Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles vol. 20 TPB: Kingdom of Rats – Tom Waltz, Kevin Eastman, Bobby Curnow

3 out of 5

Er, right. I stopped reading IDW’s TMNT series as of issue #80, mostly citing how frustratingly unengaging and generic the scripts were. With some years taken to cool down from my ire over literal decades of my fandom being squashed by the book, I’ve returned to it in bits and pieces, reading it over from the start and picking up issues I’ve missed since via trades.

The early issues – not bad! The problems are there, but it was more innocently affected, with some good potential and ideas. And while I think the series hasn’t suffered for promising ideas throughout, the bad writing tics / habits and fandom indulgences got worse and worse, and the actual application of those ideas… never (or rarely) met the potential.

Returning to issues #81 – 85 – here collected as the volume 20 trade – I’m reminded of why I stopped reading this book. It’s so damn wordy and nothing happens. Waltz – who handles scripting while he, Eastman, and Curnow plot – is still, at this point, relying on his drifting dialogue trick as a way of connecting scenes (start a sentence as dialogue on page A scene X, end the sentence as voiceover on page B scene Y), and I realize this is essentially a pet peeve, but it’s indicative of the way these books are written: as just a hodge-podge of scenes. No less than a million storylines are happening at any given point, without much direct impact on one another, so the only way Waltz has figured out to transition from one to the other is to fake it via this method. Every page, every time. Once you spot it, it’s maddening, apparently enough so for me to mention it in each review. And the words… the words… so many, and so unnecessary. IDW TMNT characters come in three flavors: serious, antagonist types who smirk and use purple prose for pages; serious protagonist types who talk at length with more sarcasm and colloquialisms because they’re “cool”; and Mikey making jokes. So every page runs about a novel of text which could be boiled down to about 10% of that, and fill in any pauses with Mike making a joke.


All of this is true in these issues, along with a go-nowhere, nonsense plot about the Turtles trying to figure out what Rat King’s master plan is – which is to be the Rat King – and visiting the Pantheon to see if they’ll squeal on their mystical brother, coming up with their own master plan to… attack Rat King directly, an option which is pretty much available to them from the start. And this battle is anticlimactic as fuck, y’all.

However, as aggressively mindless (and wordy) as this all is, we’re “saved” and pleasantly enough distracted by the structure: instead of 5 issues of churn, the first issue is setup, and then the three issues after that focus each on one member of the pantheon (Toad Baron, Manmoth, Rat King), which allows all four parts to have a different tone and visual flavor, with the middle two (Toad, Manmoth) buoyed by being more lighthearted, something the IDW series is better at versus its soap opera dramaturgy. So I didn’t mind reading this – it has a kind of self-awareness to its pointlessness, and thus doesn’t drive too hard on selling the arc as a big deal. It just happens.

Issue 85, as a standalone, gets to be a highlight – vaguely a coda to the Rat King business, but also touching base with where Leatherhead is at the moment, and features a much more tempered mix of storytelling through action + acting instead of just straight exposition dumps.

Dave Wachter’s character models have shifted somewhat to the Nick CGI design, which is a bit weird, and his style can be stiff, but I like his “heavy” look for the book. Brahm Revel returns in issue #85 and still doesn’t draw feet, but has a ton of great energy.

The trade features tons of covers and pinups, and a prequel few pages which are perhaps unique to the trade (though hardly required reading – they don’t add any details, but still), and so at cheaper than individual cover prices, it’s a pretty fine deal for some acceptable distraction.