‘TMNT’ flashback: Mirage Vol. 4 No. 14-19 (2004) (Comic book reviews)

Volume 2 starts with each of the Turtles finding his own place to live, but they soon come back together again and mostly work as a team throughout Volumes 3 and 4. But in the 2004 batch of issues in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” Volume 4, each of the 30-something Turtles branches out for his own adventure within the wider Utrom visitation arc, and it leads to the volume’s best characterization – or at least personality exploration — to this point.

In Issue 16, Raph – having been turned into a vampire-like beast – dreams of killing Shredder, only to have Shredder morph into Splinter saying “W-why? Whyyyyy …” (Trivia time: Donatello strikes the final blow that knocks the Shredder off the roof in Volume 1, Issue 1, and Leonardo beheads the worm-Shredder in Volume 1, Issue 21). The appropriately weird dream sequence illustrates the inner turmoil that Raph has never quite overcome. Does he wish he would’ve killed Shredder himself? Does he feel somehow responsible for his father’s death?

Since Peter Laird didn’t care too much for Image’s Volume 3 and declared it non-canon, it’s interesting to note how this bestial Raph melds nicely with the craziness of that volume, not to mention his dreams about Shredder and Splinter. After all, Raph and Splinter argued about Raph’s decision to don Shredder’s garb in Volume 3.

Mike’s romance with extraterrestrial dino-princess Seri also fits with Volume 3 and suggests that Mike has a type: Dino gals. In the Image books, Mike makes out with and writes poetry and a romance novel about dino-girl Sara. Things go a step further in Issue 19, as we see Seri protecting an egg that presumably contains her and Mike’s child.

Leo’s is the most down-to-earth yarn, as he explores why the Foot Clan has drawn the ire of a genderless Aztec-looking race from an alternate dimension where Al Gore was president. Leo suspects that the warriors’ attacks on the Foot Clan might be tied to an ancient book of magic that the Foot is in the business of mass producing. Karai unconvincingly denies it. “Usually you’re a superb liar, Karai, but – for some reason – not this time,” Leo thinks.

The craziest storyline at this point – since April’s exploration of her past is on the back burner, with Laird promising resolution in Issue 22 — belongs to Don, who gets shrunk along with a Venezuelan expeditionary crew by Utroms who long ago morphed with the local trees and gained the ability to change their own – and other beings’ – sizes. The talking velociraptor-looking creatures, it turns out, are mutated lizards who turned on their Utrom masters when they gained sufficient intelligence via the mutagen.

Issue 19 ends with an angry Casey – frustrated by his wife April’s unwillingness to share what’s troubling her – discovering his old hockey mask in the garage. Who will old-school Casey wail on in coming issues? The Madhattan Maulitia, who are protesting – sometimes violently – the introduction of peaceful aliens to Earth, seem like they’d make a good target. Or maybe he could help his old pal Raph with his secondary mutation, or perhaps tap into his detective mode of yore and help Leo investigate the Foot’s secrets. Casey and his daughter, Shadow, have mostly been in the background of Volume 4, and both are sorely in need of something to do at this point.

Overall, though, the first 19 issues of Volume 4 comprise a ripping good page-turner of a story, as we get to see adult versions of the Turtles and enjoy Laird’s exploration of the human race’s reaction to first contact with aliens. Every issue ends on at least four cliffhangers, yet I don’t feel that it’s gimmicky; these are good yarns.

Next up: Cue record scratch. Turtles fans who are looking to track down all of Volume 4 will notice something frustrating after Issue 19. With the exceptions of Issues 22 and 24, Issues 20-31 are almost impossible to find. It’s not just that they are expensive, they simply can’t be found on eBay or through the major comic-book dealers on the web. Apparently demand and supply for the book dropped off after Issue 19, although Laird continued his bimonthly publishing schedule through all of 2005 and half of 2006. Then he severely slowed down, delivering Issue 29 in 2008 and Issue 30 in 2009. Issue 31 saw print earlier this month, and it can also be found on Laird’s blog. Currently, there’s buzz about Issue 32 being in the works.

As part of the sales deal with Viacom, Mirage Comics retained the right to publish up to 12 “TMNT” issues per year, and we can only hope Laird made that deal because he plans to keep going with this original Mirage “TMNT” continuity that started with that breakthrough first issue in 1984 (and that dates back to 1970 on a real-world timeline if you account for the Turtles’ formative years before the first issue). Since IDW has reprinted all of the Volume 1 issues they are legally allowed to, one assumes they’ll eventually get around to reprinting Volume 4 and that’ll be our chance to read the rare issues.

So for now, I’ll hit the pause button on my Volume 4 reviews, with a sincere hope that I can continue them someday.