Title: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 12: Vengeance, Part 1
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Writer: Kevin Eastman, Bobby Curnow, and Tom Waltz
Artist: Mateus Santolouco, with Charles Paul Wilson III (Ch. 1), Dan Duncan (Ch. 3), Sophie Campbell (Ch. 3), and Cory Smith (Ch. 3)
Colorist: Ronda Pattison
Letterer: Shawn Lee
Spoiler Warning! This review talks about the plot of the graphic novel being reviewed. I try to avoid mentioning anything I see as a major twist or reveal, but I don’t guarantee it. Read at your own risk!
As usual when I review an IDW licensed title, I feel the need to add the disclaimer that I’m already a big fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise and have also read the entirety of the main IDW series up to this point. If you’re not already a fan who reads the series, this is a poor jumping-on point for either. For those of us who have been following TMNT, the creative team has delivered another strong storyline. I’m going to drop another extra spoiler warning — talking about Volume 12 necessitates I spoil one particularly salient point of Volume 11, Attack on Technodrome.
At the climax of Attack on Technodrome, Rocksteady broke open Donatello’s shell with a sledgehammer and left him for dead. The first two pages of Volume 12, drawn by Charles Paul Wilson III, find Donnie in a grove with a cherry blossom tree. Before he walks into a nearby light, he meets the spirit of his mother, who has previously appeared to Leonardo. Wilson’s art immediately signals that there’s a different setting and excellently distinguishes the spirit world from the physical, drawn by frequent TMNT artist Mateus Santolouco. The art for Chapter 1 alternates between Wilson and Santolouco as the story shifts between worlds. I’d like to give special recognition to letterer Shawn Lee for Mother Yoshi’s ghostly, ethereal dialogue, which was a nice touch.
Vengeance, Part 1’s story sets the stage for the rest of the Vengeance storyline while starting to expand the hints of mythology seen previously in the pages of TMNT and going deeper with Casey Jones’ character arc. To save Donatello’s life, the Fugitoid transfers his mind into turtle robot Metalhead while they look for a way to heal his broken body. This move really works for me because Donnie’s affinity for tech is a defining aspect of his character, and while this isn’t the first time a version of Donatello has integrated with technology, I always see it as a natural progression for him, whether he becomes a cyborg, as in the Image Comics series, or actually becomes a robot, as he does here. Donnie’s family copes with his injuries in their unique ways, highlighting the creative team’s grasp of the characters and what I believe is a central tenet of every incarnation TMNT: the theme of family. Leonardo tries to lose himself in his leadership role, Mikey holds on to hopeful desperation to the point of prayer, and Raphael angrily blames himself while Splinter seeks Donnie’s soul in the spirit world.
Vengeance Part 1 also explores other family dynamics, namely that of the Foot Clan, and that of Casey Jones with his father, Hun. The Foot believe Shredder to have died in Volume 11, which his granddaughter Karai blames on trusting outsiders – the turtles and the Mutanimals, who left them to fight General Krang’s army after an uneasy truce. She declares that they can no longer work with those not of the clan, but when Shredder returns, he reveals that he has partnered with megalomaniacal inventor Baxter Stockman. When Karai tries to appeal to Shredder’s sense of honor, he states very plainly that he knows there is nothing honorable about vengeance. What’s very expertly implied by both writing and art is that he doesn’t care. He has never hated Hamato Yoshi more. Hun also believes Shredder is dead, and having gotten good and drunk, he goes to the O’Neil residence to tell Casey that they can be a family again because he doesn’t have to kill Casey for the Foot. It’s simple to him, but it’s simple for Casey, too – Shredder’s death doesn’t mean anything, because Hun was always an abusive, alcoholic bully. Casey’s ongoing fight against his father has been an interesting aspect of the IDW series; he tries not to become like Hun, but in so doing, he resorts to violence, which is one of Hun’s go-to solutions.
Santolouco, as ever, seriously delivers on the art. One of my favorite details in Santolouco’s issues of TMNT is how he draws the turtles’ masks as unique. Leo’s, for example, is straight and largely unblemished, while Raph’s has very rough cuts around its edges. Small details on machinery, from Metalhead’s dings and dents to Fugitoid’s armor plates, give the objects character. The way he draws fighting is unbelievable, with palpable energy and speed. When Casey Jones first appears in this volume, he is a demon in the shadows before rushing forward toward the reader, breaking panel borders, brandishing a cricket bat. His hockey mask makes him look inhuman. Santolouco also gets the chance to demonstrate his versatility when April examines a scroll, filled with ancient depictions of the Immortal characters and esoteric script.
If there is any weak link in Vengeance Part 1, it’s the unfortunate placement of the recap issue from Free Comic Book Day. There is a little bit of new content in which the turtles run into Hun’s army of Purple Dragons as he leads them to the O’Neils’. However, because it’s placed between Issue 46, which ends with Hun arriving to fight Casey, and Issue 47, which begins exactly where 46 ended, it slows the story. The placement makes sense, but because I’ve been following the series, I found little to hold me there.
Nevertheless, Vengeance Part 1 is on par with the consistently strong quality of this series. It has set up great things for Volume 13, which I assume will include the much-touted double-sized Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #50. The series shows no signs of stopping, so I look forward to many more issues of IDW’s TMNT.