By Arpad Okay. Why pick up a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles book when there isn’t a single terrapin in sight? They’re not needed here. Universe skips the franchise tentpole and heads straight for the essence of the series, animal-people who have to stay hidden from the world. Action. Unforgettable characters. Heart.
This new issue plays with a pulp standard. Old enemies who don’t know they’re all on the hunt for the same man. Mighty Mutanimals Ray (a manta ray) and Sally Pride (a lioness) are on a recruitment road trip. They’re out searching for monsters, because odds are the monsters of their world are as vulnerable and in need of protection and friendship as, well, the Mighty Mutanimals. Sally and Ray don’t know who they’re looking for, but they find him. Dreadmon, a drifter, part man, part beast. The only problem? The Gang of Four, robo-wolf mercenaries, have their sights set on Dreadmon as well, to get him to join their cabal.
It’s a classic conundrum, the ill-timed crossing of paths, opposites with the same goal, replete with shootouts, car chases, superhuman strength, acrobatics, fisticuffs. Dreadmon isn’t going without a fight, the Mutanimals don’t leave other mutants unprotected, the Gang never gives up on their prey.
What makes all this violence TMNT-specific is it’s the creatures who do the fighting. Yes, werewolves. But, cybertronic. The aesthetic is equal parts Island of Dr. Moreau and space-tech sci-fi. Canis lupus on two legs, mechanical arms ripping the roof off a truck. Dreadmon is a rasta jackal, painted fur and hip clothes, as streetwise diaspora as the Gang of Four are space army. And our heroes, a lighthearted gearhead jungle cat and a swole fish man. Aaron Conley and Triona Farrell’s art occupies that sweet spot, mixing serious and fun. It’s perfect for the story, perfect for TMNT.
And Rich Douek is just the man to pen it. He brings you the weirdest characters and grounds them, gives them spirit. Not just potshots, snarls, and getaways. Caged animal folks extending empathy between the bars. Complicated backstories. This could be a book about a cool dog dude. It isn’t. It’s a story of a refugee, a mutant with a code, a real life interrupted by outsiders’ agendas. Sally and Ray wrestle with their motives as much as with their opponents. That’s the point of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic. Fun. And feels.
Written by Rich Douek.
Art by Aaron Conley.
Colors by Triona Farrell.
Letters by Shawn Lee.
7 out of 10