When I first began hearing news about the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon–this one produced by Nickelodeon–I wasn’t sure what to think. While I was skeptical of the idea that it would win my heart the way the previous TMNT series did, several of the ideas seemed intriguing, and the direction of the toon didn’t seem like a bad one to go with. Plus, with it being backed by Nickelodeon, there was no way it wasn’t going to have the best production values of any of the series to date.
The show’s two-part pilot “Rise of the Turtles” aired today, introducing the turtles, Splinter, April, and the two groups who appear to be the main antagonists for the immediate future, the Kraang and The Foot. Given that the franchise has historically had very good first episodes, this version had a lot to live up to, and while it doesn’t quite succeed in that regard, it has enough interesting bits to keep me watching, at least for a while.
If we were to measure the series on a scale from A to 10, where A is the original comic book and 10 is the original cartoon, this incarnation probably rates a nine. It takes a lot of liberties with the original material, some of them intriguing—Splinter was a father before he ever met the turtles (*), the Utroms are now The Kraang and have identical-looking human disguises and an amusingly stilted speech patterns—and some which I’m not at all sure work—April is now the turtles’ age. It’s also far more focused on being a funny show than it is in being an exciting or emotionally complex show, although shows like Adventure Time have taught me that initial impressions can be misleading. In any case, what it does it does reasonably well; all in all, it feels like a worthwhile incarnation of the series—moreso than the IDW comics, anyway.
(Content Note: Rape and Rape Culture, Privilege, Sexism)
So in my last post I argued–perhaps not all that coherently–that, given the prevalence of rape in our society, it was a good thing for there to be comic books that spoke honestly on the subject, and expressed my hopes that, as long as it was bringing up the issue at all, Sword of Sorcery would be that comic.
Upon thinking some more about the issue and reading some additional commentary–some of it right on, some of it not–I feel I should clarify that my thinking on this a bit. I fear that, in saying what I did, I may have inadvertently also said, in effect, that the need for that conversation was more important than women’s need and/or desire for comic books that didn’t deal with the issue.
Sorry about that.
(Content Note: Rape and Rape Culture)
On episode 91 of their House to Astonish podcast, Paul O’Brien and Al Kennedy discuss the return to Amethyst to comics and her debut in Sword of Sorcery #0. The bulk of their review is spent discussing a scene in the protagonist Amy Winston stops the attempted gang rape of Beryl, an unpopular girl whom she’d met earlier that day, by three of their high school classmates. Kennedy, in particular, considered this scene as the low point in the issue, being utterly unnecessary, disruptive of the book’s general feel, and yet another example of comic book writers’ use of rape as a source of cheap drama.
To quote the Slacktiverse, I think it’s more complicated than that. While I am like Kennedy rather sick and tired of the way rape and sexual assault is usually presented in fiction–as something that doesn’t exist beyond the actual act, is often presented in an misinformative manner, and is at times fetishized–I’m not sure altogether sure that the scene shown here was an example of what he refers to.
Writer: Barbara Randall Kesel
Art: Marley Zarcone
Colors: Heather Breckel
Cover: David Petersen (Main), Marley Zarcone (Variant)
Suggested Audiences: People who really like the idea of other turtles, I guess.
Despite my overall disappointment with the series, I had reason to hope that TMNT Micro-Series: April would satisfy: not only did it star one of my favorite characters in the franchise, it featured a story by Barbara Randall Kesel (*), whose Meridian I thought was an underrated gem. Plus, as a one-shot, it was almost certain to be better-paced than the main book. And upon reading it, I discovered that… well, those three things are certainly true.
One year in, IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has featured ninjas, brain-like aliens, corporate espionage, reincarnation, eyepatch-wearing mutant cats, and attractive women who are sensibly clad and plausibly posed. It is also incredibly boring.
To say that something feels like fan fiction is not, I feel, a particularly useful description. It´s generally used when somebody wants to criticize a work and wants to pretend that there is no such thing as awesome fan fiction. (*) Instead, I’ll say that Tom Waltz and Kevin Eastman have taken elements from past incarnations of the property and redeployed them with what appears to be little concern of what made them work. It’s as if they believe that merely using them will be enough to satisfy the audiences, regardless of execution.
Thus, the series has taken characters and plotlines from what came before it, it has not replicated what made any of them appealing. It strives to replicate the original comic book’s tone, but feels too safe to successfully replicate its grit. It takes several of the characters and concepts created for the original cartoon, but strips their appeal in trying to make them viable as “serious” characters (*). It lacks the original movie’s affability and wit, or its sense of time and place. It feels less audacious than the Archie comics, and less ambitious than the second cartoon. There’s little in the way of notable moments or quotable lines—heck, even the notoriously inconsistent second Tales of the TMNT series was at least always interesting.