4 out of 5
While this basic beats of this story – the Turtles have recently lost Splinter; they’re not functioning well together as a team as a result; actions in the issue reunite them – can and have been plugged in at the various points across the various TMNT timelines during which their master has died or gone missing, writer / artist Juni Ba brings a lot to the tale with their incredibly expressive art, increased a thousandfold in effectiveness thanks to Ronda Pattison’s electric colorwork.
The plot is pretty much as described: on a pilgrimage to their former home in the sewer, post the passing of Splinter, the boys run into a mutated foe who initially takes them down, until they can sideline, emotionally bond, and regroup to kick some mutant butt.
The one-sentence we get behind the baddie makes me wish there was some more time spent on them – it feels like the setup taps into some folklore that could’ve been explored more, and tied more tightly to the themes, but I don’t know that the narrative is necessarily the focus of the book. Indeed, the opening voiceover from Leo feels rather phoned in, just trying to set the stage for things. Instead, Ba does a ton of work via their visuals, which have a cartoon lightness to them, gritted up heavy jagged inking and wild foreshortening / motion. While this seems like it might be an odd fit for the “mature” Turtles book, Ba’s ability with emotions is fantastic – the dialogue scenes work because the personalities of the Turtles come through incredibly well. The action is fun, very frantic, with the mutant having a Genndy Tartakovsky overblown sense of design; that said, since the comparatively more “grounded” moments are the ones where I thought the art really sang, I’d love to see Juni handle some action scenes with human foes.
And Pattison, as mentioned, adds a whole extra layer to the book. The use of blends in the backgrounds, and the tones used for Juni’s art, make the page 3-dimensional. It’s fantastic.
Lastly, there’s a cameo of a classic TMNT element here that’s not really justified by the plot, but I still thought it was a lot of fun, and makes good use of an annual for having a spotlight on a one-time event like that.