Review by Jamie McNeil
When IDW gained the rights to publish new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stories, they also retouched and reprinted TMNT’s co-creators Kevin Eastman’s and Kevin Laird’s first stories in both the original Black & White and colour. These form respective Ultimate B&W Collection and The Works. Initial volumes gave an interesting perspective on the characters’ development despite the absence of an issue here and there due to copyright problems, a number of crossovers with other indie artists occurring in the early days. The problem with Volume(s) 4 is it picks up where the creators returned to writing the title after a long absence in-between their work on Volume(s) 3. The result is a rather non-congruent narrative; a sizeable chunk of story development missing that disrupts the stories both individually and collectively.
In ‘Shades of Gray’ a training run goes horribly wrong and results in tragedy, Casey Jones taking centre stage here. Eastman and Laird try to tackle some hard questions about vigilantism and the right to defend oneself, while Jim Lawson’s pencils are quite stylish, with good action shots capturing the emotional angst the situation results in. It’s just that however hard they try, action sequences predominate, interfering with the story rather than driving it despite some frames having some nice detail. Ultimately the story’s more a justification of the writers’ views than an honest attempt to seriously tackle a difficult subject for American society. A pity, since its potential is left unrealised.
‘City at War’ sees the Turtles returning home to New York to find various factions of the Foot Clan vying for control of the city. April heads west to Los Angeles, moving in with her sister and on with her life. Similarly Casey heads out on his own, conflicted by the events occurring during ‘Shades of Gray’, initially setting out after April but only gets halfway when he meets Gabrielle. Splinter has retreated to the wilderness in search of higher consciousness while elsewhere mysterious figures watch from the shadows. Lawson’s pencil work has a stylish quality to it and he knows how to create tension.
Eastman and Laird add their artistic flourishes to the opening chapter of ‘City at War’ before Lawson takes over. When he first drew the Turtles Lawson brought some much needed uniformity, but ultimately that’s what disappoints as he developed a habit of standardising the appearances, of his female characters especially. Nearly all woman have the same shape with ninor differences, but it’s difficult to recognise even regular character April. It grates the senses, a disappointing step back from his work in Volume(s) Three.
By the time these tales emerged, Eastman and Laird weren’t writing comics as much as they were attending to a rapidly growing franchise. This tells, but they deserve credit for the scope of both their vision and their imagination. The gaping holes in the timeline are annoying, the dialogue dated, the stereotypes stale, but you have to admire the almost effortless ease with which they produce stories. IDW has invested production effort in both colour and black and white collections, improving the detail and enhancing the colours. If you have fond memories of Turtle-Mania, either version of these oversize collections will initiate more than one trip down memory lane when your friends come round. ‘City at War’ concludes in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate B&W Collection/The Works Volume 5.