Wednesday, November 5, 2014

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (vol. 3) #1 - June 1996

Credits:  Gary Carlson (writer), Frank Fosco (penciler), Erik Larsen and Chance Wolf (inks), Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

Pizza-Free Summary:  The Turtles’ eighteenth birthday party is interrupted by the mysterious Pimiko and her army of cyborgs.  Donatello is shot and seriously injured.  One of the cyborgs is decapitated by Raphael.  Pimiko drugs Splinter and kidnaps him, along with the injured Donatello.  Later, when Donatello regains consciousness, he fights to escape Pimiko, not realizing he’s jumping out of a helicopter.  One of the cyborgs is dragged along with him.  Inside the sewers, the Turtles learn the decapitated cyborg is still alive, thanks to his armor.  The cyborg blasts Raphael directly in the face, causing severe burns.  Leonardo responds by hacking the armor into tiny pieces.  Suddenly, Splinter contacts Leonardo through the Astral Plane, but their conversation is quickly interrupted by Pimiko. 

Continuity Notes:
  • This series was intended as a follow-up to the original Mirage Studios continuity, even though it’s my understanding Peter Laird retroactively declared it non-canon when he returned to the Turtles.
  • Pimiko claims to be working for someone named the Dragonlord.  She specifically wants one Turtle (she isn’t picky which one) and Splinter.
  • Michelangelo dismisses Splinter when he mentions his impending mortality, telling Splinter that he’s always “threatening to croak.”  Mikey’s right…Splinter first told the Turtles he was near death in the very first issue of the Mirage series!

What the Shell?:  Speaking of which, Splinter claims this issue that he’s already exceeded a rat’s lifespan and now his “human lifespan nears an end” -- except the Splinter of the original continuity isn’t human.  It was the cartoon that merged him with Hamato Yoshi, and as far as I know, no story in the Mirage books established him as a mutated human.

I Was Not Aware of That:  According to Wikipedia, “Himiko or Pimiko (卑弥呼, ca. 170-248 CE) was a shaman queen of Yamataikoku in ancient Wa (Japan).”

Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority:  Donatello is covered in blood for most of the issue; the villains actually believe he’s bled to death at one point in the story.  Raphael is horribly disfigured after getting shot in the face.  The cyborg decapitation scene is also fairly graphic.  When he’s finally killed, it’s when Leo slices his body into minuscule pieces.  And, not surprisingly, Pimiko looks like a standard Erik Larsen design for a female character during this era…which means she’s wearing a thong and body armor that doesn’t cover her cleavage.

I Love the '90s:  When it’s time to put the decapitated cyborg out of its misery, Raphael exclaims “Just call me Dr. Krevorkian!”

Review in a Half-Shell:  That cover’s kind of what you expect a ‘90s TMNT series by Image to look like, isn’t it?  It’s over-the-top and slightly grotesque, but I also find it oddly appealing.  Honestly, I wouldn’t mind this kind of “extreme” take on the Turtles so long as Larsen was doing the pencils and inks.  On human characters this approach would look ridiculous, but on the Turtles, it kind of works.  The interior art by Frank Fosco is reminiscent of the Larsen cover, but not quite so…vein-y.  Fosco was an artist who worked on a few projects for Erik Larsen in the ‘90s, and his style suits the Turtles quite well.  Fosco’s facial expressions are great, and he seems to have grasped the Turtles’ unique anatomy rather quickly.  The main problem with his art this issue, and Larsen acknowledges this in an upcoming letter column, is that it’s too “open for color.”  Since this title is in black and white, that’s a problem.  The unique texture of the classic Eastman/Laird issues is gone, and there’s no gray tone to give the art an added sense of depth.  Consequently, some of these pages require you to just stare at them for a few seconds before you can decipher what’s supposed to be happening.

The story’s opening is reminiscent of something Larsen was doing in Savage Dragon at the time -- the dramatic splash page with little-or-no dialogue featuring the hero in trouble, introducing a large fight scene to open the issue.  Instead of the Savage Dragon being impaled or electrocuted, this time it’s Donatello on the receiving end of a cyborg’s gun.  Writer Gary Carlson is another frequent Larsen collaborator and it’s not hard to notice that they share a similar aesthetic.  That means that much of the issue is dedicated to the action, but the plot is deceptively dense.  The mystery villain is allowed to drop a few hints regarding her plan, and the actual mechanics of how these cyborgs work is treated as a legitimate plot point that should be explored later.  There’s also a flashback to the Turtles’ birthday party thrown in midway, providing a welcome break from the fight scenes.  The flashback doesn’t give us a predictable origin recap, but does provide a reference to the first Turtles story that any fan should catch.  While the issue might initially appear to be a relentless fight scene, it’s surprisingly well-rounded in retrospect.

Carlson is also careful to give each Turtle an opportunity to display his personality, and with the exception of Michelangelo, every Turtle has a specific part to play in the story so far.  I was honestly stunned to see Leonardo receive a star moment this issue; one that doesn’t involve him playing the tedious role of the reserved leader, which is of course his standard position in all incarnations of the franchise.  Raphael isn’t able to finish off the remaining cyborg (due to his face getting blasted off), leaving Leonardo as the Turtle responsible for the slicing and dicing.  Leo just stole a moment from Raphael, kids!

The tone of the issue is occasionally a problem, however.  This is a story that dramatically opens with Donatello being shot and then left bloody and near death for the bulk of the issue.  And the response of his brothers?  Well, they’re kind of upset, but not so upset that they can’t drop a few jokes, and perv out on the scantily-clad mystery villain.  I can understand why Carlson wants to show off the lighthearted, and yes, teenage personalities of the characters, but the context is all wrong.  Is Michelangelo really going to declare “I get first dibs on THAT tush!” while his brother is bleeding to death on the floor near him?  It’s crass, gross, and so bizarrely out of place it takes you out of the story immediately.  Mikey, you’re also lusting after the woman directly responsible for possibly killing your brother…what’s wrong with you?  


arw1985 said...

Huh... sounds interesting, I guess. I'll stick with IDW's TMNT series. I always wondered where that pic of burnt Raphael came from.

Comicbookrehab said...

The "open for color" problem was also typical of comics published by Claypool - best known for publishing Elvira & Soulsearchers. I don't recall this TMNT run ever corrected the problem...perhaps on the assumption that it would be reprinted in color at some point.

Anonymous said...

I cant even figure out whats going on in those black and white pages.

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