This Week’s Finest: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #64

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By Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz, Bobby Curnow, Dave Wachter, Ronda Pattison, Shawn Lee

You’re probably familiar with the phrase “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” It applies to actual traveling, but it can also  work for stories. While I’m of the opinion that endings are fairly important, in multi-arc story lines, the journey from beginning to the end stretches out to various degrees of enjoyment.

The Walking Dead is a great example of this, delivering such engrossing and surprising stories that often repeat narrative patterns. As I caught up on Season seven of the TV adaptation, I was reminded of how many times I’d seen the characters meet a dangerous foe before retaliating and ultimately winning. I’ve seen it a dozen times, but it hasn’t gotten old because each time feels different and I’m so invested in the characters. While it may seem crazy comparing TMNT to one of the highest selling comics, current ongoing comics or most popular TV shows; the quality of both is usually pretty even.

So it goes with the “Chasing Phantoms” arc of IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. While I’ve seen aspects of the story within issue #64 before, within the same arc no less, it’s no less enjoyable because the characters are so well developed. Over 64 issues and countless tie-ins and mini series, the TMNT are well defined as a close family unit of ninjas. Lately, they’ve been drifting due to Master Splinter seizing control of the Foot clan. While Michelangelo has quit the team before, this time feels more poignant. While the heroes have defeated many enemies before, this victory feels different. Finally, while Master Splinter has tried to teach his sons many hard lessons in the ways of ninjitsu and family, this one may be the hardest yet.

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At Master Splinter’s request, Casey Jones has taken control of the Purple Dragons gang. With their added numbers, the Foot and the TMNT storm Darius Dun’s headquarters to rescue Harold Lillija. The battle is mostly business as usual for the TMNT after fighting the Street Phantoms and learning their weaknesses, except for Harold losing a chance to reunite with his ex-wife and business rival Libby. Seeing Harold vulnerable and unsarcastic was a totally unexpected experience and one which will likely affect him for years to come.

At the battle’s conclusion, Master Splinter gives Darius a chance to surrender everything he has to the Foot Clan or be executed. Darius chooses the former, and Splinter coldly has him killed. Each of the Turtles walks away from their master after that, with only Leonardo staying behind long enough to hear his reasons behind his withholding information from his sons and acting so harshly. Splinter plans to take control of all the crime in New York City in order to create a safer world for his family.

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Wachter and Pattison outdo themselves this issue depicting the TMNT and Angel fight enemies who can move through solid objects. Even though our heroes dispatch them with ease, it looks great thanks to Wachter’s use of the “camera” to create perspective or show the Turtles fighting inside a stairwell. Wachter gives the action scenes bold lines and Neal Adams-esque poses, which compounds with Pattison’s excellent colors in a dark value. It gives the colors some grit, choosing warm and cool hues but keeping them to the same vibrancy. Even the sound effects appear natural and consistent with the rest of the art. Special mention goes to Wachter’s facial expressions, as this issue necessitates emotion and feeling for the characters. Harold loses a chance to reconnect with the love of his life, Libby has to prove to her ex-husband that she has changed and wants him back in her life and of course, the Turtles have to process Spinter’s latest betrayal. Wachter’s shading and inks let the reader slip into classic Eastman and Laird TMNT mode, but with a more refined outcome by today’s standards in storytelling.

This was a tough week for TWF, but this issue (as well as the series overall) continues to be one of the strongest ones to be following. Sixty four issues in, the series still surprises me and makes me care for teenage mutant animals that are also ninjas. While many of the beats here are familiar, even recent, the creative teams have put in the work in the preceding issues to have the payoff really stick. I can’t wait to see where the TMNT, Casey, even the Foot, go forward after this issue as there’s no easy fixes on the horizon. The journey onward, is looking like one hell of a ride…

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