Owner Of A Lonely Mutant Heart: Reviewing ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ #123
by Scott Redmond
The Splinter Clan’s leader Leonardo takes the spotlight in a story that touches on loneliness, trauma, acceptance, the burdens of leadership, and the constant struggle to find one’s place in the world. This creative team continues to put out one of the best books on the stands, finding a way to make any and every moment gorgeous and full of character and beyond engaging. If you aren’t reading this book, that needs to change now.
The first rule of Mutant Town Fight Club is, you do not talk about Mutant Town Fight Club. Actually, you can talk about the Mutant Town Fight Club all you want, just don’t tell Jennika that Sheena is there.
After spending the last few issues focused on the overthrow of Old Hob and the building of a new foundation for Mutant Town, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #123 takes a step to the side for a more Leonardo-focused story.
Always the leader and a sensei, it makes sense that Leonardo currently is the one member of the Splinter Clan that seems to be having trouble finding his place in this new world order. Especially as he notices his siblings (and others beyond them) forming various romantic and friendly relationships that help them fill their time.
One of the many things that have been fantastic about this series is the care and dedication put into developing each and every character, from the Splinter clan members to their close allies to their foes and even all the new characters. No one feels flat or extraneous here, this is a fully lived-in world full of complex characters.
Leonardo has been my favorite of the turtles forever (Jennika is creeping closer to being tied with him), and what Sophie Campbell does here with him, and by extension, Casey Jones too, is utterly fantastic. We get two characters here, two male characters at that, talking about their emotions and how lost they feel as the world keeps changing around them. It’s beyond refreshing to have issues like this where heroic characters can just lay it all out and be real, and there isn’t some other character or part of the world telling them to stow those emotions away or “act tough” or any of that nonsense.
Sheena mentions that the fight club is a good way to blow off steam, but it’s also a place to meet new people and build community. This isn’t a place to beat other people down to take out rage and hold emotions, as the big conversation between Leo and Casey takes place after they leave. Watching Leo make a connection with Carmen and connect with Casey again (they make a great duo) as they got back to helping others as they do best, was more enjoyable than I can really put into words.
Jodi Nishijima and Ronda Pattison have been killing it across all the issues they’ve worked on together, this one being no exception. It’s a shame that we won’t be seeing Nishijima on the title for a while (though she’s picking up a lot of big work these days), but between Campbell and Nelson Daniel and whoever else the office brings in this book is always in great artistic hands.
There is a ton of great action scenes here, and they are brought to such energetic life. The same can be said for all of the slices of life/talking pages as well. One of the things that I wanted to highlight specifically here is how wonderfully well Nishijima handles the emotional aspect of these issues. If one were to cut out everything between when Leo left the dojo and when he returned (why anyone would do that is beyond me), there would still be a clear indication that something has changed for the eldest turtle/clan leader.
Putting those pages side by side it’s very easy to see the change in body language and facial expressions here, as the night out and talk had a positive effect on Leo. The sort of slow sad walk, shoulders down, eyes downcast or turned away is replaced by smiles and walking tall while his eyes remain on those he’s checking up on through the dojo. These are the great elements of storytelling in a visual medium, where the art does all the talking and shows rather than having to tell.
Pattison’s colors are just always so bright and perfect, making everything pop and stand out in the best ways. At the same time, she really helped with those aforementioned pages in another way that really set the mood. It’s noticeable that in the earlier sadder scenes, Leo is wrapped more in shadows that are somewhat all-encompassing and almost coming off as sad like himself. In the later pages, he’s less shadowed when inside the dojo, and even the one panel where he’s all in shadows it’s a happier type of shadow (if that makes any sense).
No issue of this amazing series is complete without the always fantastic lettering of Shawn Lee, who brings it every single issue. These characters are just so full of personality, as noted above, and that is showcased in many ways including in their dialogue. From the fonts used to the colorful interjections to emphasizers, it’s very easy to tell the ways that these characters ‘talk’ and for us the reader to hear it in a way that just deepens the experience. In just a few pages I’m pretty certain that mentally I can fully tell how energetic the fight club owner Winny is thanks to the way she’s artistically depicted but also the way that her dialogue is delivered.
I’ll never ever grow tired of having characters’ dialogue turned into big giant logo-like lettering, and we get plenty of that here which makes for big smiles. Not to forget that there are tons of really colorful popping SFX dotting the pages as well, helping complete the fight part of this fight club issue.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #123 is now on sale in print and digitally from IDW Publishing.