Friday, April 03, 2020
Caleb's one-man book club: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures Vol. 1
Now I am certainly not hurting for comics. My to-read piles are huge, and go back, unfortunately, years. So I will have more than enough reading material for weeks, if not months (although I hope we won't all be stuck inside that long!). But, being curious about the electronic services my library offers, I checked some of them out and discovered that one of them, Hoopla, offers comics. A lot of comics.
One of the first search terms I entered was "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," and I immediately got results, including plenty of Teenage Mutant Ninja Adventures. So this seemed like a good time to catch-up on that one particular TMNT series that I had read so incredibly little of. And, of course, blog about it, because if I have 40 hours of extra free time per week now, why not update EDILW more often, like in the good old days of daily-ish updates...? (Although I don't think I still have daily-ish readers anymore).
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures was a monthly comic book series published by Archie Comics from 1988-1995, and featured Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's creations in a kid-friendly, full-color, newsstand-available, monthly comic book series. It was not a spin-off of Eastman and Laird's comic, which was still being published in 1988...albeit entering a strange (but thrilling!) phase of its existence. The pair's Mirage Studios published four issues of the ongoing series that year, #13-#17, and none of those books were collaborations between the two, who apparently had their falling out sometime around then, from what I've gathered from their annotations in IDW's Ultimate Collections of that volume of TMNT. Eastman and Eric Talbot produced #14 together (That's "The Unmentionables" issue, where in Casey Jones plays private eye) and Laird and Jim Lawson produced #15 together (That's the one with the Justice Force superheroes coming out of retirement), and Michael Dooney, Mark Martin and Talbot produced issues #13, #16 and #17, respectively).
Rather, Adventures was based on the cartoon series, which had begun airing in 1987, and so it was therefore a comic book adaptation of a cartoon adaptation of a comic book series.
At the start of the series, it was adapting episodes of the show directly into comics format, but it would very quickly veer off into a quite strange direction all of its own. Now, I was a pre-teen then; I was too old to play with the TMNT toys, although my little brother was in that particular age range, so there were definitely some around the house. I did watch the cartoon series with him after school, and, when I discovered Eastman and Laird's comics, I grew fascinated with those, buying all of them I could find, continuously hunting for them, and playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness role-playing games with a friend of mine at the time. (At the time, the Mirage version of the Turtles seemed like a semi-secret, "real" version of the phenomenon for grown-ups, which was a great deal of their appeal to me, I think.)
Honestly, I likely would have attempted it sooner, but IDW's collections were pretty pricey. This is the kind of comic that I would much rather read in something like DC's now defunct Showcase Presents or Marvel's now-defunct Essential fomrat: Big, fat, phone-book sized black-and-white reprints on cheap paper. (That or, perhaps, issues fished out of 25- or 50-cent bins, I suppose).
Now, prior to the regular series, Archie published a three-issue miniseries adapting the first "season" of the show. I didn't start there, but I want to share the covers, because these are by Eastman, Laird and Steve Lavigne, who lettered the Mirage comics (and colored these covers).
These are interesting not only because we have Eastman and Laird collaborating on them during a time they were supoosedly working less and less together, but also because we get to see them drawing the cartoon's version of April and the Turtles, with letters on their belts and all. Also, it demonstrates how involved Mirage was with managing their creations; though adapted from the cartoon, Dooney handled the script and art, and Lavigne lettered it. Mirage was, at this point at least, adapting the cartoons based on their comics back into comics.
When TMNT Adventures graduated to a monthly, the covers remained the work of Eastman, Laird and Lavigne, at least for the first couple of issues. See if you can spot when, exactly, the they stopped doing the covers:
I am going to be taking my journey through TMNT Adventures courtesy of IDW Publishing's collections on Hoopla. (If you have Hoopla through your local library, please feel free to read along, or see what comics more to your liking they offer). IDW's first volume collects issues #1-#4, and the cover looks like this:
And I should note that these comics within this collection? They are not very good. I'm sure the folks who made them had their talents, but remember this is basically 120-pages of comics adapted from a cartoon show which, even at 11-years-old, I did not think was very good at all (Catchy theme song, though!).
Those particular episodes are "The Return of The Shredder" and "The Incredibly Shrinking Turtles", both from 1988, the television cartoon's second season (although the first "season" was only five episodes long, and as thus really just a miniseries.). A Dave Garcia is credited with art and letters, and the next credit says "adapted from scripts by Christy Marx and David Wise." Hey, it's our old friend Christy Marx, creator of Jem and The Holograms and comics-writer!
I don't want to get too bogged down in comparing and contrasting these Turtles from the "real" ones of the Mirage comics, as that could take forever. In general, if anyone actually needs the reminder of the cartoon's premise, the four Turtles live in a New York City sewer lair with their sensei Master Splinter, a mutant rat-man who used to be the human being Hamato Yoshi. The Turtles all love pizza with bizarre toppings that might turn Scooby-Doo and Shaggy's stomachs, and they all have the exact same personality and sense of humor, despite the cartoon theme song's attempts to differentiate them ("leads," "does machines," "cool but rude," "a party dude"). That's probably why they are color-coded and wear their initials on their belts.
They are basically superheroes, tooling around town in a customized and heavily-weaponed van or a blimp, although they are kinda sorta in hiding from the world at large too, due to the fact that they are mutants. It depends on the scene. They had recently defeated their archenemy Shredder, who had allied himself with the alien Krang, who resembles a brain with a face and tentacles, and lives in the stomach of a robot body. Both they and their dim-witted henchman Bebop and Rocsteady were sent back to Krang's home world in Dimension X at the end of season one.
The Turtles' only other ally at this point is April O'Neil, who is a reporter for Channel Six News, and never changes out of a yellow jumpsuit with white boots, presumably because the toy designers first saw an image of her wearing a jumpsuit in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #2, when she was supposed to be a tech assistant/engineer type.
In the first issue, two of the Turtles are grocery shopping wearing their Benjamin Grimm disguises of trench coats and wide-brimmed hats, when two cartoon punks with baseball bats attempt to rob the store. They easily defeat them, even when one of the punks pulls a knife, and they get their groceries on the house in thanks...but then they proceed to steal a shopping cart.
Meanwhile, Krang sends Shredder back to Earth through a portal, but refuses to give him any robots soldiers or equipment to help him capture the Turtles. This seems a little like Pharaoh demanding the Israelites make bricks without straw. Bebop and Rocksteady are eager to get back to Earth as well, but Krang denies them because, he explains, "I enjoy seeing both animals and people suffer, and you my friends, are both!" This might be the best joke in the book.
At Channel Six, we meet several of April's colleague, all of whom I completely forgot even existed at all (Like I said, I remember watching the cartoon, but I don't remember what I watched very well; it didn't sear itself into my memory the way that, say, He-Man or Transformers or G.I. Joe did). April's boss wants her to do an expose on how the Turtles are threats or menaces, presumably to impress this anti-turtle prostitute he started dating:
This scene did make me mildly curious about seeing the cartoon, though, just to see if she was wearing that exact same outfit, or if the artist took some liberties in her first appearance.
Shredder arrives in Central Park via a inter-dimensional portal, which leads to my favorite scene:
Shredder then initiates his dumb plan. He takes over a karate dojo, briefly trains the students, has them dress up in poor man's TMNT costumes, and then has them commit robberies under the name of The Crooked Ninja Turtle Gang. They pass out business cards and everything. This is only further proof that the Turtles are threats and menaces to April's boss, and even the fact that April has apparently unzipped her jumpsuit doesn't seem to distract him from his new girlfriend Tiffany's anti-turtle crusade. She's still not showing as much cleavage than April though, so no contest, I guess.
Look, I'm not trying to read to much into it. I'm just looking at the pictures. In her second appearance in the book, Tiffany is now wearing even less clothes, as this outfit lacks the fishnet stockings that the first one had.
The second issue begins with The Shredder busting Baxter Stockman out of the "Sunnydale Home For The Extremely Overwrought." Stockman, in the original comics, was the Turtles' second villain. He built the Mouser robot rat-catchers that destroyed the Turtles' sewer home and seemingly killed Splinter in the story where they met April, who was working as Stockman's assistant at the time.
This Baxter is white, rather than black, though. He appeared in the first season of the show in the same basic role, having created Mouser robot rat-catchers that the Turtles fought. I believe most of his appearances on the show will occur after he is mutated into a fly, though, like the mad scientists in The Fly movies, which I guess is why I was surprised to see a white guy show up in the role here.
Shredder asks Baxter to build him "the ultimate rat-catcher," but Stockman basically just steals a bulldozer-mounted drill from a nearby construction site and gives it a mouth. With that, the pair of villains capture Splinter, while the Turtles are busy beating up the Crooked Ninja Turtle Gang in an extremely slapstick-y action scene.
Meanwhile, April's boss and Tiffany were definitely having sex in his office after work hours:
And then, finally, comes the climax. The Shredder is going to kill Splinter with a battering ram in the shape of...a giant fist...? Not eve a foot? I thought Shredder was in The Foot Clan, not The Hand...?
Thus ends the first story arc, and begins the second, "The Incredibly Shrinking Turtles!" This one is also an adaptation, but the credits don't say of whose scripts. Rather, it lists Ken and Beth Mitchroney under "adaptation by," while Ken Mitchroney gets a pencils credit and Garcia an inking credit.
This story opens with the four Turtles training and sparring in the park, when their day is interrupted by an alien spacecraft crashing into a lake (This is actually a pretty Mirage way to handle a TMNT story, as most of them begin with the guys training and then something crazier than even them intrudes on their lives, often aliens from time or space or a monster of some kind). They save the alien, who gasps that they must find the three pieces of the "The Eye of Sarnath", three pieces of his ship which, when assembled, will give their bearer great power, before the fragments can fall into the wrong hands. He gives them a pyramid-shaped crystal that can track the pieces, and then promptly disintegrates.
Unfortunately for the Turtles, Shredder was lurking in the bushes the whole time, follows them to the first fragment and then, in something of a surprise, he kicks all four of their asses in a matter of panels and claims the fragment for himself. Jeez, he should have thought of just fighting the Turtles issues ago!
As he's waving the crystal fragment before them triumphantly, he accidentally unleashes its power, shrinking the Turtles. You know, incredibly. The tiny Turtles have a harrowing trip back to their lair, where Splinter calls April for help...presumably because he can't drive.
Krang, who was completely disinterested in Shredder's plot to shrink New York real estate down to toy size, is now interested when Shredder shows him that he has the four Turtles trapped in a jar, and pulls out a crow bar.
No, nothing as grotesque as that. He's just going to smash the jar, with them in it, apparently. But just then, April and Splinter crash the Turtlemobile (I believe it is officially called "The Party Wagon," but I can't bring myself to use that term in a sentence, I'm sorry) into the abandoned cheese factory warehouse, and Splinter and Shredder get a rematch! (As you probably know, in the cartoon continuity, in his pre-mutated, human life, Splinter was rivals with The Shredder.)
It's a pretty dramatic fight, and Splinter is about to have his head mangled in some heavy machinery when April waves the crystal in the direction of the Turtles, restoring them to their full height. After a brief skirmish, Shredder and Stockman again retreat, with the crystal in their possession. So this encounter is more of a draw.
Now, this being the fourth and final issue of the series adapting episodes of the script, I have no idea if the next issues will follow-up on the dying alien, the shrinking crystal, and the other two parts of the Eye of Sarnath. Heck, I don't even know if or how New York City gets the Empire State Building back.
I guess we'll find out in volume 2, which contains the next four issues, and sees the arrival of long-time TMNT Adventures writers Ryan Brown and Dean Clairran, the latter a pseudonym used by Steven Murphy. Both had long history with Mirage, Brown being quite heavily involved with the secondary Mirage TMNT title, Tales of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Murphy writing Puma Blues with artist Michael Zulli. Plus Jim Lawson arrives for an issue. Oh, and issue #5 should be where things start to get weird, as new mutant characters original to this comic series start to arrive, and the Turtles even get new costumes. In essences, despite what the numbers on the covers of the individual issues might say, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures really begins with issue #5, or TMNT Adventures Vol. 2.