Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #4 was released this week by IDW Publishing. I was elated when I first learned about the new series months ago. Even more exciting was the fact that TMNT creator Kevin Eastman would be directly involved. The original TMNT series is legendary, and one of the titles that solidified my love of comics as a kid. I know for a fact that I wasn’t the only kid who squandered many hours of my formal education drawing Raphael, Leonardo, Donatello, and Michelangelo in class when I was supposed to be studying. Now that the new series is up to issue #4, I felt that it was time to take a look at the series, as well as talk about the latest TMNT news. The issue that I picked up, with its handsome Kevin Eastman alt. cover B, is a perfect microcosm of exactly what is working with the new series, and what has the faint aroma of the sewers clinging to it that could “cowabungle” an otherwise potentially good title.
So far the story in the new series has been a strong point, going back to the beginning to tell the origin of our mutated friends, and adding a few new wrinkles to the cast of characters. In this issue we have the mutated alley cat Old Hob and his gang, squaring-off against Raphael and Casey Jones.
Raphael has been separated from Splinter and his Turtle brothers, and during this time intervened to save Casey Jones from his abusive father. Old Hob is carrying a grudge and missing an eye from events that happened on the fateful night that ninjas raided a lab, resulting in the Turtles, Splinter, and Old Hob being exposed to the mutagen formula. The other Turtles search for Raphael, but Old Hob and his gang find them first. Looks like a brawl is about to break out, with Ralph and Casey vastly outnumbered! Will Leo, Donnie, and Mikey finally reunite with Raphael in time to be of assistance? Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz’s story is always fun, and is the main element that keeps me coming back for more.
The art in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is different story. Do I have to be the one to say this? So far the art has been disappointing. I love Eastman’s art in the original series. Unfortunately he isn’t doing the art on this new series, and it is painfully obvious and greatly missed. Dan Duncan has been handling art duties on the current TMNT series. I don’t like dumping on other people’s work, but the art in this title is just not up to par (and he is capable of some really cool work, like on his blog and his deviantART page). I assure you that this criticism isn’t just me looking at the current artwork through a filter of nostalgia for the TMNT of my youth. However, it doesn’t really help matters when we are reminded of how awesome Eastman’s art is by having it on the cover; then we open the issue and see what’s inside. Many of the illustrations are rudimentary, lacking in detail, and feel rushed and unfinished. Often the art looks like a rough sketch, waiting to be cleaned-up; not inked, colored, and published. A minimalist style can look great when the lines are clean and interesting perspectives are employed. Backgrounds here are usually blank, and when they are drawn-in they seem like an afterthought. Some of the character illustrations (especially in the first couple of issues) seemed really off-model and embarrassing. I realize this is a harsh assessment, but when you care about someone or something, the truth should be told. I care about TMNT and want to see this series be a smashing success. I read many IDW titles, and they publish some amazing work. I just don’t feel that the art in this TMNT title has been worthy of such a good publisher and such a beloved title. This is only my opinion; maybe I am just a heathen. I know many people who love everything about this title. Hell, even Kevin Eastman himself is involved with this project and would likely speak up if he wasn’t happy with the art. I keep buying issues of this series of my own free-will because I like the story, but always hoping that the art will improve. Every now and again there will be a nice panel that shows flashes of brilliance and gets my hopes up, but in the end I always feel like this book is not living up to its full potential. In a medium in which art and story have such a symbiotic relationship, when one of those elements is not working the whole endeavor suffers.
At the end of this installment of TMNT, in the “Ninja Notes” letters section, it is announced that starting next month art duties will be split between Dan Duncan and Mateus Santolouco (American Vampire). Maybe this move will help to strengthen the artwork on this title. I speculate that some of the trouble could possibly stem from workload and deadline problems. I also think that some of the art issues I ranted about above could possibly be rectified by a good inker. In any case, we shall see how it all works out, and I honestly hope for the best.
In other TMNT news, Raphael (my personal favorite character) is getting his own mico-series by Brian Lynch and Franco Urru that will debut next week! That should certainly be worth a look.
In another piece of really cool news, in case you didn’t notice, this week saw the release of the TMNT Ultimate Collection, Vol. 1! This is an absolutely gorgeous hardcover book that starts collecting Kevin Eastman’s original TMNT series, and is one that shouldn’t be missed. I am sure this book would make a brilliant Christmas gift for that special Turtle fan on your holiday shopping list, and it doesn’t come with the sticker-shock that the prices on original TMNT single issues are likely to inspire.
One last item of news, it has been announced that Meltdown Comics Gallery will be hosting an “Art of Kevin Eastman” exhibit throughout December. Check out the full story on Comic Booked by clicking right here. It is a fun time to be a TMNT fan! Please be sure to check back in here at Comic Booked for future TMNT reviews and news.