Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Review: Tales of The TMNT #3-#4

The “Worms of Madness” story arc running through these two 2004 issues of Tales of The TMNT, the first multi-issue arc in the series, is at this point probably more interesting for who made it then the events that occur within it, although the events are a pretty big deal within TMNT continuity. The "worms" of the title are those that the Foot Clan mystics fed the remains of Oroku Saki, The Shredder, in order to “resurrect” him as an intelligent worm colony that thought it was The Shredder (That was, remember, The Shredder that attacked the Turtles and family in 1987's TMNT #10, and who they fought in the “Return To New York” story arc in 1989's #19-#21).

While "Worms" was scripted by Tales editor Steve Murphy, he co-plotted it with Rick Remender, who also penciled the story (with John Beatty providing thick, generous inks to those pencils). In 2014, chances are that a lot of comics readers know Rememnder only as a comics writer, given his various high-profile works for Marvel, including The Punisher, Uncanny X-Force, Captain America, Uncanny Avengers and the publisher's next big crossover/event series, Axis.

But here he is co-plotting a really rather minor story for a relatively little book in 2004, and providing the artwork for it.
The “Let me tell you a story” fronstpieces for the two issues are drawn by Eric Talbot and Scott Cohn, and feature a stitched-up Raphael with monster-fighting gear and a trying-to-outswim-a-shark Michelangelo, respectively. The story is set at the very end of “Return To New York,” with Rememnder and Beatty re-drawing the panel where Leonardo beheads “The Shredder” and the Turtles then burn his corpse on a raft pushed out into the river.

Meanwhile, an unseen Foot mystic narrates:
Pretty good narration, particularly the last two boxes.

I personally try not to think about the way the Turtles must smell—"the stench of human waste that clings to them like rancid yolk"—but yeah, spending the first decade and a half of their lives in the sewers of New York, they’ve gotta have a pretty terrible smell soaked into their bandanas and weapons and skins. Is there a secret ninja technique that allows a ninja to make his scent invisible as they sneak around? Because no matter how perfect they might be fading away, into the night, surely you would be able to smell them coming and going, right?

At the edge of the river, this mystic casts a spell to return the worms to life…sort of. Saki’s severed head is dragged through the black water by the dozen or so worms that emerge from his dead, open mouth. Until a shark eats it. And, at some point, the shark must have had some octopus. Because, another spell and another week later, The Shredder returns again...sort of.
The hybrid, amalgamated abomination makes short work of the Turtles—like, three pages short—before capturing Splinter and taking off.

Which is probably as good a time as any to ask: What the hell are the Turtles and Splinter even doing in the sewers of New York a week after their final battle with The Shredder and The Foot?

Splinter didn’t accompany them during their “Return To New York,” but stayed behind with Casey and April at the farmhouse. And, when we next saw the Turtles, it was...okay, well it was a few issues of Mark Martin's crazy stories, seemingly set before the events of #10 or "Return," but after that, in Rick Veitch's "The River" and so on, they’ve returned to the countryside. According to Murphy and Remender’s story, they followed their battle with “Shredder” and the Foot by returning to their old sewer lair to watch The Simpsons, and then hung around for a week, at some point being joined by Splinter...?
In the second installment, it’s revealed that the Shredder-monster did more than just beat-up the Turtles, it also somehow inverted their personalities, so that Raphael is a coward, Leonardo a completely irresponsible goof ball and Donatello is dumb. Michelangelo alone is unaffected, but it was unclear if that was simply because his irresponsible behavior was reversed too, and, while the others were worse off, he was simply made more responsible (In the earliest scene of this issue, Leonardo is razzing him with the same words he was taunting Leo in the previous chapter).

Mikey manages to find a spell in one of Splinter’s mystical books, summons a four-armed monkey god thing, and this being restores their personalities, teleporting the quartet to where the Foot mystic and the Shredder monster are, the rooftop of a factory on the edge of the river under a huge full moon—good place for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle battle.
This time, the battle goes in their favor, although it’s hard to discern a story reason, beyond the fact that this is the second issue of a two-part story. The monster gets bludgeoned and stabbed and eventually achieves self-awareness, realizing it is not The Shredder, but still lashing out at the mystic, the pair of them falling into the water and presumably dying.

Death seems to take for The Shredder worms this time around, while the mystic is transformed into a half-human, half-shark creature, “A new form of hate.”

Not the best story, and the wonky continuity doesn’t help—particularly because this is a story premised on being built atop existing TMNT continuity—but it was a real pleasure seeing Remender and Beatty’s art applied to characters so often drawn by so many different artists (Like Batman, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are characters I enjoy seeing drawn over and over by different artists, just to see the choices they make, and how truly flexible and fluid the initial designs have proven over the decades).

Both of these issues feature back-up stories as well. The back-up in #3 is by German writer Peter Liehr and German artist Peter Schaaff. Entitled simply “Green,” it’s a five-page, nothing-much of a story, in which narration boxes semi-meditate on the meaning of the title word as it applies to the goings-on, which are a fairly generic urban vigilante story staple: Attractive young woman running through an alley at night gets mugged by gang and is then saved by the hero.
Here that hero is Donatello, although it could be any of the Turtles. Or any one in green, I guess. It’s mostly of interest for Schaaf’s striking artwork, which defines places and characters in the simplest of terms (“New York," for example, is defined by the black outline of three tall buildings and sagull in flight) and the peculiar cartoonishness of the character designs.

The six-page back-up in #4 is produced by a more conventional TMNT team and is set firmly in continuity, but isn’t quite as interesting. Entitled “The Grape” and set in post-Utrom NYC, it’s written by Murphy, penciled by Jim Lawson and inked and lettered by Eric Talbot. In it, a police squad raids a crack den full of Utroms, although instead of crack they are all addicted to “menta-wave" alien helmets that expand their consciousnesses in a variety of ways, a side-effect of which leaves them so locked-up in their own minds that they can forget about their bodies, and die in their menta-wave dens.
Members of the New York Police Department fighting crime involving aliens like the Utroms is a pretty interesting premise—Law and Order: TMNT—but Murphy over-narrates, and has one of the officers over-explain on a page that beats out many of Bendis’ for too much verbiage. There’s an interesting twist at the end, as there always should be in such short stories, but I preferred the more simple, more elegantly communicated work of the German creators in the previous issue (The events of this Utrom-focused back-up will come into play in future back-ups, however).

1 comment:

Evan Dawson-Baglien said...

I think it's interesting that Remender "inverted" the turtles in this story considering that all the solicits for his "Axis" comic say he's going to do the same thing to the Marvel Universe characters.