Monday, March 30, 2015

SPIDER-MAN: THE MUTANT AGENDA #0 - February 1994


Credits:  Stan Lee (writer), Larry Lieber & Fred Kida (artists)

Summary:  Brand Corporation CEO Neil Landon hosts a conference on mutations.  Peter Parker attends, wondering if he can learn about his own powers.  He’s seated next to the Beast, who distrusts Landon’s motivations.  The Hobgoblin interrupts the conference and causes a panic.  As Spider-Man, Peter places a tracer on Hobgoblin’s glider.  With Beast, Spider-Man follows Hobgoblin to Brand’s research facility, where Hobgoblin steals a folder of research.  Beast is captured by Brand’s guards, while Spider-Man follows Hobgoblin to Landon’s office. He discovers Hobgoblin blackmailing Landon, threatening to release info on the “mutant genocide” Landon is planning.  Landon pulls a gun on Hobgoblin, but Spider-Man leaps to take the blast.  He awakes inside a cage with the Beast.  Hobgoblin reappears and accidentally frees the heroes while searching for Landon.  Spider-Man tries to swing away with Landon, but Hobgoblin’s pumpkin bomb forces them to fall into a chemical vat.  Landon emerges as a monster.  Beast subdues Hobgoblin and Spider-Man suggests Landon seek the X-Men’s help to deal with his mutation.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Landon's first name is Neil in the strip, and Herbert in the comics. He also appears to be 20 years older in the newspaper strip's continuity.
  • This storyline is set in the continuity of the Spider-Man newspaper strip.  Originally, this lengthy story arc was supposed to cross over with the Spider-Man: The Mutant Agenda miniseries making it the “first ever comic book-newspaper strip crossover.”
  • The specific strips covering the newspaper’s “Mutant Agenda” storyline ran from December 6, 1993 to February 26, 1994.
  • For the record, Spider-Man isn’t harmed by the chemicals in the vat because his costume covers him from head to toe.  Also, the gun Landon shoots Spidey with was set to “stun,” of course.

Production Note:  This is a forty-eight page comic, going for the standard cover price of $1.25.  Why, you ask?  Because half of the pages are blank.  The rest of the comic has previews of upcoming Spider-Man comics, and a reprint of the newspaper strip’s version of Spider-Man’s origin.

Miscellaneous Note:  Although the cover date reads February, the indicia list March 1994 as the month.

Review:  I recall Marvel promoting this miniseries in the fold-out inserts that ran in all of their titles in late 1993, and while I might seem to be the target audience for a limited series featuring Spider-Man and the X-Men, I can only recall an overwhelming sense of apathy.  Even at this early age, I was wary of the glut of X-product (Spidey-product, too, come to think of it) and didn’t want to waste my limited funds on a tossed off mini that clearly wasn’t going to be impacting the main titles in any way.  The idea of the comic series crossing over with the newspaper strip wasn’t much of an enticement either; to this day, I’ve never seen the Spider-Man strip in an actual newspaper.  Why would I buy a limited series that wasn’t even going to provide me with a full story?

As it turns out, the crossover element of the two “Mutant Agenda” storylines fell through early on.  The strip’s story is totally self-contained, so no reader was left confused by only getting a fraction of the storyline in this specific format.  But due to what I’m assuming were legal issues, kids purchasing this comic didn’t get much of anything.  Half of this comic is blank because they expect you, the reader, to physically cut the Spider-Man strip out of the newspaper and tape it on to the blank pages.  That’s seventy-two strips -- if you missed one, tough luck -- you’re expected to track down and preserve in-between the covers of a cheaply printed early ‘90s Marvel comic.  I’d like to give Marvel the benefit of the doubt and assume that the original plan was for the actual strips to be included in this issue, but they discovered later the syndicate wouldn’t allow them to be reprinted, or perhaps the deadlines were blown.  I’d hate to think the original plan was to sell kids a blank comic.

Thanks to the miracle of the internet, all of these strips have been compiled and scanned.  And how lucky we are.  Actually, this is less goofy than I was expecting it to be, even though it’s filled with the awkward writing that’s common in newspaper adventure strips (such as Peter spontaneously explaining to MJ who the Beast is a few days before he actually appears in the strip. “He's okay -- for a mutant!” Peter tells her, which is perhaps a joke, but it just feels wildly out of character).  Lee spends the first few days patiently explaining the Marvel concept of mutants to his “civilian” audience, then moves on to his story of the evil CEO and the returning villain who wants to blackmail him.  It’s odd to think that plotting to kill mutants is considered blackmail material in the Marvel Universe, but maybe the rules are different in the strip’s version of the MU.  I will say that it’s a relief to see the Hobgoblin have a scheme that actually requires him to use his brains; blackmailing a CEO feels like something he would’ve done in his earliest Roger Stern appearances.  And the story, by the staid standards of adventure strips, is relatively fast-paced.  Much of it is an involved chase sequence, and the Hobgoblin does make a decent showing for most of the adventure.  If the plot sounds familiar, that’s because much of it appeared a year later in the Spider-Man animated series.  Landon even becomes a monster in both stories, although in the strips, he’s much smaller and isn’t subdued by a random telepathic mutant who’s shoved into the plot.  In the strip, turning into a hideous freak is enough motivation for Landon to stop the fight.  Hopefully, the strip didn’t use this arc as an excuse to reintroduce Landon as an ongoing antagonist, one with a shocking resemblance to Two-Face.


The Origin of Spider-Man
Credits:  Stan Lee (writer), John Romita, Sr. (artist), Joe Agostinelli (colors)

Summary:  Student Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider during a school experiment.  Realizing he has spider powers, he makes money as the costumed performer Spider-Man on various television shows.  During a robbery at a television studio, he allows a criminal to go free.  Days later, his uncle is killed by a burglar.  When he captures the burglar, Spider-Man discovers that he’s the man he could’ve stopped earlier.  Spider-Man realizes his uncle died because he shirked his responsibility.

Continuity Notes:  In the newspaper strip’s version of Spider-Man’s origin, the fateful experiment happens at Peter’s school, and he’s an active participant in it.  The implication seems to be that he’s in college instead of high school.  Peter’s also trying to get a job as a Daily Bugle photographer before he gains his powers in this origin story.  Spider-Man’s realization that he can’t cash a check made out to “Spider-Man” is also moved up from the comics’ timeline.  (As Bob Ingersoll points out, his agent could’ve avoided this problem by just having the checks made out to “Cash.”)  Finally, wrestler Crusher Hogan has been renamed Crusher Clark.

Review:  In one of the earliest outside-media adaptations of Amazing Fantasy #15, the comic strip goes through the motions and presents the basics of Spider-Man’s origin.  This was originally published in the ‘70s, and it’s interesting to see what aspects of the origin aren’t quite considered sacrosanct yet, such as the missing phrase “With great power…”  Stan Lee plays around with the continuity, touching on some issues that AF #15 didn’t address while also setting the stage for the basic Spider-Man status quo.  I suppose nothing’s harmed by Peter’s motivation to work as a professional photographer before he becomes Spider-Man, but some of the changes are arbitrary (such as Dave, the lab partner present when the spider’s irradiated.)  The most obvious difference from the comics is John Romita, Sr.’s interpretation of Peter Parker.  He’s already twentyish, handsome, and not wearing glasses in this origin story, which noticeably undermines the impact of his transformation.  I suppose Lee wanted to start the comic strip with Peter at college age and didn’t want Peter to have years of unrevealed adventures as Spidey in the strip’s backstory.  That’s reasonable, I guess, but it does lessen the significance of Peter's transformation into Spider-Man.  Still, it’s fun to see a run of the Lee/Romita strips reprinted, and up until recently, this was your only shot at reading them.

Friday, March 27, 2015

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #504 - September 1993


Assault on Engine City
Credits:  Karl Kesel (writer), Tom Grummett (penciler), Doug Hazelwood (inker), Albert de Guzman (letterer), Glenn Whitmore (colorist)

Summary:  Superman, Superboy, and Steel invade the newly christened “Engine City.”  They defeat an army of Mongul’s alien henchmen, but are unable to stop the Engine Bomb from being launched towards Metropolis.  Superboy grabs on to the missile and attempts to use his powers to dismantle it.  The missile is still intact when it reaches Metropolis, but Superboy is able to pull it away from the city.  Tana Moon watches in horror as the missile detonates over the horizon with Superboy still onboard.

Irrelevant Continuity:  Superman suggests “Man of Steel” simplify his name and go by “Steel,” making this the first time the name is used in an actual story.

I Love the ‘90s:  Superboy wishes Superman were referring to Michelle Pheiffer when discussing a “full frontal assault.”

Total N00B:  Perry White exclaims “Great shades of Elvis!” as the Engine Bomb reaches Metropolis.  I assumed Perry’s Elvis fixation was an invention of the Lois & Clark TV series, but it seems this issue saw print a few months before its debut.  Was this line added as an early tie-in to the series (like Renee Montoya’s earliest appearances in the Batman titles), or was the Elvis gimmick already in place?

Review:  It’s the big action issue that has the real Superman teaming up with the two Supermen that are only a few months away from starring in their own spinoffs.  The only real significance of the issue, aside from the debut of Steel’s official superhero name, is the image of Superman picking up gigantic ‘90s guns and blasting away at the enemy.  (They’re not quite implausible enough to be Liefeld guns, but they’re close).  Superman only uses the guns to “hold them back,” meaning there are no images of anyone actually getting hit with the weapons, but the creators are clearly using this imagery to provoke some kind of a response out of the readers.  Superman’s probably the last hero who should be picking up gigantic guns, which I get is the entire reason for doing the scene, but within the context of this story it feels utterly gratuitous.  It doesn’t come across as parody, yet the story doesn’t take itself seriously enough to justify this as a grim turning point for Superman, either.  I realize there’s a larger point behind this event, showing how Superman can still be traditional Superman and compete against the ‘90s breed of hero, but a scene like this seems to undermine what DC has been trying to prove for the past year.  It feels like an image that’s thrown out there just because it’s “so wrong,” but aside from intentionally provoking a response from the more traditional readers, there’s no obvious point behind it.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

SUPERMAN #81 - September 1993


Resurrections
Credits:  Dan Jurgens (story and art), Brett Breeding (finishes), John Costanza (letterer), Glenn Whitmore (colorist)

Summary:  Superman emerges, but with weakened powers.  When no one believes he’s telling the truth, he takes Lois aside and recounts private moments only she would know.  He kisses her goodbye and asks to borrow a pair of boot-jets from one of Luthor’s men.  He flies off to Coast City with Superboy and a skeptical Steel.  Meanwhile, Cyborg Superman punishes Mongul for a perceived slight.  Two of the aliens serving Mongul discuss the cyborg’s origin.  Cyborg Superman was once Hank Henshaw, an astronaut with a grudge against Superman who could project his consciousness into metallic objects.  He discovered Mongul, who also hates Superman, on a distant planet and possessed his ship.  After torturing Mongul, the cyborg forced Mongul over to his side.

Irrelevant Continuity:  
  • Hank Henshaw began life as an obvious Reed Richards parody.  The details of his origin are found, according to the footnotes, in Adventures #466 and #468.  It’s revealed that Cyborg Superman was able to duplicate Kryptonian DNA because he once grafted himself on to the birth matrix that Superman arrived on Earth in.
  • Superman’s hair isn’t as long as it was in the previous chapter’s final splash page, although it’s still all the way down his neck.  The style isn’t obviously a mullet until Jurgens draws Superman from the side, then it’s clear he’s going full Uncle Jessie.
  • Lois’ ridiculous pants from the previous chapter have been toned down this issue.

Total N00B:  I had no clue who Hank Henshaw was, so the extended origin recap is definitely appreciated.

Review:  Superman finally makes his real return this issue, and while it would be easy to have all of the characters obey the plot faithfully and just accept it, Jurgens adds an element of realism to the plot.  I like the fact that no one, not even Lois, is one hundred percent convinced this is the real Superman by the end of the issue.  The return of Superman also means the debut of his new look, and while I think the black and silver color scheme is kind of cool, it’s impossible to ignore the mullet.  If you want to say that Superman’s hair grew while in his rejuvenation pod, fine, but there should be some internal consistency here.  If his hair has grown, that means he should also have a scruffy beard and long fingernails.  (A more masculine, less groomed Superman isn’t necessarily a bad idea anyway.)  More importantly, his hair wouldn’t have grown into a specific style!  One that was already going out of fashion in 1993, as I recall.  Why would his hair only grow on the top and back but not the sides?  Was there a Billy Ray Cyrus setting in his regeneration matrix?

The attention is split this issue between Superman’s return and the origin of Cyborg Superman.  I’ve complained about the casual way past continuity is introduced in many of the DC titles I’ve reviewed, but Jurgens goes out of his way to make sure that any reader, regardless of his of her familiarity with specific Superman continuity, knows who the cyborg is.  Established readers might complain that the flashback drags on for too long, but actually seeing the details of previous stories, along with the new backstory, fleshed out in a deliberate, coherent way is a welcome gesture towards the casual fan.  And speaking of that origin…how crazy is it that the main villain in the “Reign of the Supermen” event turns out to be a Reed Richards parody?  It’s never played for a joke, but it is an utterly insane idea.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL #25 - September 1993


The Return!
Credits:  Louise Simonson (writer), Jon Bogdanove (penciler), Dennis Janke (inker), Bill Oakley (letterer), Glenn Whitmore (colorist)

Summary:  Superboy escapes the Cyborg’s custody and flies to Metropolis.  Meanwhile, Steel grows suspicious of Cyborg Superman’s claims and decides to travel to Coast City.  Lois also decides to travel there, partially to escape the romantic interest of Jeb.  They arrive at the airport simultaneously, just as the Kryptonian war-suit reaches Metropolis.  Supergirl arrives with Lex to confront it, joining Superboy and Steel in battle.  Everyone is shocked when the suit opens and Superman emerges.

Irrelevant Continuity:  
  • Superboy escapes from Cyborg Superman’s device through “panicky power blasts,” another hint that his powers are telekinetic in nature.
  • The stories can’t seem to decide if the giant suit of armor Superman is wearing is called a “war-suit” or a “battle-suit.”
  • When Superman emerges, we see his long hair for the first time.  His hair was short when he left Antarctica in the armored suit, however.

I Love the ‘90s:  Lois is wearing…I don’t even know what to call these pants.  Those pants from the 1930s that poof out around the hips…Parachute pants?  Aviation pants?  Also, Jimmy Olsen is still wearing Spin Doctors t-shirts.

Review:  This is the issue that brings together the cast for the finale.  That requires a few coincidences, but there’s nothing here that comes across as especially forced.  The real problem with the plot involves a group of scientists working for Lex Luthor, who drop charges on the war-suit on his orders.  They’re crushed in the ensuing avalanche, which is what inspires Supergirl to fly off in the first place.  She quickly forgets about them as soon as the war-suit surfaces, and we never see Superman helping them either.  This is the kind of detail that can be easily addressed with one line of dialogue in the next chapter; but as it stands, both Superman and Supergirl look fairly awful for not doing anything to help.  Ignoring that, this is an inoffensive middle chapter that does what it needs to do to get everyone in their proper place.  “Inoffensive” if you don’t mind a distracted Lois allowing Jeb to kiss her, I suppose.  He’s yet to come across as a credible rival for Clark, and there’s no real hope for this subplot anyway now that Superman has returned.  Steel also isn't given an awful lot to do, even though this is nominally his series.  I understand that the storyline has a dozen characters to be juggling right now, but Steel is almost a background figure this issue.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

ACTION COMICS #690 - August 1993


Lies & Revelations
Credits:  Roger Stern (writer), Jackson Guice & Denis Rodier (art), Bill Oakley (letterer), Glenn Whitmore (colorist)

Summary:  Cyborg Superman places Superboy in restraints so that he can be studied.  In order to get rid of the Justice League, Cyborg Superman sends them on a fraudulent mission in space.  Superboy overhears the Cyborg and Mongul’s plans to create a second “Engine City” in Metropolis and vows to escape.  Meanwhile, a weakened Eradicator reaches the Fortress of Solitude.  He discovers the regeneration matrix is empty, and the Fortress robots reveal his true identity.  The actual Superman has already been released from the matrix and is heading towards Metropolis in a Kryptonian war-suit.  In Metropolis, Lois tells the authorities that she believes Cyborg Superman is a fraud.

Irrelevant Continuity:  The origin of Eradicator is revealed.  The basic idea is that he’s a Kryptonian artificial intelligence that has gained sentience.  His consciousness lived inside the Fortress and, following the “death” of Superman, sought to steal his body.  Superman’s consciousness fought against him, however, leaving Eradicator to somehow use the mass inside the coffin to form his own faux-Superman body.

Total N00B:  The cutaways to the Justice League emphasize that Jade is Alan Scott’s daughter.  I have a vague idea of who Jade is but I’ve never heard of this before.

Review:  The mysteries surrounding “The Last Son of Krypton” (or “Visor Superman”) are resolved, in what I’m just going to assume was a satisfying payoff for regular readers of the Superman titles.  I’ve never read the original Eradicator storyline, so it’s not as if I could’ve seen this coming, but it seems as if Roger Stern has put a lot of thought into this and placed a decent number of clues in Action over the past few months.  Since Eradicator was designed as a weapons system, it seems logical that his response to crime would be lethal, and adopting the moniker “Last Son of Krypton” does make sense given his origin.  The specific details of what happened “behind the scenes” in Action #687 are revealed, showing us how what we assumed was Superman retaking his body was anything but, so Stern is playing fair with the reader.  Stern’s setting up the idea that Eradicator actually wants to follow Superman’s example now, which I guess is going to lead to a dramatic redemptive moment later on.  Some of this is fairly predictable, but the execution is compelling enough to fend off any real boredom.  And the cutaway to Superman, the real one, this issue is actually the dramatic slow-reveal that I assumed was going to happen last issue. Reading it now the sequence feels odd -- why does he get a slow reveal after already returning last month? -- but now that I understand the proper context (Stern wanted the readers to think that Superman was the Eradicator last issue), this makes sense.

Monday, March 23, 2015

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #503 - August 1993


Line of Fire
Credits:  Karl Kesel (writer), Tom Grummett (penciler), Doug Hazelwood (inker), Albert de Guzman (letterer), Glenn Whitmore (colorist)

Summary:  Cyborg Superman contacts the White House and requests they send Superboy to help him locate Eradicator.  Shortly after Superboy arrives on the West Coast, he’s shocked when Cyborg Superman destroys the GBS news copter that’s following them.  Superboy tries to stop Cyborg Superman but is unable to control his powers.  Inside Mongul’s ship, Mongul’s thoughts reveal his own plans to rule the new metallic Warworld being constructed in Coast City.  In Antarctica, an armored suit begins a trek through the bottom of the ocean.

Irrelevant Continuity:  
  • This issue establishes that the real-life city of Santa Barbara was also wiped out when Coast City was destroyed, and that earthquakes have begun along the West Coast, killing thousands in cities like Portland.  I don’t believe that the damage outside of the fictitious Coastal City ever remained in DC continuity.
  • The first hints of Superboy’s unique power, tactile telekinesis, appear for the first time during his fight with Cyborg Superman.
  • Superman faced Mongul for the first time in Superman #321, according to a footnote.

I Love the ‘90s:  Superboy has a Spin Doctors poster in his apartment.

Review:  The casual treatment of not just one (fictional) city being destroyed, but also much of the West Coast is a clear sign we’re dealing with a storyline conceived years before 9-11.  I realize that movies and comics are now back to the routine destruction of major cities, but there does seem to be more of an effort to acknowledge the civilian toll in these situations.  This issue, people are freaked out over what’s happened, but no one’s especially sad.  Over seven million people are dead, but the cast acts as if they’re in just another superhero adventure.  Superboy never stops smiling and goofing off in the story, until he’s directly faced with a news copter that’s destroyed (that seems to happen around him quite a bit).  Now he’s upset, while the deaths of several million people couldn’t put a damper on his day, this is just too much.  It’s hard to accuse the issue of being insensitive since Americans had no real context for an event like this at the time, but looking at it today, it’s amazing to see how blasé the creators assumed the public would be regarding such a massive loss of life.  Even Tana Moon, presented as the moral center of this book, is more upset that she won’t get camera time when Superboy travels to Coast City than she is over the millions dead.

Regarding the Cyborg/Superboy fight, it’s enjoyable enough.  Tom Grummett handles the action well and Cyborg Superman isn’t bad as an over-the-top villain.  It’s the tone that’s all wrong, however, and it’s impossible to read this issue today and not notice just how badly the creators have misjudged the mood of the story.

Friday, March 20, 2015

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (vol. 3) #16 - July 1998


Credits: Gary Carlson (writer), Frank Fosco (penciler), Mark Heike (inks), Pat Brosseau (letters)

Pizza-Free Summary:  While the Turtles stake out the Foot’s base, Donatello’s armor subconsciously morphs into Shredder’s, causing a brief misunderstanding with Leonardo.  Soon, the Turtles invade the compound and steal the uniforms of Shredder’s elite guard.  They invade the new Shredder’s sanctum, but the brief fight ends when Raphael realizes his brothers have arrived.  Raphael reveals his new identity to his brothers and introduces them to the Foot Clan’s mystic, Cheng.  Cheng performs a ceremony to cure Splinter of his rabies-induced madness, one that requires all four Turtles to enter the Astral Plane.  The Turtles find the mad Splinter a formidable opponent inside the Astral Plane.  Eventually, Raphael is forced to stab Splinter in the back in order to save Donatello.  Splinter’s true personality returns and he reverts to his rodent form, in what appears to be his final breath.

Continuity Notes:  Donatello’s exoskeleton can now morph into any disguise.  It morphs into Shredder because that’s who was on Donatello’s mind at the time.

Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority:  The Foot’s new base is an abandoned movie theater.  Donatello recognizes it because the Turtles used to “sneak in there to watch the porno  flicks.”

I Love the '90s:  While in the Astral Plane, Raphael threatens to “go medieval on (Splinter’s) ass.”

Review in a Half-Shell:  This issue has one of my favorite covers of the Image TMNT run.  I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating -- Erik Larsen really should’ve inked this run.  Mark Heike, to his credit, is turning out to be better match for Frank Fosco than Andrew Pepoy was, but I still believe that no one’s come close to Larsen’s work.  If Larsen is penciling or inking the Turtles, they look perfectly on-model in my eyes.  When Fosco is paired with other inkers, the Turtles always look at least a little off -- more often than not the differences are fairly minor, but on some occasions the Turtles just look wrong.  I’m not sure if the blame lies in Fosco, the inkers, the deadline troubles, or all of the above, but it’s not unusual to find Turtle heads, eyes, and teeth that simply look wrong during this run.

After a few lackluster issues, the story finally seems to be picking up.  There aren’t any major logic gaps this issue, and Carlson is able to tease the Turtles’ discovery of Raph’s new identity for just as long as it needs to be teased.  There are a few pages of suspense building up to the revelation, but they don’t consume the entire issue, and once the Turtles discover the truth there’s no tedious angst.  The brothers simply move on to the next problem, which is curing Splinter.  The Astral Plane scene brings us the welcome return of Raphael and Donatello’s original bodies (since they exist in their soul forms here), and an interesting experiment in clean, open artwork.  This book always relies on heavy blacks in order to make up for the lack of colors, but seeing an extended fight scene presented with no shading or shadows provides a welcome change.  (It’s also a decent showcase of Mark Heike’s skills as an inker.  He can’t just cover the pages in ink; he’s got to present clear, identifiable figures against a vacant background.)  The cliffhanger with Splinter is one of the best in the series so far, and given the track record of this book, it’s entirely possible that the character truly is dead.  I do have to mention, however, that Carlson’s annoying habit of giving the Turtles utterly tasteless dialogue during horribly inappropriate moments has returned.  What’s Raphael dramatic line of dialogue as he stabs his master in the back?  “I warned you about being a pain in the ass, Master Sphincter!”  That’s…geez.  That one just might be the worst yet.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (vol. 3) #15 - May 1998


Credits: Gary Carlson (writer), Frank Fosco (penciler), Mark Heike (inks), Pat Brosseau (letters)

Pizza-Free Summary:  Donatello’s body is placed inside an alien healing tank and taken to Michelangelo’s apartment.  Leonardo attempts to contact Donatello on the Astral Plane, but inadvertently reaches Raphael.  The Foot have placed Raphael in a trance and begun a mystic ritual to heal the wounds inflicted by Splinter.  Leonardo accidentally enters Raphael’s body for a few seconds and sees a caged Splinter with Shredder’s empty armor nearby.  Later, Donatello’s consciousness escapes the Astral Plane and enters Leonardo’s body.  Don sees his body inside the healing tank and irrationally breaks the tank open.  Leonardo’s mind returns to his proper body, while Donatello returns to his cyborg form.  He claims that the exoskeleton’s computer mind is gone and that he has full control of his cybernetics.  Leonardo declares that it’s time to confront the Foot and rescue Splinter and Raphael.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Since the previous issue, the Foot Clan has rescued Raphael and placed Splinter inside a cage.
  • April O’Neil tells Michelangelo that he’s sold two more poems and a short story while the Turtles were away.  Mikey also receives a letter from Horridus in the mail.

Total N00B:  I don’t quite understand Michelangelo’s living situation.  It would appear that his “apartment” is actually the home Casey and April share, but I’m not entirely certain.  In some panels, this alleged apartment looks like the sewers and in others, it resembles a typical home.  Also, I have no idea if Mike’s cat Klunk is an established character from the Mirage days, but he returns this issue.

Review in a Half-Shell:  The goal of this issue, obviously, is to get the Turtles in position for their inevitable confrontation with the Foot Clan and its new leader Raphael.  How exactly Carlson chooses to get there is, well, odd.  Having the Turtles swap bodies sounds like a wacky plot from the days of the original cartoon, but here it isn’t played for laughs.  It isn’t used for a lot of drama, either; it’s a plot device that allows the characters to learn where the missing cast members are, but doesn’t provide them enough information to avoid the approaching fight scene.  Carlson probably could’ve gotten to this point a dozen different ways, and I’m not sure how I feel about him using the Astral Plane as his path.  On the one hand, Carlson’s use of the Astral Plane goes back to the earliest issues of this series, so it’s not as if the concept is coming out of nowhere.  If you’re going to establish that Leonardo is now able to meditate and reach a different level of consciousness, then it’s reasonable to do a story based on him making mistakes and causing problems inside this strange realm.  On the other hand, it feels like an unusually complicated way to give the characters information they could’ve gathered simply by spying on the Foot.  

More frustrating than the specific plot mechanics is the continuing saga of CyberDonnie.  I have no idea why Don’s so irrationally angry when he possesses Leonardo’s body, nor do I understand why he’s magically healed as soon as his body is (forcibly) removed from the healing tank.  Aren’t his brothers monitoring his condition?  Shouldn’t they know when he needs to be removed?  Just a few pages earlier, he was in a coma!  I also can’t grasp how exactly Donatello still has a cybernetic exoskeleton.  It abandoned him and merged with Vanguard’s morphling Lurch last issue, yet it’s still bonded to Donatello (granting him the convenient power to create whatever weapons he wants at a given time.)  Carlson is apparently treating this as a story point, since the Turtles acknowledge this and also remind us that Donnie shouldn’t be walking without his shell, so I’m not ready to complain too loudly about this one.  However, add this to the other confusing moments, such as where the opening is even supposed to be taking place, and it creates an issue that’s too cryptic for its own good.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (vol. 3) #14 - April 1998


Credits: Gary Carlson (writer), Frank Fosco (penciler), Mark Heike (inks), Pat Brosseau (letters)

Pizza-Free Summary:  Deathwatch escapes in his spaceship, while Leonardo discovers that Donatello has been mortally wounded.  The armor molts away from Donatello’s body and unexpectedly merges with Lurch.  Lurch develops a new body and files away.  Vanguard orders Wally to teleport Donatello’s body to his ship to receive life support.  Inside the Astral Plane, Donatello tries to contact Splinter.  Meanwhile, Raphael dons Shredder’s armor and kills the remaining mobsters.  Foot ninjas come out of hiding; when one demands he return Shredder’s armor, Raphael cuts him and demands loyalty from the rest of the clan.  Raphael travels to Big Tony’s home and forcefully brokers a peace agreement between the mob and the Foot Clan.  While leaving, he’s brutally attacked by the rabid Splinter, who still remembers that Shredder killed his master years earlier.

Continuity Notes:  For the record, fifty-two of Big Tony’s men were killed during Raphael’s attack.  Also, Raphael tells Big Tony about his nephew’s affair with his mistress before leaving his office.

Review in a Half-Shell:  So….what exactly is Raph’s motivation for leading the Foot Clan?  The decision comes out of nowhere and doesn’t seem to fit Raphael’s character, “bad boy” or no.  To be fair, the story does have Raphael acknowledge in his inner monologue that he’s surprising himself when he agrees to teach them, so perhaps Carlson is setting up the idea that Shredder’s armor is somehow possessing Raph and influencing his actions.  If that’s the case, I guess I can buy it, even though this is coming across as more arbitrary “change for change’s sake” plotting at the moment.  I’m not really enamored with the short, squat version of Shredder’s armor anyway, so the quicker this is over the better, honestly.  I also wonder why the story is so intent on giving Raphael a body count -- fifty-two confirmed kills, to be specific.  Are we really better off with a Raphael who’s killed more people than the Green River Killer?  Again, if this is all foreshadowing for a possession storyline, that’s somewhat defensible.  But if not, it reads as empty shock value, something I thought the book had already moved beyond.

As for the never-ending Deathwatch/CyberDonnie drama, I don’t think there’s any need to repeat myself.  At the very least, there now seems to be an effort to actually bring this nonsense to a close.  The execution is extremely flawed -- the entire sequence with Lurch feels needlessly chaotic and this issue has yet another instance of Donnie’s brothers mocking the idea that he’s dead -- but hopefully this is all leading to some form of resolution.  It’s amazing to me that Carlson has allowed this storyline to drag for so long, given that his normal inclination is to barrel though the stories as quickly as possible.  Unfortunately, there’s very little that could save this issue.  Both of the main plots leave me cold, and the little moments of humor and brotherly bonding are absent.  The cliffhanger with rabid Splinter seems promising, and it’s the only indication so far that Raph donning Shredder’s armor has a story function, so maybe things will pick up next issue.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (vol. 3) #13 - February 1998


Credits: Gary Carlson (writer), Frank Fosco (penciler), Mark Heike (inks), Pat Brosseau (letters)

Pizza-Free Summary:  Raphael disarms a few of the mobsters, but decides that their stolen machine guns aren’t enough firepower to stop Big Tony’s men.  He accidentally falls into a secret room that once served as Shredder's inner sanctum.  He adopts Shredder’s armor and weapons and rejoins the fight.  Meanwhile, the Turtles and Vanguard investigate Deathwatch’s killing spree in Sheldon, Arkansas.  At the home of Johnny Raeburn’s mother, Donatello finds Deathwatch.  Deathwatch nearly kills Donatello, until Vanguard distracts Deathwatch with his morphling Lurch.  After Vanguard blasts Deathwatch with his neural disrupter, the villain disappears.  

What the Shell?:  Johnny Raeburn is somehow back in his Deathwatch form, even though a previous issue said he abandoned it after Donatello blasted it into pieces in Chicago.  Also, Deathwatch apparently has the ability to change shape, create duplicates, and teleport -- information that hasn’t been revealed until now.

Review in a Half-Shell:  A few issues ago, Erik Larsen teased that Gary Carlson had devised a clever means to reintroduce Shredder into the title.  What we get is Raphael in Shredder’s armor, which I suppose is one way to appease the Mirage fans who were adamant about Shredder staying dead.  There’s a basic question of how exactly Raphael, who’s probably a foot shorter and much wider than Shredder can fit into the armor, but I suppose we shouldn’t dwell on that.  I don’t have a real problem with the move, although I think it’s dubious that Shredder’s armor and weapons are really going to help Raphael any more than the machine guns he picked up earlier in the issue.  I’m also unsure about how TMNT fans feel about Raphael picking up two old school tommy guns and mowing down a sea of enemies…I can’t argue that it’s something the original interpretation of Raph wouldn’t do, I just feel weird watching it.  I will say, to be fair, that the level of blood and guts in the book has been toned down considerably over the months.  The distracting shock value of the early issues is gone, and the story presents Raph’s fairly violent fight scene about as tastefully as can be imagined.

The rest of the issue is dedicated to this endless Deathwatch arc.  Counting his use as a mystery villain in the Savage Dragon issue, this is the fourth issue in a row the audience is expected to care about the dud of a villain.  It’s a shame that Carlson seems so stuck on this loser when the majority of his other creations fit into the Turtles’ world quite well.  Not only is Deathwatch a collection of tired ‘90s clichés with no discernible motive or personality, but now he’s apparently able to develop new powers whenever the plot requires him to.  I can only guess that Deathwatch can change his shape (into an old lady) and create duplicates of himself -- the storytelling isn’t clear, but there’s no other way to explain what’s happening.  And at the end of the issue, Vanguard speculates that he can teleport as well…because heaven forbid this guy actually die and the storyline receive some sort of closure.  Don’t you feel better knowing that the door’s wide open for this dork’s return?