Story: Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz
Art: Cory Smith
I grew up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Between the ’90s animated series, possibly the world’s greatest cartoon theme song, and timeless live-action Turtle movies (well, excluding Turtles in Time), the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were behind only the X-Men, Batman and Spider-Man in my pantheon of childhood heroes. Unlike those other superheroes, I don’t make much effort to keep up with the Turtles adventures in my adulthood. As a result, there’s a general assumption that the Turtles of today are complete and utter bollocks. The characters have been rebooted and reinvented so often in apparent cash-hungry schemes that I came to believe they must be mere shells of their radical ninja greatness. I know I’m not the only one. Most comic book fans are walking around despising Michael Bay’s TMNT sight unseen, which is a pretty bad way to judge a movie, if not altogether misguided.
So when the opportunity to review “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #37” came around, I figured it was well past time I gave the Ninja Turtles another shot. Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo are back to being the biggest icons in American cinema (at least financially: sorry, Guardians of the Galaxy) so I had to ask the question: how do the comics hold up for an old fan of the pizza-loving quartet?
As it turns out, surprisingly well, although perhaps not in the way you’d think. For starters, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #37” is a special standalone issue most notable for one particular trait: the ninja turtles don’t show up. Not once. Not even a quick “Get me a slice of pepperoni!” yelled from on down a sewer. In fact, as far as I could tell, the Ninja Turtles are not even mentioned. Again, not once. Instead the issue is a confrontation and/or negotiation between Shredder and General Krang. The two evil overlords discuss potential alliances in their (apparent) first conversation in 300 years (I… don’t know).
Personally, I find this story choice both bold and fascinating. As I mentioned earlier, TMNT is the single most lucrative movie franchise in theaters this week, and the comic book released an issue without a single half shell. Can you imagine DC releasing a Batbook featuring just the Joker and the Riddler following Batman vs. Superman? (For the record, I would sell a foot for that issue.) The approach is wonderfully committed to the universe of the comic books without the outside influence of mainstream movies. And the comic book resonates more deeply as a result.
There were a handful of moments where I felt out of the loop (a scene out of Redwall with a talking wolf, references to Shredder’s granddaughter, General Krang’s quest for an alien invasion of his own species, I think). But for the most part, if you grew up with the Ninja Turtles like I did, this issue will resonate. Krang is less overtly comical than he was in the animated cartoon, although his pink, brain-like alien form still transports around in a humanoid husk. Factor in riveting, tense dialogue from Tom Waltz and superbly fresh drawing from guest artist Cory Smith, and you have reason to believe the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are alive and well in 2014.
I had to see for myself how far the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had come, and I’m glad that I did. This standalone special issue featuring Krang and Shredder is an awesome villain’s feature. The fact that this issue clips by at an engaging pace without a single turtle to be found (although there are plenty of ninjas) is a testament to the storytelling skill of Eastman, Waltz, and Smith. Glad to see the Ninja Turtles are in good hands in the comics.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #37” earns 8.1 / 10