Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Micro-Series: Villains vol.1 – Various

3 out of 5

There’s certainly no set way to write a spin-off series or one-shot.  My first exposure to the concept when I got back into comics was in reading ‘Preacher’ in trades.  It’s still one of my preferred examples of an ‘ideal’ spin-off series, and definitely enhanced my appreciation for what could be done with branching storylines, and how that could enrich your main narrative.  Since then, of course, I’ve been exposed to a billion and one versions of the complementary mini-series, or at least enough such that I can say what I generally prefer – that if it’s going to be a separate book, it should be a separate book.  I think it can certainly be rewarding for readers to fill in gaps with a mini, but I’m not sure I agree with showing a main plot point using that avenue.  I’m sure the author could argue that the focus of the story didn’t directly fit within the larger narrative, but then I’d argue that the final “continued in issue #X” development could have been shown in a different way – meaning that the desire to explore the character or substory is either a selfish need on the creator’s behalf that’s then guiltily folded into whatever’s happening in the main series or, equally as likely, a publisher has contracted a series and so now it just has to be written…

When IDW started their Micro-Series, it was a giddy day in fanboy heaven as it was just more and more Turtleness to pump into our veins and to underline that IDW not only meant business with the Turtles, but meant to embrace their history as much as possible.  (We’ve since seen how that’s translated into milking us same fanboys with an endless stream of $50 hardcover reprints, but I guess too much rather than not enough is okay by me.)  And as the first set was called ‘Heroes,’ it was only a matter ot time until we got… Villains.

The original micro-series weren’t exactly 100% on board with my ‘separate story’ pitch, so I can’t fault a lack of tradition for the new ones falling into that same gap.  The eight issues ended up coming out around two main storylines – Krang War and City Fall – and generally tie into those in one way or another.  My rating serves not as only an average of the issues’ ratings below, but also my general impression when reading them back to back: giving the books to different teams was a great idea, but I wish a bit more editorial limitations had been placed on how directly they should tie in with the main series.  Because it jumps around, making one book a nice supplement, and then the next a great character piece, and then the next a story bridge… meaning it neither works, fully, as an actual mini-series or as a series of one-shots.  The timing of events also makes the ramp up of characters unfortunate.  You have to start with Krang because that story arc was coming to a close, but then we start to get into side characters like Aloplex and Hun.  Sure, you could say we’re book-ending with the big baddies – Krang and Shredder – but it’s just another minor detail that prevents this series from fully working.  It would’ve been cool if we could’ve had the books released in time with each character’s appearance, or a few issues after, but I understand that no one really knew how this new Turtles venture was gonna pay off and so you couldn’t bank on one shots right away.

So below are some (hopefully) brief blurbs about each issue.

1. Krang – Joshua Williamson 3 out of 5

Mike Henderson’s take on Krang is awesomely dynamic and evil – definitely the more limber-limbed version of the Archie comics, with a grandly grim maw of stick-like teeth just to add to the deranged viciousness gig.  And those bug eyes with pinpoint irises are deelightful.  Ian Herring’s colors support this tale well all the way through, sticking to sickly greens and pink-tinged reds and browns that separate the planet Krang lands on (in the story’s flashback) from his more technology-infused present.  The tale – in which Krang recalls an incident which allowed him to grow from pampered prince to feared ruler – definitely fits my criteria for a side story, and underlines pretty perfectly how despots must retcon everything to justify their being despots.  I have to knock it back a couple steps for two reasons – one is that the kick-off to telling the tale is… flawed.  Krang’s narrating to himself.  I can never get over setups like this… it’s a narrative convenience.  We don’t need to tell the story to ourselves.  Secondly – the tale is just too big.  Our glimpses of Utrom culture make it clear that this whole thing could’ve broken out into a few issues.  So the large scope ends up making some of the plot evolutions come across a bit too quickly or easily.  I think Williamson definitely had the right theme for the book, but the device through which its related just ends up reaching a bit too broadly.

2. Baxter – Erik Burnham 5 out of 5

Perfect.  Another reflection from a character’s past, but this time Baxter flashes back to a repeated scene with his father at a chess table over the years, which ends up mirroring what we see of his interactions with Krang and Krang’s army.  What’s best about Burnham’s tale is that it takes every TMNT iterations of Baxter as a bumbling scientist and plays with them… reveling in a last minute turnaround that was sincerely surprising.  Andy Kuhn’s expressive art ends up being perfect – I wouldn’t have picked him for a human Villains focus but he balances a stern look for Bax and his father with his more dynamic look for the rest of the characters, and John Rauch does a really unique job on colors, using a nice blend of watercolors and leaving just the right amount of solid blacks to get fore- or background elements to separate.  And, of course, bonus points for ‘Flyborg.’

3. Old Hob – Jason Ciaramella 3 out of 5

Sort of straddling the line between story bridge and one-shot – using City Fall plot pieces as a framing device – ‘Hob’ suffers from the same problem I had with the character’s intro at the very start of things: dealing with the character like he has this long history when, as he tells it, it couldn’t have occurred over the course of more than a year or so.  We’re basically getting some more details about how Hob was mutated, and why he’s decided to shift sides for City Fall.  Ciaramella tries to turn it into a gritty street tale, and those are the parts that work.  But it ends up having to hop too much around in the TMNT timeline to bring us up to speed, robbing that background of some weight.  However, I really ‘heard’ Hob’s voice through the whole thing, which is commendable since a lot of his series appearances he just speaks in Stock Villain.  That being said, there’s a bit of misdirection with the storytelling, because I don’t really find Hob’s links from A to B to ‘now I’m on the Turtles side’ to be all that logical.  But again, I think the focus was hoped to be OH’s street training, so we’ll lump that misdirection on our regular series.  Dave Wachter’s art is, sorry, one of the lesser-notable from this whole series.  It just lacks flourish to me.  I do like that he’s a bit more ‘traditional’ than most of the other artists, but even when given his one-panel shot at the Turtles, everything just somewhat blends together.

4. Aloplex – Brian Lynch 2 out of 5

And here was the first one that sorta just felt like “she’s a villain, so we had to include her.  Ross Campbell’s art is pretty badass – heavy and bold, a great, confident sense of paneling and the color contrasts – both before and during the Fairbanks, Alaska snow setting – are stunning.  As with Hob, we’re sort of cramped between trying to tell Aloplex’s background and justify her City Fall decisions.  But Aloplex’s chapter is lacking even the build-up portions of that story – ‘Plex flashes back to her Fox years and this is used to draw a comparison to Shredder, but it all feels to scattered, and an after-the-fact device to justify her alliances.  It also paints Shredder in this odd uncaring father / willing to forgive role that, again, doesn’t quite sit right with ‘Plex setting him alongside the bear.  Hopefully we’ll get to explore this character’s personality a bit more in the upcoming Northhampton storyline.

5. Karai – Erik Burnham 3 out of 5

Karai visits the Foot training grounds to seek the advice of a teacher.  She recites how she became the bitter warrior she is despite coming from privileged roots, further underlining her dislike for Leo’s sudden ascent to power as Shredder’s Chunin, as well as giving us no doubt of her dedication to her clan.  Her visit is interrupted by Leo, with whom she battles and then la dee da here’s Rocksteady and Bebop (because once it was on the radar these characters were going to appear, it couldn’t be resisted to stick them in in various ‘cameos’ prior to their mutation).  Very similar to the ‘Krang’ issue, where the telling of the tale feels unnecessary – not the whole thing, but for someone so terse, regardless of her trust in this teacher, Karai launches into a rather detailed telling of her youth that ends up being somewhat pointless once things are interrupted by Leo.  I get what Burnham was going for, but the battle scene wasn’t needed, and feels like the wrong way to have Karai answer her own question… a more subtle interaction would’ve sold it just as well, and allowed us to see Karai as more contemplative instead of just reactive.  Cory Smith’s art is a nice mash-up of Romita sleekness and some Janson blockiness; I loved his Leonardo except for the character’s height – I always prefer when artists keep the Turtles as shorter than the humans.  Average issue; again a mish-mash of one-shot and story bridge.

6. Hun – Mike Costa and Ben Epstein 2 out of 5

Mike Henderson draws the mutated Hun perfectly; he’s not going to become the sleek, muscled beast overnight as Sontoluoco was drawing him in City Fall.  I mean, equate whatever properties to Mutagen you want, but I guess to me it’s more believable character design to keep some consistency there: so Henderson draws the reinvented Mr. Jones as bigger and brawnier, but still sorta’ husky, and not rippled with veins.  The framing device of an AA meeting for Hun to tell a veiled version of his decision to re-step into his gang persona is a good idea, if a little goofy at times as it stretches to match a recovery story with Mr. Jones’ trials and tribulations.  The character voice also stumbles a bit – Casey’s dad has been cast as the stereotypical drunken father, and Mike Costa and Ben Epstein don’t step too far out of thick-headed territory… but it informs too much of the issue to be taken as a purposeful decision and not actually written as dialogue that they thought sounded good.  The main reason for my low rating is the same as Aloplex’s – there really wasn’t a reason for this story beyond how it fits into City Fall, with a scant few panels giving us background on Past Hun.  I get that he’s not a mutant, so digging into a flashback might be sorta boring, but Burnham knocked it outta the park with Baxter, so it was certainly possible.  There’s certainly a story here, but it seemed a stretch to fit this footnote into its own micro-series entry.

7. Bebop & Rocksteady – Ben Bates & Dustin Weaver 5 out of 5

Fan service.  Delicious.  First – I gotta look up Ben Bates, because he has this amazingly loose style (Paul Popey, sorta) that nonetheless looks precisely executed thanks to some tight paneling, and this issue is the only one to get a full color palette rocking but it makes the pages incredibly lively.  This is all at-the-moment – it’s B & R’s first outing as mutants for the Foot and of course they eff it up tragically – but god bless Weaver and Bates for capturing an element of reckless danger that the original version of these characters couldn’t muster thanks to the overall tone of the Fred-Wolf cartoon (and thus informing their appearance in the Archie book).  The boys get stabbed and beaten, and there’s a gloriously shadow-draped panel late in the book where you get it – you get how intimidating these characters are, especially given their idiocy – and that, admittedly, is a nice dollop of characterization I wasn’t expecting.  Time will tell if that translates to the actual series.  I also dig that I didn’t have to question the boys’ rationale at any point – their dumb logic, hyuck, made perfect sense, and Weaver drew gags from the situations instead of falling back onto ‘Duhhh Bebop’ interactions.

8. Shredder – Dan Duncan & Paul Allor 4 out of 5

This is essentially a coda to City Fall and the need for it may seem questionable after the ‘Secret History’ mini (except that its a villains mini-series so of course Shredder has to have an issue), but Duncan and Allor find a clever way to add to both of those tales and give us an interesting flash into Shred’s brain.  A welcome back to  Dan Duncan’s moody art, which seems a bit more focused now that these characters have been more defined, and the tone more settled due to the same.  His paneling had never seemed too significant to me – he has a tendency to flip-flop camera angles sometimes, which can be jarring, but otherwise pages felt pretty standardly broken up with the right moment or action captured in each frame.  However, I noticed a great sense of timing here, something I’ll have to see if it translated earlier on – there’s a splash page of an attack on Shredder that actually had me pause with a nice bit of comic book shock.  The story ‘twist’ is fairly obvious (this story has been told a dozen times), but I like that, as with Krang’s tale, the writing team swung this into showing us how someone with Shredder’s motivations has to view his world.  The narration also matches the character – Shredder is telling Kitsune, upon prompting, what occurred while he was dead, and if you note the exactness of what he’s saying vs. some of the extras shown in panels, its a great example of how story and art can work separately and together to shade different pieces of the same picture.  While the micro-series were up and down in effectiveness, I dug that this felt like a closing chapter to several things.  A good beat on which to end.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s