Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters, Dark Horse, Dennis Hopeless, Dial H, Erik Burnham, Geriatric Gangrene Jujitsu Gerbils, IDW, Liz Lemon, Madman, Mateus Santoluoco, Matt Kindt, Meru, Mike Norton, Mind MGMT, Shredder, Steve Ditko, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Answer, The Mask, The Question, TMNT: The Secret History of the Foot Clan
“I’ll take Superheroes for $100 Alex.”
“This 2013 Dark Horse comic by Mike Norton and Dennis Hopeless featured a lead character with an exclamation point on his face.”
“What is The Answer?”
Derek Mainhart: What indeed? This romp of a first issue involves conspiracy theories, pseudo-philosophies, and other trivial pursuits dressed up in whizbang! superhero tropes. The action revolves around everywoman Devin MacKenzie, as she unwittingly gets embroiled in deadly intrigue replete with brain-teasers and begoggled, gun-toting assassins. Well, ‘unwitting‘ is perhaps the wrong word; Devin is a garden-variety genius whose propensity for puzzle-solving is what gets her into this fine mess. Bursting in to save her is the eponymous hero, his earnestly goofy mask the perfect expression of good ol’-fashioned costumed action. And ‘bursting’ is the right word, as Norton’s art evokes the bombast of the Silver Age greats, like the artist whose work partly inspired this book, the legendary Steve Ditko. Indeed it is difficult (damn near impossible for this reader) not to relate this comic to Ditko’s own quirky anti-hero, The Question. That singular man of mystery had an unflinchingly black and white view of morality, and served as a vehicle for its creators idiosyncratic brand of Ayn Rand-inspired philosophy. This book, by contrast, casts the villain as a soul patch-sporting motivational speaker selling ersatz-Randian jargon to the desperate masses. So, though the admiration of Ditko’s work is clearly evident, there also seems to be a touch of gentle parody at play. (There is also something of the anarchic spirit of Madman and The Mask in these pages, though not quite so over the top. But here’s hoping.) A comic book parody of a semi-obscure series from a famous recluse? Sound a little too comic-book in-jokey for you? Well luckily, Norton and Hopeless have crafted a book that can be enjoyed in a straightforward manner as well. The action is propulsive, the mystery, intriguing, the hero, just the right side of preposterous. And in Devin, they’ve created an engaging, brainy, and downright funny lead character (Liz Lemon comes to mind) who is sharp enough to quip at her ever-increasing peril, and sensible enough to be terrified.
Is this comic a conspiracy-driven plot with metaphysical undertones? Or is it a lighthearted satire of one? The Answer: is fun.
TMNT: The Secret History of the Foot Clan #2 (IDW): Now here’s a book that snuck in under the radar. I’ve never been a big fan of the Turtles. I was a tad too old for them when the craze hit in the late ’80s. Honestly, what little I know of them is from their sheer pop cultural ubiquity. The only reason I picked up this book is because of how much I dug Mateus Santolouco’s art on Dial H. I fully expected to be one-and-done on this. Yet here we are, two issues in and I’m fascinated!
Scott Carney: And I’m pretty fascinated, too. I had no idea that I’d like this as much as I do. Like you, I don’t have an investment in the Turtles; I mean, I haven’t purchased a TMNT book since #2 way back in the day. Hmm. Maybe I should go find where that is. Memories. Flooding. Back. Mini-regret: I abandoned the Turtles after one book but bought a few of the many rip-offs: silly parodies that featured gerbils and hamsters, if I’m recalling them correctly. Annnnnd a quick Google search reveals that I am. Check ’em out:
So, thanks to Santolouco and co-scripter Erik Burnham , I’ve scored more Turtle books in the last month than I have in the past twenty-eight years or so. What works so well here? It’s the secret history that‘s doing the bulk of the work for me; I was drawn into a fresh story that unapologetically pulls, in part, from the spectacular period pieces of the Beijing New Picture Film Co., renowned for their epic stories, lush settings, and unparalleled action sequences. As it turned, I didn’t have to worry about the Turtles and their cartoonish rep too much: they’re used more so to keep Dr. Miller’s compelling history lesson in some sort of context–not that it needed it to be effective, mind you. Heck: toss out the Testudines–leave ’em spinning on their shells!–and you’ve got something more effective than most of what I’ve read from Marvel of late.
DM: I agree. What’s most intriguing about this book is the way Sanatlouco and Burnham are presenting the history as being discovered in an almost archeological sense. Combined with the interweaving elements of folklore, this gives the story a real sense of breadth.
SC: As is, that first issue was certainly good enough to warrant my picking up number two; and wouldn’t you know, the second issue does a fine job tying together the Turtles and their conflict with the modern-day Foot Clan–established energetically in the initial knock-around–with the still-unfolding background of Shredder’s band of bad guys. In the final panel, Saki, with book in hand, turns pages intently to learn of his mysterious legacy. That’s how I’m gonna look when #3 comes out: I can’t wait to see where Sanotloucco goes with this! And, having said that, I still can’t believe I’m buying a TMNT book!
One book I believe in more than any other being published right now is Dark Horse’s Mind MGMT. After a bit of a break, it’s back with issue #7; and Matt Kindt clearly hasn’t skipped a beat. In fact, he’s added an extra beat just to jazz things up a bit: Meru resignedly compares herself to Kerouac and Lyme to Dean Moriarty as the two hit the road, as she tries to make sense of what she’s heard and seen–what’s she’s learned about Mind Management.
The artwork is just as terrific as ever, with Kindt’s trademark watercolors splashed across every page, amplifying and tempering tones enough to stir up an undertow that sucks the reader in and refuses to let go. And while Meru’s interrogation of Brinks–during which he spills his brains–is gripping enough on its own, Kindt doesn’t stop there: he once again plays up the extras–including, quite literally, a side story served up with Verve; an illustrated and informative footer, which tracks the evolution of a killer tool: the assassination letter; and an incredibly smashing case file–to add even more value to the already complex narrative, which insists upon the reader’s complete attention. It also demands to be named Book of the Week. To be honest, I can’t think of another book that deserves it more. Wait. I, umm–I can’t even think of another book. Geez, I could’ve sworn I read something else this week. Hmm. Guess not. So, yeah: Mind MGMT #7 is our Book of the Week. If you haven’t jumped on board yet, what are you waiting for? A letter? Gosh, I hope not.
Derek & Scott