Saturday, May 24, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol 1: Change is Constant (IDW) (Guest Review by Rawle Nyanzi)

In 2009, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise was sold to Nickelodeon. IDW Publishing then acquired the rights to print a new comic series alongside the original ones that were done by Mirage Studios, the franchise's previous owner. This volume, which re-imagines the Ninja Turtles' origin story, does an excellent job of reintroducing the Turtles to a new generation of comic readers, in addition to pleasing long-absent fans such as myself (I haven't really watched anything Turtles-related since the 1987 cartoon, and I only happened upon the movie "TMNT" by chance at a cousin's house.)

SUMMARY: Chemical company StockGen, run by Dr. Baxter Stockman, is performing experiments on a rat and four turtles. One of StockGen's interns, a college student named April O'Neil, takes a liking to the turtles in particular and gives them the familiar Renaissance artist names (Leonardo, Raphael, Michaelangelo, and Donatello.) But then two ninjas break into the lab one night while she is studying and make off with the animals and an experimental mutagen. The ninjas lose their take, but then an alley cat takes Raphael away shortly before the others are transformed by the mutagen. The cat loses Raphael when Splinter (the rat) confronts him, and both Raphael and the cat, Old Hob, mutate apart from each other. The story of this volume centers around Splinter and the Turtles' attempt to find Raphael, a search which had taken them over a year.

REVIEW: For a comic that has to introduce seven characters all at once, it does an excellent job, largely by giving each Turtle a clear, distinct personality through their dialogue, so you can even distinguish them in black-and-white when they aren't carrying their weapons (as I had to, reading on a Kindle Paperwhite.) Furthermore, in the few panels April appears in, she is shown as someone nice and carefree, with a sort of jokey personality that takes everything in stride (she initially thought that the ninja thieves were her co-workers playing a prank.) Likewise, the mutant cat Old Hob is straightforwardly bad; the comic doesn't try to be some deep philosophical study on the nature of heroism or evil. The story even manages to introduce Casey Jones without too much trouble (introducing him as the abused son of a drunkard. Thankfully, they don't dwell on the abuse in an effort to be "relevant.")

The action scenes are easy to follow, and it's always easy to tell who is hitting whom. It goes more for gritty realism than acrobatic kung-fu, with throws and slams being just as prevalent as strikes and kicks. The scenery also comes off as grimy and low, matching the mood of the fights.

The book falters a bit because it often transitions between the present day and anywhere from 18 to 15 months ago. The tags that explain what is taking place in the past or the present are small and easily missed, which can confuse unwary readers. Once you figure that out, though, it's fairly easy to follow the story.

Also at issue is the street thugs not using guns. Though the clear aim is to keep it from turning into some gore-fest and actually give the Turtles a chance to show their stuff, it strains credulity that bad guys wouldn't carry guns and shoot the Turtles dead on sight. It comes off like an obvious attempt to be kid-friendly, especially amid the otherwise gritty, realistic atmosphere.

All in all, though, a long-time Turtle fan or someone completely new to the Turtles would enjoy this comic. The characters and action alone would keep you coming back for more. One can't go wrong starting or restarting here.

PRO: Does a good job of introducing many of the core characters to old and new fans.

CON: The time transitions can be confusing; the bad guys do not use guns when one would realistically expect them to.
Rawle Nyanzi is an indie game developer, as well as an anime fan and history buff. His blog can be found here and his recent game, Parasite Lance, here.

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