Friday, January 9, 2015

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: The Comic Strip - August 29, 1991 to November 15, 1991

Credits: Dean Clarrain (writer), Jim Lawson & Dan Berger (art), Mary Kelleher (letters)

Summary:  Splinter has the Turtles confiscate the laser rifles from Space-Time-Wana’s employees.  After the men exit through the cave, the Turtles use their laser rifles to cause a cave-in that will prevent anyone from returning.  The skeleton emerges, offering the Turtles another raft.  They travel across the ocean and eventually rest on a beach.  A fish-woman arises from the water, near death.  Splinter tries to save her, but his CPR efforts are misinterpreted by her fellow fish-men as an attack.  The Turtles fend off the fish-men while Splinter is drawn into the female’s consciousness.  He witnesses the destruction of her species as the fish-woman takes her final breath.  The fish-men take her body and leave peacefully, overwhelmed with the knowledge that their last female has died.  The Turtles sail away and finally reach Manhattan.  They swim back to their sewer lair and discover April is waiting for them, eager to hear their story.

Pizza References:  Michelangelo won’t tell April the story of their adventure until he’s ordered a few pizzas.

What the Shell?:  The Turtles have amazingly never heard of CPR.  Splinter remarks that it’s a lesson he should’ve taught them.

We're Killing the Earth! :  Splinter refuses to allow “men nor their corporations to exploit this world as they have their own.”  When he orders the Turtles to dissemble the laser rifles and scatter the parts, Michelangelo questions if they’ve inadvertently become the lost world’s first litterers.  Finally, Splinter's mind-meld with the fish-woman provides a treatise on the devastation of the environment, which has ultimately killed her race.

I Love the '90s:  The Turtles refer to the skeleton ferryman as “Bone Loc,” which is a joke Clarrain/Murphy once used for a different skeleton character in the Adventures series.

Review in a Half-Shell:  The comic strip’s initial storyline finally draws to a close, almost a year after it began.  The closing chapters choose not to explain everything away, which means the mechanics of how exactly the Turtles traveled to these various locations and the story behind “Bone Loc” remain unrevealed.  Clarrain/Murphy was clearly going for surrealism for much of this storyline, so it’s not a huge shock that we’re not getting a logical explanation for everything that’s happened, but it does seem like an odd choice for a mainstream audience newspaper strip.  While this kind of thing normally bothers me, the overall mood of the story helps to sell the idea that this is an adventure that didn’t need the typical comic book rationalizations for every crazy idea.

The final section of story is burdened by even more heavy-handed environmental sermons, to the point that a new race of anthropomorphs is introduced solely to tell the audience that we’ve already killed them with our horrible modern lifestyle.  It’s hard not roll your eyes at this stuff, but I have to say that the fish-people story features some of Murphy and Lawson’s finest work in the strip so far.  While Lawson’s “friendly” Turtles still look off, his fish-people are appropriately freaky and weird.  The way he plays with the normally restrictive form of a newspaper strip during Splinter’s journey inside the fish-lady’s mind is fantastic, and Murphy deserves some credit for the trippy narrative sequence.  Yes, it’s preachy, but it’s preachy in a creative way, which makes it more forgivable.  

The discovery that the fish-people are doomed to a quick extinction hits the Turtles hard; as Splinter points out, only four of their race remains, “just like my sons.”  Raphael begins to question his own mortality, reflecting on the ultimate futility of a race that can’t reproduce.  The newspaper strip is the last place I would’ve expected to find an examination of the loneliness of the Turtles’ lives…they can’t mate, can’t carry on a legacy, and have no family outside their own tiny circle.  And there’s no pat resolution to this, either.  Raphael lives with the pain and has no real answer on why he should carry on.  Now, all of this is explored in very tiny panels that are doled out on a daily basis, and the strip doesn’t dwell on the melancholy for long before it’s back to its next “Cowabunga!” and pizza reference, but it’s still a brave choice for the creators to make.  The bizarre, sudden shifts the all-ages Turtles could make are always fascinating to me, and are a major reason why I think this era of TMNT shouldn’t be so quickly dismissed.

1 comment:

snowkatt said...

the fish people are actually a reference to mirage tmnt v1 27 sons of the silent age
where they make their first appearance

and are the last of their race and doomed for extinction

apparantly murphey either wanted to elaborate or hammer the point home a bit more

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