Saturday, January 20, 2018

Batman/TMNT II #3


Published by: DC Comics

Publication date: January 17, 2018

Plot: James Tynion IV
Dialogue: Ryan Ferrier
Art: Freddie Williams II
Colors: Jeremy Colwell
Letters: Tom Napolitano
Cover: Williams II and Colwell
Variant cover: Kevin Eastman and Tomi Varga
Assistant editor: Liz Erickson
Editor: Jim Chadwick

"A Knight in New York, Part 3"

Summary:

Down in the lair, Michelangelo beats Robin at video games and the little brat throws a fit, venting his frustrations on Donatello, who already feels guilty over leading Bane to their universe.  Raphael and Robin get into an argument and Donnie leaves to go sulk some more.

At Foot Clan HQ Batman, Splinter and Leonardo peek in through a skylight.  They see Bane coming down from his Venom high and Batman suggests that in two hours his withdrawal symptoms will be at their peak.  Even then, they will need the whole team to bring him down, so they head back to the lair to gather everyone.


It was all a ruse, however, as Bane watches them leave and, although he is truly in pain, he is actually in control of it.  Baxter Stockman then reports that the synthetic Venom is coming along and he has moved it on to "human" testing.  Next to a pile of dead Foot Soldiers, Bebop and Rocksteady are being hooked up to the machines to pump them with the steroid.


In Donnie's lab, he's still pouting and April's words of encouragement do him little good.  She suggests that she help his brothers and Casey with a very important job.  That job winds up being referee in a sparring match between Raph and Robin.  The two hotheads take it too far and begin wailing on each other with serious force.  Before a winner can be declared, Batman and the others return and the whole gang deploys to go fight Bane.

They storm Baxter's lab and he laughs that the heroes have no idea what they're dealing with.  Donnie finds a huge vat of synthetic Venom and analyzes it, learning that Stockman has not only synthesized Venom successfully, but has improved it with the inclusion of mutagen.  The Venom-enhanced Bebop and Rocksteady plow their way into the lab and in the chaos, Baxter gets doused in mutagen.  Some of the flies that had been buzzing around the dead Foot Soldiers had left their DNA on him and he is turned into a fly-man.


Bebop and Rocksteady are soon backed by the army of Venom-enhanced Foot Soldiers as well as Bane, who has used the mutagen-Venom to make himself really super fucking big.


Turtle Tips:

*This story is continued from Batman/TMNT II #2.  The story continues in Batman/TMNT II #4.

*Batman mentions the time he was hooked on Venom, which happened in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight (Vol. 1) #16-20.

*Bane mentions his origins on Santa Prisca, which were seen back in the Batman: Vengeance of Batman one-shot.

*This issue was originally published with a 6-page preview of The Terrifics #1 from DC Comics.


Review:

We're halfway through the Batman/TMNT II miniseries and though I'm loathe to say it, I think this one's kinda just limping its way through the motions.  Superficially, the book LOOKS exciting thanks to the excellent art and colors from the Williams/Colwell team, but in terms of substance this mini has been very predictable and I'm getting a little bored with it.  The novelty of seeing Batman and the Turtles working together has already expired (this is the third crossover between the franchises, actually) and so a substantial plot is really needed to maintain the draw.  But if Tynion had brought his A-game to the first mini, I think this is more his C-game.

The Turtles and Batman fall into a stupidly obvious trap; Superfriends Batman and the Fred Wolf Turtles wouldn't have been fooled by this one.  If anything, all the heroes are looking really BAD in this mini.  Batman idiotically falls for Bane's little show where he pretends to be having withdrawal symptoms and doesn't leave Leo or Splinter behind to keep watch over Bane while he fetches the rest of the team.  Robin and Raph punch each other into a bloody pulp over a video game minutes before they know they'll be leaving for a life or death mission where they'll need to be at their peak.  Donnie is still a pouting, whining crybaby who can't get over how worthless he is and has to have pity-parties thrown for him by April and infantilizing "very important jobs" given to him to try and make him feel better. 

I mean JEEZ.  The script is trying to manufacture stakes by dialing the competency of the heroes back to the Moronic Fuckups setting, and that just seems like cheating.  We're being told over and over what an unstoppable threat Bane is, but the only reason he seems to be so damn challenging is because Batman and the Turtles are all a bunch of stooges.

The art is so good, though, that I think the mini is STILL worth picking up just for the purdy pit'chers.  There are a couple of lovely two-page spreads, but one of the layout effects Williams uses that I dig is how he frames some of the panels with busts of the characters off to the side, watching the action within the panels.  He does it with Baxter during his conversation with Bane, and then again with the Turtles, April and Casey as they watch Raph and Robin slug it out.  This is what I meant earlier when I said that the book LOOKS exciting even when the script isn't.  Williams is very good at making dull moments appear visually stimulating. 

Beyond that, I think the other artistic highlight was Baxter's transformation.  IDW has said that they like Baxter as a human, and I think that's the best way to go since he's better as a villain in their universe that way, but this non-canon IDW-inspired miniseries is a fun way to give us a "what if" scenario.  If IDW Baxter ever DID turn into a fly, this is what he might look like.

I'm still holding out hope that this mini gives us a twist somewhere in the second half that upends my downward-trending expectations.  There's still time.  Thus far, though, the characters aren't being treated with much respect and the story has been dully generic.  The art and colors are worth the $4, but just barely.



Tuesday, January 16, 2018

TMNT Universe #18


Publication date: January 3, 2018

Writer: Paul Allor
Artist: Tyler Boss
Colorist: Ronda Pattison
Letterer: Shawn Lee
Editor: Bobby Curnow
Publisher Ted Adams

"Monster Hunt"

Summary:

MAIN STORY:

Midtown Evacuation Center, in the midst of the Triceraton Invasion.  The Turtles decide to duck for cover in what they think is an abandoned building, only to find that it is the evacuation center with the relief efforts being spearheaded by Detective Kara Lewis.  A pair of kids see "the monsters" hiding in the shadows and, thinking them the same as "the dinosaur men" attacking the city, resolve to capture the monsters.


The Turtles, meanwhile, try to come up with a means to get out of the building without blowing their cover.  However, no access but the front doors are available and everywhere they go, the kids are hot on their trail.  Det. Lewis, getting suspicious that she may be familiar with "the monsters", orders the other police to keep an eye open for them.


Michelangelo eventually comes up with a plan to use the monster-thing to their advantage and the Turtles dress up in unconvincing monster costumes.  Throwing a smokebomb, they scare most of the evacuees away on their march to the exit, but are attacked by the two kids.  After a tussle, Raphael frightens the kids off, but Mikey makes it okay by telling the kids that they were brave and defeated his fellow monsters fair and square.  Escaping to a nearby roof, Raph tries to tell Mikey what a solid plan he had, but Mikey reveals it was all a gag to make Raph wear a silly costume and make a fool of himself.  They fight.


Back inside the Evacuation Center, the kids are reunited with their mother and they feel all the braver for "protecting" everyone.  Det. Lewis has a sketch artist draw up the monsters as per the descriptions from the children and, despite the stupid costumes, recognizes them as the Turtles she keeps running into.


BACK-UP STORY:

Writer: Caleb Goellner
Artist: Michael Dialynas

"Mutagen Maitenance" (sic...?)

At Mutanimals HQ, Pigeon Pete has breakfast with an unseen individual.  Herman the Hermit Crab and Mondo Gecko come in later, each trying to cheer the individual up.  Old Hob then comes in and promises to not only get the materials they need to make the individual whole again, but to make Agent Bishop pay for what he's done.


Lindsey then comes in and the unseen individual is revealed to be the disembodied head/brain of Mutagen Man.  Together, they binge watch some television and she promises that as soon as they get the resources they need, she'll have him back together again.


Turtle Tips:

*This issue is continued from TMNT Universe #17.  The series continues with a new story in TMNT Universe #19

*This story takes place between TMNT (IDW) #77 and TMNT (IDW) #78.

*The back-up is something of an epilogue to TMNT (IDW) #70, but could really take place anytime after that.

*Speaking of the back-up, they spell it "Maitenance" on both the credits page and the story itself, so I dunno if that's a spelling error or intentional.

*This issue was originally published with 3 variant covers: Cover A by Freddie E. Williams II and Jeremy Colwell, Cover B by Tyler Boss, and Incentive Cover by Ron Chan.


Review:

Alright, I can tell that this one-shot story is probably going to be divisive among readers, but this is the sort of thing I really enjoy.  I mean, not all the time, but light-hearted "breather" stories like this amidst dense drama and serialized arcs are refreshing; even more so when the writer has fun with the script and the artist does something crazy with the visuals.

Paul Allor's script could pass for something from Archie's TMNT Adventures.  It isn't juvenile, but it is silly and kid-oriented.  The scene where the children try to fight the Turtles with vinegar squirt-guns and plungers is goofy as can be, and is maybe the only part of the issue to traipse close to being "juvenile", but the gags work in harmony with the art and all the humor lands.  It doesn't sound like it'd be funny in a dry summary, I know, but it works on the page.

Tyler Boss has a style of art that I really wish someone would give a name to.  Because I love this kind of art, at least in infrequent doses, but to articulate what about it appeals to me takes a paragraph.  It's the way he lays stuff out; the aesthetic falls somewhere between an architectural blueprint and a "Where's Billy Been?" strip from Family Circus. Shit man, I'll just show ya:



This issue is loaded with pages and half-pages laid out like that and I absolutely adore it.  Like I said, I wouldn't want a TMNT comic to look like that all the time, since the style is kind of busy and some pages feel like a game of Where's Waldo?, but as a creative break from the usual every now and again?  By all means.

The pages that are laid out in a "typical" format, not as some crazy picture book sort of thing, have a good amount of energy to them.  And it's interesting that they do, come to think of it.  Almost all the non-crazy pages are medium shots, to use a film term, and nothing particularly exciting is done with the perspective.  Instead, the characters are nicely expressive (without being overly cartoonish) and there's a certain level of detail that makes each panel feel chaotic even when we're looking at things straight on and soberly.  The "medium shot" approach also adds some contrast to the really wild pages I highlighted earlier, creating more emphasis for them.

The back-up was a nice, if belated, epilogue to "Desperate Measures".  It catches us up on the Mutanimals, who are important characters but have had to take a break since all the OTHER important characters are getting their screentime right now.

It did make me think, though.  In my last review, and a few before that, I suggested that the back-ups haven't contributed much and I'd like to see them dropped; either to reduce the cost of the book or to have the 4 extra pages given over the main plot.  However, since the TMNT universe that this book is titled after is so vast, and many important characters and/or factions have to wait months to years without getting attention because there isn't any room for them, these back-ups might be a good place to keep readers appraised of the goings-on of those sidelined characters on a regular basis.  Or at least periodically remind us that they exist.

"From the Heart, for the Herd" didn't really do it for me, but this "Monster Hunt" one-shot was a blast.  Great art and a fun script.  Tonally, it might feel weird sandwiched in the middle of the grim "Invasion of the Triceratons" storyline, but I think it works as a diversion from all the dark and brooding stuff.  TMNT can be serious business, but it should still never forget to have a laugh now and again.




TMNT Universe #17


Publication date: December 20, 2017

Writer: Chris Mowry
Artist: Giannis Milonogiannis
Colorist: Lovern Kindzierski
Letterer: Shawn Lee
Editor: Bobby Curnow
Publisher Ted Adams

"From the Heart, for the Herd, Part 2"

Summary:

MAIN STORY:

From a vantage point overlooking Krang's palace on Utrominon, Zom prepares to assassinate Krang with her sniper rifle.  She is stopped by Zog, who tells her that this is not the way to gain their freedom and that he wants to see what she has learned.  They return to the Archives and Zog reads the same classified files that Zom had.  Zom wants to start a full-scale rebellion immediately, but Zog convinces her to follow a more discrete strategy.


At the Barracks, Zog gathers all the Triceratons and reveals to them the truth.  The dropship containing the original herd was not destroyed by enemy combatants, but by the Utroms-themselves, who feared that batch of Triceratons were getting unruly and wanted to start over with a fresh generation of clones.  He tells them that with the Utrom Empire spread thin, now is the time to take the freedom they'd been yearning for by joining with separatist factions around Dimension X.  To do this, he orders Zom to take half the herd in one ship and find refuge by taking over an Utrom garrison, ensuring half their species survives.  The other half will remain on Utrominon with Zog and attack the Utroms as a distraction.  Zog and Zom bid a tearful goodbye and the plan gets underway.


Zog meets with Krang and tells him that an emotionally deranged Triceraton shot up the Archives and stole a ship to escape.  He has dispatched Zom to hunt the renegade down.  Krang is furious and tells Zog to do whatever he has to in order to thwart this insurrection.  As Zog leaves, Krang asks him if he's still on his side and Zog confirms that he is.  Once outside, though, Zog convenes with another Triceraton and they signal Zom that they're ready.


On the alien planet the Triceratons conquered for the Utroms the previous day, Zom's army takes the Utrom garrison by surprise.  Zom's right horn is broken in the battle, but the Triceratons prove victorious.  Much time passes as the Triceratons await news from Zog.  Eventually, the remainder of the herd meets up with them, but with the news that after defeating Krang, Zog vanished in a flash of light.

Taking command of the Triceratons, Zom leaves a message that she hopes Zog will find someday, should he ever return, thanking him for all he has done.  She then leads the Triceratons on their long odyssey to find their place in the universe.


BACK-UP STORY:

Writer: Erika Anderson
Artist: Michael Dialynas

"Triceratots!  Part Two"

In the Barracks, as the Triceratons break up into their two groups to begin their rebellion, a pair of young Triceratons sneak onto Zom's ship.  They get into an argument and start wrestling, accidentally falling out of the loading dock before the ship takes off.


Watching the ship take off, they wish Zom luck and rejoin the rest of the young Triceratons.


Turtle Tips:

*This story is continued from TMNT Universe #16.  A new story begins in TMNT Universe #18.

*During the recap of the rebellion, the scene in which Zog chucks Krang out of an airship is taken from TMNT: Utrom Empire #2.

*Although it is not said what happened to Zog when he disappeared, he was most recently seen as a warrior in the Battle Nexus in TMNT Annual 2014.

*This issue was originally published with 3 variant covers: Cover A by Freddie E. Williams II, Cover B by Giannis Milonogiannis, and Incentive Cover by Tony Shasteen.


Review:

"From the Heart, for the Herd" is both a good companion and a bad companion to the Utrom Empire miniseries.  In case you haven't read it, that mini took the centuries-spanning history of the Utroms and boiled it down to its highlights.  After it was finished, there remained a lot of narrative opportunities left unexplored, as the mini only covered the gist of things and always from Krang's perspective.  And one of the big moments it had to provide the Reader's Digest version of was the Triceraton rebellion and Zog's betrayal of Krang.

"From the Heart, for the Herd" decompresses that sequence from Utrom Empire and tells the story in more detail and from the POV of the Triceratons.  And that's where this arc shines; we get into the heads of these characters and better appreciate their motivations.  Zom, who has been appearing in the TMNT ongoing, now has a tragedy to her backstory and we better understand why she loses her shit whenever one of her teammates is killed.  Zog, too, finally gets a personality to his name even if I'm not sure about the consistency of it.  He's eloquent, even-tempered, clever and treacherous in this story, where those elements were more described or implied than displayed during the haste of Utrom Empire.  Then again, in the 2014 Annual, he was portrayed as a bulldozing brute who couldn't string a sentence together, but there's a fairly unimaginative easy-out for that (blah blah blah centuries of gladiatorial combat turned him into a lumbering monster blah blah blah).

Those are the good things about "From the Heart, for the Herd".  The negatives are much the same as I discussed in my previous review.  It kind of feels like Mowry was reading Utrom Empire at the same time as he was writing these issues and course-corrected for his own discontinuity along the way.  So whereas Krang was dismissive and/or nasty to Zog in the previous chapter, here he tries to suggest that they're partners and share some sort of camaraderie.  It's an attempt to portray their relationship closer to how it was presented in Utrom Empire, but only after it was so badly misrepresented in the first chapter.  If by chance you ARE reading "From the Heart, for the Herd" in a vacuum without the context of Utrom Empire, you can't get a bead on how Krang and Zog get along because the nature of their relationship shifts drastically between the chapters.

Then again, it could just be an unintended visual portrayal from the artist.  Go back to the previous issue and reread Krang and Zog's discussion, but take a Sharpie and draw a smiley face on Krang.  It changes the context of the dialogue, especially Krang's parting words about how things will be changing for Zog once he's in charge.  Milonogiannis drew Krang with a sinister, evil face as he said it.  But then in this issue, Krang is pathetically begging for Zog to assure him that they're still on the same side.  Maybe as written, Krang's "things are going to be different" line from last issue was intended to be more of a friendly suggestion of rewards for Zog for remaining loyal to him?  As drawn, though, it came across as a diabolical threat.

I think this story is more confusing than it has any right to be.  The plot is actually very simple: Triceratons work for the Utroms, Utroms betray the Triceratons, Triceratons rebel against the Utroms.  But the mess of incompatible characterizations between outside appearances and sometimes even within this two-issue storyline just baffles the whole experience.  I appreciate how it told in detail an important plot point that had up until now only existed in summary, but it really could have used some better story editing.

As for "Triceratots"...?  Outside of "the cuteness", I'm not sure what this back-up really accomplished.  I mean, aside from making me wish the extra 4 pages would be given to the main story and the back-ups eliminated entirely, that is.


Monday, January 15, 2018

TMNT Universe #16


Publication date: November 22, 2017

Writer: Chris Mowry
Artist: Giannis Milonogiannis
Colorist: Lovern Kindzierski
Letterer: Shawn Lee
Editor: Bobby Curnow
Publisher Ted Adams

"From the Heart, for the Herd, Part 1"

Summary:

MAIN STORY:

Dimension X, the past.  As the Triceraton forces board a dropship for another mission, a single Triceraton child is left behind by his parents to remain with their Utrom masters.  The dropship is subsequently destroyed and the last Triceraton child eventually grows up to become General Zog.


Years later, an alien planet.  General Zog receives word that Commander Zom is almost done wiping out the last of the enemy forces.  True to the intel, Zom kills off the last few aliens and then meets with Zog for a debriefing.  She has taken on a light injury, much to Zog's concern, and they hold hands.


The Triceratons return to Utrominon and are greeted by Genera Krang, but not Emperor Quanin.  Zog goes to have a meeting with Krang while Zom heads to the archives to update the Triceraton roster of with the deceased.  At the meeting, there is a heated exchange of words between Krang and Zog; Zog dislikes being a tool of the Utrom Empire but Krang reminds him that it was the Utroms who created the Triceratons in the first place.  Furthermore, he reminds him of how all other Triceratons had died in battle and without the Utrom cloning techniques that they used on Zog, there would be no Triceratons now, either.  As they part, Krang warns Zog that once Quanin is gone and he is in charge, things will be very different.


At the Hall of Archives, Utrom Supervisor Mifor gets impatient with how long Zom is taking to update the record and tells her to lock up when she leaves.  Zom notices that Mifor left his station logged in and begins reading through the classified file on Zog.  What she sees horrifies her.  Mifor returns and catches her reading his files and tries to call security, but Zom grabs a weapon and kills him.

Later, Zog receives a message from Zom.  She vaguely reveals that she has learned some startling news and she has only one recourse left: To kill General Krang.


BACK-UP STORY:

Writer: Erika Anderson
Artist: Michael Dialynas
Letterer: Chris Mowry

"Triceratots!  Part One"

Triceraton Training Compound Alpha, Utrominon.  The Utrom Commander Grel gathers all the young Triceratons for their first day of droid combat training.  The youngsters excel in their training, but accidentally knock Grel out of his hover pod in the process.


He's plucked up by Zog, who puts him back in his pod.  Zog remembers his own training with Grel and remarks that the new Triceratons have a lot to learn about discipline.


Turtle Tips:

*This issue is continued from TMNT Universe #15.  The storyline continues in TMNT Universe #17.

*This storyline takes place early in the past-set events of TMNT: Utrom Empire #1.

*This storyline was originally titled "Freedom", which appeared in a few of the early solicitations (including the one on the IDW website).  It was later changed to "From the Heart, for the Herd".

*This issue was originally published with 3 variant covers: Cover A by Freddie E. Williams II, Cover B by Giannis Milonogiannis, and Incentive Cover by Jake Smith.


Review:

This new arc in Universe seems like it's trying to perform a sort of double-duty.  It's a prequel to Paul Allor's Utrom Empire miniseries, providing important background on the Triceratons, while also tying into the current "Invasion of the Triceratons" arc going on in the main series, giving us an origin for Commander Zom.  As a character study on Zom, I think it's working out a lot better; she's the focal Triceraton of "Invasion" and getting a glimpse into her complicated past gives her a bit more dimension.

As a prequel to Utrom Empire, I'm a bit less convinced.  I'm sure Chris Mowry read Utrom Empire before writing this storyline, though I'm having a hard time seeing where this story takes place in conjunction with that one.  Krang as he's seen here is dismissive of the Triceratons, outright disliking them.  In Utrom Empire #1, Krang was shown to be all buddy-buddy with the Triceratons, going so far as to party with them upon victories.  You could say that this story takes place after the events of Villains Micro-Series: Krang, where Krang gained his more diabolical personality, but he's not walking around in his robot body made out of Traxus' corpse, so it can't be after that.

I think a lot of "From the Heart, for the Herd" relies on readers sort of... forgetting about what they read in some of those much older stories.  You just need to forget that Krang was ever friends with the Triceratons and that he used to be a less-than-sinister weakling.  There's also the sudden retcon that all the individual Triceraton died, save Zog, and all the Triceratons since then are clones.  The vaguer your memories of Utrom Empire, the better.

But it's kind of hard to get over that.  Krang and Zog having once been pals was an important part of the Utrom Empire storyline.  That arc covered the rebellion, partly led by Zog, which ultimately resulted in Quanin's death and Krang having to retreat to Earth with the remains of his people.  But the only reason Krang LIVED was because Zog, on two separate occasions, spared him out of memory of their previous kinship.  Zog kept letting Krang go because he felt Krang had the capacity for reason and mercy, and the only reason he thought THAT is because the two of them used to party together.

But you see none of that in their exchange in this issue.  Krang keeps reminding Zog to address him as General and not to forget his place.  He shares a lot of personal grievances with Zog, yeah, but it all just seems to make Zog hate Krang more and more (we see him shaking his fist when Krang's back is turned).  I can't see Zog, after having these sorts of encounters with Krang, sparing his life twice during the rebellion later on.

Ignoring continuity, though, is this a good story so far?  Well, it throws you into the deep end of the IDW TMNT mythology and it definitely does expect a working knowledge of continuity to follow.  So disconnecting it from all of that and trying to enjoy it in a vacuum isn't so easy.  I am happy to get more Zog, who we've seen very little of in the IDW series, and I appreciate any sort of background on Zom we can get, but the expectation of the reader to both remember important parts of continuity and forget what's inconvenient is irritating.

As for "Triceratots", I dunno.  It was cute?  A little, anyway.  I did like that layout of past-Zog training alone and then flash-forward to the present, where we see all the little Triceratons training together.  A small reminder of what a lonely childhood Zog had.  But that's the most remarkable thing about this back-up and it isn't even that remarkable.