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.