lose his scholarship–if he doesn’t get his grades up, and April posts an offer for tutoring in exchange for self defense lessons. We can all see where this is going, right?

Oh, and neat bit of trivia: this issue makes it clear that Leo’s the oldest, followed by Don and Raph, with Mikey the youngest of the bros.

When this issue came out there were a few complaints… most of which seem petty to me. If anything I’d consider this the first truly great issue of the run and looking back still one of the book’s highlights. For starters, Mateus Santolouco’s art is gorgeous; he becomes the main artist on the book from #22 on, and his issues are always stellar. The obvious major issue of contention is the reincarnation plot, but… well, why is that a problem? This is a story about a mutant ninja clan living in the sewers who fights against aliens, other mutants/ninja and the occasional elder god. The idea that they’re a reincarnated family from feudal Japan doesn’t feel like much of a stretch to me. If anything, it ties into what I’ve always felt is one of the Turtle mythos’ greatest strengths, the emphasis on the familial bond between the brothers and their father (who, for the first time with this universe, is literally their father and not just an adoptive father figure). The reincarnation angle plays a big role in future stories too, initially as a source of conflict as the brothers argue over whether or not it could be true, and later with Leo’s memories of Tang Shen serving as a catalyst for his recovery in “City Fall” and “Northampton.” Some people also complained about the abandonment of the red masks in favor of each brother taking his now traditional color… but c’mon. It’s kind of a pain following who’s who when they’re all wearing the same color. There’s a reason the red masks have remained limited to the Mirage universe, and having them in the first arc was a fun nod whose time had passed.

 Raphael (Microseries #1): Story by Brian Lynch, art by Franco Urru, colors by Fabio Montovani

The microseries issues are a tradition carried over from the Mirage universe. Like the Mirage microseries, IDW’s line starts off with a spotlight on Raphael. But where Mirage’s Raph issue introduced the original Casey Jones, he’s been with us since the beginning of the main book in IDW, so instead this story introduces us to another of IDW’s original mutant characters: the arctic fox Alopex. Oh, and we get cameos from a couple of boneheads old school fans may recognize.

But what kind of music is "alopex?"

To sum up: Raph and Casey are running their evening patrol when they happen upon a mutant fox, Alopex, being attacked by a pair of human thugs. Once the danger is past, Alopex gives Raph a sob story about being experimented on and mutated, and Raph decides to take her home to meet Splinter… until he realizes she’s playing him like a pro. The two tangle and Alopex makes a quick getaway. Now aware someone besides Old Hob is hunting them, the turtles agree not to go out alone, and Raph tells Casey he’s part of the family from now on (a theme future issues will build on) and will be part of the turtles’ future missions. Meanwhile, our unnamed thugs (c’mon, we all know who they are) complain that they want to be mutated as well so they’ll stand a chance against the turtles in the future, and we get our first hint of modern Shredder in silhouette.

Not much to say here. This is mostly a set-up issue further hinting at the presence of the Foot in modern New York; remember, at this point the family’s been dealing exclusively with Old Hob’s gang thus far. The introduction of Alopex, whom some would call a fill-in for the Archie book’s Ninjara character (a humanoid fox who started off as a villain before becoming Raph’s love interest), is the main contribution. Solid art, solid scripting… this is a short and sweet issue that’s more promise than immediate pay-off. And boy, we’ll have to wait about two years for Bebop and Rocksteady to level up… though not gonna lie, I nerded out when I saw them here in human form.

Michelangelo (Microseries #2): Story by Brian Lynch, art by Andy Kuhn, colors by Bill Crabtree

Thus far this is the issue with the least effect on the ongoing title… though comments from the writing staff make me think that might change following “Northampton.” At the same time, Mikey’s micro, the story of him bungling his way into the middle of a New Year’s Eve caper, might be the funnest of the micro issues. I suppose that’s appropriate considering he’s the “party dude” of the bunch.

He checks out alright.

After watching a slew of New Year’s Eve flicks to research the holiday, Mikey crashes a costume party at a museum and, through a case of mistaken identity, winds up in the middle of a plot to steal the Dresden diamond. In the process he makes nice with a local cop dressed as a “cat lady,” Kara, who claims she needs the diamond as part of her investigation into a new power player in the New York underworld (presumably Shredder). My favorite part of this issue is the flashbacks to Mikey’s perceptions of his brothers and the way he uses what he’s learned from each of them to get through the night. For example, he tries to ape Don’s techno-babble when he’s expected to hack through the museum’s security system:

Bummer, I know.

Mikey is above all things the heart of the Turtle family, the emotional center of the team, and even if this issue doesn’t contribute much to the ongoing story it’s a fun yarn about Mikey being Mikey. I’m not really too crazy about Andy Kuhn’s art, but it’s not a deal-killer; I feel the same way about Kuhn I feel about Jim Lawson, which is to say I appreciate his layouts but find his drawings too blocky for my tastes. I know there there are plenty of old Mirage fans who would disagree, but hey, it’s my website.

TMNT #6: Story by Kevin Eastman & Tom Waltz, art by Dan Duncan, colors by Ronda Pattison

Back to the main series, this issue marks a few firsts: it’s the first time we get to see the brothers patrolling the streets together as a full team, it’s the first we see of another classic Turtle foe, Baxter Stockman’s Mousers (which first appeared along with their creator in Mirage’s TMNT #2), it’s the first meeting of Casey and April, and it’s the first time we see one of New York’s most powerful gangs, the Savate, in action.

Par-what?

Though #5 was technically the beginning of the arc, #6 functions more as a set-up issue for the story going forward the rest of the year. The turtles spy on a group of ninja who chase down and murder a member of the Savate, a French martial arts gang that until recently was at the top of the underworld pile. With his dying words, the Savate soldier warns the turtles that “war is coming.” When they report back to Splinter, he seems convinced the assassins were members of the Foot, as were those who infiltrated Stockgen. Meanwhile, Casey responds to April’s ad offering tutoring for self-defense lessons, and Baxter Stockman chides Old Hob for his recent failures and offers him one more chance to retrieve Splinter. To assist Hob in his mission, Stockman gives him control over an army of Mousers… though not before making Hob fight off a wave of them on his own first. Hey, dealing with narcissists is a bitch like that.

Notice that this issue falls in the middle of a number of micro-series issues. It’s essentially a one-off, dealing more with what’s to come. For those purposes it gets the job done, but it’s not the most exciting read on its own. I never really cared much about the Savate… they seem to mostly exist just to give the Foot someone to overthrow when Shredder finally makes his move in “City Fall.” But it did do my inner fanboy some good to see those Mousers.

Donatello (Microseries #3): Story by Brian Lynch, art by Valerio Schiti, colors by ScarletGothica & Ilaria Traversi

You know, since I was a kid I’ve traditionally been a Raph fan, but the IDW book’s really made a strong case for Don, and his micro is exhibit A. If I had to name one of the hero micros as my favorite, it would be this issue, hands down, and not just because it’s chock full of Turtles nostalgia. No, I think the reason I love this issue so much is it deals with one of the great potential terrors of the modern age: meeting someone you hate on the internet in real life.

My internet arch enemy!

Like Mikey, it seems Don gets tired of hiding out in the sewers all the time and he yearns to interact more with the human world. He gets some social interaction by visiting various forums on the internet under the handle Duz_Machines_84. (If you don’t get that reference, are you sure you belong here reading about the Turtles?) He even has his own “internet arch-enemy,” Kirby_Fan01 (a nod both to the Kirby in Don’s original Mirage micro and of course to the real life Jack Kirby who inspired him, co-creator of Captain America, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, among many other famous comic properties). When Don hears about a local super-science tech expo he decides to sneak in, and a genius/kook named Harold Lillja draws his attention with his anti-gravity gauntlet and cloaking device. It turns out the expo was a front for Baxter Stockman to recruit new talent to hunt down Splinter and the turtles, and Don’s initial attempts to dissuade Harold from playing ball with Stockman fall apart when the two realize they hate each other online. But Harold comes to his senses when Don convinces him Stockman is the kind of narcissistic asshole who’s already screwed him over in the past, and the two escape together… and Don gets a new sorta-friend out of the deal.

The little nostalgic touches are thick in this issue–for example, I love that Don disguises himself in public in a trenchcoat and fedora, the same way the turtles got around in the old Fred Wolf cartoon. Would it work in real life? Even if no one looks you in the face in New York, yeah, probably not. It’s one of those areas I’m willing to suspend my disbelief in a story about mutant turtles and evil alien overlords. Beyond the nostalgia, this one-shot contributed plenty to the mythos of the ongoing. Harold has become a recurring character and his misuse of “obstruse” when he means “obtuse” has become a running joke. Stockman’s turtle tracker technology is introduced here too, and it’s a plot point that’ll come in again in the second year. That anti-grav gauntlet and the cloaking device sure come in handy at the end of “City Fall” too. Did I say Mikey’s micro is probably the one that ties into the ongoing the least? I’d say it’s a toss-up between Raph and Don on whose micro played into the ongoing the most, and I might give the edge to Don.

By the way, can we have Valerio Schiti do another project on the book in the future? Please?

Infestation 2: TMNT #1-2: Story by Tristan Jones, art by Mark Torres, colors by Jay Fotos

The Infestation books were a cross-universe event IDW ran where the Cthulhu mythos crept into the pages of the likes of TMNT, Ghostbusters and the Transformers. Seeing as they’re fairly Don-centric and this is the point in the ongoing where Stockman and Old Hob are trying to find the Turtle Lair in the sewers, this feels like the right spot for them chronologically. You could just argue these issues fall outside continuity… but why? They’re fun and serve to give Don a little more development. And who doesn’t like a little unspeakable horror that will drive you mad mixed in with your sci-fi ninja saga?

Gross.

It seems people have been disappearing lately and some kind of horrible monstrosity was recently killed while trying to drag a woman into an outlet by the east river. Don finds a number of coincidences pointing back to events in Dunwich, Massachusetts, early last century, and if you’ve ever played Call of Cthulhu you should already have a good idea what comes next. Led by Don’s studies into occult lore, the turtles discover a cult attempting to revive Shub Niggurath beneath New York City and put a stop to the designs of the menacing elder god/giant mushroom (depending on who you ask).

Not much else to say on this one… it’s appropriately dark and moody, and while Mark Torres’ art again has that whole blocky look to it that I’m never too crazy about, it works pretty well in this context. Consider this a good pair of issues to pull out around Halloween (even if it’s late winter in continuity). This story would have felt at home in Tales of the TMNT and nicely rounds out the first year’s string of stand-alones.

TMNT #7-8: Story by Kevin Eastman & Tom Waltz, art by Dan Duncan, colors by Ronda Pattison

And now we’re back on the major continuity train. Everything from #7 on through the end of the first year of the run happens over the course of about a day, with a few more firsts for the series along the way. In #7 we get our first look at Krang in all his Utromy glory (previously we’d just seen his robot suit) and the first appearance of Mikey’s human buddy/pizza hookup Woody. In #8 the Stockgen side of the origin story finally comes full-circle and April comes face-to-face with the turtles. But the main event in these two issues has to be the Mouser attack.

But he's a rat...

In some ways this pair of issues feels like a nod to Mirage’s TMNT #2, the issue that introduced Baxter Stockman, April O’Neil and Mousers to the Turtle lexicon; so many elements from that issue show up here at the end of the second arc, and even the fallout “rhymes,” as George Lucas might say. In this IDW telling, Krang pays a visit to Baxter Stockman and threatens him with death if Stockgen’s work on the super-soldier mutagen doesn’t pay off. Seeing as Splinter has the only uncontaminated version of the psychotropic formula in his blood, Baxter’s gambling on recovering him to salvage the project. It just so happens that Old Hob has finally located the Turtle Lair and, while Raph and Mikey are busy grabbing dinner aboveground, Leo, Don and Splinter face a mechanical assault in the sewers. Though Raph and Mikey return in time to help fight off the Mousers, Old Hob makes off with an unconscious Splinter during the chaos. Meanwhile, when April tells Casey why she wants self-defense lessons she mentions a lab rat named Splinter, and Casey puts two and two together. He leads April down to the newly wrecked Turtle Lair, where she gets her first look at the brothers… and April reacts the exact same way she reacts in almost every telling of the mythos.

The same line, every time.

Outside the obvious work of moving the first year’s plot toward its conclusion, and as focused as these issues are on the immediate threat to the Turtles’ home turf, there’s plenty of world-building going on. Mike’s pal Woody will pop up as a supporting character in a few future arcs; we see Krang waging war on the planet Neutrino in Dimension X (a nod to the Fred Wolf cartoon) and learn he’s aware of, and peeved by, the Foot Clan; we get a hint that Leo is recovering memories of his mother, Tang Shen. In a nod to Turtle lore, Splinter’s disappearance in the wake of a Mouser attack that destroys the Turtle Lair is lifted straight out of the original Mirage comics–though in the Mirage version it was the friendly Utroms, not the schemers at Stockgen, who take him in afterward. But the destruction of the sewer lair and the subsequent search for Splinter is one of those iconic TMNT stories that gets revisited in various takes on the mythos, from the original comics to the 80’s movie and onward, and this is where IDW’s take on the tale begins.

Shadows of the Past

Leonardo (Microseries #4): Story by Brian Lynch, art by Ross Campbell, colors by Jay Fotos

The final story arc of the year begins with the remaining brother’s microseries issue, and like the others, Leo’s solo IDW issue is a nod to his solo Mirage outing. Picking up where #8 left off, Leo sets out on his own to recover Splinter, but he’s accosted by a throng of Foot ninja and gets pulled into an issue-long battle that throws him off his father’s scent. Leo’s attempt to pump the Foot for information quickly turns into a running battle he can’t win, and as in the original Mirage micro, he winds up getting his butt handed to him, though it’s mostly his pride that’s wounded.

...Probably.

Looking back on this issue it strikes me how different Ross Campbell’s art is here from his later work on the “Northampton” arc in the title’s third year. That Campbell is capable of drawing in several different styles is apparent from this issue alone–Leo’s brief flashbacks to feudal Japan, mostly centered around his mother, take on a softer tone than the rest of the issue. The issue probably wouldn’t work as well if Campbell was drawing the same cutesy, cartoonish turtles we’ll see in “Northampton.” Comparing the two I actually prefer Campbell’s work on “Northampton” to this issue, even if it feels a bit too chibi to me. My favorite panels here are the close-ups when we can see Leo’s pupils and the flashbacks to Tang Shen. I think it’s the thickness of the line work here that irks me for most of the issue, and it’s telling that Campbell dropped this styling in his next outing on the book.

This issue fills the brief gap between #8 and #9, and the main contribution it makes to the mythos is Leo’s fight with an elite Foot ninja in the last few pages. That scar over his eye certainly seems distinctive, right? And he certainly sounds cocky when he says “I am… unimpressed” and casually tosses Leo off a building. It’s nice to see the Foot finally showing up in force in this Turtle comic. I like the way the Foot exist on the edge of the story for most of this first year, only to leap into prominence during the final story arc. It feels genuine in a way… they’re ninja, dammit, and while the heroes have been dickering around with Stockgen the Foot have been creeping into power mostly unnoticed. Until now, that is; the Foot and their master are about to hit the family’s radar in a big way over this arc.

TMNT #9-11: Story by Kevin Eastman & Tom Waltz, art by Dan Duncan, colors by Ronda Pattison

With Splinter missing and the Turtle Lair destroyed, things are looking grim for the family. After April’s digested the backstory a bit (and come to terms with her role in the brothers’ origin) she agrees to help Casey and the turtles break into Stockgen, the most likely place they’ll find their kidnapped father. At the same time, Baxter Stockman rides across town with Krang and his stone soldier guards, intending to make a live show of extracting the psychotropic compound from Splinter. Chet, a stuttering Stockgen scientist working on the super-soldier program who’s mostly been in the background during this first year’s run, watches over Splinter awaiting Baxter’s arrival while Old Hob taunts his captive prey, summing the situation up thus:

That's, like, your opinion, man.

He’s not altogether wrong–by the time our heroes run the gauntlet and arrive at the room in question, Splinter’s already gone, accosted by a group of Foot ninja. Turns out Chet’s a double-agent working against Stockgen’s efforts for reasons we’ll discover later in the run. The turtles, April and Casey leave empty-handed, and with the Turtle Lair destroyed, April invites the family to stay in her parents’ closed antique shop. (The Second Time Around shop and the family’s temporary residency there is another classic piece of Turtle lore originating in Mirage’s TMNT #3 and appearing in various iterations since.) Before the turtles can settle in, a local gang called the Purple Dragons hassles them, and the brawl only ends when Casey vouches for the bros to his childhood friend Angel, the gang’s leader. As luck would have it, the Purple Dragons know where the Foot are hiding out, and they agree to show Casey and the turtles where they can find their missing sensei.

Of course it’s Splinter who’s in the real hot water this arc. While everyone else is looking for him he’s taken to the Foot hideout where he meets Karai, the young second-in-command of the Foot, and Shredder finally makes his big entrance. Curious, Shredder throws a series of attackers against Splinter, first human Foot ninja and then the mutant Alopex, all of which Splinter defeats. But he refuses to kill his opponents, and as the two masters of their clan’s arts face each other down, each realizes who the other really is beneath their new identities.

Dun dun dun!

The addition of the Purple Dragons helps broaden this universe as the turtles make the switch to living aboveground; having a group of human characters who are neither primary antagonists nor necessarily allies of the turtles makes this New York feel more genuine. The Purple Dragons originate in Mirage–they’re the gang from the first pages of TMNT #1. Angel comes from Image’s TMNT Volume 3, though she didn’t appear as leader of the PD until the 2003 cartoon. If the Purple Dragon named Chun is a reference to something I’m at a loss–at first I was thinking Archie’s Warrior Dragon, except his name is Chu Hsi, not Chun–but the names Link and Malo make my Zelda fan senses tingle.

Beyond continuing to expand the cast, I love the way this story arc transforms the book as a whole–if you’re looking for the spot where the IDW book’s main plot really takes off, this is it. With the appearance of Shredder and the revelation that he’s the same (apparently immortal) man who murdered Yoshi and his sons in feudal Japan we finally get the Foot established as our primary villains; we have Casey and April both working with the turtles and quickly becoming part of the family (and April’s van even resembles the old Party Wagon… though of course she drove a similar van in Mirage’s books); we have the first inklings of the major plot thread involving Krang poking up while the Stockgen plot from the origin tale simmers down. And after a few slow issues, Dan Duncan gets to go balls-out on the art with the turtles and Casey fighting a giant Mouser in #9, a brawl with the Purple Dragons in #11 and Splinter fighting for his life against the Foot across multiple issues. And the best part is, it’s all leading up to a massive tumble to close out the first year.

Splinter (Microseries #5): Story by Erik Burnham, art by Charles Paul Wilson III, colors by Jay Fotos

…But first a quick digression to Splinter’s micro, which takes place during #11. While Splinter battles against the horde of Foot soldiers Shredder sends against him his mind wanders back to feudal Japan, an age when his old clan had some honor. In his youth Hamato Yoshi was as hot-headed as his son Raphael, but a chance encounter with Tang Shen changed his destiny. Her presence seemed to calm his anger, and with his wife by his side, Yoshi rose to chunin of the Foot. But his temper flared to life again when Oroku Saki became jonin of the Foot and began to lead the clan back down its old path of corruption. His open defiance of Saki in turn led Saki to order the death of Yoshi and his family, a sentence Tang Shen suffered years before her husband and sons. Realizing Shredder will again inevitably come after his sons (if only because they’re mutants he sees as prime for recruitment into the Foot), Splinter swears to himself that he’ll kill Saki this time around, the origin of what later gets called the “Destroy Shredder Manifesto,” an exception to his usual prohibition against lethal force.

Fuck you, Saki.

These asides to feudal Japan become more and more of a constant feature as the series continues; we’ll see much more of this era in “Secret History of the Foot Clan” in the book’s second year. Personally, I love seeing the origins of the rivalry between Yoshi and Saki in these issues… it feels like a peek at the origins of the mythos you grew up with, like the Star Wars prequels… except, you know, good. I’m not crazy about CP Wilson III’s bucktooth Splinter, but I like his soft touch on the human characters in the flashbacks; Tang Shen with her button nose is particularly cute. This issue doesn’t do much to actually move the arc toward its conclusion–again, it takes place during #11–but it gives insight to the motivations behind a major decision Splinter will announce to the family early in the second year. This characterization of Splinter, whom most of us who came into the mythos with the Fred Wolf cartoon probably think of as a calm and self-disciplined master along the lines of Yoda or Mr. Miyagi, feels like a twist on the original Mirage Splinter, who’s obsessed with vengeance to the point of raising the turtles specifically to kill Oroku Saki, leading to years of bloody conflict with the Foot. As this issue makes clear, IDW’s Splinter is a flawed man full of rage who, like Raph, had to learn to control his temper. This, too, is a theme we’ll return to early in the second year.

TMNT #12: Story by Kevin Eastman & Tom Waltz, art by Dan Duncan, colors by Ronda Pattison

The concluding issue of year one opens with the turtles, Casey and the Purple Dragons doing recon on the Foot hideout. Angel and the PD refuse to get involved for fear of Foot reprisal, so the family will be doing it alone. Speaking of alone, Splinter continues his exhausting gauntlet of battles, now facing off against Shredder himself, master to master. But the preceding battles have exhausted him (between this and the Leo micro it seems Shredder loves the old “throw my army at someone, then finish them off when they’re weak and act like it makes me the superior warrior” game), and he’s not what he once was in this mutant body–Splinter’s going to lose, and he knows it.

KO.

So it’s fortunate for Splinter it’s not Shredder’s book, eh? The turtles and Casey bust in through a window and the fight’s on. From here most of the issue’s one big brawl that’s been coming all year. Raph gets the second crack at Alopex that he’s been waiting for since she played him in his micro and Leo crosses swords with Karai for the first time, the beginning of a simmering rivalry that will come to a boil in “City Fall.” Watching the turtles fight (and Leo in particular, it seems), Shredder seems to realize they’re Hamato Yoshi’s reincarnated sons. Citing an unspecified debt to Casey, Angel breaks ranks with the PD long enough to jump in and help get Splinter away to safety, and the turtles team up to take on Shredder in a scene that borrows a bit from their rumble with Shredder in Mirage’s TMNT #1 and the original movie. Teamwork and surprise allow the turtles to temporarily overcome Shredder, and Leo does his best to drive home the message that the family’s not to be messed with… as they flee for their lives, of course.

Quip turnabout is fair play.

On the topic of quips, while the heroes flee from their sorta-victory, across town Krang lets Baxter Stockman know just how much of a complete failure he and his super-soldier research program have been. General Krang has Baxter drugged and kidnapped to work on “plan B,” but first Baxter lets Old Hob know his services will no longer be required in about the most literal way possible.

Phrasing!

(Does the stance Baxter takes in that panel remind anyone else of how 8-bit Megaman looks when he shoots?)

And so the first year closes: the threat from Stockgen is, if not completely gone, definitely lower with Baxter and Old Hob temporarily out of the picture. The threat from the Foot looms larger, but the family’s proven they can stand against Shredder and his minions… for now, at least. This issue closes with Splinter and April meeting for the first time, and April thanks Splinter for saving her life all those months ago on the night of the family’s mutation. D’awww.

Taken together, these first twelve issues and their tie-ins feel like a self-contained story, and #12 puts the cap on that nicely–though of course the following years will build on these first three arcs and pick up plenty of the story threads just hinted at in these pages. This is also the last issue with Dan Duncan on art, which further helps make these first three arcs feel congruent and self-contained, and though I do lean more toward the character designs of Ben Bates and Mateus Santolouco in the next year’s issues, he gets to go out with a well-deserved bang after doing so much to help establish the look and feel of this Turtles universe. What else can I say? Read the damn books.

Of course we’re just beginning. The next year is going to see new challenges for the family, including a story involving their bruiser of a “cousin” Slash, a trip to Dimension X where the turtles wind up in the middle of a war between Krang and the desperate residents of an alien world, and of course “Secret History of the Foot Clan,” wherein we’ll learn plenty of Shredder’s innermost secrets…

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