The newest Ninja Turtle must confront a troubled past, a conflicted present, and the temptation of a cure that could reverse mutations.
After 36 years in the pop culture sphere, it is likely hard to find anyone that does not know at least surface-level things about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Leonardo wears blue and is the team leader with swords (twin Katanas). Raphael’s got the red, a pair of Sais, and quite the attitude. Donatello dons purple with the genius machine tech mind and a sturdy Bō (staff). While Michelangelo is the orange-clad Nunchaku wielding more fun chill guy. Who is Jennika, the fifth Ninja Turtle though?
That is the question that IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Jennika series sets out to answer. Introduced as a member of the Foot Clan in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #51 in 2015, and fleshed out in the acclaimed “What Is Ninja?” story from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Universe issues #6-9, Jennika was saved by the Turtles with a blood transfusion from Leonardo that made her into the fifth of the Hamato turtle clan during the “City At War” event storyline that wrapped near the beginning of 2020.
While the main Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series has dealt with Jennika’s bonding with the other Turtles and all of them dealing with the new situation of living within a mutated section of New York City (caused by one of their foes Old Hob, who set off a mutant bomb during “City At War” ), Jennika’s solo story (mirroring the fact that each of the other Turtles has had multiple solo one-shots as part of various minis over the years since IDWs TMNT launch in 2011) dives deeper into not only her past but also her present as she still struggles to deal with her recent change into a Turtle.
Having only jumped into the IDW TMNT verse with the creative team change that came with the conclusion of “City At War” in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #100, I found it very refreshing to have the aforementioned “What Is Ninja?” storyline from Brahm Revel and Shawn Lee included in this collection. Tackling both the story and the art, Revel does a masterful job of keeping this story moving as Jennika moves through the city observing the various Turtle brothers (as this happened long before she was mutated) interspersed with flashbacks to her troubled and tragic past that eventually led her to the Foot Clan and to become a trusted ally and student of the Turtle’s father Hamato Yoshi/Splinter.
What stands out in this tale is Revel’s use of brighter, powerful colors for the present-day stories while reserving a red-hued/filtered, slightly more hazy tone to cover over the various flashbacks. Words are kept to a minimum within caption boxes, going through Splinter’s lessons to Jennika about what a ninja has historically been and should be over time, as we see the images of Jennika’s life and images of the Turtles going through various separate adventures.
Lee’s lettering is neat and precise and just adds to the overall without ever fully standing out or taking away, which is perfect for the story that is being told. It all flows together like the complete work of art that it is meant to be. Overall, it’s a truly fantastic introduction to the character and a fitting companion to the new series, especially since some of what is glimpsed comes back into play.
Revel tackles all the jobs when it comes to the proper ‘Jennika’ series story, titled “The Cure For You,” adding lettering to his art and story details. Despite her being only recently turned, Jennika serving both in this story and the main title as the bridge between the new Mutant Town that has been grown and a sort of “normalcy” of humanity is a fitting space to place her within. While the Turtles are reincarnated humans, they haven’t lived a “normal” life since their return, and Jennika, with baggage of her own, has navigated that world more, and seeing her being sort of a hero and ambassador around the new Mutant Town is a very great role to place her within.
Jennika’s art while like Revel’s previous story has evolved a bit, becoming a little clearer in some places while not losing it is more fun and whimsical style. It’s very much a more stylized and exaggerated type of art compared to what is seen from Sophie Campbell and other artists in the main series, but it fits because one of the big things that the TMNT books have done over the years is embrace various styles of art across the different storylines and mini-series and one-shots. Revel does not shy away from a lot of bold and bright, but muted colors, foregoing details to backgrounds at times to just go for a more colorful representation of the city and it just works.
The previous red-hued flashbacks make a return in this series, though aren’t as prevalent as they were the first time around because this story is more about the present and past colliding over showcasing past and present separately as was the case in the previous story.
Overall, the storyline, as noted in the title, focuses on a fabled mutant “cure” that an old boyfriend and an old associate of Jennika (someone that betrayed her in the past, leading to much of the trouble in her life before finding the Foot Clan) are chasing down hoping to make some money off of and to use on themselves. All throughout we’re shown ways that the transformation is taking its toll on Jennika as well, a billboard speaking to “beauty” and being the “only woman he’ll ever want” hitting the message home at the start after an awkward encounter with her former boyfriend Casey Jones. Masterfully though, this same billboard comes back into play in order to push the true message of the story about acceptance and the realization that beauty and “normalcy” are just subjective things in the eye of the beholder.
Revel’s story showcases a different side of the new mutant portion of New York City than the main series but is also going deeper into what this new culture and neighborhood means just like the main book. Connecting it all together outside of the area and plot though is the nice reveal of the fabled cure’s creators being some very familiar TMNT foes that leads to some energetic and beautifully drawn fight/chase scenes that conclude the story.
Wrapping up the collection are small stories that ran at the back of each of the single ‘Jennika’ issues.
First up was “Time and Again” with story and colors from Renda Pattison, art from Jodi Nishijima, and letters by Shawn Lee. It’s a touching little story about Jennika’s relationship with Splinter and another rat that was important to her during her time in prison and showcasing a nice big of present-day kindness from her to another rat mutant that crosses her path. Nishijima’s art is closer to the sort of style that is seen within the main TMNT series and is very clean and pairs well with Pattison’s coloring, keeping to more sedate colors that are fitting of the few settings within the story compared to the living breathing New York that is seen in the main Jennika series or even the main TMNT series.
“Wreckreation” with story and colors by Pattison and letters by Lee with Megan Huang on art, is a fun little story featuring Jennika and fellow mutants Alopex, Mona Lisa, and Sally trying to have what they assume should be a “normal girl’s night” only to realize that things that others think of as “normal” aren’t how they want to have a good night. There is a very fitting just slight almost cartoon-like tinge to Huang’s art within this story that goes along with the comical story that is presented and Pattison bringing their all in the again minimalist approach that is brought to this story like the last one. It is a really great approach as it focuses attention on the characters rather than the non-important background details in this moment.
Lastly comes another Pattison, Nishijima, and Lee story, titled “What If?”, that is a touching and powerful tale about Jennika’s dreaming about what if she had been a sister to the Turtles during their human years and been mutated/reincarnated with them. It takes various moments from the previous 100 issues of the main series and frames them in a new way, having Jennika taking on or standing beside her Turtle brothers in those moments. It speaks heavily to the idea of wondering that proverbial question about possible pasts while accepting the present and the future that can be.
Nishijima and Pattison continue to pair well for this story which foregoes the more minimalist style of the other stories while using it in some of the beginning panels because Nishijima gets to instead play in the sandbox of recreating and warping past big moments. Each of the panels looks like it could be plucked out of the issues they came from with just the slight change of the character addition, and it works to hit home the point of the story.
Through all three of the stories, Lee brings the same energy and fitting style to the lettering that is provided to the three stories, continuing to balance the previously mentioned ability to blend well with the story adding to what is going on without ever taking focus or attention on to itself alone.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Jennika overall is a great collection of stories that will give insight into the woman that has become the fifth Turtle and is a key character in the overall main series at the moment. The release is just in time for the sequel series that looks to dive into Jennika and her place in the world even more. It’s well worth picking up and diving right in.