4 out of 5
Behind another unfortunately goofy looking cover – Steve Lavigne’s bubbly, vacant-eyed characters are given a discrepant grounding by Peter Laird’s inks, and note that I like these guys but the last couple trades’ artwork has just been weird – we get some major milestones in the TMNTA series, which helps to smooth over an excessively clunky aspect of the writing.
Mainly: this is when Chris Allan could be said to have fully taken over. This happens alongside the plottings Clarrain had been seeding now absolutely emerging from ‘neath The Shredder Era: the three part Midnight Sun has his usual ecological underpinnings (although not as necessarily in your face as elsewhere) and light folklore / history weaving, but springing forth from the Warrior Dragon backups in the previous issues, there’s no longer any trace of Bebop, Rocksteady, Krang, etc. TMNTA never really got “grim and gritty,” and will forever have nausea inducing puns and “cool” battle retorts, but the crew flying to Japan to save Chu Hsi has palpable stakes, people kidnapped and threatened at knifepoint, and character beats that move past the one-dimensional ‘pizza is radical’ variant of the Turtles. So the title has now fully come into its own.
…Unfortunately bringing Ninjara with it. Well, look, not that I take issue with the character per se, and if you block this introduction from memory and just read the issues where she’s a full-fledged member, sure, I thought she was cool, but man, Clarrain bungled bringing her into the fold: her character, as described by others, boils down to ‘hot fox ninja,’ and she flips from willing-to-destroy-the-world bad guy to good guy with nary a blink, both in her own mind and in the Turtles. It sounds somewhat harmless and short-sighted when described here, but it’s really painful to see and read nowadays, and is incredibly lazy writing considering Clarrain was trying to evolve the rest of the cast and the world. But, oh, I guess we needed a mutant for one of the boys to fall in love with, so it’s hot fox ninja time.
Well. Anyhow, having the issues side by side offers up one of my favorite comic opportunities: getting to compare different inkers on the same penciller. We have Brian Thomas, Jon D’Agostino, and Rod Ollerenshaw, and each absolutely bring a slightly different flavor to Chris’ work. Personally, I hope to see more of Brian Thomas in the trades / issues to come.