Have you ever been completely obsessed by a particular comic book series only to have it abruptly end without a proper sense of closure, with multiple questions left unanswered and various plot mysteries left unexplained? If you are anything like me you will have experienced this when Image’s run of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles came to a sudden close with issue 23. As this leg of the turtles’ journey involved many drastic changes to the turtles and their universe it was considered to no longer be “canon” for Mirage’s TMNT universe, and when Volume 4 began all of the events from Volume 3 were ignored and forgotten about. Until now…
When given control over the TMNT universe, Image wanted to take the comics back to their violent black and white roots. Mirage pretty much gave them free reign to do what ever they wanted (even suggesting that they “start out with a bang a kill Splinter”, which Image declined.) The one major rule put forth by Mirage was “no female turtles!” (an obvious attempt to distance themselves as far as humanly possible from the living abortion that was “The Next Mutation”). In addition to this Image TMNT editor Erik Larson also wanted a way to be able to differentiate the four Turtles apart from their unique individual weapons. Hence their decision to mutilate the turtles just a tad.
POTENTIAL SPOILERS FOLLOW!
So we know that the turtles got all kinds of messed up during this series, but exactly what changes did Image make to Eastman and Laird’s beloved creation? Here is a brief recap of the events that transpired in Image’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 3: Cyborgs attack the turtles, resulting in Raphael’s face and eye getting horribly mutilated; Donatello almost dies and becomes a cyborg in order to survive; a mysterious ninja babe named Pimiko (who claims she is Oroku Saki’s daughter) kidnaps Splinter, who becomes hostage of a villain named Warlord Komodo; Splinter mutates into a giant bat and then back into a rat again, Shadow gets kidnapped by her biological mob-boss grandfather Tony Puzorelli and then rescued by Michelangelo; Raph fights then leads the Foot clan as their new “Shredder”; Mikey becomes a part-time writer while dating a spiky dinosaur-like chick named Horridus aka Sara; Leonardo gets his hand bitten off by King Komodo, a mutated Komodo Dragon created by Warlord Komodo; Triceratons briefly invade the turtles world and then get sent home; Leatherhead is teleported to the Utrom homeworld while his Utrom friend Dr X is left behind on Earth; Pimiko challenges Raphael for leadership of the Foot clan, with Raph emerging victorious; the Foot turn on Raph under the leadership of a mysterious new “Lady Shredder”; and then after a large multi-combatant fight the new Shredder and the Foot flee.
So, now you know everything that has happened up to this point in the Image TMNT series. Still reading? Good, because now the story from this volume is finally given the definitive conclusion that it deserves, in what is a very admirable and compelling attempt (and dare I say success) at bringing this series back into Mirage’s “canon” Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles universe.
These two independently published, unofficial fan-made comic books were created by die-hard TMNT fan Andrew Modeen, who had the honours (or daunting task) of writing the story, with fellow fans Arseniy Dubakov and David Seltzer taking care of the art and tones respectively. In addition, a number of big names from Mirage and Image comics showed their approval of the project by making special contributions, including cover inks by Kevin Eastman (TMNT co-creator), guest and cover pencils by Frank Fosco (Image TMNT penciler) and A. C. Farley (Mirage TMNT artist), pinups by Jim Lawson (Mirage TMNT artist) and Erik Larson (Image TMNT editor) and notes from Gary Carlson (Image TMNT writer).
Without trying to spoil the story for those who are wanting to read these two issues (and I highly recommend that you do), I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum and just give a brief plot synopsis. Issue 24 starts out with Donatello’s cyborg armour being on the fritz, which causes him to seek out help from an old foe from Volume 2, Baxter Stockman (in his living-robot form). Meanwhile Lady Shredder goes through an inner monologue in which she retells her origins of how she met a young Oroku Saki and how this meeting led to her current self-assigned mission of leading the Foot against the “Hamato Yoshi’s clan”. After a rather lengthy (but necessary) flashback sequence, Lady Shredder and the foot initiate a rocket-launcher attack on the other three turtles (who are training at their cemetery hideout with Pimiko, Splinter and Dr X), destroying their mausoleum lair in the process.
Issue 25 begins with Donatello waking up free from his cyborg armour, and amazed to discover that his shell has completely grown back. Baxter Stockman hypothesises that this is most likely due to a unique healing factor that Don and his brothers carry as a result of the regenerative properties of their reptilian DNA in conjunction with the mutagen coursing through their blood (thus returning Donatello back to “canon” form). Meanwhile the rest of the turtle gang has escaped into the sewers (given a last-minute warning of the Foot’s attack thanks to a psychic premonition from Splinter). Thus begins an epic battle featuring Foot soldiers, turtles, Pimiko and even some worm Shredder-clones! As Donatello joins the fight the mutant King Komodo re-emerges from the depths of the sewers to finish off the job he had started on Leonardo. During their tussle Leo’s arm stump gets bitten off, revealing that his hand had been growing back underneath this whole time (thanks to the previously mentioned mutant healing factor).
As the fight goes on the Foot are eventually killed off, as are the Shredder-clones and King Komodo, leaving a final femme-fatale face-off between Pimiko and Lady Shredder, in which secrets are revealed between the two about their identities as they strike fatal blows against each other. Lady Shredder reveals why she has been so intent on slaying the turtles and their master, to which Splinter informs her that she had been lied to by Oroku Saki and that her life’s mission had been in vein. As Pimiko and Lady Shredder (real name Tang Amaya, that’s a huge clue for you guys) both die, Raph takes off his mask as his eyes begin to tear-up (yes, “eyes” plural, as his damaged eye has now healed – score three to the mutant healing factor), and hence more loose ends are tied up.
So speaking of loose ends, I guess that pretty much wraps everything up into a nice little package then, doesn’t it? Oh wait, I left out a few bits: Karai reinstates herself as head honcho of the Foot; Horridus breaks up with Mikey, which causes him to give up on his writing career; Tony Puzorelli is assassinated by the Foot; and Leatherhead trades places with Dr X, who reports back to his Utrom society that the time has come for the aliens to reveal themselves to the humans (thus creating a nice segue into the opening events of Volume 4).
What Modeen has done with these final two chapters from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 3 is return the turtles to their non-mutilated states, eliminated all new characters introduced in Volume 3 and finalised all story elements that were presented throughout the 23 previous issues. Personally I am happy to now consider Volume 3 canon, as the plot devices and explanations used by Modeen felt quite natural and not at all forced or tacked on. I don’t even have a problem with the turtles all of a sudden becoming healed, as the healing factor hypothesised by Stockman in these issues correlates to an explanation given for the sudden reformation of Leatherhead’s eye in a previous Mirage TMNT comic (don’t ask me which issue, I can not remember) which gives a similar “mutagen meets reptile DNA” explanation.
Another nice touch that helped these two issues feel like a true part of the TMNT universe (both past and present) was the constant use of references to other canon TMNT issues such as Donatello the Brain Thief (with Baxter Stockman’s robot), the Tales of the TMNT issues involving the worm Shredder-clones, various Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 1 issues and so on.
These two books have a rather bold “painted” art style, with thick black outlines and lots of tonal work in place (which is completely different to the high contrast pure black and white design of the previous official books). To me it seemed that this art style was trying to to mimic the look of the very first TMNT comics (this is particularly noticeable with the human characters) but at the same time it puts its own visual spin on things. At first I found the art to be unsettling because it was so different to that of the previous issues, but once I warmed up to this bold new style I found it to be very visually rewarding and also left me feeling nostalgic for the very first time I ever read Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The artwork towards the end of the fight sequences was particularly slick.
Another positive aspect worth mentioning is how much content was packed into the two books. Both are over 50 pages each and are packed with bonus Tales of the TMNT short stories and pinup art mostly set within the context of the Image series. Fans who do manage to score themselves copies of either one of these books (either the few remaining print copies floating around or one of those fancy new-fangled digital copies) will surely be pleased with the amount of material on offer.
The only real gripe I have about these two books is with their portrayal of Leonardo’s character, or rather their portrayal of Leonardo’s split personality. His dialogue and characteristics felt rather disjointed, because at times he would sound like the token feudal Japanese warrior of his ninja heritage e.g. “They come” and “We will give them no quarter”, but then this juxtaposes against more casual teenager dialogue such as “C’mon stay frosty” and “We didn’t finish the job on you freaks last time, did we?” And then the verbal schizophrenia journeys full circle back into ancient samurai dialect with such phrases as “Honour is restored”. Now maybe these contrasts in his character were to show how Leonardo is trying to find his place as a teenage ninja in this modern age, but at times it just came off a little bit jarring.
I liked the books a lot and I am happy with how they bought the Image volume back into canon. I was happy with the nostalgic feel of the art, and I felt that the presentation of the story events and how the loose ends were tied up worked well and were believable (well, as believable as things can be in a universe with talking turtles, alien brains and scantily clad female ninjas) without feeling too forced or rushed. The pacing in Issue 24 feels a little slow when Lady Shredder retells her life’s tale, however this was necessary to explain who this mysterious new Shredder was and also to set the stage for the final battle in 25, which was epic, climactic and awesome!
The end result of these two books is a very admirable and surprisingly compelling journey that brings this often forgotten chapter of the TMNT back into canon while also providing a true sense of closure for fans of the series. This project was clearly a tremendous labour of love by true fans (with some welcome contributions from recognisable names in the industry).
And dare I say it, I’m totally counting this series as canon now.
If you want an awesome free digital download copy of Issue 24 click here.
ComicsOnline gives Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 3 Issues 24 & 25 Rating: mutants.
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