Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Casey and April Review

TMNT-Casey-April-TPB

Title: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Casey and April

Publisher: IDW Publishing

Writer: Mariko Tamaki

Artist: Irene Koh

Colorist: Paul Reinwand (Ch. 1) and Brittany Peer (Ch. 2-4)

Letterer: Shawn Lee

Review:  ★★☆☆☆

Spoiler Warning!  This review talks about the plot of the graphic novel being reviewed.  Read at your own risk!

I’m an easy mark for IDW’s licensed properties because I love Transformers and TMNT, but when the books are so good, I usually can’t complain much.  Even when they take the Turtles out of a Ninja Turtles title, I’ll give it a look.  I’m sad to say I was rather disappointed by Casey and April, the newly-collected miniseries about the Turtles’ stalwart human companions.  I’ve been generally impressed by how the main title has characterized Casey Jones and April O’Neil, but very little of that character work is on display in this particular story.

Not long ago in the main TMNT title, April came into possession of a scroll she thought might lead her to more information about the immortals the Turtles have been encountering.  After studying it, she decided it indicated a location in the Mojave Desert.  Seeing an opportunity to both gather information and temporarily escape the chaos of living in the Turtles’ New York, April and Casey hit the road.  Though they get into a bit of a lovers’ quarrel, a dangerous encounter with the immortal Rat King reminds them how much they mean to each other.
I’ll start with the positive.  First, both colorists work wonders.  The desert environments look great.  Bright sunlight shines on clay and cacti, and April wears a vivid purple jacket that goes nicely with her red hair.  It’s a nice contrast to the subdued grit that tends to run through the main title, which separates Casey and April in tone as well as geographical distance.  Second, Irene Koh draws with Eastern influence that I think fits well for a story about a young couple on a road trip.  She creates some really expressive moments of acting that are complemented by her stylization.  Third, Mariko Tamaki hints at good character work with Casey’s anger and April’s childhood feelings of being different because she was gifted.

Unfortunately, that work comes to naught.  In a psychological labyrinth created by the Rat King and his swan-like sister Aka, April sees a memory of her father giving her a lesson about perseverance when she’s discouraged by a school project, and Casey relives the first time he used his hockey mask to hide from the emotional turmoil his abusive father caused him.  These moments, particularly Casey’s, hit on really nuanced points that haven’t been thoroughly addressed in the main title, and they track with what that title’s writers have done with them.  But it feels like these threads are just forgotten in favor of introducing Aka and doing some vague foreshadowing about an upcoming conflict.  The resolution of the conflict with the Rat King is an anticlimax, and it never felt particularly escalated in the first place.

There’s an awkwardness to how April and Casey interact early on that I don’t understand.  They’ve been together for a while now, and they’re comfortable with each other.  Maybe I’m misremembering how they were when they left New York, but I don’t remember them being on the rocks.  Even if they had been, I think their dynamic still would’ve felt odd, and inconsistent with the main title.  And while I think Koh’s work serves the story well on the whole, some aspects could be flat, and I found this most often with Peer’s colors, so perhaps neither is more to blame than the other.  Perspectives look off, and so do faces when a character’s mouth is open in some shade of agitation or dismay.

The biggest disappointment of Casey and April, however, is that it’s inconsequential.  They find few facts on their fact-finding mission, and the readers learn very little about the immortals that they wouldn’t already know from reading IDW’s other TMNT material.  It introduces Aka, who is well-designed, but she says that when the war comes, she’ll disappear, so it’s hard to say if she’ll be important later.  I want to say that much of the story’s pitfalls happen because it’s almost entirely removed from the Turtles, but that would be to imply I don’t find Casey or April interesting.  And as I said, Tamaki and Koh know what’s interesting about these incarnations of the characters.  It’s just a shame that they ultimately miss the mark by not expanding on the moments they do hit.

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