Saturday, October 11, 2014

Review: Tales of The TMNT #1

About 14 issues and 28 months into Mirage Publishing's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol. 4 (discussed at some length earlier this week), the publisher launched a sister title, Tales of the TMNT.

Peter Laird, who would serve as the book's editorial consultant, provided a short introductory essay on the inside front cover of the first issue. He explained how he was faced with three paths to take when relaunching TMNT—picking up where they left off with Vol. 2, starting over from scratch, or the path he ultimately took, picking up the characters' story while factoring in the time that had passed between the end of Vol. 2 in 1995 and the launch of Vol. 4 in 2001, which he worked out to be about 15 years of story-time.

His plan, he wrote, was to address all those missing years in the flashback sequences of TMNT, but never seemed to be getting around to it, and thus decided to revive Tales, Jim Lawson and Ryan Murphy's short-lived, seven-issue, 1987-1989 series. The new version would focus on filling in the stories from those missing years, or be set further back in time, but they would all take place somewhere along the line of the "official" TMNT timeline. As Laird hadn't worked out every event that might have happened between the end of Vol. 2 and the start of Vol. 4, he said he gave the reigns to Steve Murphy, and said he would work with the creators in determining what felt right for his TMNT continuity and what didn't.

For this very first issue, Murphy and a great deal of the usual Mirage gang contributed. Michael Dooney provided the painted cover of the Turtles in the sewer, Eric Talbot lettered the story and gets a production and design credit. Meanwhile, Jim Lawson drew the frontspiece, a splash page with narration ending with the words "Let me tell you a story..." that kicked off every issue of the old Tales. Oh, and Lawson also provided the lay-outs for the 28-page story.

The heavy-lifting on this issue was done by Murphy, who wrote the story, and artist Dario Brizuela, a familiar name to readers of DC's kids books. He's an incredibly talented artist with an uncanny ability to mimic the styles of others—which he's made great use of on Scooby-Doo Team-Up—and it was both a surprise and a pleasure to find his name and his work here. In fact, this may be the first time I've seen Brizuela drawing in his own style, rather than cleverly aping the character designs of others.

The story is set back before the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were even teenagers, as they are only 12-years-old at the time (Although they are not wearing the bigger masks and wielding the weapons the did in 1986's TMNT #9, in which Michelangelo was using a manriki-gusari and Raphael tonfa, the story whose title page referred to them as "Eastman and Laird's Pre-Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.")

At that point, they are still living in their New York City sewer lair with Master Splinter, and, at story's opening, Donatello is reading aloud to the rest of his family from a book about the original explorers of the chunk of the new world that eventually became their New York City.

When a very old-looking map falls from the old book, the boys ask if they can go exploring to find the hidden spring it refers to. With some cajoling, they finally prevail upon Splinter—this is, apparently, their first trip without him.
They explore the underworld of the city—which is, in and of itself, interesting enough—eventually discovering fossilized dinosaur foot prints, a lost temple and, most dangerously of all, a society of half-worm humanoids (they look like giant worms from the waist down, and fish-like humans from the waist up).

Fighting naturally ensues, although Donatello ends it with a brief experiment and what he hopes will be a solution to the worm people's problems.

Brizuela's artwork is, as I said, a treat. He gets a great variety of things to draw, as the story opens with the art illustrating the passages that Donatello is reading aloud.
His Turtles don't show their young age at all; they look to be about the same age as they are always drawn. Brizuela's Turtles are short and squat, with smooth, round faces with no real hint of a nose. They look a lot like smoother, cleaner, more cartoony versions of A.C. Farley's, really.

There's no toning used, and little in the way of shading, so his line work really pops, and it's pretty great line work.

As much as I liked his art, this is the scene that really impressed the hell out of me:
That is, of course, a worm guy looking up at one of the Turtles through the water, and Brizuela affects the wavy look of peering through water simply by the way he draws the wiggly lines.

That is, in short, fantastic.

It makes for the start of a very promising series that would prove to be one of the longest-lived TMNT comics, lasting 70 issues (TMNT Vol. 1 lasted 62 issues, Archie Comics' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures lasted 72 issues).

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