The Turtles are still reeling from the death of Splinter, but there are some pressing matters in NYC. Mutants are quarantined in a section of the city and the Mutanimals are running the show as a de facto militia. Raphael patrols the streets doling out justice as needed and trying to keep Hob’s forces in line. Meanwhile, Jenny is still coming to terms with her new life as a mutant.
While the idea of Mutant Town is certainly interesting and rather foreboding, where Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #102 really shines is how writer / artist Sophie Campbell handles the grief the heroes in a half shell are going through. She says so much with a single glance that you instantly understand the wave of emotions going through each character’s mind. It’s beautiful and tragic, yet riveting.
This is particularly true for the scenes back at the farmhouse where Donatello, Leonardo, and Michelangelo are dealing with their grief in different ways. This is a fascinating examination of the grieving process, showing how everyone, including the usually positive and upbeat Turtles can be rocked to their core by a sudden loss. This resonates quite a bit because of the decades long history most of us have with these characters, but it speaks volumes purely as an art form.
Jumping back to Mutant Town, although this issue picks up six months after the events of issue #100, there’s still quite a bit in disarray. The Turtles are definitely broken and scattered and the same can be said for the city and most of the other characters. Everyone is trying to put the pieces back together or at least get enough together to stand up again.
This uneasy sense of finding your place in a new world extends to just every single character in the book. Campbell brings that out in their facial expressions and how they carry themselves. Even in the gruffest looks there’s still a sense of doubt. There’s a great scene where Raph is sitting on a rooftop with Pepperoni and he finally lets his tough guy exterior drop for just a moment as tears well up in his eyes. It’s heartbreaking.
Campbell has really made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles her own with some brilliant detail work and impressive fight scenes. The characters are more expressive then ever and the panel layouts are dynamic, adding greatly to the reading experience. Letterer Shawn Lee adds just the right touches to some of the character work with some little points like an italicized word here or a bolded word there. My favorite comes in the quieter moments when the font in a word balloons gets smaller.
Colorist Ronda Pattison paints a dreary picture of Mutant Town. It’s perpetually night in this part of Manhattan. The sun may shine elsewhere, but not here. The setting is full of blacks, browns, and greys, creating an overall dreadful tone that’s matched by the near-dystopian events.
What’s interesting is how this contrast with the bright, peaceful colors of the farmhouse. Although there’s more energy and intensity in Mutant Town, it’s drab and dark. The action at the farmhouse is non-existent, like everything is moving very slowly and without any real motivation, yet it’s painted with this vibrant palette. It makes for a great juxtaposition.
The Turtles have been knocked down harder than ever before. What we’re seeing now is how they might build themselves back up again. There’s no telling how or when this may happen or even if they’ll ever be the same again. This makes for a fascinating character study, adding new layers to these heroes that we’ve known for generations. It’s also a riveting look at grief and depression that speaks volumes.