‘TMNT’ flashback: Special issues and crossovers (1985-2007) (Comic book reviews)

 

In previous “TMNT” flashback posts, I delved into the short stories, the one-issue micro series and the two Casey Jones series as sources for more Turtles stories outside of the regularly numbered issues. Now – before diving headlong into my reviews of Volume 4 and “Tales of the TMNT” Volume 2 — I’d like to look at two other sources for “TMNT” stories: Special issues and crossovers. Unfortunately, a lot of these issues are far from special and will appeal only to completists; however, there are enough little gems among the crossovers that they are worth a look.

First, let’s get the specials out of the way. In 1992, when Mirage Volume 1 reached Issue 45, Eastman and Laird decided to drop the guest authors from the regularly numbered issues and tell an ongoing narrative in-house. The serial approach continued through the rest of Volume 1 and all of Volumes 2, 3 and 4. Meanwhile, we got only three more guest-author issues at the end of the Volume 1 publishing era, perhaps proving that fans didn’t care for them quite as much as E&L did. Matt Howarth’s “The Haunted Pizza” (1992) is notable for showing the Turtles branching beyond their signature weapons; frankly, I found it confusing, and I’m not sure if Howarth did it on purpose or accidentally. Mark Bode’s “Times Pipeline” (1992) is so bad it makes me long for his Issue 18. As for Hedden & McWeeney’s “The Maltese Turtle” (1993), I’ve never bothered to purchase or read it.

One more special “issue” is worth noting. In 2007, Mirage put out the “Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Original Volume 1 Treasury Edition,” and it featured the Jim Lawson bonus story “Spinal Tapped.” It’s not just a short, though; it’s a 27-page Renet and Savanti Romero story set during the dino-times adventure of “Tales” Volume 1, Issue 7. Basically, it should’ve been a “Tales of the TMNT” Volume 2 issue, but they made it exclusive to this collection to give it more value. I haven’t read “Spinal Tapped” – although TMNT Entity says it’s the best of the three prehistoric-times yarns – because this volume is hard to find and it seems a bit silly to own two “Tales” trade paperbacks (as the untitled Nobody short is in the other one). Out of all the comics on this list, this is the only one where you’d have to break the bank to own it.

Now, onto the crossovers. What was the first appearance of the Turtles in someone else’s title? Some might say the one-shot “Fugitoid” (1985), because E&L actually invented Fugitoid in 1983 before they created the Turtles or Mirage Studios. They sent out his origin story, written in five-page chapters, to various publishers hoping it would get purchased for use as a back-up strip. No one bought it, so E&L published it as a one-shot ending with the scene where Fugitoid meets the Turtles (on the first page of Volume 1, Issue 5, which went on to recap the essentials of the “Fugitoid” one-shot). Also setting this issue apart from the other four one-issue micro series is the fact that it’s magazine-sized (thus making it annoying for comic-storage purposes). However, most fans consider “Fugitoid” to be a “TMNT” one-issue micro series rather than a separate title.

Fugitoid’s origin story as a human, Dr. Honeycutt, zapped into a robot body would be told yet a third time in “Gizmo and the Fugitoid” (1989) by Peter Laird and Michael Dooney. This two-part series chronicles more hijinks during the Triceraton debacle of Volume 1, Issues 5-7. Fugitoid and Dooney’s characters Gizmo and Fluffy Brockleton are likable, and their lighthearted adventures amidst serious danger call to mind “Star Wars: Droids.” I consider these issues to be “TMNT” crossovers with “Gizmo” – although the Turtles themselves don’t appear, we do see Fugitoid, Triceratons and Utroms, all of which are staple “TMNT” characters.

The first full-issue crossover where the Turtles ventured outside of Mirage Comics came in 1991, when they popped up in three issues of Dark Horse’s satirical/comedic “Flaming Carrot” (25-27). In 1993-94, during Mirage’s Volume 2 publishing era, the Carrot continued the home-and-home series, coming over for a four-part “TMNT/Flaming Carrot” crossover drawn by Jim Lawson.

On a more action-oriented note, the Turtles welcomed everyone’s favorite samurai rabbit to Mirage by guest-starring in Issues 1-3 of “Usagi Yojimbo” Volume 2 (1993). Leo and Usagi had already met in three shorts scattered between Mirage and “Usagi’s” previous publisher, Fantagraphics Books, and it’s a good thing because otherwise the two groups probably would’ve killed each other upon meeting in “Shades of Green.” An anthropomorphic rat – whom Raph initially mistakes for Splinter – conjures the Turtles into this alternate-universe 17th century Japan via magic, and the cute/violent battles ensue in the classic (and colorful, in this volume) Stan Sakai style.

Next, the Turtles and Image’s Savage Dragon crossed over in four issues. “The Savage Dragon” Issue 2 (1993, Image) and “The Savage Dragon/TMNT” one-shot (1993, Mirage) allowed the characters to meet and team up. But the gargoyle-animating villain, Virago, has to be among the shallowest the Turtles have ever faced, and the titular superheroes’ relationship is defined primarily by Dragon not being able to tell which Turtle is which. Their next crossover – the “TMNT/The Savage Dragon” one-shot (1995, Mirage) and “The Savage Dragon” Issue 22 (1995, Image) – is much better. The villain – a Complete Carnage clone – is related to the Turtles’ universe, and Mike becomes smitten with his future Volume 3 love interest, the spikey mutant Sara. These four issues, a collaboration between Dooney and “Dragon” creator Erik Larsen, paved the way for Mirage licensing “TMNT” to Image in 1996.

During the Volume 3 publishing era, the Turtles popped up peripherally in several Image comics — including “Gen 13” Issue 13B (1996) and “The Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck” one-shot (1996) and at Officer Dragon’s wedding in “The Savage Dragon” Issue 41 – but the only must-read among this batch is “Big Bang Comics” Issue 10 (1997). Penned by Volume 3 scribe Gary Carlson, the story is called “Galahad” and it features that lawyer-turned-superhero on the cover. Even though Galahad is the main character, we get a rare pre-Volume 1, Issue 1 glimpse at Oroku Saki, plus Headhunter (who we’ll learn in Volume 3, Issue 24, was Saki’s lover and Pimiko’s mom and sometimes goes by the name Lady Shredder). Also, we meet very young Turtles in the 1970s; in fact, according to the timeline at TMNT Entity, this is the very first chronological appearance of the Turtles other than their origin flashback.

Making a case that E&L shouldn’t have been so generous with letting other folks use their characters, the Turtles popped up in Lightning Comics’ “Creed/TMNT” one-shot (1996) from teen “Creed” creator Trent Kaniuga. He draws cool-looking Turtles (similar to the Volume 1, Issue 1 look) as they cross paths in New York with young Mark Creed (at least I think that’s his name), who is on the run from thieves who want his magic stone (or some such nonsense). It’s unlikely that any “TMNT” fans became “Creed” fans. Still, I think it’s a safe bet that this is the best-selling issue of that otherwise-obscure title (which has nothing to do with the band of the same name).

The point of crossovers is that they’re a win-win for both titles, bumping up sales of both and possibly drawing new fans to each. I’m guessing the other titles benefited far more than “TMNT” did in these crossovers. I’m almost tempted to look up more “Usagi” and “Savage Dragon” adventures, but not quite. I don’t spend a moment thinking about Galahad, Destroyer Duck or Creed outside of their “TMNT” guest turns, and frankly I’ve never read the “Flaming Carrot” crossovers. I’m lukewarm on “Gizmo,” but Fugitoid is a character I’d like to see more of. Luckily, he’ll be popping up in Volume 4, which is next on my “TMNT” flashback schedule.