The Many Shades Of Gray: Reviewing ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ #121

by Scott Redmond


This current stellar run of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles continues as the emotionally charged and character-focused gorgeously rendered series gets extremely personal and delves into social issues. Truly the greatest strength of this series beyond the popular characters lies in the tremendously talented and dedicated creative team who showcases their love for these characters and this world on every single page.


Building a society is never an easy task, especially when to do so one must fight to gain the freedom to forge their own destinies. The Splinter Clan and their allies in Mutant Town rose up and have toppled Old Hob and the Mutanimals, but now comes the hard decisions about what type of society they truly want to build.

While we the audience often greatly enjoy the action and world-saving moments of superhero comic books, it’s the character moments that keep us coming back and endear these characters to us. Throughout her run so far, Sophie Campbell has masterfully balanced the action bits and the character/society-building moments. That balance and the utter care to each and every character makes an arc like this full of politics, ethical quandaries, and the ideas of forgiveness even more powerful.

We see heroes defeat world-threatening villains regularly and move on to the next threat, but it’s not often that we see them have to actually deal with the aftermath. Watching these characters, we’ve known for this run and many of them for years, debating how to handle their defeated foes (whether to incarcerate them or not) really resonates. Mutant Town is a new society, and it has the ability to break from the sins and flaws of the old society, but just like many of us face in the real world, it’s not that easy to just fully change when those old ideas are so ingrained.

While Manta Ray was the one behind the attack on Sally Pride, their conversation within the issue is heart-wrenching and tense and both sides have some points. While there are motivations that cross lines with some of the characters, almost all of them were thrown into this new world and are struggling to find a place to stand. Campbell deftly makes sure to not make any particular character or characters fall too far into the realm of right or wrong, giving them layers.

There are understandable, not always correct but understandable, motivations on many of the sides. Ray goes the wrong direction and Hob forced mutation upon almost everyone in this new society, but at the same time, the clan allies come in beating a prone Hob while the children, including the weasels that see him as a father still, watch in horror. We’ve seen the potentially bright future that this society can have (at the end of the last arc) but this series isn’t shying away from the growing pains and dark places that might have to be visited to maybe get there one day.

Jodi Nishijima, Ronda Pattison, and Shawn Lee continue to be a dynamic powerhouse artistic team. Each of the panels captures the raw emotions on display as well as the brutality and the breakneck action that goes down. Anger, horror, sadness, stark realization, pain and so much more are felt radiating off these pages reminding us of how much everyone here has invested at this moment for Mutant Town.

Nishijima just captures action so solidly and uses unique and shifting paneling to fully capture it all.  On one page we have horizontal matching panels where the position and looks of characters change slightly, almost in a flipbook style of motion where you can almost see them actually running. Then another will have a slew of different sized panels with bits of the action and backgrounds minimized to focus on the action with creative white space use giving borders to help draw the eye panel to panel.

All is brought to colorful life by Pattison who brings the bright colors with a slight bit of dulling down of the brightness and plenty of shadows that are fitting both for the interior setting but also the issue tone. In the aforementioned panels with minimized background, we get bold splashes of color that help make the action stand out even more.

Letters’ master Lee comes in and brings all that raw emotion to the various dialogue bubbles, with bolds and bigger font levels and other ways to really show how these characters are feeling. Alongside just a whole slew of awesome energetic and varied SFX. This is an all-hands-on-deck SFX situation as there are ‘Thwaps’ and ‘Bronks’ and ‘Krshh’s galore. No two SFX, even ones that are similar sounds or associated with similar actions, are alike as they all have a life of their own.

Levels of SFX really depend upon the book, some need less and some need more, but really in my book, there is no such thing as too few or too many SFX.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #121 is now on sale in print and digitally from IDW Publications.

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