Friday, June 26, 2015

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (vol. 3) #23 - October 1999

Credits: Gary Carlson (writer), Frank Fosco (pencils and inks),  Pat Brosseau (letters)

Pizza-Free Summary:  Shortly after Donatello rebuilds an exo-skeleton bodysuit for Dr. X, April calls the Turtles into her apartment for a surprise birthday party.  April gives away advance copies of Michelangelo’s novel as presents.  Suddenly, Splinter collapses.  Dr. X revives him.  Splinter explains that he had a strange dream while unconscious involving Raphael and the Foot.  Pimiko makes a dramatic entrance, declaring that she now owes Raphael her life and that she’ll join the Turtles in battle to save him from the Foot.  Meanwhile, Casey discovers at the bank that his reward check has bounced.  He causes a scene and is arrested.  The Turtles reluctantly follow Pimiko to the Foot’s hideout, where Raphael is being held.  During the battle, Raphael’s former ally Cheng reveals that he’s been stealing Splinter’s life force ever since he “cured” him in the Astral Plane.  Cheng uses fireworks as a distraction and flees with Lady Shredder.  With the rest of the Foot defeated, Pimiko agrees to return to April’s home and enjoy the birthday party.

Continuity Notes:
  • One year has passed since the first issue of vol. 3, making this the Turtles’ nineteenth birthday.
  • Donatello can now make robotic duplicates of himself with his cybernetic armor.
  • Lady Shredder’s identity isn’t revealed, but she claims the Turtles should have recognized her.  The only obvious suspect I can think of is Karai.

What the Shell?:  Michelangelo actually unleashes a “Cowabunga!” during the Foot Clan battle.

Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority:  Forget the Comics Code, can you imagine Image publishing this scene today and not generating a dozen indignant editorials on ComicsAlliance?

I Love the 90s:  Leonardo compares Lady Shredder’s steel bra to Madonna’s. Oprahs Book Club is still a thing.

Review in a Half-Shell:  We’ve reached the end, and what a finale this turned out to be.  Clearly, at some point during the issue’s production, Gary Carlson had to know this was the final issue.  The title ends with a callback not only to the first issue of the Image series (another birthday party), but even a reference to the very first TMNT comic (Cheng has a thermite grenade, just like the one Shredder used in the first Mirage issue’s finale).  Some of the subplots have nice resolutions, and Raphael rejoins his brothers at the issue’s end.  There’s also the final issue standard “Never The End!” closing caption on the last page.  And yet…much of this issue reads as if Carlson fully expects to be back next month.  The Casey Jones subplot from the past few issues continues, veering off in an unexpected direction.  The identity of Lady Shredder remains unrevealed.  Donatello’s still developing new uses for his cybernetic armor.  Leonardo continues to resist Donatello’s offer of a cybernetic replacement hand while he tries to adjust to his amputation.  And Splinter’s life is apparently in danger so long as Cheng lives.  For every story thread that’s resolved, another still exists, waiting for some sort of closure.

In retrospect, the third volume of TMNT had a lot going against it.  Launching in 1996, the Turtles are in that awkward stage where kids are getting bored with them, teens are denying they liked them, and no one’s really nostalgic for the concept yet.  The bulk of the audience seems to consist of the diehard fans from the original Mirage days, and I’m not sure if the Image series ever truly pleased them.  Visually, Im convinced the book is too divorced from the Mirage style.  When I think of a black and white TMNT book that’s continuing the original Mirage storylines, I immediately assume the Turtles are going to appear as they did on the cover of the original First graphic novel reprint.  Instead, the unique textures of the original series are gone, and regular artist Frank Fosco rarely stays on-model with the classic look.  Erik Larsen is able to do his own take on the Turtles (a great mix of his ‘90s style and the original designs), but he drops out of inking the book early on.  I don’t want to say Frank Fosco and the subsequent inkers botched the job, but the style isn’t distinctive enough to compete with the trademark look of the Eastman/Laird issues.  Ultimately, the book doesn’t resemble the original Mirage series and doesn’t have a strong enough look to stand on its own.  The art’s not bad, but it doesn’t look quite right in B&W, and it rarely evokes the classic TMNT style of the Mirage days.

In terms of story, I have to say that Carlson has maintained my interest for much of this run.  He can occasionally go off on tangents that produce meager results, but broadly speaking, his stories reflect much of what makes TMNT unique.  He gets the family dynamic angle, he understands how to alternate between street-level and sci-fi threats, and always makes efforts to connect the new volume to the existing continuity.  The early issues suffered from some distracting guts and gore, but Carlson wisely downplayed the violence as the issues went on.  I’d like to say that Carlson truly understands the Turtles’ personalities, but occasionally the heroes come across as shockingly crass and heartless.  The final issue has a good example of this -- would Leonardo ever refer to someone as a “retard?”  And are we supposed to be thrilled that Michelangelo has gotten to third base with Horridus, a character who honestly does have the intellect of a small child?  

As much as I wish the book could’ve made it to at least #25, I have to admit that I’m surprised it lasted for as long as it did.  A B&W book published on a fairly erratic schedule (check those cover dates) in a weak market, without “name” creators, starring characters that many dismissed as a dead fad.  Twenty-three issues is actually an achievement, I would say.  While this run has its problems, I’ll admit it’s often entertaining, and I wish I had a few more issues to review.


Unknown said...

I'm not sure if you'd have any interest but a turtle fan named Andrew Modeen self-published an Issue #24 and #25 that was based of Gary Carlson's story notes. Their stated goal was to complete the series and they claimed to follow Carlson's original outline wherever it was possible. For example, Lady Shredder's identity is revealed and it is said that was definitely a point that came from Carlson's notes.

I know this seems a little obscure but it had some surprising support. Right up to Kevin Eastman inking #25's cover.

Both issues can be downloaded here:

G. Kendall said...

I remember reading about this a while ago, but I never got around to reading the issues. I'll try to get to them soon.

G. Kendall said...

Oh, and I should mention that Andrew Modeen's #24 features TMNT VS. SPAWN, which was Frank Fosco's try-out piece for the book.

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