Buy This Book: ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: City Fall’
IDW's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic is exactly my jam. I wrote about it a few months back when I finally dived into the series, and the incredible mix of sci-fi, the supernatural, romance and, of course, teenage mutant ninja action has made it one of those comics where I almost don't want to keep reading because I know I'm going to run out and have to wait around until there's more.
This week, though, I finally got around to digging into City Fall, the big event that the series was building to since it started. I'd been saving that one for when I had some time to go through it, and I wasn't surprised at all to find out that it's great, full of well-crafted character-driven action that brought together everything that happened in the series up to that point. What did surprise me, though, is that I came away from it having actual feelings about Rocksteady and Bebop for the first time ever. Seriously.
Part of what makes City Fall so good is just how much there is going on in it, simply because TMNT is by its very nature a book with a massive cast of characters. Just at the core, you've got the four Turtles, each with their own distinct personalities that come across perfectly, along with Splinter, and you've got Casey Jones and April O'Neil, who have been developed well enough over the past four years that they're every bit as important for the book as the Turtles, and that's just the good guys.
On the other side, you've got Shredder and Karai with the Foot Clan, each with their own motivations that are played off against the other. And then on top of that, you have all the tertiary characters, Old Hob, Slash, Casey's dad, Baxter Stockman, Harold Lillja, Alopex, Kitsune, Angel and the Purple Dragons, and this entire other gang of, I kid you not, French ninjas. It gets to the point where you start to feel bad for artist Mateus Santolouco for having to cram everybody in there.
The big trick of City Fall is that all of those characters play pivotal roles, and the even bigger trick is that if you've been reading all along, it never feels overwhelming. It's one of those stories where it all comes together, building organically out of everything that's happened in the series so far, in a way that makes everything feel like it means something. Which is exactly what a big event comic is supposed to do.
That's a lot of moving parts to get together in one place, and you really have to hand it to editor Bobby Curnow, who's also credited with story alongside Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz, for keeping everything straight -- especially given how this book cheats.
Well, maybe "cheats" is too strong a word, but in terms of building its universe and getting those moving parts in place, TMNT definitely takes a shortcut. While the major events and conflicts are all playing out in the main series, the characters have side adventures -- often very important side adventures -- in the TMNT Micro Series book, essentially a series made up of one-shots focusing on individual characters that fill in the gaps and make the new TMNT universe feel like it's been around for a lot longer than four years.
It's actually one of the more frustrating things about the series, in that the Micro Series is separate, and if you're trying to get the whole story, there's a lot of flipping back and forth and trying to figure out your reading order. In the grand scheme of things, it's a good problem to have -- "Oh no, there are even more good comics that are part of this highly enjoyable story!" -- and there are usually footnotes that pop up to let you know when to go check for a backstory. There is a higher-end hardcover that prints it all in reading order, but if you're reading the paperbacks (or their digital equivalents), it can be a bit of a hassle.
For readers like me, whose primary touchstone for the TMNT was the cartoon from the '80s, Bebop and Rocksteady were the biggest bit of nostalgia to show up during City Fall, but generally speaking, nostalgia was all the affection I had for them. Unless you count frustration from their role as bosses on the NES, I don't think I've ever had any particular feelings related to those two mutants at all, which is probably why what Bates and Weaver did in their story hit me like a punch to the gut.
It's not that they really take them all that far away from their roots as screw-up comic relief henchmen, and in fact, that's the whole point of the story. They're complete screw-ups, to the point where a simple meeting with a gang that actually wants to join up with the Foot ends up turning into a full-on gang war that levels a building and leaves most of the people involved dead. What Bates and Weaver add to that is an underlying motivation for these two idiots that just broke my heart: They've been kicked out of everything they've ever tried for screwing up, and they just want to belong.
By the end of the story, they've messed up so catastrophically that Karai orders them killed as an example to others, and after this huge fight scene, they survive an execution, standing there with swords sticking out of their bodies, and all they ask is not to be kicked out.
And that's when a comic about Bebop and Rocksteady from the Ninja Turtles broke my heart.
It's also a pretty great example of the kind of comics that you can get from TMNT in general and the City Fall arc in particular; comics that spin their silly premise into these nearly perfect stories of action, adventure and romance. At its heart, the premise of City Fall is an easy and compelling one -- the Foot captures Leonardo and brainwashes him to fight his brothers -- but it ends up being a story about loss and sacrifice and how much you can lose before you end up losing everything, whether it's about the Turtles trying to get their brother back while losing their city, Shredder confronting hmself in Hell, or even Casey Jones forsaking his father while embracing a chosen family with the Turtles.
And through all that, it never stops being a comic about mutant turtles doing karate at an evil ninja covered in knives.
It's best to start from the beginning, but if you've ever wondered if City Fall was worth it, believe me: It is.