Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder in Hell TPB – Mateus Santolouco

2 out of 5

There were a few different reasons the IDW ongoing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles caused me to give up actively collecting the franchise – something I’d otherwise been doing in some form since the Fred Wolf / Archie days, having joined the club during the brand’s peak, but certainly one of the largest offenders was the quality of the writing. While the Mirage and Image outputs weren’t necessarily crafted by A-list comic laureates, Pete and Kevin kicked things off with a very particular energy that most people maintained, and “got;” the way the stories flowed and the way characters spoke did seem identifiable as TMNT.

By my opinion, that was lost at IDW.

I think the ongoing series started out well in terms of concepts, finding energy in modern spins on the origins, but that was despite often amateurish writing. It was ignorable / excusable as a series trying to find its voice, until it settled into that voice – which was overwritten, and generic. It lacked identity. Like many big name comics – again, by my opinion – it read like faceless characters being forced through story beats, with the dialogue / narration just filling space for that purpose.

I will give Mateus Santolouco credit for his writing on Shredder in Hell: it is also overwritten, but it is, at least, passionate. The artist requires about 100 less words per bubble to make his point, and, unfortunately, almost every character has the same overly loquacious, uber-serious tone to their words, meaning the potentially fascinating soul-searching Oraku Saki – the Shredder – goes through in Hell is rendered very boring, to the extent that I couldn’t really summarize what the “point” was of any given page, or issue. I was only really guided by the general structure of such “goes to Hell” tales, in which so-and-so faces their personal demons – generally represented as characters from their former life, now in demonic form – and wars between moral polarities, and yes, that all happens here. Saki gets a cute guide in the form of Yoshi in lil’ ratty form, and he struggles between finding his own identity and accepting his fate as a bad dude, melded to a dragon god that’s important in the TMNT lore of this imprint.

Nothing is wrong with this structure, but it needs to be served by a compelling character arc that makes the travel worth it, or the kind of art that can draw you into the tale visually. (And ideally both.) The former is subject to the aforementioned blase nature of Santo’s text, in which dialogue back-and-forths exchange very little actual information, or can be said to have much personal, emotional weight (as everyone sounds the same), but the artist also struggles as a visual storyteller, always a little off with cues for focus and finding weird beats for panel flow that don’t create much immersion. I had this issue with Santo in the ongoing, and it’s very much present here, as well. Shot-by-shot, Santo’s work is gorgeous – it’s lush, detailed, and dynamic. But it doesn’t tell a comic book story very well.

The next nail keeping things tamped down is the coloring, on which Mateus is assisted by Marcelo Costa and Davi Calil. Here’s a problem with books set in Hell: there’s often a lot of red. We shift to some purples here and there, and some browns, but otherwise – red is the dominant color, across everything, all the time. Blend that with a non-engaging flow, and overstuffed text…

But, as mentioned, there is, at least, passion behind the page, even if it’s not effected well. And as a trade, IDW did give us our $17.99 worth for these five issues, as we get a ton of alternate covers and pinups from various artists.