Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe (#1 – 4) – Paul Allor, Various

3 out of 5

With the initial announcement of the TMNT U title, the intended focus was a little unclear.  My hope was that it would be akin to a Tales offshoot, as the churning plotting of the ongoing hasn’t ever been much to my taste – although the somewhat poor to average quality of the writing is part of that.

There were some later clarifications that the title might fill in some “gaps” between the main title and various mini-series, which one could internet as Tales-y or not, but either way: It would at the very least be something other.

The good news is that that’s held true.  The first arc of TMNT U essentially slots into the current storyline somewhere, but pulled out of the dramaturgy of the ongoing, it’s a bit more easy going, without sacrificing on action or the level of character / story we’re used to.  There’s not a bad news aspect of that: this is a fun, four issue run, with a bit of the playfulness I desire in my turtles books and minus the end-of-the-world overdrama I don’t.  So why the three stars?  Well, it’s simply not a mind-blowing story, and it’s certainly a bit of a gear spinner, but that doesn’t prevent it from being an enjoyable read.

The Turtles and April have gathered at Baxter Stockman’s lab to execute some plan wherein they recruit Stockman for assistance.  This potentially raises some questions as to their approach, but, as mentioned: not a mind blowing story.  The point is to gather everyone out of their comfort zone.

So when the boys interrupt another mutant ransacking the building – a scorpion lady named Zodi – and give chase, only to find out she’s being pursued by the Bishop-led Earth Protection Force, everyone sequesters inside as Baxter’s building-sealing security is enacted and we have a mini Die Hard scenario that keeps us in explosions, fights and chases for four issues.

Allor’s pacing and characterization here are pretty great.  While I’ve suggested the setup doesn’t hold up under much scrutiny, in true action movie format, the arc is more about getting down to business, and thereafter the dialogue and fighting / adventuring is well-balanced so we never feel unmotivated going into or coming out of a scene.  The boys are well done, inhabiting their known characteristics without the obnoxiousness Waltz gives them in the ongoing; Mikey is light-hearted but not an idiot; Don is smart but doesn’t sling techno-nonsense about without reason; Raph is a hothead but doesn’t forget his life lessons every five minutes.  April, Bishop and Baxter all come off much more one note, but it’s a recognizable note, and in exchange we get Zodi, who plays the DILLIGAF villain, but Allor keeps her in check from becoming too cheeky.  Meaning she’s self-serving, and rolls her eyes at idealisms, but seems realistically (in context of our mutant world) self serving.

On art, Damian Couceiro rocks it, especially propped up by Ronda Pattinson’s colors, which add emotion to what might otherwise be empty space.  Damian takes the sketchy style of Dan Duncan and marries it to recent artist Dave Wachter’s more weight character design, which sets the book off on a unique visual feel.  His direction is pretty great, working in concert with Allor’s script to always keep us involved with the action.

Also appearing is a short “Leo dreams about fighting everyone” backup by the usual scripting team (Waltz, Eastman, Curnow) and art by Bill Sienkiewicz.  Sienkiewicz is cool to see on the Turtles, but the script is as shallow as it comes, perhaps best serving as evidence of how much better a writer Allor is.

The hope, still, is that TMNT U will bridge off to fill in some non-Turtles gaps at points, but it was still nice to see the boys in a somewhat self-contained old-school action brawl, minus all the soap opera lameness of the main title.  And I would take a billion three star yarns like this over the general churn of its sister book.