4 out of 5
I haven’t checked in with IDW’s TMNT series for quite a while, and though I quite enjoyed this issue – Tom Waltz has come incredibly far with his writing, and artist Adam Gorham frankly makes this a killer thing to flip through – I’m still reminded of the core reasons for that: 100+ issues in and we’re still discussing the exact same things and characters that were being discussed since the start, just flip-flopping pieces on the board. And there’s not much personality here to define this as a Turtles series, which is maybe why this annual worked: there are no Turtles in it. So as we touch base with Shredder, and Rat King, and Karai, and Nobody, and their variations on generic honor-bound / evil guy / power-thirsty / cool chick archetypes, I don’t have this nagging feeling that I’m just reading a typical comic book soap opera with TMNT pasted onto it – the book can just operated in that vein without artifice.
And, as mentioned, Waltz has gotten a lot better at effecting that. He lets scenes play out fully instead of ping-ponging us between settings page by page, and only really falls in to “let me explain everything out loud for no reason at all” style dialoguing towards the end, as sort of an excuse to take a breather between action sequences. I mean, this section could’ve easily been compressed – we don’t need that breather; it could’ve been one straight scene – but, hey, you’ve got extra annual pages to fill up, so go ahead. For the most part, he’s able to avoid his (from my memory) overwrought writing through the use of Rat King, observer of many of the aforementioned characters from the shadows, able to step through the scenes omnisciently by manipulating senses and perceptions – he can comment on what we’re seeing in a way that excuses the need to do the “explain it all” bit, and his quest to find some kind of partner for his machinations is a good way to compare and contrast the newly reserved Shredder (post, I believe, his Hell experiences) and Karai, attempting to figure out how to bolster power in the city’s in-narrative segregation of mutants and humans. The characters here are well-defined – if, again, still generic – and the way the story circles around the exterior of What’s Happening Elsewhere seems like a good use of an annual: an actual reason to set it outside of the ongoing series.
Gorham’s art is dark and dense and full of life, finding that fine balance that allows for both humans and mutants to interact without it seeming hinky. The colors, from John Rauch and Michael Garland, are applied really well to offset Gorham’s heavier inking style, keeping the settings very much in the shadows, but with the right highlights so that pages and panels still pop.