Robot 6

The coloring on IDW’s Raphael made me sai* wistfully for the original comics

As much as I love comics, as much as I love the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as much as I love writing and as much as I love drawing, I do not envy the folks at IDW, who secured the license to produce new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics from the new owner of the ninja turtle characters, Viacom. Sure, from a business perspective, it sounds like a great opportunity for a comics publisher, particularly a smaller one without, say Time Warner or Disney breathing down their necks to turn huge profits constantly.

But from a creative standpoint? What do you do with the characters in 2011, after their mega-successful first life as black-and-white comics stars from the mid-eighties, their even more successful second life as late-eighties cartoon, toy, movie and marketing juggernauts, and the many, many less successful attempts to rejigger them in various media, with varying levels of success, over the course of the last ten to fifteen years? After all, even if approached as a nostalgia-driven project, there are two very different most-prevalent takes on the characters to try and tap into.

I think IDW probably has the right idea.

They somehow managed to lure  back one of the two creators, Kevin Eastman, after he had been largely absent from the comics for years (His fellow co-creator, Peter Laird, had been heavily involved in the last Mirage series, just previous to the Viacom sale). Eastman is co-writing the new series with Tom Waltz, and co-penciling with artist Dan Duncan, essentially providing layouts for Duncan to finish.

They also chose to start fresh with the narrative instead of picking up where one of the past volumes of the comics left off, or simply rebooting and telling the same old story all over again. There are, so far, some pretty key differences, including a new villain and the fact that the four title characters didn’t all grow up together.

I don’t know how well IDW is serving the many potential TMNT audiences, but I was pretty excited to see a “micro-series” starring Raphael on the stands this week.

During Eastman and Laird’s original, 1984-1993 volume of the series, they published four such micro-series featuring solo stories of the each character, beginning in 1985 with Raphael. Half of them were fairly standalone stories. 1985’s Michaelanglo was a Christmas special, and 1986’s Donatello was an unofficial team-up with Jack Kirby. The others were pretty integral to that volume’s story. In 1986’s Leonardo, for example, Shredder and The Foot Clan return from the first issue to hound the title character back to his home and drive the characters out of New York City to the farm much of the rest of the series would be based at.

And in Raphael, Eastman and Laird introduced Casey Jones, presented as a worse version of the angry, violent Raphael. In his original appearance, Casey Jones was basically a maniac vigilante, beating up muggers with sporting equipment.

Appreciating the nod to the first volume of turtle comics (a nod that includes, among the way-too-many variant covers, transposing Eastman images of the covers for the original special onto the new one), I thought this would be a pretty good time to check in on IDW’s progress with TMNT.

The differences between 1985’s Raphael and 2011’s are dramatic.

Firstly, this is a different creative team than the monthly, with Brian Lynch writing and Franco Urru drawing. Urru’s design for the the Turtles, well, Turtle, seems very much in keeping with Duncan’s, but unlike the Mirage version, it’s by different guys than the series it spins out of.

It’s also in color, which was, of course, to be expected, although ninja turtles in color still strike me as somehow off, like a colorized black-and-white movie. There was a grittiness to the black ink on white paper, and immediacy and urgency that felt in keeping with the 1980s NYC urban setting. The color art, by Fabio Mantovani, is also pretty forceful, in the showy, over-powering style that has become the standard at Marvel and way too many of the non-Big Two companies in the past five years.

There’s a neat stippling effect on Raphael, that gives his skin a reptilian look, but the coloring is extremely effects-heavy, to the point that every square inch has several such effects, so that it all blends together, and nothing pops out. Raphael’s skin has the same look and texture as the rooftops he stands on, for example. Shadow effects on top of the colors make the darkness seem weak compared to the more dramatic, stark black of regular old ink or Crayola-colored solid black.  And luminescent lighting effects are applied to stars, windows, the reflection of light from Raphael’s shell or a new character’s white fur.

The story, like that of the original Raphael, definitely stands alone, with a beginning, middle and end, but it also quite noticeably picks up on a bigger story already in the telling, and ends with a very dramatic, full-page splash cliffhanger with a very 1960’s Marvel technique hinting at the return of the characters’ most well-known villain. It introduces a new character in Alopex, an arctic snow fox mutant, just as the previous Raphael introduced a new character, although in this case its made quite clear she’s meant to stick around.

After the story, in which Raphael and his friend Casey Jones are interrupted from crime patrol/talking about their feelings by the introduction of a new mutant pursued by familiar foes, there are three pages of sketches of the new character by Eastman. The first of these is a full-page one, in which we see the character in Eastman’s familiar, rough style (Is she a fox, or a werewolf, or a rat, like Master Splinter, whom she resembles?). She’s leaping in mid-air, a cityscape of rooftops and chimneys and heavy clouds in the background.

It’s in color, but only just, mostly blue on top of the black ink, with some green, brown and red in Alopex’s clothing to distinguish it from her fur. It’s certainly more finished than the other two pages of more preliminary sketches, but it still looks like the dashed off work of a great artist. It looks drawn, by human hand, and it looks urgent and unmediated.

I wish the rest of comic looked like that. Not necessarily drawn by Eastman, but more like this drawing of his: Drawn by hand, from memory instead of reference, less fussed-over, less-realistic.

Perhaps even more than the characters, I think that’s what I liked most about the original comics, and what I like more about them now when I look back at them, as the production values of mainstream, serial comic book-comics get higher and higher, and the pursuit of realism is coloring and setting becomes more and more prevalent.

I still think IDW’s going about their management of the franchise in the right way, and there’s certainly a lot more right about Raphael than there is wrong, but, as always, I found myself wanting it to be more right.

Or maybe just more like the way I personally want it to look, and to hell with industry trends or what seems to sell these days.

Yeah, that sounds about right. After all, I am a fan.

*And if you think that sai-based headline pun was bad, you shoulda seen the other nine on the list I decided against using.

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Comments

15 Comments

I won’t get my copy of this until the beginning of next month (pre-order from DCBS), but I have a feeling I’ll agree with you. The new series is good… I’m enjoying it… but it’s not great; I don’t find myself trying to get other people to read it, whereas I was definitely trying to get people to pick up v4. (and still desperately hope that Peter decides to finish it one day…)

I really really dislike the color… not that it’s bad, but… I don’t think the pencils are that great. If they were more raw, which B&W would allow, I think I’d like them much better. They story has been fine, but also not great. Something about the pacing feels wrong. I will likely not feel the same once the TPB comes out and I’ve read it in one sitting.

But I’m with you. It’s good… there’s a lot that IDW is doing right… but it’s just not quite as awesome as v4 was. (and I had really grown attached to Jim Lawson’s pencils…)

Picked it up, thumbed through it, didn’t buy it. Bought the first two issues of the new series but came away nonplussed; who the hell wants to see the origin story rewritten yet again? Was “teenage Casey with an abusive father” on anyone’s wishlist?

I never knew the Ninja Turtles in black and white. By the time I began my Ninja Turtles years, they had become an animated TV show (and toy line, and video game franchise, and…)

I did pick up four squarebound collections of the original Eastman/Laird stories… but those had all been colored. I knew the very first comic was black and white (though I don’t think I ever saw any black and white TMNT comic until I grabbed the FCBD reprint a couple of years ago) but did not realize the original series had continued in black and white.

Now I’m actually curious.

I agree. IDW’s thinking is in the right place. And I’m saying that as a diehard TMNT fan. The last Mirage ongoing had Splinter die of a heart attack and April ended up being a mystical drawing come to life.

You can’t expect to gain new or even lapsed readers if you continue with the previous series. I’m happy that it’s on the stands in ANY form, despite how underwhelmed I am by the series thus far.

Despite some of the problems with the new series, IDW should get a whole lot of credit for putting together that beautiful new Ultimate edition… I just got the first volume earlier this week from my DCBS order, and it’s really great. If you’ve got the extra cash, it’s well worth it just for the annotations alone. Seeing the art in the oversized format (and still B&W!) is a real treat too.

I agree that I miss the look of the old Mirage comics. They do have variant covers done in that style, but my LCS charges $15 for those, so I’ve been getting the regular covers. I’d like it if they colored the Turtles’ skins slightly differently. (In Turtles in Time on SNES there was a setting that changed the Turtle’s coloring eg. Mike was bright green and Don was brownish green. I thought it was a good look.)

I like the new series, but it’s a little decompressed. The first Mirage issue told a complete story. (I know it was meant as a one-shot.) The art is a little uneven. In issue 3 the Turtles looked pretty good, but there was something off about the humans. On the bright side they kept the all red bandana coloring. Even though I grew up with the 80s cartoon and recently loved the new series, I still like all my Turtles to have red masks. Basically, this series got me buying monthly comics again.

I’m quite enjoying “Ultimate TMNT” at IDW. While I liked the new Micro-Series, I am a little uneasy about what sure looks like goofy characters from the cartoon making it in to the comic.

@Nick

It’s a book about mutant turtles and your complaining about goofy looking characters. Really?

Would love it if IDW published the already finished (as far as I’m aware) Forever War from the creative team of the Archie TMNT Adventures. It was meant to come out from Mirage a couple of years back before they shut up shop and I was really looking forward to it. And I would gladly pay $4 an issue for it!!! …. Maybe I should email IDW about it…..

@Wraith: IDW’s putting out reprints of the original series; check ‘em out.

@zram: I think Splinter’s funeral made for a wonderful, moving comic; I have no complaints there. April as a living drawing…yes, I most definitely have some complaints there.

But those aren’t the reasons they shouldn’t continue vol 4. They shouldn’t continue vol 4 because it’s Laird’s. Trying to tie up all his loose ends would just make a mess.

So I absolutely agree that it’s good that they made a clean break…I’m just very disappointed that they felt the need to retell the damn origin story yet again, and about the particular choices they’ve made in retelling it.

@Anyone: Jesus Christ, dude, don’t be that guy.

@Faust: Totally agreed, and it appears we’re not the only ones who’d like to see it. Wonder if Murphy’s still up for it; he shut down his TMNT blog some time ago and seemed pretty upset when he did.

What happened to Peter Laird–he shepherded these guys for so many years after Eastman took off–where is he?

Support Bill Mantlo! http://www.gregpak.com/entries/002275.shtml

Yeah, im highly disappointed in the new turtles series, but I realize it’s because I’m a fan of the original black & whites.

The turtles never really had a lot of continuity, it was just a creators playground. And that’s what made it cool.

This new stuff is just not hitting that note. Nothing really seems right about it. Seeing some of the old artists from the Mirage days would be nice, at the very least.

Better luck next time, I suppose.

@Mr, fo’head I’m just as big as a fan for the original Black and Whites as much as the next guy. Even though the early works were never big on continuity, don’t you think thats its time for a REAL TMNT story? Something that has a beginning, middle, and end….just saying is all.

@D.Smithee Laird’s last big performance on the turtles was the 2007 CG movie, and he was the main player in the Viacom deal.

D. Smithee, Peter Laird sold the rights to the turtles to Viacom. I can’t say for sure, but I think he was tired managing the business side of the Turtles. Hopefully, he enjoys his retirement.

Comic Book Zeroes, the 2007 movie is what killed TMNT vol. 4. I think vol 4 was put on hiatus while they worked on the movie and they never resumed it. I’d say that the Turtles Forever tv movie was Mirage’s last big effort. It was a much more fitting conclusion to the TMNT then the last issue of the Mirage comic, which I believe was set between issues of an older comic and basically existed solely to resolve a continuity issue.

Regarding the new series, I think that having Raph live alone for over a year is a good way to set up his personality and his conflicts with the others. This is probably the best innovation of the new series. I also like that Krang is a general. General Krang sounds so badass.

Been meaning to check this out as a childhood fan of TMNT, thanks for the reminder.

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