Monday, November 30, 2009

SPIDER-MAN #5 - December 1990

Torment - Part Five

Credits: Todd McFarlane (artist/writer), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colors)

Summary: Rescue workers race to the scene of the explosion, narrowly avoiding an accident with Mary Jane’s taxi. Spider-Man, Lizard, and Calypso all avoid the brunt of the explosion and continue to fight. In desperation, Spider-Man throws metal chains around the Lizard, breaking his neck. Calypso decides to torment Spider-Man another day and forces the rest of the building to collapse. A bruised and battered Spider-Man finally returns home, unaware that the Lizard is still alive.

Panel Count: 80 panels this time. Another issue with a less than four panels-per-page average.

Where’s Felix? : Felix is seen on another ad on top of the second taxi MJ takes in this arc.

Who Wants To “Rise Above It All”? : The people of New York, the bimbo who placed a slutty personals ad, the buildings of New York, Kraven the Hunter, the smoke over Kraven’s destroyed home, and finally Spider-Man, who must rise above the unanswered questions of the past day.

Review: Anytime an issue ends with a giant explosion, you know you’re in for a copout, but this is pretty egregious. Spider-Man was standing right in front of the gas line before it erupted last issue, and according to the narrative captions, he didn’t move because he knew he had no time. We now see a disheveled Spider-Man in the aftermath of the blast, so clearly it harmed him in some way, but unbelievably he’s not burned to a crisp. I felt cheated by this as a kid, too.

Up until the last two pages, the entire issue is supposed to take place in five minutes. I guess McFarlane knew how long it would take to actually read the story, so he went with a real-time gimmick. The stylization is supposed to make up for another weak plot, as McFarlane goes to town on the assorted debris, smoke, and fire. The first-person narrative captions are all over the page, drawn at strange angles, in an effort to simulate Spider-Man’s confusion, which is a very effective trick. Spider-Man’s costume is shown in the worst shape I think it’s ever been portrayed by this point (McFarlane believes Sam Raimi based Spider-Man’s look at the end of the first movie on this issue’s cover), which added to the novelty appeal to me as a kid. There is some attempt at characterization, as Spider-Man finally starts to get angry over what’s happened to him in the past few hours, and MJ starts to wonder if Peter always feels this anxious after her near car accident. (McFarlane’s gone out of his way to insert MJ into this story, in part because he probably enjoys drawing her, but this being the early years of the marriage, it was common in all of the books for several pages just to be devoted to MJ). The main story receives virtually no resolution, as the villain just throws up her arms and disappears under a pile of debris. If you have a Master’s Degree in Obscure Spider-Man Villains, you might recognize her as Calypso, but she’s never identified in the actual story, nor does Spidey recognize her (which probably fits with continuity, since I don't think the two characters had met face-to-face at this point).

I had mixed feelings about this book growing up. Initially, I hated McFarlane’s artwork because it looked so different from the standard Romita-style Spider-Man I saw everywhere else (it didn’t help that one of the first McFarlane covers I saw was the one with a highly distorted Spider-Man reflected in Mysterio’s bowl-head). I gradually started to get into Amazing Spider-Man through the initial Venom storylines, and found myself gravitating towards McFarlane’s imaginative page layouts and overall quirkiness. I also had never seen anyone ink like McFarlane, as every object seemed to have an odd texture and every page was covered in heavy, dark lines. By the time this new series was announced, I eagerly anticipated it for months. A lot of that had to do with being a naïve kid who bought into the hype, but I was still a genuine fan. Actually reading the series, I wondered why there were so many splash pages and giant panels, and why I was paying extra for a comic that was a much quicker read than the rest of Marvel’s line. The letters page ran letters from people openly mocking McFarlane’s writing ability, which is something I’d never seen Marvel do before. Yet, I faithfully purchased each issue. I wanted a McFarlane Spider-Man comic, and there it was every month. I’d never read such a dark series before, or a Spider-Man comic without subplots or a supporting cast. It felt more like a movie and less like a TV show, and I think I bought into the idea that it was more “artistic” than the rest of Marvel’s books. This specific issue was probably the biggest letdown of the entire run, as we were never even told the villain’s name, or given a motivation outside of the Kraven references. The next issue had Hobgoblin and Ghost Rider, though, so I couldn’t wait.

Friday, November 27, 2009

SPIDER-MAN #4 - November 1990

Torment - Part Four

Credits: Todd McFarlane (artist/writer/colorist), Rick Parker (letterer)

Summary: Spider-Man flashes back to the day Kraven the Hunter buried him alive. During a break in his hallucinations he learns that the mystery woman, not Kraven, is standing in front of him. She takes him to her hideout. Spider-Man finally breaks free of his bonds and fights the Lizard once more. They accidentally knock over a firepot, which causes fire to reach a ruptured gas line. The building explodes.

Continuity Notes: The story doesn’t identify her by name, but we see enough of the mystery woman to learn that she is Calypso. Calypso is an obscure character from Denny O’Neil’s brief run who was once Kraven’s lover. She has a flashback to her origin this issue, revealing that she killed her sister in her quest to become a witch. And, just to nitpick, I’ll point out that the narrative caption claims that the Lizard reappeared twenty-four hours ago, yet his murders have appeared on two different Daily Bugle covers since then.

The next issue reveals that Calypso's now-destroyed hideout is Kraven's home. It can't be the same home we saw in "Kraven's Last Hunt" since Spider-Man returned to it during 1994's "Pursuit" crossover, and in a later Spectacular Spider-Man storyline by J. M. DeMatteis.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: We have a few more tasteful shots of hole-in-his-head Kraven.

Panel Count: Ninety-four panels this issue. The main story is interrupted by Spider-Man’s flashback to his burial, and Calypso’s flashback to her past.

Where’s Felix? : I don’t see Felix in this issue, but there is a bottle of “Cat Beer” in the debris Spider-Man’s buried under during the opening pages. Maybe Felix was removed by Marvel's lawyers.

Review: And now it becomes obvious -- this storyline is a quasi-sequel to “Kraven’s Last Hunt.” It’s not a shock that McFarlane would be attracted to one of the darkest Spider-Man comics ever published; plus it was written in the “artistic" style that McFarlane seems to enjoy so much. If McFarlane’s goal all along was to mirror the somber narrative style of KLH, then perhaps it’s not totally fair to dismiss his writing in this arc as pretentious. Of course, J. M. DeMatteis is generally regarded as a talented writer, and McFarlane was widely viewed as someone who didn’t deserve the job he’d been given. If you’re fully prepared to write off McFarlane as an amateur, seeing him go on a DeMatteis riff is probably enough to make you laugh out loud.

The subtitle to “Kraven’s Last Hunt” is “Fearful Symmetry,” which is also the name of the Watchmen issue that perfectly parallels itself. Perhaps McFarlane was influenced by both when structuring this arc, although it still reads as if he’s leaning towards Alan Moore. Another transition scene is introduced this issue, as the beats of the music in the nightclub Mary Jane visits now mirror the “DOOM DOOM DOOM” beat in Calypso’s lair. I’ve noticed for the first time that another theme also repeats itself, the origin flashback. The three middle chapters of the story all have origin flashbacks (Calypso’s origin story is even presented in a nine-panel Watchmen style grid), which might’ve been a deliberate part of McFarlane’s structure. The opening pages of each issue also have the same page layout, a five-panel opening page with long, skinny panels, followed by a giant double-page splash. McFarlane also uses long, skinny panels throughout the first three chapters of the story, usually to parallel dropping water, blood, and whatever it is Calypso is using in her witchcraft. They start to disappear in this issue, as Spidey meets Calypso for the first time in the story (which may or may not have been intentional). This type of repetition I don’t mind, and it creates the effect McFarlane’s going for more effectively than repeating “Rise Above It All!” in every issue.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

SPIDER-MAN #3 - October 1990

Torment - Part Three

Credits: Todd McFarlane (artist/writer), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colors)

Summary: Spider-Man and the Lizard continue their battle, as the mystery priestess casts spells and Mary Jane catches a cab. The priestess orders the Lizard to drop Spider-Man into a pile of trash and leave the fight. Spider-Man, disoriented from the poison, flashes back to his origin. When he awakes, he’s greeted by Kraven the Hunter, with the Lizard standing by his side.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: We see Kraven with a giant hole in his head (as this takes place after his suicide). There is a cloud of smoke behind him, so it’s possible that someone taking a quick glance at the page might assume the smoke is actually covering part of his face. That’s actually what I thought as a kid, until another kid pointed out to me the gory details you can notice if you look close.

Panel Count: 79. That averages around three and a half panels per page. This includes a two-page origin recap that really has nothing to do with the story.

Where’s Felix? : An ad for a Felix Broadway show appears on top of the taxi MJ is riding in.

Review: Why, it’s the same thing that happened in the last issue. Spider-Man and the Lizard fight, the voodoo lady keeps spilling vials, MJ is out dancing, and the Watchmen transition riff continues. McFarlane now adds some ‘70s-style second-person narration to the mix, so you get caption after caption saying that you are Spider-Man and that you are poisoned and you are responsible for your uncle’s death and you can’t believe that Kraven is alive. Once again, McFarlane’s crazy layouts keep this from being as boring as it should be, but this is badly decompressed by any standard.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

SPIDER-MAN #2 - September 1990

Torment - Part Two

Credits: Todd McFarlane (artist/writer), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colors)

Summary: The Lizard continues his killing spree, while Spider-Man examines the morning paper. When he sees the letters “CNNR” spelled in blood at the scene of a murder, he questions if Curt Connors has become the Lizard again. While searching the city, Spider-Man is attacked by the Lizard. During the fight, Spider-Man accidentally impales the Lizard. Spider-Man grows sick, due to the poison on the Lizard’s claws. Suddenly, the rain turns into blood and a resurrected Lizard leaps out of the shadows.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: One of the Lizard’s victims reads the following from a personals ad: “Will give you pleasure the moment you’re done working. Any place, any style. I guarantee that it will be wild, wet, wonderful and worth it!” There’s also a decent amount of red blood, although the scene that has the Lizard getting impaled is done with black ink, apparently because editorial wanted McFarlane to tone it down.

Panel Count: 97. This is another surprisingly high number. Aside from telling the main story, McFarlane also works in a flashback to the Lizard’s origin, along with a few pages of MJ clubbing. The large panels are also interrupted by smaller panels that begin to appear at a rapid pace, imitating the drumbeats the mysterious voodoo lady hears while casting spells.

Where’s Felix? : Peter Parker eats Felix Jam on his toast, which is used as a transition from the blood dropping from one of the Lizard’s victims.

Review: We reach the point we should’ve reached last issue, as the Lizard finally attacks Spider-Man. McFarlane has Spider-Man pick up on the clue Curt Connors subconsciously left at the murders, but it’s actually pointless since the Lizard is the one who discovers Spider-Man just a few pages later. Maybe this was an intentional misdirection on McFarlane’s part, setting us up for a lengthy search sequence when instead the villain finds the hero before he even gets started. Or maybe he just wasted our time. Speaking of which, why exactly has the Lizard been killing random people for the past two issues? If he was supposed to be going after Spider-Man, why was the voodoo lady screwing around with totally unrelated people?

Overlooking the plot (which McFarlane himself has already acknowledged isn’t his real focus), there are several creative page layouts, and the pacing of the Spider-Man/Lizard fight works rather well. If McFarlane eased off on the pretentious narrative captions, maybe it would be easier just to enjoy this as a mindless slugfest. The thinness of the plot is alleviated a bit with the various Watchmen style transitions, such as the blood/jam shift, and the multiple scenes of falling water, as MJ’s drink is spilled as the voodoo lady empties her vials into the potion as the rain begins to pour on Spider-Man. It serves no real point, but it at least gives McFarlane some visuals to play with.

Monday, November 23, 2009

SPIDER-MAN #1 - August 1990

Torment - Part One

Credits: Todd McFarlane (artist/writer), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colors)

Summary: As Spider-Man stops a mugging, a mysterious woman practices voodoo. The Lizard emerges from the East River, hypnotized and bloodthirsty. For the next several hours, he goes on a killing spree throughout the city.

Continuity Notes: This issue has a cover date of August 1990, which means it was published three years after Spider-Man married Mary Jane, during the period they lived in a SoHo loft owned by Harry Osborn. The Lizard last appeared during 1988’s “Inferno” storyline, which had the demonic influences of the city forcing Curt Connors to briefly release his Lizard persona.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: There’s a lot of blood during the Lizard scenes, and it’s actually colored red (as opposed to black, which is what the CCA preferred).

We Get Letters: The letters page is a text piece by Todd McFarlane, with editor Jim Salicrup interrupting for a few sarcastic comments. My favorite is “well, la dee da” after McFarlane talks about his desire to expand his “artistic horizons.” It’s interesting that McFarlane says that there are already four existing Spider-Man books, which includes the reprint book Marvel Tales. There are actual Spider-Man comics with original material that aren’t considered “real” Spider-Man books today!

Gimmicks: This issue comes polybagged with…absolutely nothing. It was originally polybagged because polybagged magazines apparently sold better than normal ones (I guess video game magazines had already started polybagging at this time). Originally, the bag was only going to be on the newsstand version, but allegedly comic shop owners complained so Marvel made all versions polybagged. There are also alternate covers with different colored backgrounds.

Panel Count: I got into comics at the very end of the era where most of Marvel’s books were still drawn grid style and the majority of artists seemed to be imitating John Romita, Sr. or John Buscema. McFarlane’s giant panels actually annoyed me in the beginning, so much so I took to counting how many actual panels were in a given issue of his comics. This issue has eighty-three panels (I’m counting splash pages and double-page spreads as one panel), which seems to be a little higher than his normal count. By contrast, Marvel workhorse Sal Buscema had 130 panels in this month’s Spectacular Spider-Man.

Where’s Felix? : One of McFarlane’s trademarks was drawing hidden Felix the Cat images in his comics (in a later Spawn letter column, McFarlane said he did this to amuse a stoner friend of his). Felix is on page two, on the back of a random pedestrian’s jacket.

Review: This used to show up on those “Worst Comics Ever” lists, and probably not coincidentally, I also remember it as the most-hyped comic from my short period of collecting at the time. Spider-Man #1 marks Todd McFarlane’s debut as a writer, and if you want to know the genesis of this series, McFarlane goes into great detail in the letters page. Essentially, he no longer wanted to draw other people’s ideas, and began to inquire about writing a book for Marvel, thinking that he would be given a second-string, low-profile title. Spider-Man editor Jim Salicrup was already considering another Spidey book, and offered the writing duties to McFarlane. I didn’t have access to a lot of fan press magazines, but it seems like this drove people insane at the time (this book certainly printed enough letters from people claiming Todd was “unfit” for a writing job). McFarlane brings even more heat on himself in his text piece, proclaiming that he doesn’t consider himself a writer (he credits himself as “artist-writer” on the title page), and that his stories are just going to be based around what he feels like drawing. If every aspiring comics writer didn’t already hate McFarlane, it’s almost as if he’s begging them to.

McFarlane also claims that his book will be outside of the normal Spidey continuity. This being the Marvel of the Gruenwald/DeFalco days, that doesn’t mean his book is truly out of continuity, it’s just not going to be referencing the events of the other Spider-Man books. The stories are all self-contained, supporting cast members (aside from Mary Jane) will rarely appear, and there are no subplots to be found. Just as the cover’s text box jokingly alludes to, this is a Marvel version of Legends of the Dark Knight. The book is further distanced from the main Spidey books by the higher-quality Baxter paper, and the $1.75 cover price. To put this in context, Web of Spider-Man was still being printed with Flexographic print, which is responsible for some of the ugliest looking comics of all time. Marvel’s other Baxter books cost $1.50 in 1990, so I was shocked to see an extra quarter added on to this book. I don’t know if Marvel raised the price because they knew enough people wanted a McFarlane Spider-Man comic it didn’t matter, or conversely, if the extra quarter was meant to discourage younger fans from reading the more “adult” book. The difference might not be noticeable today, but the Baxter books like Punisher War Journal did seem to push the envelope a bit more than the mainstream Marvel titles.

Giving a novice writer a franchise book might seem foolish, but the setup prevents McFarlane from doing any real harm. His stories have to have very clear beginnings and endings, since the book has the “miniseries in a series” format. The plot of each issue is extremely thin, because McFarlane needs room for giant splash pages and space to stretch events for “dramatic” purposes. He’s not using the supporting cast, and as we’ll see in the coming months, the only established villains he’s interested in are the ones that he can use as monsters. So, every story arc can fit in-between the stories in the other writers’ books, and most of the characters in the other titles won’t even be appearing. I think the only real contribution to Spider-Man continuity McFarlane goes on to make is his Hobgoblin makeover, and it seems like most people agree it was Howard Mackie who really screwed that one up later on.

So what does McFarlane do with his first issue? He reveals he’s Joe Quesada with a time machine. It’s a decompressed story with a negligible plot, it’s needlessly dark and moody, and it’s obviously following the works of Alan Moore and Frank Miller. I guess the major difference is that Quesada tries to hire the writers he admires, while McFarlane usually just does it himself. There are two lines in this book that are still held up for ridicule, almost twenty years later. One is the third-person caption that refers to Spider-Man’s webline as “advantageous”…as in, “His webline…Advantageous!” To be fair, it's possible this is an intentional joke on McFarlane’s part. In the context of the rest of the captions, I can see how the line might be intentionally ridiculous. It depends on how willing you are to give McFarlane the benefit of the doubt, I guess. The most notorious line, however, is repeated in the first five issues. “Rise above it all!” somehow manages to make its way into the opening narrative captions of every chapter of the story. It’s a little too melodramatic for the first issue, and it gets more embarrassing as the issues go on. This is a serious story about one of Spider-Man’s villains becoming a vicious zombie, so of course we need solemn caption boxes to remind us that we’re experiencing true art.

When McFarlane isn’t trying to write like Alan Moore on Swamp Thing, he can handle the conversational dialogue well enough. His Peter Parker is a little too cocky (and not great at the wisecracks, since his big insult to a mugger is just “idiot”), but I can live with it. Peter’s interactions with Mary Jane actually bring some warmth to the book, and McFarlane makes their relationship seem fun. The basic idea for the story (which McFarlane admits he got from Marvel editor Glenn Herdling) isn’t bad either. A woman with a grudge against Spidey uses a brainwashed Lizard as a weapon. Since the Lizard can regenerate his limbs, he’s an unstoppable killing machine. The obvious problem with the first issue is that we get page after page of Spider-Man web-slinging, stopping a mugging, cuddling with MJ, then web-slinging again while the Lizard eviscerates people. McFarlane’s really just drawing what he feels like and taking his sweet time getting to the point. Of course, the audience is used to this type of story today, but it felt like a rip-off at the time (unless you were absolutely mesmerized by McFarlane’s art). As for the art, it’s definitely of its era. Time has certainly been kinder to it than Liefeld’s X-Force, but McFarlane has some quirks that look odd in retrospect. Obviously he’s not going for photorealism, but you would think McFarlane would’ve had a better grasp on how to construct the human head, or how to draw two consistent eyes on the same character by this point. There’s obviously a lot of energy, and every page is interesting to look at, which I guess was enough to compensate for some odd anatomy. McFarlane’s rendition of the Lizard really is impressive, as he transforms the old villain into a toothy, drooling monster that could intimidate any superhero. It’s too bad the arc is stretched out over five chapters, because I think the first few installments could’ve been edited down into a competent first issue.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The city.


New York.

Littered with towering concrete giants that seem to swallow up the sky.

They are silent -- frozen -- man-made guardians.

Below is where the city’s heartbeat is.

People scurry about their business.

Oblivious to the crowds -- the congestion -- the pressure --

Yet --

--At times, some wish they could --

RISE ABOVE IT ALL!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

"An Evergreen Favorite with Multiple Generations of Audiences"

With forty issues under our belt, this concludes our look back at the Ninja Turtles’ Archie adventures. I stopped following the book around this point, partly because I felt I was outgrowing the Turtles, but also because I needed the extra money to follow (shockingly enough) the various X-titles. I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that my interest in TMNT waned as I approached the age of thirteen. The Turtles of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s really were a unique phenomenon, as they appealed to both boys and girls, but also kids that ranged from pre-schoolers to middle school age. As much as the hardcore fans might’ve hated it, I think the shiny, happy makeover the Turtles received opened the franchise up to younger kids who just like cute anthropomorphic characters, while the surviving elements of the original comic left the door open for older kids who like ninja weapons and action cartoons. However, because the Turtles skewed so young, it’s not surprising that a kid entering his teenage years would be willing to cast them aside.

Trying to find a specific age group for the Turtles probably isn’t an easy decision for marketers to make. Kids over a certain age want nothing to do with talking animal characters, and parents of younger kids probably don’t want them watching violent martial arts action (even the ultra-sanitized TMNT cartoon of the ‘80s came under fire for the old “promoting violence” twaddle that parents’ groups love to trot out). The original TMNT comic book had a large following amongst teenagers, but it’s important to remember the context of the times. The book started out as a one-shot parody of the popular trends in comics of the day, and one of the fads post-Cerebus was talking animals. A teenager who was into comics in 1984 could get the joke, but a teenager removed from the hobby, and existing during any other time period, isn’t going to get it. Their initial reaction is probably going to be the same one I had at age nine: I’m supposed to care about talking turtles?

After fading away from pop culture in the ‘90s, the Turtles were revived in 2003 for FOX’s Saturday morning block. This version of the Turtles was very loyal to the original comics, and overseen by co-creator Peter Laird. This is the cartoon I’m sure the fans wish they could’ve seen back in the ‘80s, and as someone who watched it as an adult a few years ago, I had the feeling that I would’ve preferred the new version to the original even as a kid. The characters are more fully developed, the action is very intense (so much so I wondered how they were getting away with it on Saturday morning), and the stories demand to be taken seriously even though they maintain outrageous elements. Maybe ten years from now, TMNT nostalgia will consist of twenty-somethings who view the Turtles as a legitimate science fiction/comic book property and not just camp. It’s obvious the new cartoon wasn’t targeting younger kids, which I’m sure is a major reason why the merchandising furor of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s wasn’t repeated. It’s a lot harder to sell the cutesy plush Michelangelo dolls when he’s starring in a cartoon aimed at kids who are too old for stuffed animals.

While reviewing my old issues of the Archie series, probably the biggest TMNT story in twenty years broke. Nickelodeon now owns the property; apparently not just the merchandising rights, but everything TMNT related. As I write these words, I believe they’re taking over the official site, which I hope they just leave alone. Ninjaturtles.com is an extensive archive of all things TMNT, obviously put together by people who really love the Turtles. It also has many of the early Mirage Studios comics available to read for free, which I have an unfortunate suspicion Nickelodeon won’t keep around for long. No one knows what exactly Nickelodeon will do with the Turtles, but I imagine they’re going back to the late ‘80s for inspiration. There’s something to be said for niche marketing, but in general, a property is tailored to reach as large an audience as possible. As fans, we might hate it when marketers screw around with a property we care about, but the Turtles have already gone through their “mainstream sell-out” phase, and it was wildly successful. It would be tempting to think that men in business suits have no clue what really interests kids, but it’s obvious that these guys retooled TMNT to make it more commercial in the ‘80s and kids ate it up. “Cowabunga!” might make you cringe, but millions of little kids pumped their fists in excitement every time a Ninja Turtle shouted the catchphrase.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures was an early attempt to incorporate the “real” Turtles of the black and white comics with the much more commercial, mass-merchandised version. Doing research on the history of the book, I learned for the first time that it was actually produced by creators at Mirage Studios and published by Archie. Apparently, Archie itself only produced the comic at the very end, after the editors had a falling out with long-time writer Stephen Murphy. Under Archie, the book limped along for a few months (with Dan Slott of all people writing material) before the company finally pulled the plug. The evolution of the title is fun to watch, as it goes from straight adaptations of the cartoon, to stories in the same style as the cartoon, to darker, more complex stories that incorporate political issues and philosophy from world religions. It’s often preachy and one-sided, but you can’t deny it’s coming from a strong point of view. This is not a bland comic, which isn’t something you normally associate with a merchandised series.

Reading these issues as an adult, you have to wonder how exactly the Archie editors felt about this material. Not surprisingly, they didn’t like it (in Murphy’s words, “they flipped their toupees”), which is why the craziness eventually had to end. Exactly how crazy this series got I don’t know, but I do know that one of the later storylines involved Hitler’s brain. When you consider that Marvel Comics went years without acknowledging that the Red Skull was a Nazi, you’ve got to admit that putting this stuff in an Archie comic was pretty ballsy. I’m sure I would’ve been more willing to stick with the book if it didn’t have the “kid’s comic” stigma attached to it. How exactly to keep older kids interested in the Turtles was an obvious problem the merchandisers ran into, since the starting point of their potential audience was around three years old. Apparently, CBS tried to revamp the TMNT cartoon as a more action-oriented series for older viewers in 1994 (the same year they aired Jim Lee’s WildC.A.T.S. and tried to compete with the superhero line-up on FOX), but it was unsuccessful. Even though I knew Adventures wasn’t a dumb kids comic, I still felt like I should be moving on from the Turtles by the time I reached thirteen.

I hope Nickelodeon takes its lead from the Adventures series, since it managed to be kid-friendly while maintaining the elements that made TMNT so popular in the first place. TMNT walks the line between serious and absurd, and while that’s hard for some creators to understand, Adventures figured it out long ago. It’s a shame that most of the stories have never been reprinted, because I think the book really is one of the better examples of how to do an “all ages” comic. I’ve had fun looking back on Adventures, and I hope you’ll join me in a few days as the ‘90s nostalgia tour continues.

Monday, November 16, 2009

TMNT Adventures #40 – January 1993

1492

Credits: Dean Clarrain (script), Chris Allan (pencils), Brian Thomas (inks), Gary Fields (letters), Barry Grossman (colors)

This was published during the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' journey to America. Given the philosophical bent of the previous issues, it’s not a shock that Columbus is given the “evil white guy” treatment here (which, in fairness, he apparently was). The story begins with the Turtles sailing out of the rainforest on a homemade boat. On their way to the Caribbean, they’re hit by a heavy storm and washed ashore. When they awake, they’re greeted by Arawak natives, which makes Splinter question if they’ve traveled through time. His suspicions are confirmed when the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria arrive. Columbus’ men disarm the natives and the Turtles before Columbus walks ashore.

Columbus examines the Turtles’ Japanese weapons and decides that he’s mapped a new route to Asia. (Neither Columbus or the Arawak are bothered by the existence of mutants, which is brought up in the dialogue but never actually explained in the story.) Columbus decides that he wants one of the Turtles to accompany him and selects Donatello. The Turtles are wary, but Splinter feels like “there is more than meets the eye” and that Donatello must go. Inside Columbus’ ship, Columbus delivers a two-page monologue about his love of gold, even though Donatello can’t speak Italian and has no idea what he’s saying.

Meanwhile, on the beach, Columbus’ men are giving in to their evil European urges and harassing the local females. The Turtles team up with the natives to stop the explorers, which leads Splinter to decide it’s time to rescue Donatello. Simultaneously, Donatello is greeted by an “earth-spirit” who calls himself/itself “the Other.”

The Other explains to Donatello that the Turtles are on one of the planet’s “power spots,” and are sharing the same moment in time with Columbus because they landed exactly five hundred years apart on the same spot. The Other then goes on to explain the repercussions of Columbus’ journey, including the diseases spread to the natives and the use of his sailing route in the future slave trade. After the Other thoroughly depresses Donatello, he disappears into the darkness. The Turtles arrive to rescue him, get caught up in another storm, and wash up on the same beach the next morning. However, they’re now in 1992. The team sneaks onboard a cruise ship and sails to America.

Review in a Half-Shell: I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that this story was written as a preemptive strike against any positive portrayals of Christopher Columbus during the 500th anniversary hoopla. I know that there were two movies about Columbus during 1992 (and I think both of them bombed), but it seems like the mainstream media was cynical enough at this point to present a more skeptical look at Columbus’ legacy. I was in 7th grade at the time and don’t recall ever being taught that Columbus was particularly admirable, just that he did something historically significant. If your teacher did say something nice about Christopher Columbus, though, I’m sure quoting the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures issue would’ve set her straight. Judged as a story and not a statement, I’ll give it credit for coming up with a creative hook to examine the idea, and the harsh history lesson adds some depth to the issue. Of course, if you want to do a story that emphasizes the negative results of Columbus’ exploration, that means you’re also going to get some pretty one-dimensional characterizations for the opponents. Plus, it’s another issue where the villains are absolutely no threat to the Turtles at all.

Pizza References: Raphael remarks that “there isn’t a pizzeria within five hundred years of this place.”

Turtlemania: There’s a two-page ad for the TMNT III – Manhattan Project video game. I’m pretty sure this was the last TMNT game released exclusively on the original Nintendo.

Friday, November 13, 2009

TMNT Adventures #39 – December 1992

United We Stand, Divided We Fall – Part Three

Credits: Dean Clarrain (script), Chris Allan (pencils), Jon D’Agostino (inks), Gary Fields (letters), Barry Grossman (colors)

Following the events of Mighty Mutanimals #6, the Ninja Turtles and Mutanimals are being held captive by Null. Standing guard over them are the three monsters from the previous issue, who I guess we’re now supposed to refer to as Famine, War, and Pestilence (“Death,” or the Grim Reaper as he’s usually called in the story, sits in the distance, playing with puppets of the other three Horsemen). Jagwar asks Null why he enjoys destroying the rainforests and committing cruel acts. Null responds that death and destruction are his favorite things, and just to prove how evil he can be, he casually mentions that Jagwar’s mother will now join his harem. But that’s not all, because he’s also going to force his former aide Kid Terra to push the button that electrocutes the captured mutants. Villains often brag about “taking care” of the hero’s girlfriend, but Jagwar has to hear this stuff about his mother as the villain prepares to kill him, which is even sicker.

As Null leaves to retrieve Kid Terra from his base, Azrael arrives to rescue the mutants. The Turtles and Mutanimals team up against the three Horsemen. Unbeknownst to Null (probably because, like me, he didn’t read Mighty Mutanimals #6), Kid Terra, Azrael, and Juntarra, Jagwar’s mother, have escaped his custody. They spot the Grim Reaper playing with his puppets in the distance and discern that he’s actually controlling the monsters.

As Kid Terra struggles with the Grim Reaper, Null takes a cheap shot from his pistol and shoots him in the chest. Azrael, Juntarra, and Ninjara team up to fight Null, who responds, “I don’t kill women, I use them.

As the battle rages, Screwloose checks on Kid Terra. While the Grim Reaper is busy harvesting Kid’s soul, Screwloose destroys his puppets, which causes the monsters to disintegrate. Without reinforcements, Null decides to escape the battle. He suddenly grows a pair of batwings, which exposes him as a demon. Null brags that he grows stronger which each act of evil as he flies away. I wonder if Clarrain/Murphy realized that his previous portrayal of Null was so over-the-top “eviiiilll” that he decided to make it an actual plot point.

Meanwhile, the Grim Reaper takes Kid Terra’s soul from his body. Juntarra lets out a censored profanity (she uses a “#*@&!!” in almost every panel she’s in), and destroys the Grim Reaper with a giant stick. Kid Terra’s soul is saved, and the day is won. In the distance, the Grim Reaper gradually materializes on top of his horse and rides away. Later, the Turtles wonder when Cudley will return and take them home.

Review in a Half-Shell: Even without reading the Mighty Mutanimals chapter, this is still fun. It’s also another example of the book going into more and more adult territory, which makes the ultra-cute renditions of the various characters either off-putting or just a part of the title’s odd appeal. What’s really incongruous is the lettering change that occurs a few pages in. Only Gary Fields is credited with letters, but it’s obviously a very different style from his previous work for most of the issue. The letters are now large and round, with big curvy balloons that resemble something out of the Golden Age. It’s the type of lettering you would stereotypically associate with a kid’s comic, which is obviously not the direction Clarrain/Murphy has been taking the book. Seeing Null’s line about using women and the various “time to die!” threats lettered in this style is actually pretty humorous. If you just flip through the comic without paying attention to what’s actually in the word balloons, you would probably have a very different impression of what’s going on.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

TMNT Adventures #38 – November 1992

United We Stand, Divided We Fall – Part One

Credits: Dean Clarrain (script), Chris Allan (pencils), Brian Thomas (inks), Gary Fields (letters), Barry Grossman (colors)

It’s 1992, so we’re legally required to experience at least one crossover. This issue follows the events of the Mighty Mutanimals regular series, of which I’ve read exactly one issue. Two pages into the story, we’re drawn into the conclusion of Mighty Mutanimals #5. The Mutanimals are in the desert, under attack by Null’s Robo-Skeleton soldiers. They’re accompanied by a shapechanging woman named Azrael, who morphs into an eagle and flies for help when the rest of the team is knocked unconscious. She needn’t have bothered, as Cudley has dropped off the Turtles, along with Splinter and Ninjara, nearby.

With the added backup, the second round goes in the Mutanimal’s favor. Azrael watches from the sidelines, commenting on how helpless she feels. Null views this as the perfect opportunity to take her captive.

Before the subtext gets any creepier, Null takes Azrael to his nearby hideout. He’s greeted by the Grim Reaper and three shadowy monsters. Meanwhile, the Mutanimals explain that they encountered Null while searching for Jagwar’s mother, Juntarra. They’ve learned from Azrael that this area was once a rainforest before Null’s desertification process destroyed it. The united mutants follow a trail of smoke and discover that zombies are burning a nearby rainforest.

Dreadmon and Jagwar proudly rip the zombies into purple goo, but the threat isn’t over. The three monsters from Null’s hideout emerge, ready to fight. To be continued in Mighty Mutanimals #6 (which I don’t own).

Review in a Half-Shell: It’s somewhat amusing that this crossover appeared at the same time as “The X-Cutioner’s Song.” By the time the issue’s over, you’re given a basic idea of the story so far, but there is a sense that you’re walking in on a movie an hour after it started. It’s several pages into the story before it’s even confirmed that the events are taking place on Earth, which would be obvious for anyone following Mighty Mutanimals, but the last issue of TMNT Adventures ended with Cudley escorting the Turtles through outer space. When the next issue opens with a setting of the night sky and a rocky terrain, you could just as easily assume that the story is taking place on an asteroid or alien planet. The character of Azrael isn’t really introduced, outside of the explanation that she can change into an eagle (was she the eagle from the opening of Mighty Mutanimals #1?), and I have no idea where the rainforest-burning zombies came from. If you are a fan of the Mutanimals, though, it is nice to see them interacting with the Turtles again.

What the Shell? : We learn that Wingnut’s wings no longer work, with a footnote pointing towards Mighty Mutanimals #2. Wingnut says they were destroyed by a giant snake, “Humongous Trouserous was its scientific name, I think…” Now, what exactly happened in Mighty Mutanimals #2?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

TMNT Adventures #37 – October 1992

Stump’d Again!!

Credits: Dean Clarrain (script), Chris Allan (pencils), Jon D’Agostino (inks), Gary Fields (letters), Barry Grossman (colors)

After their adventure in the Middle East, the Turtles spend days traveling the desert on their way to Africa. Just as Michelangelo complains to Splinter about desert travel, Cudley the Cowlick appears. Cudley offers them a ride out of the desert if they agree to another wrestling tournament. Despite Ninjara’s misgivings about traveling inside a giant cow’s head's mouth, the heroes go along with Cudley’s offer. The Turtles are escorted backstage, where they learn that they’ll have to wrestle each other. The winner will then face off with a new wrestler, El Mysterio.

Before the match begins, Splinter and Ninjara have a private conversation. Splinter tells Ninjara that she’s proven herself to the group, but he’s not sure how he feels about Raphael having a girlfriend. He realizes his Turtles are growing up, and is comforted by Ninjara as they gaze at the stars. It’s soon time for the main event, which pits the Turtles against each other in a four-way match. Surprisingly, Donatello proves to be the winner (his explanation for his moves is that “it pays to read”). He now faces El Mysterio, who we learn is not the Spider-Man villain wearing a sombrero.

Donatello twists “El Mysterio”’s limbs into a submission hold and emerges as the grand winner. Stump is true to his word, and Cudley brings everyone back to Earth.

Review in a Half-Shell: This is mainly a sequel to issue #7, which was the first issue of the title to get a little weird. There’s not much of a plot, but it does manage to get the group out of a geographically inconvenient location. Splinter and Ninjara have a nice moment together, and I thought the revelation of El Mysterio was pretty funny.

Meanwhile, in Riverdale: The Archie gang is promoting Club Med vacations, and a bikini-clad Veronica has a dream that explains how Archie comics are made out of recycled material.

Monday, November 9, 2009

TMNT Adventures #36 – September 1992

Steel Breeze

Credits: Dean Clarrain (script), Chris Allan (pencils), Brian Thomas (inks), Gary Fields (letters), Barry Grossman (colors)

As the sandstorm dies down, Shredder approaches Splinter’s unconscious body. The Turtles, along with Ninjara and Al’Faqua, arrive to rescue him, but they soon discover Shredder has a new ally. The mystery man fires energy blasts that form a forcefield around the heroes. Declaring the wonders of science, he removes his mask to reveal his true face. His name is Verminator-X, and he’s a humanoid cat cyborg from the future. He also enjoys cigars.

Welcome to 1992, Turtles. Shredder and Verminator-X escape with Splinter, leaving the others behind in the forcefield. Raphael’s sai manages to puncture the energy bubble and free his friends. Al’Faqua sends his pet falcon Talyn to find the villains, as they take Splinter to a nearby oasis. Splinter learns that Shredder has stolen the Black Stone of Mecca, and is planning to take the White Stone. Owning both stones, he believes, will grant him immortality. Following Talyn’s guidance, the Turtles travel through an underground tunnel called a foggara to reach the oasis.

After reaching the oasis, the Turtles learn that Shredder’s fellow travelers are actually Foot Supersoldiers.

Shredder, presumably through the help of his very ‘90s friend, is opening a time portal. He plans to bring Splinter along, just to keep him around for future tortures, but the Turtles remind Shredder that he owes them a debt of honor (following Krang’s wacky misadventure that took place on top of Shredder’s head). Declaring everyone even, he throws Splinter back. Al’Faqua is upset that Shredder and Verminator-X escaped with the Black Stone, but Ninjara reveals that she used her thief abilities to steal the real stone and replace it with a fake. Al’Faqua gets down on his knees, holding the Black Stone and praising Allah (which I’m sure won’t at all offend the concerned mother who wrote in this issue, complaining about the “New Age and Buddhist rhetoric and subject matter” of #33).

Review in a Half-Shell: Wow, Al’Faqua and Verminator-X in the same issue. Verminator-X is either a clever parody, years ahead of its time, of some of the more ridiculous early ‘90s comics trends…or an awkward attempt to cash in on those trends. Either way, this book is obviously something that could’ve only been published between 1991 and 1994. Since TMNT started out as a parody of Marvel’s early ‘80s output, I guess it’s appropriate that cyborg mutants from the future eventually got their due, also. I’ve always liked the Foot Supersoldiers, and Clarrain/Murphy is still able to use the unique setting to the story’s advantage, so even if we’re supposed to take Verminator-X seriously, there’s some solid work here.

I Was Not Aware of That: The story details how an oasis is created, describing a foggara as a “self-filling subterranean aqueduct” that uses gravity to slowly bring water to an oasis.

Friday, November 6, 2009

TMNT Adventures #35 – August 1992

The Black Stone

Credits: Dean Clarrain (script), Chris Allan (pencils), Rod Ollerenshaw (inks), Gary Fields (letters), Barry Grossman (colors)

The Turtles and Ninjara continue to follow Splinter on their tour of Asia. Passing through Iran, they catch a boat to Oman, their next destination. After days of traveling through the desert, Splinter tells the story of the Black Stone of Mecca. The Black Stone, described as a meteor that fell to Earth three thousand years ago, is now a Muslim object of reverence. The “pre-Islamic Arabs of Mecca” built a cubic structure called the Ka’Ba to house the Black Stone, which became the center of worship for a pantheon of gods. Splinter then describes the history of Muhammad, the Koran, and Islam’s rise as the major religion in the area. For what it’s worth, the story of Muhammad is presented without skepticism, so Splinter doesn’t say that Muhammad believed that he was the messenger of God, he bluntly states that he was. So now, Shinto, Buddhism, and Islam are all in the running to be the official religion of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures.

Splinter wants to get close to Mecca to see the Ka’Ba, even though the city is closed off to non-Muslims. Ninjara asks if Splinter is familiar with the White Stone, the meteorite that arrived with the Black Stone and was allegedly stolen by a nomad soon after it landed. She claims that the White Stone has been sold amongst the world’s richest men for years, and that many attempts have been made to steal its mate, the Black Stone. I’m sure this will be important later.

The Turtles come across six men traveling through the desert. One of them thinks he recognizes Splinter through his robe, and quickly abandons his group to follow. The Turtles set up camp in an abandoned city outside of Mecca, where they hope to hide from an approaching sandstorm. Suddenly, they’re attacked by sword-wielding men in Arab garb. Michelangelo is struck from behind by a giant bird-man. He accuses the Turtles and friends of being the six robed men who stole the Black Stone. He declares his name is, I swear to you, Al’Falqa.

Splinter convinces Al’Falqa that they’re innocent, as the sandstorm blasts the city. Splinter isn’t able to take cover in time and succumbs to the sand. From a distance, the man following the Turtles watches with binoculars. He reveals himself as Shredder.

Review in a Half-Shell: This is mostly setup for a new storyline, but the story manages to work in a lot of action and more real world history and geography lessons. Clarrain/Murphy is really going into unexpected places for story ideas, which pulls the book even further away from its toy tie-in roots. Having the Turtles meet yet another anthropomorphic character in a foreign country is becoming pretty cliché at this point, though. I get that anthropomorphic characters are just a part of the TMNT canon, but having a new one pop up in every country they visit is faintly ridiculous. And it’s not as if there was an Al’Falqa action figure that just had to be promoted for Playmates.

I Love the (Early) ‘90s: Donatello comments on black smoke coming from Kuwait’s direction. Even though the Gulf War was “over a year ago,” some of the oil wells are still burning.

I Was Not Aware of That: The Black Stone of Mecca is a real item. The White Stone, according to some legends, is another part of the stone that was housed in a nearby city.

Mah Name!

Credits: Dean Clarrain (script), Chris Allan (pencils), Sid Fontainbleu (inks & letters), Barry Grossman (colors)

On Stump Asteroid, young contest winner Nobbie Bulkhead is saddled with Cryin’ Hound after Ace Duck and Trap abandon him. Cryin’ Hound explains that he constantly repeats his name because his mother, who gave birth to a large litter, didn’t want him to be forgotten. After a fire consumed “the maul,” where all of the puppies hung out, Cryin’ Hound was reunited with his mother because he memorized his name. Nobbie Bulkhead adopts Cryin’ Hound’s mannerisms and annoys Stump and Sling.

Review in a Half-Shell: What is this? I have no idea why exactly this back-up exists, nor do I truly understand Cryin’ Hound’s story. (It seems like knowing his mother’s name would’ve been more help after escaping “the maul” anyway.) Is this somehow another Elvis reference? The sheer absurdity of it is kind of entertaining, and I do like Hound’s line that the fire was “the kind of mess you don’t want your nose rubbed into.” What’s odd is that the lettering and colors remind me of Alan Moore’s 1963 project, even though this isn’t an obvious nostalgia story.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

TMNT Adventures #34 – July 1992

The Search for the Charlie Llama

Credits: Dean Clarrain (script), Chris Allan (pencils), Brian Thomas (inks), Gary Fields (letters), Barry Grossman (colors)

Outside of the Crystal Palace, the Turtles and their friends look for Charlie Llama. They come across Jang La, a pregnant woman who reveals that Charlie is not only the latest incarnation of Buddha, but also a midwife. She says that she saw last issue’s Skeleton-Dervish fly off to another palace. Katmandu recognizes the palace as the home of the sorcerer Mang-Thrasha. While the others leave to investigate Mang-Thrasha’s palace, Donatello and Splinter stay behind to assist in the delivery of Jang La’s baby. A group of Tantric Monkeys (described as “monk monkeys,” Charlie Llama’s personal choir) arrives to help the delivery.

As the others head for Mang-Thrasha’s palace, they’re attacked by more Whirling Dervish ninjas and the Skeleton-Dervish. Katmandu defeats the Skeleton-Dervish by literally ripping his bones apart. As it mutters its final word, Michelangelo stomps on the remains of its jaw. And Chris Allan’s art makes it just adorable.

The Turtles and friends arrive at the palace and finally meet Charlie Llama, who is literally a humanoid llama. Mang Thrasha reveals that he kidnapped Charlie Lllama to please the Chinese. Once the Chinese have Charlie recant his claims of being Buddha, they feel that his threat to their rule of Tibet will end. The Turtles fight against a group of Chinese soldiers, while Charlie Llama peacefully wills himself into death in a backroom. His last words: “Always remem-bahh that there are no endings…only new bahh-ginnings…” Meanwhile, Jang La gives birth to her baby, which has got to be the first depiction of afterbirth goo in an Archie comic.

That evening, everyone unites. Splinter isn’t upset about Charlie’s death, because he knows that Buddha is now reincarnated as Jang La’s baby. In case anyone’s unsure, the baby’s first words are “Bahh bahh bahh baah.”

Review in a Half-Shell: Man, if people were offended by the Turtles meditating, imagine what they thought of this storyline. It’s interesting that this issue presents reincarnation and Buddha as actual plot points when the letters page has a letter commenting that Izanagi and Izanami (who appeared as characters a few issues earlier) are actually from a different belief system. On top of that, Islam gets referenced in the next storyline. This is really the strangest this book has gotten so far, even though Chris Allan’s art is still creating the illusion that this is a kid’s comic based on a TV show. Not that Allan is a bad artist, his stuff is just so clean and amiable it seems at odds with the darker stories. That said, the action works pretty well, and the story’s so outrageous it’s fun just to see where it’s headed. Clarrain/Murphy also gets points for actually listing Tibet and China by name, instead of coming up with fictional countries to serve as obvious allegories. My only real complaint is the fact that Splinter knew a humanoid animal (who’s never given an origin) years before he become one himself. I realize it’s ridiculous to complain about coincidences in a story like this, but it just bothers me.

I Love the (Early) ‘90s: Michelangelo lets out a “Not!” on page ten, and he later refers to the Skeleton-Dervish as “Bone Loc” (as in, this guy).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

TMNT Adventures #33 – June 1992

The Karma of Katmandu

Credits: Dean Clarrain (script), Chris Allan (pencils), Rod Ollerenshaw (inks), Gary Fields (letters), Barry Grossman (colors)

The layout of the cover is repeated on the first panel of the issue, only now it’s Splinter perched above a group of human security guards. He declares that he’s escaping and starts a fight. They knock him unconscious and place his naked body inside a dank prison cell. Splinter awakens from the dream, naked again, claiming that it’s a sign.

Soon, Splinter is leaving Japan with Ninjara and the Turtles. April, Fu Sheng, Chu Hsi, and Oyuki are flying to America, but Splinter and the others are sailing to Tibet. Along the way, they see the sights and barter their goods and clothing to help continue the journey. While traveling on yak, they run across Katmandu, a six-limbed humanoid tiger (the cover’s layout is repeated again when Katmandu first appears, spying on the Turtles in the distance). He’s under attack by Whirling Dervishes, a group of ninjas who spin in circles like the Red Tornado.

After he’s aided by the Turtles and Splinter, Katmandu reveals that he’s headed for the same location as the Turtles, the Crystal Palace. Splinter wants to see his former mentor, Charlie Llama, again, and Katmandu is hoping to improve his karma by becoming Llama’s bodyguard and pupil. Because cultural sensitivity is very important, Katmandu spends the next few pages explaining karma, nirvana, and Buddhist principles. The group finally reaches the Crystal Palace, but it’s empty. Suddenly, a whirling four-armed skeleton emerges. Laughing manically, it races out of the door and disappears. Katmandu declares it “bad karma” as the next issue box promises “The Search for Charlie Llama!”

Review in a Half-Shell: It’s not a bad start for the new storyline. A punny name like “Katmandu” is what I expect from the toy line and not the more serious comic book, but I guess it’s so obvious it had to be done. I like the traveling scenes, and the two-page map that details how the Turtles are getting around and which countries they’re traveling through. It doesn’t come across as a forced geography lesson, unlike some of the heavy-handed messages of the earlier issues, and it adds to the atmosphere of the story.

I Love the (early) ‘90s: Michelangelo’s response to Katmandu’s lesson on nirvana is “Smells like teen spirit if ya ask me!” Splinter also declares on the first page that he feels like “a rat in a cage,” but this issue predates the Smashing Pumpkins song by three years.

I Was Not Aware of That: A “whirling dervish” is an actual term that can describe “somebody who busily does many things in quick succession” or a "member of an ascetic Muslim religious group known for very energetic whirling.”

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

MIGHTY MUTANIMALS #1 – April 1992

The Mighty Mutanimals!

Credits: Dean Clarrain (script), Garrett Ho (pencils), Jon D’Agostino (inks), Gary Fields (letters), Barry Grossman (colors)

The story begins with a bizarre sequence. A bald eagle watches as Death, riding a horse, spots a scrap of what appears to be jaguar fur in the desert. Death sniffs the fur, then tosses it into the wind. It’s retrieved by the eagle, who flies away.

The natural transition from this scene is, of course, a shot of Mondo Gecko skateboarding. We learn that the Mighty Mutanimals are still in the Amazon, just waiting for another adventure. After Man Ray introduces the Glublubs to their new home, an underwater marine preserve, he meets up with Kid Terra (formerly Null’s henchman, The Kid). Man Ray is still angry about Bubbla’s death, but he’s willing to forgive Kid Terra. Kid pledges that he’ll expose Null’s environmental violations and help clean up his toxic waste dump. (Even though he’s only now referred to as “Kid Terra” on-panel, he’s been listed that way since his earliest appearances, over a year prior, in the indicia. Clarrain/Murphy obviously was planning a lot of this out far in advance.)

After Wingnut and Screwloose have fun with the local bat population, they reunite with Leatherhead, Mondo Gecko, Dreadmon, and Man Ray at Jagwar’s temple. Jagwar gives the Mutanimals jangala fruit, so that they can all have the same psychedelic experience. He explains, once again, that his mother was a free-spirited human who mated with a Jaguar spirit. As motherhood was “not one of her strong points,” she abandoned him when he was twelve. As he’s telling the story, he’s visited by the spirit of his father, who tells Jagwar that his mother is in danger. Jagwar (and the rest of the mutants, since they’re all tripping together) sees an image of his mother in the desert, receiving the scrap of fur from the bald eagle. Suddenly, she’s attacked by Death and kidnapped.

The bald eagle lets out a scream, which awakens the Mutanimals. The Mighty Mutanimals exit dramatically to search for Jagwar’s mother.

Review in a Half-Shell: Apparently, the Mighty Mutanimals mini was pretty successful, since it didn’t take long for the regular series to debut. This is the only issue of the monthly series I own (I was losing interest in TMNT at this point), which is too bad since I enjoyed revisiting it. The story’s intriguing, and Garrett Ho’s pencils manage to merge an old school Disney look with standard superhero art.

What the Shell? : The entire issue is freaky, especially when you consider that it was a Ninja Turtles spinoff published by Archie. I especially like the fight scene between Jagwar’s mother and Death. She shouts “Cripes!” and “#^$!!!” during the fight, revealing that the naturist who’s traveling the world in search of spiritual enlightenment has a dirty mouth.

Monday, November 2, 2009

TMNT Adventures #32 – May 1992


The Good, the Bad, and the Tattooed

Credits: Eric Talbot & Dean Clarrain (plot), Dean Clarrain (script), Chris Allan (pencils), Brian Thomas (inks), Gary Fields (letters), Barry Grossman (colors)

After one of the gang members from the previous issue recovers from his beating, he explains to the Turtles that he came seeking their help. He reveals that his friend Tai San’s beloved chihuahua was stolen. Tai San soon arrives to give the details of the kidnapping. Gangsters known as the Yen Brothers have stolen his dog, and plan on killing it if he doesn’t throw his sumo-wrestling match. Ninjara, Raphael, and Leonardo go into the city to rescue Inky, the chihuahua. Everyone else keeps an eye on Tai San during his sumo match.

During the match, Tai San is introduced by his wrestling (and action figure) name, Tattoo.

Yes, Tattoo is a yellow-skinned sumo wrestler. In fairness, the other Asian characters aren’t colored this way, but it’s still surprising that even in the early ‘90s you could get away with a character like this. I don’t know if there was ever an in-story explanation for Tattoo’s bright yellow skin, but it wouldn’t surprise me since the creators of this book don’t strike me as the eager-to-offend type. It’s possible that the creators didn’t even want to make him yellow, and he’s colored this way just to match up with his action figure.

Anyway… Ninjara’s team rescues Inky from his captors, as Leonardo reminds us twice that he hates guns. Tattoo refuses to throw his match, which leads to the Yen Brothers’ goons attacking him after the competition. The Turtles, along with Splinter and Warrior Dragon, fight them off. As the Yen Brothers try to escape, they’re confronted by Inky, who is apparently psychopathically violent. Tattoo returns home with the Turtles, where he gives them a “very old, very special” sword as thanks.

Review in a Half-Shell: I guess it’s been a few issues since we’ve had a throwback to one of the earlier “introduce the new toy” stories. Tattoo’s devotion to Inky is kind of endearing, and it’s another example of the book going off into weird places a standard superhero comic wouldn’t go. Chris Allan’s art veers into a very cartoony direction, which keeps the story from getting too dull.

Pizza References: Donatello comments that Tattoo can “probably put away more pizzas than Michaelangelo*.” I think the TMNT Handbook should rate all characters on their pizza consumption abilities, rather than that “Class 10 Strength” nonsense.

*I haven’t mentioned this before, but Michelangelo was still being spelled “Michaelangelo” at this time, based on a misspelling that goes back to the first Mirage issue. According to Wiki, the actual spelling of the painter didn’t become the official spelling of the Turtle until the most recent series began.

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