Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Micro-Series: Heroes (#1 – 8) -Various

3 out of 5

It’s interesting revisting these from a position of having (recently) fallen out with the majority of the IDW Turtles output.  While I was always skeptical of a lot of the decisions made early on in the series – and really, not so much the re-wrapping of nostalgia as the quality of that wrapping – I was also just a happy TMNT fan, stewing in a great CG cartoon and a reinvigorated comic line.  But I think it was easier to be pleased, and not, uh, annoyed to the point of non-buying status, because the series had yet to write itself up its own arse with over-serious dramaturgy.  Well, again, it was there, but things hadn’t gotten so complicated yet that our writers started thinking they’d created something, like, good.

Because they hadn’t, and they haven’t.  The writing is generic.  The best concepts are those that come from E & L’s original pulp-infused brains (…and maybe more L than the guts n’ glory lovin’ E…), and the dumbest ones are those that are attempted ‘gritty’ updates, i.e. Hob and Casey’s abusive father and la dee da.

The Heroes micro-series finds us sort of crossing that threshold mid-series, from the initial pitches of our four boys while Shredder business was going on, to the back-half of the book, when Kraang business started to get involved.  Things wouldn’t get real messy until further after this, but again, it’s interesting in retrospect: issues #1 -4 when things were comparatively simple are pretty fun, issues #5 – 8 aren’t bad, but they start getting plot sticky.  Issue by issue appears below.

#1 Raphael – Brian Lynch and Franco Urru – 2 out of 5

Raph and Casey are common teamups ’cause they both angry, man.  And as such, this is the TMNT half of the GRITTY bit of these micros, although in this case it’s engendered more through Franco Urru’s art than Brian Lynch’s writing.  Urru and colorist Fabio Mantovani really seem to be drawing a Turtles tale from that imaginary universe where the TMNT are an R-rated movie – all shadows, red lighting, grit teeth, and Image-y bandanas rippling in the non-wind – while Lynch is sort of just trying to work Alopex / Ninjara into things.  And because Alopex is a rather ham-fisted character, the story already doesn’t have much to hang on, despite a pretty good twist and believable emotional avoidance between our teeth manly-men leads.

#2 Michelangelo – Brian Lynch and Andy Kuhn – 4 out of 5

Man, this issue needed its own mini-series, it was so much fun.  Firstly: my golly I miss Andy Kuhn.  He very much represented a sense of fun I feel like later IDW TMNT artists have foregone for a more “serious” look.  And Brian Lynch absolutely took advantage of that vibe here, with Mikey inadvertently getting wrapped up in a bad guy heist when he sneaks his way into a New Year’s Eve costume ball.  Lynch writes a great Mikey – capable, one-liner a’plenty but not dumb – and gives Kuhn a lot of opportunity for some great character beats and action dynamics, with a nice range of flats (the proper way to color a streamlined stylist like Kuhn) from colorist Bill Crabtree.  This is one of those “don’t think about it too much” tales, that moves at such a brisk clip so as to distract from the stupidity of the heist itself and the senselessness of the final “twists,” so maybe a mini-series wouldnhave been best, but I’d still read tha heck out of it anyway.

#3 Donatello – Brian Lynch, Tom Waltz and Valerio Schiti – 4 out of 5

A lot more key characters than I remembered were introduced in these minis.  Case in point: Harold Lluja in Donnie’s one-shot.  This sorta goes hand-in-hand with the Mikey issue, as both feature the spotlighted turtle venturing out into public (Donnie’s disguise is a lot less viable than Mikey’s, though…) and getting involved in no-good business.  Once again, Lynch shuttles us through things well to sidestep some of the story’s gaps – mainly the lack of response Donnie’s appearance elicits from Lluja, and the fuzzy logic surrounding the running of the science fair these two characters attend – and sets up contextually believable relationships between the turtles, and between Donnie and his internet palz, within a handful of panels, leading to some fun payoffs and hijinks.  Valerio Schiti’s art is a bit too bombastic, perhaps, with a lot of over-acting, but the bright color work of Scarletgothica and Ilaria Traversi make the pages feel really fresh and full so you’ve got a lot to focus on besides Schiti’s wacky facial expressions.

#4 Leonardo – Brian Lynch and Ross Campbell – 5 out of 5

Hot dangadamn, switching up Raph for Leo in this scenario – the ‘turtle goes rogue while searching for Splinter and fights a whole buncha Foot piece of the story – allows for just enough opportunity for narrational depth to play off against the action, and said action… daaaang.  Campbell’s linework was thicker here, but I sort of prefer that over her later, somewhat more delicate style, and Jay Fotos colors the heck out of this, using block colors for the foot which make them seem really threatening.  Lynch’s script spaces out Leo’s thoughts to underline the beats of the fight perfectly, and even works in a couple chuckles without undoing the tension.  The rooftop battle is amped up incredibly well, a great synthesis of script and art, and the final moments of this conflict are just perfect.  The stakes feel real.

#5 Splinter – Erik Burnham and Charles Paul Wilson III – 3 out of 5

Splinter is conflicted over killing Shredder.  He talks to us about it and has some flashbacks while CP Wilson offers up moody art with painterly colors by Jay Fotos.  That’s a snarky description, but it’s sufficient.  However, this kind of by-the-books stuff is something Erik Burnham frankly does well, and what could’ve been a churn of a book is rendered readable as a result.  Splinter’s memory of his first meeting with Tang Shen is a bit perfect, and the same is oppositely true for his fallout with Shredder – the dude’s just all roundabout bad news, no grey area.  But again, it’s sufficient, and Wilson gives it gravitas, neither he or Burnham wallowing in the cheese more than needed.

#6 Casey Jones – Mike Costa, Ben Epstein and Mike Henderson – 3 out of 5

OMG GRITTY.  Look: I’ve stated right here in this review that the angry Hun / angsty teen Casey setup is meh to me, but Costa and Epstein, like the Splinter entry, take a generic setup and do it justice.  There’re eye-rolling aspects – of course Casey’s dad tries to sell that precious heirloom gifted by Dead Mom to cover gambling expenses – but the way Casey interprets a pledge made to mum is appreciably dark, and our writers actually maintain a much better balance of the whole exposition vs. action thing than several of the books in this mini.  Mike Henderson’s moody art was a good match for this tale, with Ian Herring’s sketchy colors bringing in just enough light to not overwhelm with the whole teeth-gritting vibe of the thing.

#7 April – Barbara Randall Kesel and Marley Zarcone – 3 out of 5

Pretty much all of these micros are narrated to us by the title character, so good / bad can hang on the whole show and tell arrangement: don’t just ‘splain to me what I can see.  Barbara Kesel gives April in her feature a lot more depth than I think the character’s had – maybe before or since – but while the story and April’s thoughts read intelligently and are interesting, we’re often getting a play by play of Marley Zarcone’s art, or the polar opposite – there’s a sudden lack of discourse while the images zoom by at a slight disconnect.  And there’s also weird lack of response to April seeing oddities like rock soldiers.  Fine, you have mutated turtles for friends, but I don’t think that’d zone you out to everything.  Zarcone – who I didn’t see again until Shade, the Changing Girl – has a really appealing style here.  Allowed to go loopier on Shade, I think the formalism of this book better suited her; when the action heats up, her staging gets a bit jumbled (though, again, that might be from the script), but her figures have a lot of character and there’s a good sense of motion, supported by Heather Breckel’s earthy colors.

#8 Fugitoid – Paul Allor and Paul McCaffrey – 4 out of 5

Paul Allor has often delivered the goods with his TMNT work, and the Fugitoid micro is a good example of that, stepping through a beast of a story (we can blame the original Turtles for that this time) that I do actually think the IDW guys improved on by better winding Fugi into the Turtles’ world without having to go all Triceraton on us.  Maybe we just swapped out one baddie for another (Krang, Rock Soldiers), but I still liked the attempted subterfuge of hiding the ‘toid in plain sight.  Allor doesn’t have enough pages to give all the sections of his flashback ample space, making the latter half of the book a bit underwhelming compared to the opening, but again, he covers a lot of ground, finding places to offer dialogue or thoughts that show he definitely considered what all of the big beats should be, but – probably sensibly – opted to give most of the space to Fugi’s time as a human.  McCaffrey’s thick, solid figures – like a cleaned up Corben – and John-Paul Bove’s warm, rounded colors are delicious; I wish they’d been able to recruit that team to the ongoing.