Karai ventures into a creepy forest with Koya and Bludgeon to search for a mystical artifact of great power. She must first get through a horde of deadly spirits taunting her every move if she hopes to succeed and that’s before she even sets her sights on her prize. Any doubt or misgiving she’s had about herself is on display as she marches ever onward with nothing but will and determination powering her through to her goal.
After reading through this arc, it’s no wonder that Karai was in such a position of power among the Foot Clan. She is a born leader, capable of making quick decisions in the field. There’s nothing inherently evil about her. If anything, she should have been just as mad at Shredder as everyone else as the guy stole everything she built. Karai works with her two mutant soldiers to make sure they all get through this together, to the point where she’s ready to lay down her life to ensure their safety.
Bludgeon is fine navigating through this maze of horrors, even without his sight. The shots from his perspective are terrifying, yet beautiful. Since he’s a shark, Bludgeon uses his other senses to see, kind of like Daredevil. He doesn’t see the same details as Karai and Koya do. Instead, it’s more like auras or basic forms. The monsters in the forest create these demented shapes with hellfire swirling around them. If any normal person saw that, let alone their actual appearance, they would have turned tail and run.
The monsters themselves are varied and more than a little creepy. Artist Sophie Campbell meshes skeletons, zombies, and ghouls together into this bizarre amalgamation of terror. This becomes even scarier when the creatures start to mutate into forms from the thoughts and regrets of the main characters. The most notable of which are the Ninja Turtles. Campbell turns them into horrific undead monsters with rotting skin, gnarly claw-like fingernails, and rows of jagged, razor-sharp teeth.
The Turtle specters torment Koya as Leonardo is the reason she can no longer fly. She has to try so hard not to lash out as these monsters can’t attack unless they’re hit first. This is particularly tough for Koya given her temper and the fact that she’s been a ball of rage since her wings were taken from her. This is highlighted by Brittany Peer’s colors, shading these panels in a brilliant red. These are the real standout images of the book.
All of this is just the first half of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe #14. It reads like a great video game plays, as Karai makes her way through a dungeon of sorts. She has to clear these obstacles to reach her prize. If Link from Legend of Zelda was a female ninja, he wouldn’t be half as cool as Karai is in this comic.
The back-up story, Prey continues its focus on Koya with Campbell delivering some more brilliant artwork. After the events in this chapter, I’m assuming it takes place after the main story arc. As the Karai plotline serves as a redemption of sorts for her, so too does this one offer a similar path for Koya, showing her how she can evolve when the trait that defined her has been ripped away.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe offers the opportunity for these side characters amidst a large, ever-growing cast. Writer Erik Burnham delivers the kind of story that elevates a minor character. In the right hands, they can move up the food chain. After seeing Karai in action, she deserves to make that move. She could prove to be a valuable ally to the Ninja Turtles or a major villain. Her path could go either way.