Let’s Talk Turtles #2: Abusers and Mutants and Aliens, Oh My

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In IDW’s first year of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the family came together despite opposition from Baxter Stockman, the cocky scientist whose experiments led to their mutation; Old Hob, the mutant alley cat Stockman tasked with tracking them down; and the Foot Clan, whose leader the Shredder murdered Splinter and his children’s previous incarnations back in feudal Japan. The second year begins with the family back together and living above April’s Second Time Around Shop, musing over their recent battles and wondering what’s coming next. For this post let’s take a look at their adventures in NYC during year one’s fallout, as the family’s status quo shifts a bit and new threats arise.

Sins of the Fathers

Casey Jones (Microseries #6): Story by Mike Costa & Ben Epstein, art by Mike Henderson, colors by Ian Herring, letters by Shawn Lee

The original Mirage microseries only went four issues, one for each turtle, but IDW’s take runs for eight. Year two of IDW’s TMNT begins with a spotlight on Casey, “the fifth turtle,” and goes into detail on his relationship with his parents. Through a series of flashbacks we learn that Casey’s father Arnold wasn’t always such a drunken waste of human life; his current bout of alcoholism seems to have begun when Casey’s mother turned terminal, and presumably it’s only after she died that Arnold began beating Casey up on a regular basis. Before she died, Casey’s mother made him promise to look after Arnold, a weak person at heart, and “let him feel strong,” which Casey apparently took to mean “Don’t fight back when your dad regularly beats the crap out of you.”

Not sure that's what she meant.

The present day side of the story picks up maybe a week after the battle between the Turtle family and the Foot in #12. A bookie named Blake shows up looking for money from his old friend Arnold, who hands over a golden hockey stick charm that once belonged to Casey’s mother. But that’s not enough to square the debt, and Blake gives Arnold 48 hours to come up with the rest. Knowing his father’s no good for the money, Casey enlists Raph’s help the following night and they head on down to the Skara Brae, a bar we’ll be seeing plenty more of in future issues. The pair does some recon, then tangles with Blake and his goons in the alley outside. Casey takes back the charm and threatens Blake to leave Arnold Jones alone in the future. When Casey returns home, Arnold’s drunk as usual and goes to town on his son for his “smart mouth.” Battered and bleeding, Casey limps his way to the Second Time Around Shop, where he interrupts the turtles’ game of Twister and collapses on the floor, still clutching the charm he took from Blake.

Beneath the sci-fi veneer TMNT has long been a story about family above all else, and the Casey micro is a strong lead-in to the second year’s first arc, which is all about relationships within the turtle family and among the various antagonists. It’s interesting how different this Casey is from the original Mirage version. In Mirage’s TMNT, Casey was older, living on his own, and decided to become a vigilante after watching too many bad TV shows about the mean streets. That Casey was missing a few screws and, at least early on, seems to do as much harm as good. And then of course there’s the Fred Wolf Casey Jones, who makes the Mirage version look positively sane (but I do love the bad Dirty Harry impression his VA does). IDW’s Casey is a college kid trying to do as his dead mother wanted, and though he goes out cracking criminal heads to blow steam between beatings from his father most of the character’s classic mania is absent (at least this early in the story). But I wonder if Casey’s going to remain so innocent forever; he has an even rougher time of it come “City Fall” and afterward, and something tells me the Casey we see here in the book’s early years isn’t the Casey we’re going to have around forever.

TMNT #13-14: Story by Kevin Eastman & Tom Waltz, art by Andy Kuhn, colors by Ronda Pattison, letters by Shawn Lee

Picking up where Casey’s micro left off, the turtles are playing a game of Twister Shapester and discussing the aftermath of the battle with Shredder when Casey comes through the door, wounded by his father. Enraged, Raph races off to deal with Arnold, and Splinter interrupts his quiet meditations on the coming war to go after him while April, Mikey, Leo and Don see to Casey’s hurts. Meanwhile we get a peek inside our two main villain camps. Frustrated at being constantly tested by Shredder, Karai complains that she was the one who rebuilt the Foot Clan, led and shaped them, even brought Shredder back in the present, but Shredder berates her and swiftly kicks her ass. He declares he needs a new second-in-command (the term “chunin” will pop up plenty in future issues). On Burnow Island, Baxter Stockman awakens with a monster headache after Krang drugged him in #12. He slips past the rock soldiers patrolling the halls and discovers one of General Krang’s secrets.

stockmaninteresting

Raph busts into the Jones house and throws Arnold around, but Splinter shows up before Raph can kill him. Splinter surprises Raph by putting a sai to Arnold’s throat himself; he tells Raph about his own problems with anger, recounting info from the Splinter micro. Finally he announces he’s sparing Arnold, but Casey Jones will be living with the turtles from now on. Back at the Second Time Around Shop, Splinter calls a family meeting and announces the Destroy Shredder Manifesto: though he has taught his sons to spare life whenever possible, Splinter believes killing the Shredder is the only way to keep his family safe. For Shredder’s part, he announces to Karai that he’s decided on a suitable replacement for her: Leonardo.

Elsewhere, Baxter Stockman has a talk with Krang, who explains that he and the survivors of the dead world Utrominon in Dimension X are camped on Earth’s Burnow Island. Krang’s father Quanin had imperial aspirations that led to his culture’s annihilation, and now Krang is using what’s left of their military might to gather the resources necessary to restore his species. Before he can go into detail Neutrino militants attack the base through a portal to Dimension X, but Krang and stone soldiers Tragg & Granitor wipe them out quickly. To finish the grand tour Krang shows off the reason he kidnapped Baxter, a little project in need of his talents that fans of the Fred Wolf cartoon will recognize.

technodrome

This is our semi-breather arc after all the craziness at the end of the first year. The TMNT side of the story is mostly about fallout from #12 and establishing the new status quo of Casey living with the turtles and Splinter. We also get our first real villain POV for the Foot with Shredder and Karai’s conflict setting up pins that will be knocked down in “City Fall” almost a year down the line–otherwise Shredder and his gang are going to take a backseat in the narrative until the “Secret History of the Foot Clan” miniseries. The major contribution of these issues is filling in Krang’s motives; we’re going to be seeing more of him (and those Neutrinos) in the book’s second year, and the threat of the Technodrome will draw nearer as the book goes on. I know I’m not the only one excited for the issue when Krang fires her up at long last; my face split into a crazy grin the first time I read that splash page.

With a new year comes a new artist; Dan Duncan’s departure after #12 means the book spends its second year looking for a new permanent artist. #13-16 mark Andy Kuhn’s time on pencils. I have mixed feelings about Kuhn’s work, as I mentioned in regard to the Michelangelo micro. His humans are interesting and his versions of Karai and Baxter are among my favorites, but his turtles are misshapen buck-toothed messes and when it’s their book that just doesn’t cut it. Kuhn’s later work on “Utrom Empire” plays more to his strengths and gives a great visual nod back to these issues, and I’d like to see the guy getting work on side-stories… but I feel these four issues of year two were plenty for the main line.

TMNT Annual 2012: Story & art by Kevin Eastman, letters by Robbie Robbins & Shawn Lee

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Hell, I’m not going to try summarizing this one much because it’s something of a confusing mess for no good reason. Basically: Raph and Casey are messing around by the Skara Brae bar in Casey’s old neighborhood when a big kerfuffle goes down between the Foot, the Savate, the Purple Dragons and a whole host of ancillary characters who are hard to tell apart from each other thanks to the muddy black and white art, and all over a suitcase full of diamonds. The takeaway is that the old Savate boss Fabrice goes to jail and his second-in-command Victor takes over–we’ll see more of Victor next year. We also get a little more Angel and the ancillary characters here play into her background… but man can it be hard to read.

I hate to say it considering Kevin Eastman’s one of TMNT’s creators and a legend in his own right, but if the IDW universe has a stinker of an issue, this is it. Crafted on duo tone paper in reference to the old Mirage issues, this book suffers major readability problems thanks to the lack of color and the way Eastman’s drawing style makes so many of the new human characters look similar. Not only that, the narrative jumps around–five minutes earlier this, five minutes earlier that–so on page after page you’re left wondering what the hell you’re looking at, who’s talking to whom and why you care. I had to read it a couple times just to understand what was going on, and I skip this one on re-reads. At least the nods to Frank Miller and Richard Corben are cute. Let’s move on.

Blood Brothers

April (Microseries #7): Script by Barbara Randall Kesel, art by Marley Zarcone, colors by Heather Breckel, letters by Shawn Lee

(Ignore what it says inside the cover, editor Bobby Curnow later decided this issue fits better as a prologue to “Blood Brothers” than coming before “Sins of the Fathers.”)

The April one-shot leads into the next arc. April is still adjusting to having the turtles in her life, and though she finds their existence scientifically fascinating, she’s also feeling morally responsible for them given her work at Stockgen and the fact that she named them (as seen in a flashback in #1). Perhaps to ease her conscience or just to feel useful, April does some spying at Stockgen and locates another of the turtle trackers seen in the Donatello one-shot. She steals an ID from a scientist farther up Stockgen’s corporate ladder and disrupts coworker Chet’s experiments in order to cause a distraction so she can nab the tracker. In doing so, she inadvertently frees another of Stockgen’s test subjects, also a turtle, which escapes later that night while April returns to complete her mission. Thing is, this mutant turtle isn’t quite so friendly, as we’ll learn in the next couple issues.

aprilslash

As a significant character in Turtles lore, April has been portrayed differently across iterations of the mythos. Her role in IDW as a scientist working for Baxter Stockman harkens back to her similar role in Mirage, and the 2k3 cartoon series used the same origin. Likewise, her story in IDW (like 2k3) largely follows Mirage’s outline: after the turtles meet April and their sewer lair is destroyed, the brothers move into the apartment above her antique shop until the Foot attack and she flees with them to Northampton; when the group returns to New York the turtles move out but April remains in their lives as the big sister of the family. It was the Fred Wolf cartoon that made April a reporter, and in those stories she mostly functioned as the damsel in distress. (Thus the line in Turtles Forever: “We save April at least once a day, you can set your watch by it!”) Archie’s TMNTA kept the reporter angle but let April go freelance and had her train in ninjitsu under Splinter so she could jump into the fray when the action started. That April had her own mini-series, love interests, even a Japanese camerawoman sidekick named Oyuki; she’s probably the most unique of Aprils across TMNT media. The Nickelodeon series turned April into a teenager, and in that universe she’s a human-Kraang hybrid… which still isn’t as weird as the Mirage Vol. 4 story where it turns out April’s always been a sentient drawing created by the man who raised her. The 2014 movie sloppily combines these heritages by making April a reporter whose father had ties to Baxter Stockman Oroku Saki Eric Sacks, who created the turtles when April was a little girl, and by making April the person who dumped Splinter and the turtles into the sewer pre-mutation.

IDW’s April got a fair amount of page-time in the first year of the run, but up till now she hasn’t actually done much–we’ve mostly followed her through the odd coincidences of her life that leave her wrapped up with the rest of the cast. But here we get to see April pro-active, and between Kesel & Zarcone we get a great character piece that ties into the ongoing story. One thing we already know about IDW April is she’s sharp as a tack, and that intelligence is on display multiple times in this issue: the way April distracts Chet by making him look clumsy, her use of the environment to escape one of Krang’s stone soldiers, hiding in the hazmat suit while security runs by to make her escape. That’s not just in the script, either; the way Zarcone draws April, her expressions and her POV shots, drives home that April’s motivated, creative and resourceful. (And Zarcone draws a gorgeous April too, up there with Allan’s version in later TMNTA issues. But then I have a thing for redheads… probably in part from growing up with April’s earlier incarnations.)

aprilplan

The B-plot of this issue involves the mutant turtle Slash’s escape from Stockgen, and the coming arc explores the fallout of that development. I like that Slash took the plastic palm tree from his old bowl in this micro, which is a nod to his “binky” from the Fred Wolf and Archie universes; I haven’t noticed the tree coming up again in IDW again thus far. In retrospect the palm tree air freshener in April’s van at the beginning of this issue is a similar hint at where the story’s going. But if we’re going to talk about Slash we might as well get to…

TMNT #15-16: Story by Kevin Eastman & Tom Waltz, art by Andy Kuhn, colors by Ronda Pattison, letters by Shawn Lee

The opening of #15 gives us a quick history on Slash, pre- and post-mutation, beginning 14 months back in the story. After the Foot broke in and attempted to steal Stockgen’s research materials, which resulted in the mutation of the turtle family and Hob as told in #1, Baxter Stockman tasked employees Chet and Lindsey with repeating that accidental success. Chet drugs Hob one day and draws a blood sample, which then goes into “specimen 6,” a feisty snapping turtle. Over the following months Slash’s mutation certainly takes, but Hob’s blood has provided an impure sample (remember, Hob was mutated after the mutagen and psychotropic compound splashed all over a filthy NYC alley) and as such Slash has “a huge body and a tiny brain,” in the words of a Stockgen security worker tasked with putting the mutant down during his repeated freak-outs.

Fast forward and it’s been two weeks since Slash escaped in the April micro, and his psychological programming is kicking in–he’s hunting the turtles. The story picks up with the turtles watching from the rooftops as the NYPD picks over the latest scene of an attack by a “big green lizard monster.” As the turtles move on they argue about the Destroy Shredder Manifesto, and Raph is antsy that he’s going to miss the first hockey game Casey’s been able to play in since April’s tutoring helped get his grades back up, but they all seem to agree they need a new lair, and Don thinks he knows just the place. The bros take a moment to stop a mugging, only to have the would-be victim run off yelling about Slash Monsters, and the turtles continue on their way, unaware the real Slash is hot on their trail.

Meanwhile, Splinter cooks dinner and watches soap operas, and April and Casey survey Slash’s damage to the van.

splintersoaps

Don leads the other turtles inside an abandoned, decrepit church with one hell of a bomb shelter hidden beneath it, and despite some initial trepidation the place quickly becomes a hit with the boys. Just one problem: Slash follows the turtles down through the bomb shelter to the sewer access beneath and launches an ambush in the dark. A desperate fight follows, and though the bros attempt to work together and employ different strategies, it’s obvious they’re simply outmatched by Slash’s simple brute strength. Don and Raph want to use lethal force; Mikey preaches pacifism; Leo does his best to reason with Slash–nothing works. When Casey and April arrive on the scene looking for the turtles, Slash charges and Leo accidentally stabs him through the shoulder with a katana. Slash falls into the sewer water and washes away, presumably mortally wounded.

slashstabbed

Thinking the threat from Slash is gone, the turtle family moves into the bomb shelter the next day. Leonardo goes off by himself to meditate and deal with his guilt, and Mikey discovers his pizza-providing human friend Woody, a victim of the recent Slash attacks, is happy to keep the pies coming but doesn’t want to see Mikey face-to-face anymore. Meanwhile the villains are busy too–Baxter Stockman is still working on the Technodrome project and watches Krang give a speech to his army of human and rock soldier followers about a coming assault on the Neutrino capitol, Smada City… and it turns out Slash is not only alive, but about to make a fateful new friend in another mutant who’s not quite as dead as others assumed.

hobrevealSo… Slash! I didn’t expect to see him show up so soon in this book, but he’s become one of IDW’s most interesting secondary characters, and this short arc does a hell of a job setting him up. I have vague memories of Slash from the Fred Wolf cartoon, but the bulk of my nostalgia for the character comes from TMNTA, where he first appeared as a prisoner exiled to the toxic waste world Morbus for being a berserker after his palm tree-rich homeworld was destroyed. Archie!Slash came to Earth with Krang for a storyline, then promptly disappeared from the narrative for a while until popping up again in the final issue of Mighty Mutanimals and making friends with the titular team, only to later go out suicide-crashing Maligna’s hiveworld into the sun at the end of TMNTA’s “Terracide” to avenge them. Likewise, IDW’s Slash appears as a villain in his first appearance, but his allegiances are going to become more complicated as the book goes on. Also due to change is his level of intelligence. Notice how Slash’s thoughts and words are communicated through black boxes and bubbles with white lettering across his appearances–it makes him unique and somehow more alien and threatening, and there’s a great pay-off later in the run when that format changes. On rereads it also stands out to me how Mikey immediately speaks up for Slash in this issue–it’s great foreshadowing for the way Slash and Mikey’s friendship develops later on. Of course the most immediate fallout from Slash’s defeat is Leo’s guilt over the matter, and it’s worth noticing that he keeps Slash’s black mask at the end of this arc. These hooks will play out in “City Fall,” a couple more arcs down the line.

Speaking of foreshadowing what’s to come, that vial of Splinter’s blood that Hob is holding in the final panel of #16 is a big deal. Gods was I glad to see Hob wasn’t dead the first time I read #16–it would have been such a waste. As more recent issues have made clear, Hob has a major beef with humanity and he’s serious about building a “Mighty Mutant Army” (heh) and taking the world for his kind. Slash is his first recruit and right-hand man. The writers make it clear that mutagen isn’t all it takes to make a mutant like the turtles or Hob–the separate psychotropic serum is what provides mental stability to go along with the physical growth, and much of the plot in the first year revolved around Baxter trying to capture Splinter because the turtles’ father (a literal lab rat) was the only specimen to get the compound in its pure form before the alleyway accident. It seems Hob nabbed some of Splinter’s blood back in “Shadows of the Past,” which means he has a leg up over Stockgen on making future mutants. And as current readers know, it’s only a matter of time before he starts doing just that…

(But first, isn’t it time all this build-up with Krang amounted to something? Here we are a year and a half into the run and the turtles still haven’t met him face-to-brain, but that’s about to change. I’ll get to “Krang War” and the related issues in LTT#3.)

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