Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shades of Gray (#48 – 49) – Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, Jim Lawson

3 out of 5

An attempted tonal lead-in to the moral good vs. evil quandaries explored in the then-forthcoming City At War, Shades of Gray prefigures things through a Casey lens: While the group is hiding out in Northampton, Jones takes on some young thugs during a night of vigilante-ism, and ends up killing one in the process.

Nobody is on the scene to investigate, and tracks down Casey for the murder; the Turtles intervene and stick up for the friend, dropping some stiff dialogue about the wavering lines of intention that may decide an act between an accident or a crime. The following day, Casey gambols about in a drunken, guilty stupor, first getting into a scuffle with Donny, then meeting Nobody in his by-the-day guise as a policeman, and has another chat about morality.

TMNT was never a well-spring of the smoothest story-telling, but there is some well-intentioned stuff here, even if it’s ultimately very short-sighted. This should be a big deal, obviously – a killing – and two issues just isn’t enough to deal with it, although to that extent, Laird and Lawson (handling the script, with Eastman also credited as co-plotter to Laird) don’t try to put any definitive statement on it: they show how naive different side of the conversation can be, all befitting day title. The books drop in and out of this stuff very quickly, though, with little in the way of transitions, and especially issue 49 just straight up ends with Casey interrupting Nobody mid-conversation and walking toward the sunset.

This was peak Lawson, with some pretty wild layouts, and lots of background details, so the issues (to me, a Lawson fan) are very dynamic, very cool, and Keith Aiken’s inks give it all a very solid look. Mary Kelleher on letters maintains the jagged, house-style caps of Mirage, and handles page flow and placement very well.

Ultimately, though, it’s too clear that these books were a warmup: Eastman and Laird hadn’t been on the title for years at this point, and this was the tip-toe towards their big return in issue 50. As such, Shades of Gray feels like them getting their feet wet in continuity once more, and testing out some City At War concepts on a smaller scale.