What I didn't expect was such a well written column. I want to thank John (CJJ) for the review and for getting in touch.
Scattered Thoughts: Tales of the TMNT #64 (“The Burning Man”)
A Review by CJJ
If you’re a hardcore TMNT fan, then it is highly likely that you’re familiar with the writing of Tristan Jones, who was responsible for coming up with several of the storylines used in Tales of the TMNT Volume Two. Jones, who participates on a semi-regular basis at the Technodrome Forums, one of the largest growing TMNT fan communities online, has accomplished several notable feats as a writer for Mirage—most notably, the introduction of Hunter Mason into the Mirage canon in issue #56. Hun is one of my own personal favorite TMNT villains of all time, and I was just as stoked over Hun’s appearance in Tales #56 as I was when Karai finally got her own action figure. Hun, as you, the reader, should know, was originally a TMNT cartoon character, and Jones (Tristan, not Casey) handled him extremely well in issue #56. He has since appeared in Tales in #59, which also introduces Lauren Stanton, a character who seems most likely to have been based off of Judith Hoag’s portrayal of April O’ Neil in the first TMNT movie, which hit the big screen in 1990.
While these are both amazing issues, I am writing this review to praise Tristan’s most recent feat, Tales of the TMNT #64, “The Burning Man.” Initially, I was not all that excited about this issue—the buy-out still had some of us quite confused and/or bummed, nor did I have the means to pick it up immediately after it came out. So I read “The Burning Man” the same day I read “Donatello: The Brain Thief” Parts 3 and 4. I also picked up yet another reprint of TMNT Vol.1 Issue 1, which I have read more times than I can count. I picked up four TMNT books in one visit to the comic book store, and of the four, “The Burning Man” was what made the trip worth it.
It seems to me that, for the most part, Paul Harmon’s visuals are most appropriate to Tristan’s writing style, but I actually think that Lawson was a better choice with respect to this particular issue. Usually Tristan’s TMNT stories are serious and dark with little humor/comic relief. This issue is particularly interesting because it deviates from Tristan’s usual projects in a number of ways. Instead of an extremely serious story illustrated by either Harmon or Ponce, we have what is a somewhat light-hearted story illustrated by Jim Lawson. Lawson’s style has changed and evolved significantly over the years, and while Lawson’s style can indeed work for serious, darker stories (“Sons of the Silent Age” by Stephen Murphy comes to mind), it is hard to imagine what this issue would look like illustrated by Harmon or Ponce. While both are extremely talented artists (Ponce’s visuals made #61 the great issue that it is, just as Harmon’s visuals did for #’s 56 and 59), I don’t think either of their styles would have been appropriate to a story such as this one. This story is enough like an acid trip as it is.
For those of you who have tried to write TMNT stories of your own (for fun, of course), you may have noticed that Michelangelo is EXTREMELY hard to write. I have no idea why this is. Michelangelo’s complexity as a character is one of the universe’s greatest paradoxes. Raphael, Leonardo, and Donatello are all relatively easy to write in comparison. Since these characters are archetypes, none of them should be all that difficult to write. Definitely not the case. Especially with regards to Michelangelo.
I think part of this story’s appeal is seeing Michelangelo in a situation that demands a certain amount of maturity that he may very well lack, and Jones presents us with an interesting internal struggle. Michelangelo went from being everyone’s favorite turtle back in the ’80s and ‘90s to being considered an annoying little shit by many fans. This is for the most part due to the way he has been portrayed in the more recent cartoon series and most recent TMNT movie. In “The Burning Man,” Michelangelo makes an earnest attempt to recruit the reader to his way of thinking in regards to the events that have transpired over the course of the crazy week he has just lived. He is frustrated with Leonardo, who seems to be acting more as a means of validating his own ego (Michelangelo even goes so far as to compare him to Raph, which is actually a very good observation), and criticizes Donatello’s communication equipment, which “never works when we need it to.” All the turtles have tendencies towards psychological vulnerability; I guess that’s what happens when you grow up in a sewer. This issue would do just as well if titled “The Blame Game,” since this story seems to be less about the burning man as a threat and more about the turtles’ inability to work as a team at whatever age they are in this particular story.
What really impressed me about this story was its complexity. You really have to read between the lines. I’ve read this issue three times now, and I notice something new/have some great new realization about Michelangelo or the turtles every time I read it. Michelangelo seems extremely aware of the reputation he has built over the years, and seems to be attempting to make a counter-argument in his own favor before the 25th Anniversary runs out. He makes a decent attempt, but I also feel that most fans will be apt to question his sincerity on the basis of his own theatricality. He caricatures Leonardo as the stereotypical ego-driven vigilante type to the point that the caricature itself must be questioned. He also tells several small white lies over the course of the narrative, but goes on to rectify them immediately, almost as if we might find out he’s lying and no longer trust his narration, or as if he doesn’t want to manipulate the one person whose respect he might actually be able to gain—the reader’s.
It is always a relief to come across as writer as versatile and competent as Tristan Jones, and this reader can only hope that he receives more TMNT work in the future, which assumes that Viacom will do something remotely serious and/or geared to an older audience with the turtles. It will be a pity if this story arc meets the same fate as Murphy’s “Forever War” (it will also be ironic, considering that Tales of the TMNT Vol. 2 is ending after issue #70; since the Archie TMNT series ended after issue #72).