Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe (#7 – 8) – Ryan Ferrier, Brahm Revel

2 out of 5

This is a good idea frustratingly executed, or perhaps inexecuted, as writer Ryan Ferrier neither pursues the interesting twists he brings nor fully gives in to the cliches of his setup, leading to a really unsatisfying mish-mash compromise of the two.  Combined with the confusingly depicts backup, it’s not a thrilling reading experience overall.

But let me back up to say that the general direction TMNTU is pursuing makes me very happy: current continuity asides that would be filler in the main series but give guest writers / artists a chance to play in a supplemental role.  It’s a ‘Tales’ spin with a little more weight behind it by keeping it in the current timeline, allowing for the kind of isolated stuff I think the Turtles work well with but giving the stories enough room – via use of the larger IDW universe as well as physical page space – to tell a (potentially) full story.  So I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again in hopes it keeps the spirit alive: I’ll happily read more attempts like these issues in support of the possibilities of the title.  …And on some level I also enjoy this more than the overwrought prattle Waltz slings in the ongoing.

Metal head 2.0: Donnie tinkers with Metalhead (using some eye-rolling surface tech talk), succeeding in successfully reviving it, at which point it starts firing its lasers.  …Oh, okay, a Metalhead-turns-on-the-team story.  Fine, that’s the tactic often taken with the character, but let’s see what happens.  Only, no, Donnie shuts MH down with a command word, crisis quickly averted, which leads us to Ferrier’s twist on things: MH still thinks he’s Donatello, or rather, some aspect of Donatello’s consciousness – you read that arc where his brain was transferred into the robot body, right? – lingers in MH, meaning, for all intents and purposes, we have two Donnies.

There are several possibilities where to take this, and Ferrier again seems to thwart convention by going in the more heady direction of an identity crisis: fleahy Don laments no longer having the computing power of his robot brain, and robo Don – or Metallo Don, which everyone sort of obnoxiously starts calling him, which hints at how this story begins to fall apart – struggles with accepting his current fate as the non “real” Donatello, and a robotic one at that.

Heady stuff… that’s completely botched.  Ferrier never quite clarifies how we should be reading Metal Don’s reawakened personality; “he” has memories leading up to Don’s death and yet seems to have a wholly different personality, and doesn’t respond organically to the brothers with whom he’s grown up.  We could be favorable and say that’s a purposeful scripting maneuver to show that it wasn’t Don, but that just underlines that the story never really pursues that.  Adding to the pseudo tech-talk of the opening is the completely unscientific way fleshy Don approaches his brother, having emotional “he needs to adjust” realizations when appropriate but otherwise treating him like an offhand curiosity, picking up on that Metallo Don nickname as immediately as the rest of his brothers.  Again, could be purposeful script nuance, but that’s not evident at all, to me, in the reading.  Heck, there’s even a point when Don refers to Metal Head as a child, which is a perspective that is otherwise never spoken to or shown.  And, hey, because we clearly don’t know what we’re doing with this concept, let’s go ahead and give in to the robot-turns-on-its-owners trope, in a rather un-story-motivated “twist” (preceded by a pointless chase sequence) that shares the ingoing’s penchant for scene-chewing dialogue.

I’m not expecting high brow sci-fi in my Turtles – in fact, my bar is pretty low – but by not choosing a clear direction for the story, Ferrier inadvertently makes his tale’s lowlights much more obvious.

Digging Adam Gorham’s art, though, which uses character designs somewhat inspired (to my eye) by the original Jim Henson movies – a bit wider “beaked” – and it looks good on the boys, depicted in energetic but clear panels with a really good sense of dialogue / comedic timing.

The backup continues Brahm Revel’s What is Ninja?, which seems to be doing a one-turtle-per-issue focus, watched from afar by a masked personage while flashback (one assumes) panels depict a down-and-out criminal’s eventual entry into The Foot.  There also might be a third timeline going on, based on the panel’s color schemes… and my inability to discern that summarizes most of my reception to the strip.  Revel’s camera is all over the place; you can piece together, from a bird’s eye view, that each timeline is following a linear moment, but the visual cues we’d use to tie one scene to another are missing, and POV changes frequently, making it a chore to piece together whom you’re watching doing what and from where.  And since this is essentially a completely visual story – the narration is thematically linked but not directly tied to the page events – that’s not gonna cut it.

Which is a summary statement for these issues.