The Rat King Returns In Chilling Fashion In TMNT #81

by James Ferguson

After the war with the Triceratons devastated New York City, different groups are figuring out what to do next. Casey Jones, his father, and the Purple Dragons are forming an uneasy alliance with the Foot Clan to protect the streets. Splinter finds that Agent Bishop and the Earth Protection Force cannot be trusted (which is something literally everyone else told him.) Finally, Leonardo discovers an impending onslaught by the Rat King which proves to be the most dangerous threat facing the city.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this version of the Rat King. He’s certainly a step up from the weird hobo we saw in the 1980s cartoon. Here he is a literal god, sort of like Loki, looking to have fun and toy with humanity. In this case, he’s playing the role of the Pied Piper, leading a number of children off to their doom. It’s a chilling thought to witness a man gleefully snuff out so many young lives. This is why the Turtles are quick to act when they learn of the Rat King’s return.

The part I’m iffy about with regards to this villain is his power set and how it relates to the Turtles.  I’ve always seen the Ninja Turtles as more street level heroes, like Daredevil or Batman. Their recent adventures in other dimensions and past battles with the Rat King and his family of gods feel so far out of their wheelhouse. I am curious how the various threads that are still open will be handled and incorporated into this storyline.

Artist Dave Wachter shows the Rat King’s capabilities in a gorgeous two page spread. It quickly explains what’s happening and how dangerous it is in a handful of panels framed by Splinter and Leonardo as the two mediate separately. We see the destruction of the city and the people that are lost within in, looking to pick up their lives and try to move on. Then a beautiful song starts and starts pulling them forward. The final shot features people falling off a broken bridge in silhouette, plummeting wordlessly to their deaths. It’s a chilling shot.

Colorist Ronda Pattison gives this sequence a dark, dystopian tone. The sky is a brownish red, like it’s a hazy memory merged seen through a distorted reality. It’s a perfect effect for the heinous acts the Rat King is committing.

The pages prior to this vision work well as a mirror between Leo and Splinter. The two are preparing to mediate in their own way. Where Splinter sends away his second in command, Leo asks Mikey to leave him alone for a bit. Wachter framed the pages well, as the two ninja masters serve as a reflection of one another, entering this trance-like state.

While the Turtles are rushing into action mode to combat the Rat King, I’m more interested in how the Purple Dragons and the Foot Clan are going to possibly work together. It presents an interesting dynamic, particularly with how close Casey Jones is to Raphael and the Turtles. He’ll be in the middle of this strained relationship between father and sons. This is the street level story I want to see.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #81 is currently available at your local comic shop and digitally through ComiXology and Amazon Kindle.