By: Kevin Eastman & Tom Waltz (writers), Dan Duncan (artist), Ronda Pattison (colorist)

The Story: Can’t a turtle rest easy in his own sewer home without pests crawling in anymore?

The Review: No matter how you think about it, there’s just a major element of campiness about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Their very concept is all kinds of silly: brash, adolescent humanoid turtles practicing the martial arts, eating pizza, and talking like they just rose out of the surf in a nineties comedy.  All these things make them perfect for kids, of course, but once you’re grown up, all that stuff can get pretty gimmicky pretty fast.

That’s not to say you’d want the Turtles any other way, however.  Better they remain the jauntily quirky characters they are than get “modernized” into dreary, angst-driven antiheroes, like half the comic book protagonists out there.  Fortunately, Eastman and Waltz have done a great job keeping intact all the weird things about the TMNT that makes them fun, yet brushing them up with just enough sophistication to make them intriguing, rather than solely comic, characters.

The first step has been to make the villains less hokey and more, well, villainous.  Take General Krang.  I remember him back in my cartoon rerun days as a gross-looking, but not necessarily threatening figure, especially with his high-pitched whine—and his resemblance to pink cottage cheese.  Here, he comes off a lot more impressive, if only because of his redesigned exo-suit, which bears a faint resemblance to an un-helmeted Darth Vader.  Old Hob’s not bad as a villain either, seeing how he’s willing to resort to some fairly ruthless measures to take down his foes.

Eastman-Waltz have also played up this reincarnation aspect of the TMNT lore, which injects a nice, esoteric, serious flavor into the title.  It gives the more serious turtle bros (Donatello and Leonardo) an interesting mystery to chew on, and actually a little bit of angst as well.  Leonardo, as the oldest and most dedicated of the turtles, seems to remember something more of his past life, though that seems to give him more pain than pleasure.  You have to remember that if the turtles are brothers and Splinter’s their dad, the absent momma will affect them at some point.

Don’t take any of this to mean that the Turtles have completely lost their inherent goofiness.  Michelangelo seems imbued with the classic TMNT spirit, right down to his beach frat-boy speak (“Man, I’m so stoked you’re finally gonna meet Woody, bro!  He’s such a righteous dude—have I told you that?”).  Eastman-Waltz would be wise to stick to one silly turtle, as that’s not only easier to handle than a whole crew of ‘em, but it also adds some great cheeriness to the title.  You don’t get a lot of comics with heart nowadays, and you don’t get much more heart than a pizza-maker giving Mikey and Raphael a free antipasto with their order, with extra olives, just because that’s the way Master Splinter likes it.

I suppose I should at least mention April and Casey, as they get a pretty cute scene in the issue, but it’s just unclear at this point where they’re meant to intersect with our sewer friends.  Still, Eastman-Waltz seem to have a plan for all the disparate characters and plotlines they’ve got going here, so I think it’s safe to trust them on this one.

Duncan is a terrific fit for this title.  His figures have just enough cartooniness to get the whimsy and fun out of the script’s lighter scenes, but he also puts in just enough substance behind the characters to make the action sequences look dynamic, even intense.  The way he choreographs Leo, Don, and Splinter fighting the Mousers, they look more perilous and masterful than quite a lot of the mainstream comics out there, for all their photo-realistic artwork.  You can nod along sagely with Old Hob when he remarks on their martial artistry, “….so friggin’ beautiful.”

Conclusion: This is one of those rare titles where it’s a pure pleasure to read.  While it doesn’t have quite the drama of other books, it has a thoughtful tension all its own that raises it above childish nostalgia.

Grade: B+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I don’t know…Master Splinter looks pretty creepy with those inky black eyes.  They look almost like someone put out his eyeballs.

– It broke my heart to see them drop that pizza and antipasto like that.  I can’t stand the sight of wasted food.