By Eric Burnham, Sophie Campbell, Brittany Peer, Shawn Lee
It’s a good week in comics when I have a threeway tie choosing The Week’s Finest: do I go with the tried and true Kill or Be Killed (which was quite good as usual), an intriguing mystery thriller Hellboy and the BPRD, or an underdog with fantastic art that makes me care about a character I’ve never liked? I always favor underdogs, although it was a difficult choice until I thought about the book with the best art: TMNT Universe #14.
I’m not kidding when I say I’ve never liked the “protagonist” of this book (technically she’s an antagonist in the context of the TMNT) Karai Oroku. There’s all kinds of interesting characters in the TMNT mythos, but for me, Karai always ranked near the bottom. She’s the daughter of Oroku Saki, the Shredder, his replacement in certain instances, and a skilled warrior. Yet, she doesn’t offer much development beyond that. Sure, she and Leonardo get shipped together, but even Rapheal gets a best friend and a pet dinosaur. Karai gets to be an angry konoichi trying to impress her father figure and gets beaten by the turtles.
After the events of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #50, Master Splinter has assumed control of the Foot clan. Oroku Saki is dead, and Karai banished to Japan to recover from the loss of her birthright. She has two of her former masters mutant bodyguards with her; a flightless falcon named Koya, and a blind hammerhead shark named Bludgeon. Through circumstances of fate, she is told of a mythical sword blessed by the gods from the father of the woman she tried to kill, Toru Hayashi. Toru plans to have Karai killed the moment he gets the chance, either to protect his daughter or for revenge against Karai for injuring his pride.
Eric Burnham has set-up an interesting tale spotlighting the daughter of the Shredder. Karai is given an old-fashioned quest to gain some purpose in her life, an enemy is waiting in the shadows to end her life, and there’s a creepy Japanese cave. Although I’ve followed Burnham’s work on IDW’s Ghostbusters line, I wouldn’t have guessed he could craft a story focusing on Karai that would make me like the character. Yet he does, without losing the wit and humor I’ve come to expect from his writing.
Artist Sophie Campbell utilizes a variety of styles throughout the book, using a cartoonish appraoch for human characters interacting, a stark and detailed style when Karai and her friends face down a cave of Japanese ghosts, and a lush and irregular style when Karai finds the guardian of the sword Ocho. Towards the end of the book, there’s an experimental feel to the pages as slated panels appear during action scenes, and circular panels begin popping up more frequently. The last page is particularly stunning for its symmetry created by three circular panels set on top of each other,
Campbell also illustrates a four page epilogue to the main story, where Koya and Bludgeon face Ocho once more. Color is used sparingly, with the story relying on black and white. The final pages give off a distinct manga vibe because of this.
The issue ends with Karai getting hold of the sword she has sought out, with major repercussions promised if she’s able to keep it. The stakes are about as high as they can get for Karai and her friends, and more danger is waiting for her outside of the cave and its inhabitants.
With solid character development, clear plotting, and fantastic art, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe #14 earned the title of This Week’s Finest.