With Thanksgiving fresh on the mind and with the “big two” comic publishers (especially Marvel) seeming to stretch the limits of their fans’ wallets as well as patience with endlessly underwhelming crossovers between their corporately controlled franchises, it can be easy to lose faith in all but the most strictly creator controlled fare. Fortunately, arriving just at the nick of time is a double dose of IDW’s licensed “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” comics. Not only does the fortieth issue of their always exceptional ongoing series ship, but so does the second issue of IDW’s crossover series between the Ninja Turtles and another of their licensed comics based on a hot 1980’s era franchise – “Ghostbusters”. It is a shame that it seems that IDW’s licensed comics seem to avoid getting a lot of the buzz as their counterparts at Marvel or DC Comics, as these comics offer a refuge from the pratfalls of their corporate counterparts.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Ghostbusters #2” continues along from the previous issues and thankfully escapes many of the overused tropes of many initial meetings between heroes (or teams of heroes). Unlike their superhero rivals, any sort of “battle of misunderstanding” is cleared up after one or two pages and the story immediately delivers on the far more interesting moments and interactions between the characters that readers have likely been dying to read since this project was first announced. Raphael and Venkman exchange witty banter; Egon and Donatello compare their genius minds; Mikey’s enthusiasm is matched (or surpassed) by that of Ray, while Leonardo and Winston both realize they’re the stoic workhorses of their squads. Even April O’Neil manages to have a worthy exchange with fellow red head Janine Melnitz and “Extreme Ghostbusters” immigrant Kylie Griffin that manages to pass the “Bechdel Test” (as the ladies talk about why the Ghosbusters’ books can’t be digitized into computer files).
The plot by Tom Waltz (co-writer of the regular “TMNT” series) and Erik Burnham succeeds by managing to straddle both of the franchises’ worlds and finding an area where they can intersect. Most of this issue is a showcase of the Ninja Turtles meeting the Ghostbusters and learning more about their world as well as getting a tour of the fire house, which is appropriate as that’s most of the appeal of a crossover like this. Considering that most of the Ghostbusters are geniuses, it quickly stands to reason that Donatello seems to become more involved with their hardware, even if this meeting brings up another of the wiser subplots from the TMNT comics – Donatello’s hesitation to accept the supernatural on its’ face. Even Slimer has a cameo in a manner which isn’t annoying.
The rest of the plot manages to straddle the line between horror and comedy, which is key to the Ghostbusters’ franchise. Chi-You, the former warlord from Feudal Japan who has returned as a ghost (or at least phased between dimensions in a ghost like state) may have possessed Casey Jones and a bunch of random wedding guests, before releasing the latter in his desire to have actual warriors under his thrall. Because Casey Jones is Chi-You’s only basis of comparison for what modern day warriors in New York City are like, Chi-You then proceeds to Madison’s Square Garden to possess professional hockey players to bolster his ranks! Although IDW obviously can’t state licensed NHL teams and players, it is clear that it’s the New York Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens who become part of Chi-You’s new army on earth. The idea of an ancient samurai ghost possessing hockey players is just absurd enough to work in a story teaming the Ghostbusters with the Ninja Turtles, precisely because it doesn’t bog the enterprise down in angst ridden melodrama. The entire tone is that of fun, which the art by Dan Schoening and colors by Luis Antonio Delgado capture perfectly. In some ways, the Turtles themselves sometimes seem more “realistic” looking than their human characters, which are highly stylized and exaggerated looking. Overall, from references to character accurate dialogue to the plot and the overall tone, “TMNT/Ghostbusters” is exactly what more crossovers should be but rarely are. It’s canonical without being confusing, it doesn’t overstay its’ welcome and it doesn’t bog itself down with it’s own weight and instead embraces the inherited fun of teaming these two 1980’s teams together.
For those who want more substantial Ninja Turtles comic book action, IDW chose to serve up a double helping of the heroes in a half shell this week with “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #40”. Tom Waltz teams up with his usual collaborators Kevin Eastman (co-creator of the franchise) and Bobby Curnow on the story to conclude the latest arc focusing on the other mutant characters that exist within this series’ universe. With the threat of both the Foot Clan and Krang’s alien Technodrome on the horizon, Donatello has split with his family to focus on the latter while Splinter leads the rest to see how their ally of convenience Old Hob is managing his own team of mutants (who in this issue he dubs, “Mutanimals”, a reference to the Archie Comics series). Unfortunately, the dimwitted Pigeon Pete has lured the dangerous duo of Bebop and Rocksteady to their meeting, and a massive fight ensues. To some degree it pays some homage to the 1987 cartoon episode, “Shredder & Splintered” as it features a daylight brawl involving Bebop, Rocksteady, the Turtles, Splinter, and thrown cars.
Bebop and Rocksteady, like many characters reintroduced in this IDW series, have been tweaked to fit modern times and expectations. While the pair are still none too bright, that handicap becomes a strength considering how physically unstoppable and dangerously violent they are. As displayed within this issue, the combined efforts of Splinter, three Ninja Turtles, Alopex, Nobody, Old Hob and his mutant squad barely manage to slow down the pair for long. Even their defeat proves to be temporary, as the final page reveals another area where this series succeeds; by offering an alliance between unexpected heroes and villains and refusing to play things safely and simply. The artwork by Mateus Santolouco and colorist Ronda Pattison is up to their usual standard of excellence, managing to portray both the combat and comedic sequences very well. From electrocutions to awkward meetings between turtles and fox women, it all flows well on the page together.
So give thanks to incredibly well handled franchises like IDW’s Ninja Turtles and Ghostbusters comics, and know that not all franchise comics have to underwhelm.
Below are honorable mentions for the week. They’re comics worth reviewing, but are not as good as the above.
Batman Beyond Universe #16: It has come to this, the final issue of the series. Thus ends an effort to keep “Batman Beyond” in print at DC Comics which began with a mini series in 2010 and which has concluded with the finale to a second set of digital first comic book series. Alec Siegel helps Kyle Higgins bring things to a close in terms of the script while Kyle Higgins, as usual, knocks it out of the part with the artwork. It not only ties up a loose end with a villain from the start of Higgins’ run, but it also closes the door on the “Justice Lords Beyond” story from the recent past. Terry has been so distracted with spending some quality time with the alternate universe counterpart of his father (who is still alive) as well as training his own counterpart there, that he’s let things slide at home. Now, the middle aged Grayson has been kidnapped by the electric powered son of Gotham’s mayor and Batman has to pull out all the stops to prevail. The story does involve one fake out death but aside for that offers a satisfying battle as well as a conclusion for the assembled characters. What could have just been a shameless cash grab for nostalgia has long been one of DC Comics’ few bright spots, and it will be a shame to see it go. Regardless, it has been a good run across four years and two writers for the dark knight of 2041.
Cyclops #7: John Layman continues on the spin off that Greg Rucka built alongside artist Javier Garron on a run which may likely only last one arc, if sales figures are to be as expected by issue twelve (which will be cancellation range). The time flung Scott Summers has found himself a captive of a new crew of space pirates after a moment of inexperience last issue sees the Starjammer taken over by one of Corsair’s many enemies and the rest of the crew jettisoned into space. Now Cyclops has to walk an awkward line between doing what he can to try to save his dad and their friends without exposing his hand to the rest of the pirates. As usual, this involves having to deal with another pretty alien girl, this time the daughter of the ruthless Captain Malefect. Garron’s art is great although this story does seem a bit routine as its’ outcome is easy to predict. Still, execution is always the key and while Layman’s story doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it still manages to entertain.
New Warriors #12: Another year, another failed attempt to relaunch the “New Warriors” comes to a close. Three attempts have been made since 1999, and only one of those lasted beyond a year (and only did so by clinging to the coattails of “Civil War” and “X-Men”). This latest era by Chris Yost and artist Macus To (alongside co-writer Erik Burnham and colorist Ruth Redmond) ends roughly as it began – by offering an exciting and confusing costumed brawl which wants to seem more important than it is. The New Warriors have become involved in a plot by the High Evolutionary and Zuras of the Eternals to “cleanse” the earth of all non-human beings in the name of protecting it from being judged poorly by the Celestials. The only kicker is that the Celestials aren’t coming, and both Zuras and the High Evolutionary essentially want to commit genocide just because. They’ve defeated the entire team, but Vance Astro – the founding team member and former Avenger named Justice – gets his second wind and tears everything up with his psychic powers. It’s a great character defining moment in a series which has had few of them. The problem is wrapped up quickly and the team get to make a hopeful pose for the finale, and it seems very clear that this was never intended as an ending. Compared to recent teen hero series such as “Young Avengers” and “Ms. Marvel”, this run of “New Warriors” has struggled to seem relevant or very coordinated with any recent trends in pop culture or young hero fiction. Very few threats scream “inside baseball” than High Evolutionary and the Eternals, after all. Sadly, not only has this series been canceled, but the final page has been undercut by the beginning of “Spider-Verse”, which saw the team battered and left for dead by the simplistic monstrosity Daemos. For a team called the NEW Warriors, this series unfortunately read as very old school. At least the trademark has been renewed so expect the next attempt sometime around 2019.
Superior Foes of Spider-Man #17: The spin off series that refused to be canceled reaches its’ last issue, after two fill in issues and a brief stay of execution due to critical buzz. In it, Nick Spencer and artist Steve Lieber tie up all of their loose ends in a bow by revealing that the entire affair was the result of a tall tale Fred Myers/Boomerang was telling some named “Peter” in a bar – who may or may not be Spider-Man himself. This gives leeway to any fans, writers, or editors who may not have been willing to roll with the comedic tone or mangled interpretations of many of the characters within. It, much like the finale to Matt Fractions’ “Defenders”, leaves open the idea that none of it actually happened, which can feel like a cheat. Regardless, this issue has tons of jokes to it as well as terrific artwork, as well as more detail put into comedies than one would imagine. It was Marvel’s success with this series which led them to embrace comedy books again, as readers are seeing with “Hobgoblin” and soon to be other titles. In short, a satisfying end to a quirky little book that could.