Credits: Dean Clarrain (writer), Jim Lawson & Dan Berger (art), Mary Kelleher (letters)
Summary: While evading the alligators in the dark, Donatello pulls a mysterious plug, which flushes the Turtles down a massive drain. They land in a body of water and discover their only option to escape is a skeleton ferryman. They reluctantly take a ride in his boat, but are incensed when he demands the Turtles hand over a baby alligator that Michelangelo’s befriended. They fight the unusually agile skeleton until Splinter suddenly appears. He explains that the skeleton only wants to take the alligator home and chastises the Turtles for turning to violence so quickly. The Turtles realize that the skeleton brought them to a desert, and to their surprise, Splinter has no answers. They march through the mysterious desert until they come across a glowing tree.
Pizza References: The Turtles wonder if they’ve eaten bad pizza after meeting the skeleton ferryman. Later in the desert, Splinter reveals that he’s brought along freeze-dried pizza.
I Was Not Aware of That: Alligators have only recently been taken off the endangered species list, as of the publication of these strips.
I Love the '90s: The skeleton ferryman is wearing a sash that reads “1991.”
Review in a Half-Shell: The dreamlike quality of Stephen Murphy’s TMNT Adventures issues makes its way into the strip. The basic plot does seem a bit unambitious, essentially the Turtles are wandering from one vaguely defined location to another, but Clarrain/Murphy works in some respectable character work and the overall surrealism is entertaining. The strip seems to alternate between adventure and gag-a-day material, which I suppose is appropriate for the target audience. Throwing in the occasional corny joke probably helps to alleviate a bit of the weirdness, making the strip more palatable to newspaper editors. Some of the jokes are utterly flat, however, and I can’t imagine how anyone was entertained with the strip that consists entirely of Splinter and the Turtles discussing their favorite pizza toppings. Still, the material is usually engaging enough to keep me reading until the next day, and I appreciate the fact that Clarrain/Murphy isn’t doing cartoon retreads. The Turtles on a mystical journey that takes them from the sewers to Charon’s boat to a mystery desert is inherently more interesting than the stock formula of a random animal becoming mutated and the Turtles arriving to stop it.
This is a lengthy run of strips featuring uninterrupted Jim Lawson pencils, although it seems as if Lawson is getting a bit of the ‘70s Jack Kirby Superman treatment here. Some of these Turtle faces look way too cute to be Lawson’s work, even though the anatomy and backgrounds are clearly his. Either Lawson made a conscious effort to conform to the mass-merchandised look, or else someone looked at his art and decided it had to be made on-model. Either way, the final result is just awkward. I have to give Lawson credit for his New Year’s skeleton character, though. The Turtles’ battle with “Bonehead” is appropriately weird, and I admire Lawson’s willingness to render a skeleton that has a bit more grit than something you’d see in a Garfield Halloween special.