Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #50 review

Yup, this review is spoiler-free!

TMNT #50 creative team: Tom Waltz (writer/story), Kevin Eastman (story), Bobby Curnow (story/editor), Mateus Santolouco (art), Cory Smith (flashback art), Ronda Pattison (colors), Shawn Lee (letters)

Artwork by Mateus Santolouco and Ronda Pattison
Back in 2011, IDW Publishing rebooted the TMNT franchise. Everything about the iconic mutants felt familiar, but there were new faces and plenty of organic and exciting story changes along the way. Who would have thought the Ninja Turtles are now a reincarnated family? It sounds tough to swallow, but they absolutely pulled it off.

Year after year, this new direction has been handled brilliantly. No matter how much the narrative changed, one thing stayed the same: Oroku Saki, a.k.a. Shredder, wants to end Hamato Yoshi, a.k.a. Master Splinter, and the Ninja Turtles. Now - four years later - the conflict between the two sides is reaching its conclusion. You know that saying "go big or go home", right? Well, that's exactly what's going on here. This issue is one large slice of awesome, and the topping is an extra amount of awesome. Sorry, I just couldn't resist the pizza pun.
Variant cover by Kevin Eastman and Ronda Pattison
As expected, this issue is loaded with terrific action. There's a lot of great choreography in here and it's a blast to follow.  From the Ninja Turtles requiring tactics against the mutants to - and this totally isn't a spoiler since it's in the solicit - the team fighting Shredder, the melees are pretty much guaranteed to please anyone who's been following the series. Seriously, I can't imagine a fan of this series not feeling totally immersed and enjoying the fight sequences. The minds behind the story (Waltz, Eastman, Curnow) did an impressive job making sure the issue is full of different kinds of fights to keep things consistently gripping, but obviously, a ginormous amount of credit goes to the art team.

To me, Santolouco and Pattison can do no wrong. Issue after issue, this duo has created countless pages that are loaded with personality, energy, and an incredible sense of impact. Whenever there's a battle, there's no doubt these two are going to make it look appropriately fast-paced and amazing. As you more than likely know by now, their talent isn't limited to the chaotic stuff, either. Even calmer moments (e.g. reaction shots, discussions, etc.) have such convincing character work. When this duo's providing the art, you're going to believe these individuals are full of life and emotion instead of simply being static images in panels. The environment vanishes quite a bit, but it's often a justified decision. In those moments, it's usually done to help convey extra speed during something physical, and that definitely makes the instant feel more animated. Besides, there are quite a few pages where it's clear a lot of time was dedicated to an establishing shot and fleshing out the atmosphere. All in all, I have nothing but love for the artwork.
Cover by Mateus Santolouco
In the flashbacks, Cory Smith provides the art. Fans of this series know he's more than capable of making this franchise look good. His style draws some parallels to Santolouco's, and in the past, he's impressed me with some solid composition. This time around, he's tasked with handling a key part of the Splinter and Shredder conflict: their past. As the present unleashes an unrelenting amount of punches and kicks, the past is used to remind us why everyone is fighting. The contrast of seeing how they were when they were raised together to where they are now gives this action-packed issue the emotional weight it requires. Smith's art does a fine job humanizing the characters and he gave the peaceful environments a proper amount of focus - two things that are absolutely mandatory for these scenes to establish an emotional connection. By the time the issue ends, you'll know for certain that Shredder is so much more than a one-dimension foe who wants to dine on turtle soup. The series has already done a phenomenal job handling the villain, but this issue really drives that point home. I really didn't expect this one to move me the way it did; one moment even reminded me of Under the Red Hood, and yes, that's a very good thing.

With Bebop and Rocksteady, there's a bit of silly, slapstick humor. I get this series is loaded with comedy (e.g. Mikey has an amusing line after jumping over a certain mutant), but given the intensity of the situation, that style of humor felt a little out of place and didn't make me laugh. That said, I completely realize this is a personal criticism, and the use of those moments do feel true to Bebop and Rockstready's dynamic - they aren't exactly known as the most nimble and tactical mutants around, are they? Given all that's occurring, it would have been great if the battle was more, well, badass, but the handling of it is perfectly understandable because that incident allows the heroes to use even more teamwork, and there's a really fun layout thrown in there, too. The conclusion with the two does make me ask a question or two, though. After you have characters shrug off a whole variety of attacks and walk away from having a building collapsing on them, it must be quite a challenge finding believable ways to take those two down. I would have loved to see something more along the lines of what Karai did to them (i.e. going for a weak point and getting them to submit) and that could have generated a brutal fight which is reminiscent of the one the heroes had with Slash, but it's still a very satisfying and entertaining battle. The stunning artwork doesn't hurt much, either!
Variant cover by Robert Atkins, Chuck Arnold, and Simon Gough
One minor criticism I have is the handling of a mutant who made a brief cameo in the last chapter. In issue #49, a full reveal of the individual wasn't made, but it was very obvious who the character is (or is it?). In issue #50, the mutant does have dialogue and interacts with others, yet the mutant still remains off-panel - only an arm is visible. So, I'm left wondering why they're holding off on the reveal. After blatantly teasing this fan favorite character, giving the mutant a proper first appearance in this huge issue would have been a fitting way to further boost the reading experience. I'm hoping there's something about the mutant which justifies saving the reveal for another time.

If you're going to charge $7.99 for a comic, it needs to be phenomenal. Thankfully, you can tell so much love went into creating this issue. It's clear the art team is passionate about this franchise, and it's easy to see that the people behind the story enjoy thinking about these characters and what the world can throw their way next.  The price tag sure is off-putting - so many of us have a limited budget for weekly comics - but the IDW team made sure this one was worth every penny and then some.

TMNT #50 feels like a conclusion that gives you everything you could possibly want from it. Fun yet also dramatic fights? Check. Strong characterization? Another check.  Light teasers about what's to come? Yup! Twists you won't see coming? Major check. (Really, I expected things to play out one way - and they did - but then it went in a totally different direction. Bravo, storytellers.) Consistently excellent - or should I say "bodacious"? - artwork? A big ol' check. There's even a reference or two to Eastman and Peter Laird's very first TMNT issue - some probably slipped past me, too. This isn't just a conclusion to an important storyline - it's also a celebration of just how phenomenal IDW's take on this franchise has become. I loved the Ninja Turtles back when I was a kid, and IDW is making sure I love them just as much now. Prepare for awesomeness, TMNT fans.

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