In “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze” (1991), the cartoon’s Bebop and Rocksteady just missed out on their big-screen debuts as the filmmakers chose to go with new creations Tokka and Rahzar. Twenty-five years later, that oversight is rectified in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” (2016), the second (and, for better or worse, seemingly last) entry in a new continuity.
I’ve probably seen the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” more than any other movie (granted, most of those viewings were from 1990-92). That film is a perfect blend of respect for the source material with mass appeal, and the three sequels – although they have their moments — don’t match its quality or heart. In a perfect world, Nickelodeon’s return to the saga – 2014’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (referred to here as “TMNT ’14”) – would tap into what worked in 1990, while adding untapped villains in cinematic debuts.
The “X-Files”/”30 Days of Night” miniseries from 2010-11 was a crossover that made sense: Both franchises logically occupied the same world. The “X-Files: Conspiracy” miniseries (2014) is noticeably more forced, as IDW attempts to pitch four of its other licensed franchises – “Ghostbusters,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Transformers” and “The Crow” – to “X-Files” fans in its first Season 10 side venture.
In my previous blog post, I lamented the fact that “Star Wars” is officially switching from one continuity to two (“Legends” and the new Disney-overseen continuity), marking the end of the most famous “one big story” franchise in pop culture. That doesn’t mean I reject all multiple-continuity franchises and reboots, though. In fact, I’m a huge fan of the franchise that is perhaps the most extreme example: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” marked its 30th anniversary on Monday, and it’s a fascinating example of how one core idea can spring in so many different directions — sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.
Springing from “Tales of the TMNT” Volume 2 came four four-issue miniseries, one featuring each Turtle. “Leonardo: Blind Sight” (2006) launches from Issue 5, where Leo gets temporarily blinded by a Shredder Elite and accidentally kills a homeless man, and “Raphael: Bad Moon Rising” (2007) grows out of Issue 7, where Raph saves rebellious teen Shadow from a werewolf cult. “Michelangelo: The Third Kind” (2008) takes place in the six-month gap during “TMNT” Volume 4, Issue 5, when humanity deals (very poorly, it turns out) with the peaceful alien visitors, while “Donatello: The Brain Thief” (2009) takes us back to the “TMNT” Volume 2 era to deal with the last vestiges of Baxter Stockman’s villainy.
“TMNT” long ago taught us that, in the end, life is at best bittersweet, and that’s how I’d describe the last year-and-a-half of “Tales of the TMNT” Volume 2, which delivered some outstanding issues but ultimately ended with many threads unresolved. Still, at least it delivers a major moment in the dark Mirage Turtles future that had been hinted at so many times: Dan Berger’s Issue 69 (“Dark Shadows”) shows the Utroms evacuating many humans as the ocean levels rise, and it shows Shadow taking a rowboat to various NYC buildings in this future of wiped-out coastal cities. While it is by no means a tidy bow on the Mirage Future mythos, it at least is a juicy nugget for speculative analyses on the Mirage saga’s future such as Mark Pellegrini’s excellent essay over at TMNT Entity.
The 2008 batch of “Tales of the TMNT” Volume 2 was defined in two major ways: One, editor Dan Berger began informing readers of where each tale takes place on the timeline; and two, Jim Lawson began regularly contributing artwork. With Volume 4 producing no more than one comic per year at this point, Lawson was free to draw eight of the 12 “Tales” issues in 2008.
Part of the purpose of “Tales of the TMNT” Volume 2 was to go back and fill in all those little story gaps that cropped up in 20-plus years of dozens of writers contributing odds and ends to the “TMNT” mythology. If there was a theme to the issues of 2007, when Steve Murphy handed off editorial duties to Dan Berger, it was going back to the source material and filling in key story elements. Mostly, this led to an enrichment of the grand story, but …
In 2006, Mirage Volume 4 stopped its bimonthly publishing schedule and went to a trickle-out approach, but that same year, “Tales of the TMNT” Volume 2 continued as a monthly and put out more consistently compelling work than in its first two years.
For the editors at Mirage Comics, it was both a blessing and a curse that most of their readership got hooked on TMNT through the cartoons and Archie comics: A blessing because they got new readers, a curse because a lot of those readers had a hard time differentiating between the original material and the licensed material. Many letters in Mirage Volume 4 and “Tales of the TMNT” Volume 2 request appearances by non-Mirage characters ranging from Ace Duck to Ninjara, and I can sense the deep sigh and 10-count before each of Peter Laird’s responses.