Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol 4

I grew up watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It was a great show back when I was a kid. I might not look back at the cartoonish 80s cartoon with as much love as I use to have for it - but now being an adult I found that the Turtles had matured along with me. FoxKids put out an updated series which drew more from the original source material - creating a truly wonderful series drawing on the classic stories Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman created together.

Unknown to me, though, the Ninja Turtles comic series was actually still continuing -- as Peter Laird created Volume 4 of TMNT. When I finally read this series, I was amazed. It was this perfect blend of indy-style comics with recognizable characters. The lives of the Turtles where put in a new unique situation - where aliens (the Utroms) came to Earth to forge a relationship with humans. The Turtles sort of get caught in the middle of this, but ended up benefiting from the situation - as for the first time ever, they are able to walk about in broad daylight, with everyone assuming they are simply aliens, like many other visiting aliens to Earth.

What was most unique about Laird's continuation of the Turtles was that he essentially broke the family apart. No longer teenagers, the four Turtles broke off to do their own things. This was primarily because Splinter passed away from a heart attack. So the four Turtles begin their own separate adventures. Raphael got mutated into a giant monster Turtle. Donatello became involved with the Utroms, even discovering some lost Utroms in the jungles. Don also got shrunken down to miniature size. Michelangelo ended up in space along with a group of Triceratons. And Leonardo discovered a portal to an alternate dimension where people from all over the multi-verse came to battle each other in a tournament.

The Turtles where not the only ones having their own story-lines, as April O'Neil probably had the most controversial storyline of them all. Back when the original Turtle comics where being made there was a Donatello One-Shot where he met Jack Kirby, renting a room in April's place. He possessed a magical crystal that allowed his drawings to come alive. Don and Kirby got sucked into the world of Kirby's drawings and had an adventure. It was one of those defining and classic stories from the Laird/Eastman era. Now Laird was picking up on that storyline, as April accidently discovers that she was created by that magical crystal. Being one of one the more normalizing parts of the Turtles lives, this change in April's origins proved controversial and unpopular. Though, I have to say, I thought it was at least interesting. And April wasn't short of more mundane issues - like being married to Casey Jones and trying to help raise Casey's daughter Shadow.

This fourth volume of the Ninja Turtles was accompanied by a revival of "Tales of the TMNT". It featured different writers and artists, creating an anthology series of stories. Several plot-lines from the main book where bounced off and continued here. The issues I most enjoyed where the ones drawn my the main series artist Jim Lawson. I simply adore his art style - and since the main title was bi-monthly, and sometimes late, I suppose this allowed Lawson to do some more issues in "Tales of the TMNT" They where usually one-off stories - but there where also several instances of Lawson drawing a 4-issue mini series featuring a single Turtle. Leonardo, being temporarily blinded, went on a journey on the mind - going back to ancient Japan. Raphael, along with Casey's daughter Shadow, went on an adventure into a magical world of vampires, werewolves and demons. It was all strange, exotic, fun - and not you're typical Turtle stories.

All of the diverse plot-lines of the regular series, sadly, where never resolved. Peter Laird decided to try selling the Turtle comic as a digital-download. The issues where free - but I honestly was not a fan on trying to read my favorite comic on the computer. I tried a out a few issues, but ultimately stopped reading. And it was such a shame - as the series delivered on so many unique aspects. The art by Jim Lawson was to die for. It was unlike any Turtle series you've read - as it remained tightly woven to the original comics continuity - and was very introspective. I only wish I had jumped onto the title sooner - because, before I knew it, the series was gone. When Laird sold the TMNT rights to Nickelodeon he decided to end Volume 4 all together. So all those diverse plot-lines the four brothers where on? Unresolved. He has the option of still doing the series, but that seems unlikely at this point.

Tales of the TMNT continued on for a little while longer, but eventually ended as well. I hope, someday, Laird might consider coming back, if not to just complete the story he began (and at least return Raph and Don back to normal) - but, on the plus side, this new direction of the Turtles can remain alive and active in my mind. It was simply a wonderful and thoughtful book, and it reminded me, after all the TV Series, Movies, Action Figures and Lunch Boxes -- the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were still, at it's core, an Indy book.

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