Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Unmentionables (#14) – Kevin Eastman

4 out of 5

Amongst the casual TMNT fandom, amongst the “I read the original comics” fandom, and amongst the more dedicated forum types – forums of which I am a member, if that makes my level of self-reported fandom clearer – there is this belief that the original turtles were dark as fuck, bro. Go read the originals to see some blood and swearing.

…And this has always confused me.

I was exposed to a First Comics reprint of the initial issues when I was still at the prime Fred Wolf age, and it was passed to me with that same sort of mystique: you won’t believe how different the original Turtles are. Yes, certainly in comparison to the old school cartoon that spiked the boys to universal recognizability, they are different. But at the same time, the very, very goofy nature of that cartoon wasn’t an invention of just that variation, and I was a bit perplexed by the reprint I read – blood, swearing, but nothing beyond a PG movie, and very recognizable as the DNA of the show.

Multiple decades on, I still really don’t get this oft-trumpeted grimdark mantra, except, perhaps, as a way to justify sticking to the property when it was mostly identified as silly mutants and toys. And you go back and read issues from that original run – like Kevin Eastman’s Unmentionables – and, again, I really don’t see how this is so far off from stuff we’d see in any of the cartoons.

It’s a ridiculous story, but it’s a lot of fun: in Northampton, Casey is walking the streets and reminiscing (in his hockey mask, of course), and is shocked to see a prized town fixture has been stolen – the big ol’ brass cow atop Louie’s Variety store. Casey goes “undercover” as a journalist to get some details, and Eastman just loves his big ol’ lug, fully playing into the characters lovable gruffness and stupidity. He’s shooed off as a reporter, and then tries another equally dunderheaded method of getting some info from a hotel about its occupants, when April passes on some gossip she heard about the cow at the diner at which she’s currently working.

Because TMNT is pure 80s adventure comedy, of course all of the crew – the boys, April – get interested in helping Casey “solve” this, and plan a break-in to the hotel, while Casey and April crash a party being held by one of the fellas mixed up in this business.

To Eastman’s credit – a guy whose writing I would generally describe as an excuse to draw muscles and guns – the story really goes off in some wholly unpredictable, and quite funny, directions. Casey totally gets things wrong, and the Turtles and April get mixed up in stuff way more complicated than they would’ve supposed, and then there’s a great reversal at the end that I really wasn’t expecting. (Though if this whole thing is actually a parody of some classic crime or noir flick – which I’d kind of suspect – then maybe I should’ve.)

Eastman, as inked by Talbot, looks so, so good throughout this whole issue, excepting maybe having a few too many characters to make them each distinct. You have guy with mustache, and guy with tie. Kev also doesn’t care much about exposition or transition panels, so some things that are just to get us from point A to B are pretty stiff. And though, I dig Steve Lavigne’s hand lettering, the sequence is definitely off in some panels. But overall, for an issue that is just a lot of talking, it’s very dynamic and full of personality, and really does capture – for me, at least – the charm of the old Turtles books, which inserted its absurd characters equally into the ridiculous as it would into occasionally more serious fisticuffs.

Also included: a preview of Melting Pot and a 1-page promotion of Mark Martin’s upcoming issue – entertaining for those of us who like Martin.