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.
In general, it feels as if the series is missing the point. Whereas the original work and its adaptations felt like it was made by people who were having too much fun to care about how all they were doing fit, the IDW book feels too cohesive, with little to no space for stimulation or suggestion, or fun. The turtles are named by April, who works at Stockgen, who works for Krang. Stockgen was broken into by the Shredder, creating the accident that created the turtles and Old Hob, who then goes on to work for Baxter. Another, of Baxter’s employers, Chet, is frpergyl gur Shtvgbvq, vf ba gur eha sebz Xenat’f sbeprf, naq vf frpergyl nyyvrq jvgu gur Fuerqqre (**). So far, everything is connected in very neat, explicit ways that make the turtles’ world feel awfully small.
Similarly, I don’t agree with the way the origin has been emphasized, to the point where the entire first arc is spent on it. The changes made are interesting enough, but the story takes too long to tell, and the way it’s told in bits and pieces suggests a lack of conviction. Issue #5, I’m told, is more confidently told, but by that point, I’d lost interesting in regularly buying monthly issues. In any case, the writers’ take suggests an utterly different outlook from that of the original comics. Whereas the origin there merely served to explain where they came from, and suggested an initial ambivalence in the characters’ parts–they had more important things to worry about—the entire narrative in IDW’s attempts reinforces the feeling that its most interesting stories are all set in the past, which is not a good feeling to have.
On a smaller note, the fact that Tang Shen dies here bugs me in a way it hasn’t before. Part of it is timing–it didn’t bother me as much before, and she’s been just as fridged in every other incarnation she appears in, which suggests I’ve changed since I first experienced those versions–but part of it is what this particular iteration of the plot–specifically, the part where the entire Hamato family appears to have been reincarnated except for the one woman among them, and none of the characters has really thought that this is worthy of commenting–makes her role in the overal mythos all the more glaring. It’s the sort of thing that, like the continuous portrayals of April as white, when the original was consistenlty portrayed as African American or bi-racial (it’s complicated) strikes me as a missed opportunity.
The book is not without merit. The plotting has potential, and art ranges from alright (in the main books) to rather great (in the already-numerous side issues, which include art by people like the always-awesome Ross Campbell). And yet, there’s very little in the way of moments that make me go “hell yeah”, and several groaners, the latter of which become more apparent the more deeply I look. And while the approach doesn’t seem to be harming it—the main series is consistently among the company’s top sellers, and the hardcore TMNT fans at The Technodrome.com forums (full disclosure: I post there under the name The Big Bad) generally have positive things to say about it—it doesn’t appear to be setting the critical world on fire, either. It suggests that the book, whatever its inherent qualities, holds limited appeal for people who aren’t already fans of the property. And it’s a shame: I love the turtles, and it is my hope that any incarnation will appeal to general audiences because it’s genuinely good.
In the next week I’ll be posting reviews for a couple of the books I bought, issue #13 of the main series, and issue #7 of the “Micro-series” one-shots, to further elaborate on some of my misgivings with the series in more detail.
(*)For example, Krang, whose relationship with the Shredder combined with a strong design and voicework to make him a highlight of the original cartoon, gets turned into, basically, an alien Cobra Commander, and not the fun one. Strip away the history that isn’t strictly his, and there’s nothing to recommend him–he´s just a generic evil guy with a cool design.
(**) Obligatory ROT 13 link. For those who don´t know what that means, no, I was not temporarily taken over by eldritch forces from beyond the veil of reality.
My review of TMNT (Vol. 6) #1.