Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Urban Legends (#1 – 5) – Gary Carlson

5 out of 5

reprints TMNT vol. 3 (Image)

I do declare: I WAS WRONG.  I own most of the TMNT Image run, but I had been waiting to read it all in one go until I owned the entire thing.  Prior to that, I’d glanced at issues, seen blood, swears, and booby babes, and guessed that it was true to the 90s over-muscled, under-brained Image era from which it spawned.  Knowing that it had also been sworn off as non-canon by Peter Laird, whose contributions to the Turtles (beyond the initial Eastman collaborations) I hold in high esteem, knocked it down some pegs.  So I classified it as also-rans stuff.

For all the wallet-milking IDW has done with their bamillion zillion hardcover reprints of TMNT stuff – and despite my feeling like they’ve turned a strong franchise into generic comicry – they have done right by fans by trying to put back out hard-to-find stuff, and the Image run does classify as that.  So published under the banner of ‘urban legends,’ and now in color, I’m getting my first real chance to sit down and sift through this.

And I was wrong.

Of course, it is subject to those Image things I mentioned, but in a much more Savage Dragon tongue-in-cheek fashion than the Jim Lee / Todd McFarlane / Rob Liefeld clutter that spawned 1,000 #1 foil issues back in the day.  Gary Carlson’s take on the boys is that of someone who’d read the black and whites as a teen, fever-dreamed the Turtles into badasses (and not parodies or the candy-coated Archie versions), and then had art obliterator Frank Fosco vein ’em up and put them through Hell – which they shrug off with yuks – leaving Donnie nigh-dead and Raph nigh-zombied within pages of issue one.  And it doesn’t stop there.  Carlson is in overdrive, giving Mike and Raph the ragging-on chatter of youths and having them apologize for killing folks with a ‘whoops,’ or shedding a tear for their kidnapped master in one panel and then making a knock-knock joke the next.  It’s classic comic exposition-as-it-happens, but it works, because the kitchen sink et al are on the page, strewn momentously  about and around with glorious abandon by artist Fosco and a lineup of inkers.  Best of all – in direct comparison to the IDW stuff – since this was intended to be a continuation of Mirage’s books, it’s not a nostalgia wankfest and there’s no long-ass pause to retell origins; Carlson actually gives a perfectly succinct summary for the benefit of the books’ antagonist, and it’s probably one of the most to-the-point tellings of that tale we’ve had.  So longtime readers get the satisfaction of mentions of Zog and Casey without the wink-wink REMEMBER THIS obnoxiousness that’s grown popular in the new books.

While most of the story here is a setup to position our wrecked and mutated boys against a longer-term foe, the ninja Kimiko, the ‘Dragonlord’ baddie who opens the book by kidnapping Donnie and Splinter is still a worthwhile page filler, with a deliriously doofy Carlson twist to his story.

Fosco is very much a Larsen pupil, drawing loose and square and flat, but the pages never lack zip, and the looseness makes it easy to forgive when he dashes off a pretty atrocious looking face or expression.  Adam Guzowski’s color work for the reprint is a massive boon; he knows to use flats to not add layers to Fosco that aren’t there, but equally intelligently makes wise use of blacks and identifiable pop colors to keep our focus.  Some typos, which I presume were in the originals, remain, whether or not that’s a good thing.

I’m sorry I’d previously badmouthed this series.  This only makes it more likely for me to badmouth the modern IDW stuff, though, since that makes it the first strikeout for every comic iteration, this “non-canon” one included.