‘TMNT Annual:’ Advance Hardcover Review

I have to start this review off with a disclaimer: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2012 Annual is the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) comic I have ever read.  There, I said it, and I fully accept the shame that comes with that statement, just as you should take the following with a grain of salt.  I was always aware of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s original black-and-white comics, which were the initial impetus for the Turtles' success in cartoons and movies, and in imbedding themselves into the pop culture canon, so when I had the opportunity to read and review IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2012 Annual hardcover deluxe edition release, I jumped at the chance, especially since it was co-written and drawn by original TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman, who has been working on IDW’s Turtles since 2011.

And then, I actually started reading the book, and that is about where my enthusiasm ended.  I know that sounds harsh, but it’s the truth.  After the first few pages, the titular characters of Donatello, Leonardo, and Michelangelo all but disappear until the last third of the roughly sixty-page story, and that was fine, because this story was described as Raphael (easily my favorite and, for me, the most emotionally resonant of the Turtles) and Casey Jones (another favorite of mine, ever since Elias Koteas brought him to life in the first Ninja Turtles movie) centric, and I was excited about that, until the story got underway.  At this point, my lack of enthusiasm turned into something akin to indifference, and this pained me in a way that made me both sad and frustrated. The plot, concerning a freak occurrence involving Raphael and Casey Jones that sets off a chain of events surrounding a briefcase full of diamonds being delivered as tribute to Shredder by a rival gang of ninjas and all of the double and triple crosses that entails, simply made for uninspired reading.  New characters are constantly being introduced, and for the lack of actual story development, not to mention action, the plot is overly confusing and circuitous.  Worst of all is that while all of these composite characters I didn’t know or care about took center stage, Eastman and co-writer Tom Waltz relegated Raphael and Casey to wallflowers, nothing more than awkward observers.

Do not get me wrong, there are some shining moments of excellence in this book.  Whenever Eastman and Waltz are writing for the three other turtles, and especially Splinter, the dialogue crackles with vibrancy and life, and the humor is natural and genuinely funny.  Sadly, all Raphael and Casey do are point out the obvious and worry.  Also, when actual fighting happens, the battles are well-staged and exciting.  This story had potential, what with its multiple converging storylines, but I found it weighed down by unnecessary filler and too many deus ex machina (god from the machine) moments to make it anything less than forgettable.  I read around online and found that the 2012 Annual was used as the jumping-off point for a new story arc, so maybe the ends justified the means, and I truly hope that was the case. The art itself had the feel of classic Ninja Turtles, and the turtles looked fantastic, drawn by someone who truly knows them inside and out.  Another boon for Eastman is his cityscapes.  Whenever he gives us these panels, they shine, and his overhead shots also look wonderful and give a sense of the scope he and Waltz were aiming to create. 

Overall, the story is intriguing but nothing extraordinary, largely because the Turtles are made tertiary characters in favor of less defined and less interesting characters, but if you are a diehard TMNT fan or have been reading the IDW TMNT comics, then you may not be as critical as I am, and you may thoroughly enjoy yourself.  IDW did add an excellent bonus feature to this deluxe hardcover edition, and that is Eastman’s complete page layouts for the book.  It is interesting to see the layouts, then to flip back to the finished version and see what stayed the same and what changed and Eastman has some revelatory (and in hindsight even sometimes humorous) notes written in the side margins.  It was wonderful to be able to see his process in constructing the story, panels, and pages, and I just wish he and Waltz were able to notice how much sound and fury was in their story and replace it with more action and Turtles.                      

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