Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Deviations

Throughout the month of March the folks at IDW Publishing have been asking themselves and their fans a very thoughtful and evocative question: What if? What if the Ghostbusters never crossed streams to save New York? What if Optimus Prime never died? Or in the case of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, what if they joined forces with their arch enemy, The Shredder? Now the loyal followers of the "heroes in a half-shell" might be thinking “wait – didn’t that already happen?” Well - yes and no. The plot is actually based on the popular arc ‘City Fall’ from the IDW Turtles Series but as per the name DEVIATIONS suggests, it deviates from the original. In the opening pages before the first panel we are asked to imagine a world where Casey Jones is killed by The Shredder, not just merely stabbed; wherein the ensuing battle results in the capture of not only Leonardo but of all four Turtles. After planting us in our newly created alternate-reality-mind-set, the story opens on a familiar setting: a dark rooftop in New York City...

TMNT-Deviations-coverOne of the first things to notice in opening pages is the nostalgic draw of Zach Howard’s art rendering – it’s extremely reminiscent of early Kevin Eastman and it helps to give the book not only an authentic feel but texture as well. Howard manages to encapsulate the rigidity/thick defined outlining of Eastman’s trademark style, while at the same time adding his own interpretations to the characters which tend to be much more descriptive– most notably in Splinter. The emotion that Zach Howard is able to convey through Splinter’s eyes is nothing short of astounding: his fears, his reluctance and most powerfully his heartbreak are all clearly communicated without any need for words or dialogue. This rare circumstance allows the reader to see Splinter occupying the role of the grieving father; not the master/instructor. He is so often depicted as the stoic teacher that it can be easy to forget just how much he does truly love his children. Howard captures this perfectly and it's one of the most genuine moments in the book.

Another aspect that harkens back to the days of Eastman & Laird is that the turtles are all depicted wearing the same navy blue headbands (the first comics were black and white and it wasn’t until the T.V. show that they got their multi-coloured bandanas). Again, great for nostalgia and a nice homage but it forces the reader to rely too heavily on the idea of ‘character voice’ when determining who’s speaking. There’s very little time for character development so those without a strong familiarity with the TMNT may at times find it difficult when distinguishing between the brothers - especially Donatello and Leonardo as their personalities can at times become muddled.

Something noticeably absent from this one-shot is any element of humour. There are no bad puns, no pizza parties and no brotherly squabbles whatsoever. Instead a much more serious and dark side to the Turtles is presented; they act with brutality, without mercy, and yes - they even kill. These are elements of their personalities that we've never seen before and with its presentation comes heavy implications and hard questions: just who is pulling the strings, really? Are the Turtles truly helpless victims, empty conduits forced to blindly enact the will of The Shredder? Or are the four brothers perhaps acting of their own volition, having been freed from the constraints of guilt and morality for the first time in their lives?

It’s always fun playing the ‘what if?’ game: it allows for the opportunity to turn reader’s expectations upside down with no risk of reprieve. It opens the doors to different avenues of expectation allowing us to see old characters and stories in new ways. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - DEVIATIONS delivers on that and more: it’s a Lewis Carol-esque inversion of a world you thought you knew that will leave you shocked, riveted and with a higher body count than the final acts of Hamlet. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “man, I love reading the Turtles…”

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Deviations Writer: Tom Waltz Artist: Zach Howard Publisher: IDW Publishing Price: $4.99 Release Date: 3/30/16 Format: One-Shot; Print/Digital