Mighty Mutanimals (#1 – 5, Archie Comics, ongoing) – Dean Clarrain

4 out of 5

It took a couple handfuls of issues in the Archie Comics TMNT-verse for Dean Clarrain to fully work his way to a tone that felt like his own, and voices for the boys that weren’t just a layer on top of their Fred Wolf identities.  Even once he got there, there was still a tendency to do a lot of comic book-y fight puns; the book, after all, was an action one, even we it got “more serious,” and Clarrain’s sense of humor ran toward the eye-rolly more often than not, so that’s just how it was.

When various friendly mutant faces began to pop up in the book that had strength beyond just a toy reference or one-shot appearance, there were eventually enough to toss them into a splinter team – the Mutanimals – who had a mini-series which tied into the Turtles books.  Because this was very much a crossover, it still carried the same tone as the main book.  But the team was apparently popular enough to merit its own title thereafter.

…And sans the Turtles, Mighty Mutanimals seems lessened of the need to fall back on regular scuffles and puns.  That stuff is still there – as is Clarrain’s tendency to speak to environmental ills and plights of the world’s less fortunate – but it has this really delightful laid back beat to it.  Mutanimals is a much more chill book than TMNT, as though removing the need to reestablish the brand allowed the writing and plotting to flow a bit more seamlessly.  Both titles shared a penchant for the left-field, but MM kinda sorta spend the first five issues of their series on a drug-fueled spirit quest – they climb a mountain, eat a blue fruit that lets them have visions of their past and then wander around the desert – and despite fighting slavers and giant snakes and skeletons and grinning robots – that laid back vibe dominates and makes all of its silliness rather a joy to read.

On their way to find Jagwar’s kidnapped mum, Juntarra, our team (Jagwar, Dreadmon, Wingnut and Screwloose, Man-Ray, Mondo Gecko, Leatherhead) dwell – issue by issue – on their memories and then, in a brilliantly offbeat sequence, decide that morality is pointless and procure some giant laser guns.  Mike Kazaleh takes on most of the art duties, going a little too slapstick at one point, but eventually settling on a blend of expressiveness and open paneling that works well with the book’s writing.  I didn’t remember getting too much joy out of these books as a youngster, as the story just felt like it hit pause until crossing back over with TMNT, but now that I can read the books at my own pace (and with a wealth of TMNT material to read and reread), I feel what I believe was a writer happily working outside of the possibly more demanding requirements of his main title.  We didn’t end up getting that many issues to chill with the Mutanimals, but the way this series kicked off… a smarter, wiser version of me would have fought to keep this on the shelves.