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Review: Eastman & Laird’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection Volume I”

Title: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection Volume I
Written & Drawn by: Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird
Series: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Volume I, Issues #1-7 + Raphael One-Issue Micro-Series)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: IDW Comics, 2011

What’s your frame of reference for the Turtles? For me, it’s the general cultural awareness that came about in the early/mid-90s when they were all the rage, largely fueled by that first cartoon series and the subsequent Jim Henson-powered films. Not that I actually saw the show or movies at the time–I was pretty short, and my parents didn’t approve of the crude humor. Not to mention that, according to them, my brother and I “didn’t need any encouragement” to beat the crap out of each other. Nevertheless, the Turtles were pretty inescapable. They were everywhere! There was always something that bothered me though. Half the team (and most of the villains) are carrying bladed weapons, but nobody every seems to get seriously hurt. I mean, why carry a katana if you’re not going to bifurcate something or someone? Obviously it’s aimed at kids, I get that, but….it still bugged me. The original comic series though? The one that everything else sprang from? No such compunctions. My library was awesome enough to recently pick up a nice hardcover of the first arc of TMNT comics, from way back in the mid-80s, and I have to say that this was a lot of fun to read.

Everybody knows the Turtles’ origin story in one form or another. Pet turtles fall into the sewer, get exposed to some sort of mysterious Ooze, mutate into humanoid form and are raised by a similarly-mutated rat who used to be the pet of a ninja master. Stuff like that happens in New York all the time, right? Most of the adaptations have stuck pretty close to the original origin, though I think they’ve all omitted the cameo by young Matt Murdoch that Eastman & Laird manage to sneak in here.* This collection is the original TMNT, way back when Eastman & Laird were still independent and nobody was telling them what to do. Villains are introduced and killed off just as quickly, though to their credit Eastman & Laird got into the “continuous arc” thing pretty quick once they figured out that this crazy joke was actually going to see more than one issue. Still, this is far from the Turtles you’re probably familiar with. For one thing, they kill people. Mostly just Splinter and his Foot ninjas, but there are also a hefty number of alien casualties during the Turtles’ interplanetary adventures. People get sliced and diced, impaled, thrown off of rooftops, shot, you name it. There’s plenty of violence to go around! One issue has Raphael accidentally intruding on a young couple’s “alone time,” crashing through their window, cracking a joke, then escaping the apartment with a bra stuck to his head.** Oh, and despite being teenagers, the Turtles apparently have a taste for alcohol. One requests a beer, and during Eastman & Laird’s homage to the Star Wars cantina scene at least one of the Turtles gets plastered on alien moonshine. For obvious reasons, they toned things down a bit before marketing the franchise to kiddies.

Like I said, this was a lot of fun. You have to go into it with the right mindset though–this is about the furthest thing from a serious comic you can get without ending up with Axe Cop. The series is patently ridiculous from the get-go, when you think about it, and you have to agree to be okay with the idea of humanoid mutated turtles and rats, not to mention a large variety of aliens. Interplanetary teleporters, dinosaur-based aliens, a robot with the brain of a scientist, even a giant hollowed-out asteroid spaceship, there’s seemingly no end to the ridiculousness Eastman & Laird throw at you. I love it! The writing is occasionally a bit wonky, but that’s to be expected from someone new to the game. Keep in mind, these guys were self-publishing back then! The art is surprisingly good under the circumstances, but don’t go trying to identify the Turtles by their mask color–that’s a conceit the show came up with. The comic is black and white, and even once the covers get color their masks are all red. If you can enjoy reading a comic without taking it too seriously, you should really give this a shot….

CONTENT: Some violence, including but not limited to people (and turtles, and aliens, and robots) getting shot, stabbed, cut, impaled, and smashed in various orifices with bladed and/or blunt weapons. Mild profanity. Mild sexual innuendo, played for humor. Some drinking, which I usually don’t make note of, but this is a property that’s usually associated with kids these days.

*Yep, you read that right. The Turtles’ origin is tied to Daredevil’s. See what fun you can have when you self-publish?

**I have no idea where it came from though–the young lady in question was still fully clothed….

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Review: “Locke & Key Vol. I–Welcome To Lovecraft” by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez

Title: Welcome To Lovecraft
Writer: Joe Hill
Artist: Gabriel Rodriguez
Series: Locke & Key (Volume I, Issues #1-6)
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: IDW, 2008

I think I might be a fan of Joe Hill. You may recall a month ago I read and reviewed Horns, and now I’ve read Mr. Hill’s first foray into the world of comics: Welcome To Lovecraft, the first volume in a new series. Put simply: I’m hooked. I’ve always been fascinated by tales of ancient houses with hidden secrets, all the way back to one of the first Boxcar Children books I read when I was but a wee lad, and Locke & Key has enough secrets to keep Mr. Hill busy for quite a while. I very much look forward to seeing where this goes….

They say that when it rains, it pours. It’s certainly been pouring on the Lockes recently, but things may be looking up. Their father was murdered by a couple of psychotic former students, but now they have a whole new life on the other side of the country. They and their mother have moved in with their uncle at Lovecraft Manor, nicknamed the Keyhouse, a massive estate on an island in Massachusetts with more secrets than the CIA. Tyler, Kinsey and Bode are all dealing with their grief in different ways. Tyler is considering suicide, weighed down by the guilt of multiple fights and a particular conversation with the would-be murderer. His sister Kinsey is just trying to stay under the radar while she comes to terms with what happened. Little brother Bode has poured all his energy into exploring their new home, including its magical elements. Their mother has turned to drink to drown the grief. The last thing they need is more trouble, but that may not be in the cards when word comes that the murderer has escaped custody and is leaving a trail of bodies across the country….

Like I said, I’m hooked. I appreciate when a writer trusts his audience enough to put the pieces together themselves, and there are more than enough disjointed pieces here to keep you guessing. Is it initially confusing? Yes, a bit. But the mysteries are introduced gradually, and most of them should make sense by the end of the volume. There are, of course, others that remain unresolved for the moment as seeds for future stories, but that’s to be expected. In truth, there are two stories being explored here. There’s the modern story of the Locke children, and the older story you have to piece together from clues concerning the childhood of their parents. The art is perhaps not my favorite style, but I have to say that it works really well for this particular title. I honestly can’t wait to pick up the next title from the library….

CONTENT: Some sexual innuendo, nothing too explicit and no nudity. R-rated language. Strong, gory violence. I don’t know if I would classify the magic here as occult, but some might. Basically, there are a bunch of keys that fit the different doors of the mansion and that allow magical travel or transformations. One lets you go anywhere. Another lets you change sexes. Still another turns you into a ghost, lets you travel outside your body for a while. There are others, but those are the ones we’ve seen so far…..

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