Okay, so starting here we have all-new, all-original stories in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures title. These are more the reason I had been wanting the review this title anyway, so I’m happy that we’re finally done with the adaptations.
This volume also is the unofficial start to a story-arc that runs through most of the first half of the title, in which many other mutated animals guest star and are eventually featured in their own title, called The Mutanimals. In this issue we’re treated to the introduction of the first of these characters.
A little backstory on this is that, back in the day, the toy company Playmates had a lot of say in the direction of TMNT, to the point where they pretty much demanded new mutants to make toys out of at all times. This led to the Fred Wolf series becoming very much a “monster of the week” series, but Dean Clarrin (a pseudonym for Steve Murphy) decided to do one better and have a variety of mutant characters in the Adventures universe of varying alliances.
The trade begins with the Turtles visiting an aquarium in New Jersey, specifically the manta ray exhibit. A nerdy ocean biologist gives them the low-down on manta rays, giving readers some real science tidbits while also hammering in that pollution is killing them all.
This is another long-running TMNT Adventures plot: pollution. At this point the series started to try and differentiate itself from the television series, and it works rather well. A lot of this was shoving environmentalism in children’s faces all this time, to various degrees of success, but here it’s handled fine. It’s handled worse later in the series, but one thing at a time.
One credo of this new direction was to get the Turtles out of the city more. That’s why they’re in New Jersey.
We cut to the Shredder’s underwater base, which is a giant sub with teeth and glowering eyes painted on. Noticeable is that time must have passed since volume one. While Krang is still stuck in Dimension X; Shredder now has access to some technology and Bebop and Rocksteady are now with him, with Baxter Stockman no longer in sight. Krang is angry because Bebop and Rocksteady spilled mutagen into a drain pipe again.
Meanwhile, our marine biologist friend pets the manta ray as he goes out for the night, then goes to investigate the illegal dumping and gets mutagen on his hand as a result. This comes from that weird psuedo-science that Fred Wolf brought to Turtles lore, where mutagen changes you into a humanoid version of the last animal you touched.
On their way back to the city the Turtles are chilling on a beach. Shredder sees them through his telescope and fires a torpedo at them, which is intercepted by a watery black mass. Actually, it’s not intercepted, it’s snagged. The sound effect says snag. Hilarious. The figure aims the torpedo back at Shredder and it damages the sub, forcing him back to base. The water creature follows him and attaches explosives to the sub.
All this time the creature is kept in shadow, but are we really in suspense? I mean, there’s only been one other person in this story. We then get a POV shot of the creature about to fire a harpoon at the explosives attached to the sub, when he sees through a window that Michelangelo and the other Turtles have snuck on board and can’t do it. How he knows that they weren’t the ones who fired the torpedo is anyone’s guess.
The Turtles fight Bebop and Rocksteady. Rocksteady’s horn ruptures the side of the sub and makes it sink, because apparently it’s made of tissue paper. A torpedo doesn’t sink it but a rhino’s horn does? Seriously, what the hell?
Anyway, the Shredder runs like an imbecile again but is caught this time by (dramatic splash page reveal) Man Ray! Man Ray kicks the bejezus out of the Shredder, but once back to shore Shredder pulls some dirty pool by throwing sand in his eyes and running away.
The Turtles stop to help him, but he’s weak when he’s not in the water and dives back in, saying goodbye. The Turtles watch the forth of July fireworks.
We cut to a character introducing himself as Jess Harley (at least we get a name this time), and to the fact that he was born and raised on the bayou. He investigates the hut of an old swamp witch named Mary Bones to try and find something of wealth he can steal, down on his luck as he is. He finds a large glowing gem and takes it.
We then see him getting off a bus. His thought bubble reads: “Several days later, I arrive in New York City.” This made me do a spit take when I read it. I mean, this would make some sense if it was through caption boxes and told from a future date, but the thought bubble implies he’s thinking it right now. As though he knows he’s being watched by a camera and is narrating to it. It’s be like me getting in my car, driving to work, then when I got there saying to myself: “Fifteen minutes later I arrived at work.” Like he knows we’re skipping time. From his point of view there was no skipped time.
They go right from that to a weirdly insightful bit where he notices how close the rich socialites live to the poor, but it’s only implied, not said. It’s good writing right after bad, and is so strange I actually don’t have words for it. And then we actually switch to caption box narration. It was like the writer realized their mistake earlier but was too lazy to go back and fix it.
Anyway, the Turtles bump him as he gets off the bus and the stone falls into the sewer. He chases after it and rubs it clean, only to be confronted by Mary Bones.
This is another interesting bit of subtle writing. It’s played very much like those classic scenes where someone finds and lamp and rubs it clean, revealing the Genie inside. And right after he does it, Mary bones shows up. Also, she hadn’t been present in her home when he broke in: is it possible she was imprisoned in the stone? Just like last issue, we’re not told outright and are left to wonder, which is great writing.
Bones reveals that the gem is actually the TurnStone, a “directional thought transanimator.” She uses it to turn Jess into Leatherhead as punishment. He tries to chase after her, but falls through a wall and lands in the Shredder’s lair.
This is where the story starts to go by the wayside for me. It started out good, but here it falters and doesn’t recover. First of all, the narration is gone. Second, it’s plagued by coincidences.
The Shredder lies to Leatherhead, telling him that Mary Bones is responsible for Bebop and Rocksteady’s mutations as well, and that the Turtles are her henchmen. What follows is the classic “heroes fight over misunderstanding” sequence, until Raphael manages to convince Leatherhead that they’re on the same side.
Meanwhile, the Shredder tells Krang about the Turnstone, and Krang recognizes it and Mary Bones as natives of Dimension X. Apparently the Turnstone is a device of extreme power. Shredder goes to interrupt the fight and try to milk more information out of Leatherhead, who throws a fit and accidentally hurls himself off a bridge, seemingly to his death.
Mary Bones then confronts the Turtles, quickly laying a prophecy on them that although they lost today, they will win the “final battle.” She randomly disappears, and Rapheal looks over his shoulder and screams: “What’s That?!”
The art is lackluster again this volume. I think maybe Ken Mitchroney was rushed and dealing with a tight schedule and hand trouble with getting these out. The story falters too though, like I said above. Aside from a few POV mistakes I like the first part that focussed on Jess better.
The art then switches to one of the better TMNT artists ever, Jim Lawson. Lawson it the other artist known for work on this title, and his work brings a certain amount of nostalgia with it for me. He kind of has the blocky style of a poor man’s John Romita JR.
We learn that what scared Raphael was a giant cow head eating them and taking them to another planet.
I have to admit, I didn’t see that coming.
This is Cuddly, one of many gem characters that are only present in this series. Cuddly has brought them to an inter-dimensional wrestling federation run by Stump and Sling, two talking trees, the latter of which sprouts money and almost universally speaks in dollar amounts (ie: $36,000). They introduce the other wrestlers, a four armed dog named Cryin’ Houn’ (who is a parody of something I’m sure, but I don’t know what), a cigar-chomper that’s never named in this issue, and Ace Duck. Like Leatherhead, Ace Duck is very different from his TV counterpart. He’s a musclebound Fabio that seems to be a take on those hunk lady-killer wrestlers. There’s a hilarious bit where Sling looks at him and says $3.69, which is the price of his real-world action figure.
Sometimes this book is clever and hilarious.
The fourth wrestler is actually Leatherhead, who was saved mid-fall last issue by Cuddly and in the last five minutes has made a home for himself on Stump Asteroid, where he can be among others like him.
The Turtles also get new costumes. Raphael’s actually sticks around for some time, and these versions of the Turtles were some of the most requested toys at the time, but to my knowledge were never made.
We then get several pages of just those characters fighting each other. They don’t hate each other, it’s wrestling. Televised, intergalactic wrestling. And it strangely works, if being a little anticlimactic. There’s nothing at stake, so it’s hard to get invested.
The Turtles win and Cuddy takes them home, but somehow accidentally brings them 100 years into the future where man has caused enough trouble to result in Earth being destroyed by pollution. This is one of the ham-fisted environmentalism attempts I talked about in issue five. He then brings them to their own time. And suddenly Mitchrooney is back on the art. A giant bat with metal wings hurls a rock at Raphael’s head. Only the bat doesn’t know it’s a rock, he thinks it’s a “Trinitrotoluene Grenade.” This is Wingnut, and I kind of love this guy. He’s an insane mutant fruit bat with a Mosquito named Screwloose on his back. They tussle briefly with the Turtles, then fly off into the night, revealing along the way that they were actually aiming for a skylight behind Raphael.
They go home to Splinter, and we see April on the news reporting that skylights all over the city have been smashed. They go back out to try and find Wingnut and Screwloose. There’s a great moment here where the guys tell Splinter about their exploits Wrestling, and Splinter is like “What lesson did you learn?” and they all look at each other and shrug. Sometimes this book is gold.
They go in the Turtle Blimp, which promptly gets ripped to shreds. I think this was the writer’s commentary on how useless the blimp would be as a mode of transportation. The Turtles fight Wingnut atop the Empire State Building, which I guess the Shredder was kind enough to put back to normal size, and finally get the best of Wingnut.
Screwloose then relays their whole sad sack tale. They’re aliens from the Planet Huanu who live in symbiosis, or did, until Krang destroyed their world. While Screwloose distracts them with this information, Wingnut escapes and seemingly flies off into the night, only to be swallowed by Cuddly the Cowlick. Apparently they were brought to this world by him accidentally, and now he’s bringing them to Stump Asteroid… seemingly against their will.
Wingnut, Screwloose, Man Ray and Leatherhead represent one of the best aspects the made this series different from the TV show that spawned it. While both have been featuring one-off anamorphic characters as either foils or friends of the Turtles, the TV show always had mutants. Always. Mutagen, new toy, they fight. That was the formula, and they beat it to death. So far in this series we’re had one mutant (May Ray), one magically-created character (Leatherhead) and now aliens. This tiny shift makes the stories much less repetitive.
This is a great collection, and plants the seeds of many great things to come. Essential reading.
“This is a great collection, and plants the seeds of many great things to come. Essential reading.”