Horror, Thy Name Is Barlow: Reviewing ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ #128
by Scott Redmond
Members of the Splinter Clan find themselves confronting a true house of horrors, as the character-development rich and conceptually varied run that began over two years ago continues to hit all the right notes. Every aspect of this issue embraces, reflects, and enhances the horror vibes that are important for this particular story.
If an apple a day keeps a regular doctor away, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their allies probably need a whole ton more to keep the horrific Doctor Bun at bay. Especially since the doctor’s quest to build duplicates of the Turtles has led to his own Frankenstein-esque stitched together being.
There are many things that have been done so well in this series, one of them being the fact that there is no fear about doing more intimate/smaller focus issues even in the middle of an overall arc. Sophie Campbell narrows the focus here as we witness what Alopex and Donatello (as well as get an update on Sheena) go through in Dr. Barlow’s lab and the next step of the Burnow Island situation with Regenta Seri aged up and on the move.
Not only does the focus change but the overall tone moves from a feeling of all the massive action and loss that was being dealt with, to a different more horror-style situation. No matter what the story is Campbell makes it work perfectly and never lets the character development/world-building fall to the side even when there is tons of action happening. All while moving forward the overall story of Mutant Town, mixing in and modernizing various ’90s TMNT elements, and giving every single character their moments to shine or grow or deal with things.
Through the previous issues, Pablo Tunica and Ronda Pattison have worked together wonderfully to bring a rougher, darker, and more dramatic energy to the pages of this story. There is an inherent chaos to the work that Tunica has done artistically, and here in this issue, it dives ever deeper to perfectly swerve into the realm of horror even more. Everything about Barlow’s lab, his mutant minions, and the experiments he’s conducting on other mutants are terrifyingly gross and ominous.
At the same time, the great emotional work is still in play, and the paneling choices are really great as they add to the horrifying landscape energy. Also, I love the sparseness focus in some panels where backgrounds are washed out in order to put all eyes on the characters or moments that are meant to be the focus.
Pattison’s colors have been duller and Earthier in this arc to match the tone of the story and Tunica’s artwork. That’s not to say they aren’t still colorful with bright spots, as there are a lot of greens and blues and yellows that act as bright sort of filters in a lot of the pages. Not only are the colors Earthy in many ways, but those filter/tints also give a lot of Barlow’s lab a truly sickly sort of feeling, leaving the more warm sorts of tones to the pages on Burnow Island.
Shawn Lee has been able to do a ton with lettering across the wide swath of story arcs this series has had over the years. Little changes to the font sizes or bubbles play into the horror and fantastical tones of the issue, the sort of almost added-out bright bubble used for Donatello and Venus’ telepathic conversations being some of my favorites. They stand out and are just a nice depiction of this sort of conversation, different than what most books with telepathic conversations can look like at times.
Even though his dialogue looks similar to others, Barlow’s words are just dripping with ego and arrogance, and evilness. Finding ways to infuse those personalities and emotions into the words on the page so that we read them that way is such an amazing thing. Many of the correct bits of energy needed for this story are here because of the way that the lettering/dialogue is ultimately presented and would be lost if these elements were not in play.
IDW Publishing’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #128 is now available.