Thursday, March 22, 2007

TMNT Raphael Movie Prequel #1

TMNT Raphael Movie Prequel #1, March 2007, Mirage Publishing
writer: Murphy
artist: Fernando Pinto
letterer: Erik Swanson
cover artist: Santiago Bou

I couldn't resist it. As soon as I saw it, my inner child tugged at my pant leg, begging me to buy it for him, and I couldn't resist. I even told myself, you already have an issue to review for A Comic A Day, one related to your week-long series about comics inspired by (and celebrating the big screen return of) the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so forget it. Don't waste the $3.25. That's, like, thirteen comics from the quarter bins. You don't even believe in those movie tie-in issues. You resisted them for Batman Begins, for Superman Returns. You don't need this one, either. You don't need it.

Then I looked from the watering eyes of my inner child to the stone cold eyes of Rafael on the cover of TMNT Raphael Movie Prequel #1 and folded like a cheap suit. I mean, it's Raphael, the coolest turtle of them all! How could I say no . . .

The Ninja Turtles have an almost hypnotic hold on our generation, don't they? With three television series (yes, I could that weird live action series with the female turtle Venus), three live action feature films, and countless comics and action figures under their initialed belts, these heroes in a half-shell are arguably the most successful independently published comic book franchise to date, and as I've said before, their creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird are our modern Seigel and Schuster, venturing into a shaky industry with an even shakier concept. The Turtles may have spawned an onslaught of gimmicky creator-driven projects since, with an emphasis on those books that have sought to mimic the Multi-Adjective Personified Animal motif, but nothing beats the original. Unlike real turtles, these lean green fighting machines were quick to capture the hearts of our generation.

That said, Raphael is the best one. No argument there, right? Ever since the infamous theme of their original cartoon series succinctly established each of the Turtles' personalities, I knew Raphael was destined to be my favorite. Remember: "Leonardo leads/Donatello does machines/Raphael is cool but crude/Michaelangelo is a party dude?" Raph is the only Turtles with a potentially negative intonation in his description -- "cool BUT crude," like its a bad thing. He's the bad boy, even emphasized after the lyric by his snide comment, "Gimme a break!" His shell has a razor edge, man! Forget those sais, 'cause you need to watch out for that razor sharp wit! As a young geek, I took some comfort in the fact that I liked the "cool" one, and I no doubt developed my defensive sarcasm thanks in part to Raphael's "crudeness." The jocks can have Michelangelo. He's going to live with Splinter 'til he's thirty.

TMNT Raphael Movie Prequel is the first of five prequel issues and establishes that the half-shell heroes are about to spend a year apart, as Splinter decides to send Leonardo on a pilgrimage around the world. Don and Mike are excited for their brother but Raph thinks the "daddy's boy" is a bit overrated, as Leo seems to prefer battling Triceratons from outer space over the muggers from their very neighborhood. (The inclusion of Triceratons is a much appreciated effort to connect this incarnation of the Turtles with Eastman and Laird's original volumes.) So, Raphael begins a vigil over Harlem and (Warning! Spoilers ahead!) in fact meets a retired hero that used to do the same. The old man takes Raph in his confidence if only for a conversation, because the poor guy is robbed and shot just minutes after Raph splits. The dying hero bequeaths his hidden outfit and equipment to the Turtle, inadvertently answering Raphael's introspective inquiry about how he can help his downtrodden neighborhood. At the end of this issue, although Raphael doesn't don the outfit, he and Casey Jones (Yes!) are standing atop a roof, ready to leap into action. I presume the film will fill in the rest.

Interestingly, TMNT didn't reboot the Turtles franchise for a new generation, as floundering big screen adaptations have tended to do lately (i.e. Batman, Bond, potentially Star Trek), but instead took the Superman Returns approach, letting the passage of time work in its favor, letting the character marinate in their own maturity and expanded audience potential. Although I doubt we'll see Triceratons in the movie, their very presence in a movie prequel comic implies that everything that came before is in play now, that the brothers' split is the natural step to all that pre-established continuity. I agree. The brothers' inevitable reunion, and the sheer cutting edge medium of their CGI-animated incarnations, will be enough to rope in the kids that only know the Turtles from Hot Topic T-shirts. Further, Fernando Pinto's art combines the campy expressiveness of the cartoon series with the gritty violence of the original comic books, while adding his own touch of illustrative class, creating a modern synthesis that appeals to old and new school alike. The Turtles have actually stood the test of time, the veritable onslaught of fictional fads that could've ruined their chemistry forever. Yeah, living with a shell makes you a little durable, I guess.

So, do I regret the purchase? Actually, yes. I regret purchasing TMNT Raphael Movie Prequel because now I'll have to buy the other five issues. (The fifth issue is reserved for either April or Splinter, I presume.) I'll make my inner child take out the trash and earn it. I know he will. Anybody that can be that faithful to a franchise is bound to be rewarded . . . in this case, the reward is the viability of the franchise itself. Long live Turtle Power!

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