This Time, It’s Personal: Reviewing ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ #137
by Scott Redmond
‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ #137 continues to live up to its character and emotionally focused style while seamlessly interweaving completely with the ongoing ‘The Armageddon Game’ event for a powerful issue that moves so many character beats and plot points forward. Months of building up pay off so perfectly, in a really gorgeous and colorful issue that captures the spirit of these characters and their world on every single page.
If a vast game to decide the fate of the world wasn’t enough now Mutant Town’s got an alien invasion problem. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles continues to tie into the overall TMNT: The Armageddon Game event while also easily being able to focus on and bring some of its own long-building plotlines toward their ultimate destination.
It speaks to how seamlessly the creative teams involved with this event are working together because this issue and TMNT: The Armageddon Game #5 (check out that review here) are perfect companions to one another, one leading right into the other. In the event main title, we see how Colonel Ch’Rell and their forces defeat General Krang (who goes a bit rogue from the plan of the Terrible Trio and Rat King) and begin their assault upon Mutant Town to find the Triceraton Regenta Seri. That invasion and the battle between the Utrom forces and Seri with the Splinter Clan at her side, as well as the arrival of Michelangelo and the Nova Posse, is detailed in this issue after being set up in the event issue. While there are many that don’t like when tie-ins and the event title are a bit dependent upon one another in comics, I’m one of those that doesn’t mind, especially in the case of such a well-crafted and coordinated event like this.
What’s really great about this situation is that the event title has far more pieces to move around and things to get into place, while also hitting character notes, leaving a title like this one to be able to give more detail to these moments and pay forward some of the long-simmering character beats. Sophie Campbell always makes the emotional moments hit no matter what the overall story might be, and in this case, it’s painful and powerful to see Seri coming into her own as she battles the Utroms that have taken the corpses of her people including her mother and come out on top. It speaks to Campbell’s character development skill that seeing Seri leave (at least for the moment) at the end with Nova Posse to take the fight back to Ch’Rell (who of course was a coward and didn’t come in person) made me miss her already. I’m sure this isn’t the last time we’ll see her but her dynamic with the Turtles, Donatello in particular, was really nice and a bit fun even with all the chaos and horror around them.
Whether it’s the family emotional moments or the big battles or everything else in between, Fero Pe and Ronda Pattison do it all such loving justice on the pages. Pe’s style just brings so much life to the pages as everything is detailed and powerful, with such weight and dynamic presence upon the page. All the fight scenes are almost gliding across the pages as the characters move swiftly and logically through the given spaces, especially thanks to such an interesting eye for paneling choices. Even as the action moves outside in this issue there is still a tight focus much like there was in the last issue, except for when they need to expand and give us something wider and bigger to gaze upon. The closer we are to things the more that we can feel that aforementioned emotion and personality on the page because it feels like we’re in the thick of things with the characters.
Everything is just so vibrant and colorful but also has weight and power of its own with the color palate that Pattison has in play. No matter who is drawing the issue her colors shift and change to fit that style yet maintain a distinctiveness and a quality that brings out the best in every single issue. While many elements are very vibrant as I noted there are also more toned-down almost naturalistic feeling colors on the page too in order to give a more grounded/real feeling to the setting and many of the elements that aren’t the mutants or aliens or other fantastical beings that are on the pages.
It’s something I point at time and time again and that won’t change any time soon, but I love the sense of lighting that is always on display here. Previously when they were in the bunker there were a lot of scenes that felt dim to match the dimmer quality of parts of the bunker, while others were better lit by the artificial lights. Here we spend a lot of time outside at night, and it feels like night. There are lights from buildings and the natural light from the moon and such but there are plenty of scenes where the shadows and less light can be seen that feel so authentic and true to how things appear at night in a lesser-lit area.
Authentic and tonally correct can also always be stated about the lettering that Shawn Lee brings every time he tackles an issue. Making sure that the lettering fits any given page and logically flows around, without breaking up important information or blocking off artwork is one side of it, making sure that the emotion and tone, and even volume can be felt is another side of the process. No matter the side or part of the process, Lee does it beautifully and makes sure that every word counts and has power to it. When Seri screams out “For the herd” it’s not just something you see or even ‘hear’ in a sense, you feel it because it’s huge and colorful and her conviction and anger in that moment of the battle ring through the pages and our heads. I can see the family humor as Jennika pokes at Raph when he’s emotional and hugs them, hear the mocking snideness in Ch’Rell’s outbursts, and typical Mikey’s bombastic nature as he bursts onto the scene. Because of how Lee puts it all together we’re not just reading what these characters say or think, we’re feeling every single bit of it.
As a lifelong TMNT fan, diving into this series month after month brings me so much joy because it’s so clear how much Campbell, Pattison, Lee, Pe & the rest of the artists that come in (as well as Tom Waltz and his team over on the main event & the various creators on the other tie-in series) loves these characters and their world. That love radiates off the pages and feels like wrapping oneself in the warmest comfiest beloved of blankets. Even when the battles are tough and the emotions are all over the place and the characters are facing the toughest of odds, they are heroes through and through and a family and I just love it all.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #137 is now available from IDW Publishing.