TMNT: Out of the Shadows and Mikey’s Cloudcuckoolanderness

One of the many, many aspects of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows that was a massive improvement on the not-very-good first film was Michelangelo. To put it bluntly, in the first movie Michelangelo came across as a budding sex offender – pretty much every single line he uttered revolved around his extremely sexual obsession with April O’Neil, often in very tonally inappropriate places. It was, to put it simply, creepy.

And yes, I know previous iterations of Michelangelo (the 1990 and 2003 versions) have asked “Can we keep her?” about April as well…. but that seemed a lot less sexual and lot more childlike.

Well, thankfully they dialed that back to a single joke line in the sequel (which he is immediately tased for), and Mikey even seems completely cool with the idea of April dating Casey Jones. Instead, he’s rewritten to be more in line with many other depictions of Michelangelo – a pop-culture-loving, skateboarding, soft-hearted sometimes-cloudcuckoolander, the most childlike and most loving of the four Turtles.

And they definitely made him a cloudcuckoolander, at least some of the time. In fact, it initially seems a little inconsistent – sometimes he’s just a little flaky and sweet, and sometimes he’s absolutely spaced out of what is going on around him and has no idea what people are talking about. Take the scene where Raph is running his master plan past April and Casey – Mikey’s only contribution is a strange, staring-eyed declaration of “You’re right,” and then he spends the entire scene eating pizza and not noticing what anyone else is saying.

And after rewatching the movie a few times, I think I’ve nailed down why. Mikey becomes a cloudcuckoolander and detaches from what is happening around him when he’s suffering some kind of emotional distress.

About halfway through the movie, Mikey overhears Leonardo and Donatello secretly discussing a purple alien goo that might be able to turn them into humans, or at least make them look human externally (the movie is little vague). Mikey then goes to Raphael and tells him everything – not because he actually wants Raphael to do anything, but because he just needs to vent his feelings. When Raphael predictably blows up and goes off to confront Leo, Mikey physically tries to stop him because he desperately doesn’t want his brothers to fight. It’s played for laughs, but his distress is very obvious.

Unsurprisingly, Leo and Raph end up angry at each other, having a fight, and eventually Leo and Donnie leave on a mission without Raph and Mikey. When Raphael rages about how he’s going to get his hands on the purple goo without Leo, Mikey… well, he agrees with Raph, but emphasizes repeatedly that he does not understand what Raph is doing.

This seems to be the first of the two situations in which Mikey goes cloudcuckoolander: strife in his family. He’s always at his best when he and his brothers are united, and when they work together, he seems fairly sharp mentally. But he seems to actively withdraw from the world around him when his brothers are fighting, because he cannot cope with it, and he cannot fix it by himself.

This also applies to taking part in Raph’s plan. Mikey goes along with Raph’s plan because… well, he’s kind of a people-pleaser. But he withdraws from the conversation when Raph is scheming behind Leo’s back, and drawing Casey and April into his plan. This is clearly not something Leo will put up with, so Mikey withdraws rather than taking an active role.

The other situation is after Raph and Mikey’s plan to infiltrate police headquarters goes boobies-up, and the brothers are all exposed to the eyes of the entire NYPD. Exposure is less upsetting to Mikey, however, than the reactions of some of the cops: they’re called “monsters” and treated with fear, horror and hate. This visibly hurts Mikey from the very moment it happens, even though it’s coming from total strangers.

When they return to the lair, Mikey reveals his hurt and misery to his father Splinter, who tries to reassure him, but obviously nothing your parents say is going to overcome rejection by the entire human race. And about a minute later, when Donatello identifies where Bebop and Rocksteady are, Mikey has become a cloudcuckoolander once again, giving a silly answer that doesn’t make any sense. Once again, he’s withdrawing from a situation that is hurting him, and only reemerges in subsequent scenes, where he and his brothers are more or less getting along and there are no non-villainous humans to hurt him.

I don’t know if this pattern was deliberately placed in the script by the writers, but it definitely does exist, and it honestly makes Mikey feel like a much more vulnerable and sweet-natured person. He just hates conflict among people he loves, and he wants to be loved and accepted for who he is rather than what he is. And who can dislike that?

All meditations on Mikey aside, I recommend Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows very highly. It’s not what you’d call a very good movie, or a particularly smart one, and it bungles the character of Casey Jones. But it does have a lot of love for the franchise and characters in general, and it makes you really like and feel the connection between the brothers.

And it enjoys throwing in over-the-top spectacle, such as the Turtles battling Rocksteady and Bebop on a crashing plane… using a tank. It’s wonderful. It’s just a fun popcorn movie, and no, you don’t need to have seen the first Bayverse movie to understand it.

Review: Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles miniseries is one of my favorite comic books of all time, so you can imagine how loudly I yelled when news of an animated adaptation hit the Internet.

And though it deviates from the comics in some substantial ways (for instance, the idea of Batman and the Turtles coming from different dimensions is completely dispensed with), Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a prime example of a fun romp. It’s heavy on memorable fight scenes, colorful transformations, and some gentle ribbing on both the franchises, and a great crossover that allows both Batman and the Turtles to shine in equal measure. Just don’t expect the “versus” to last very long.

When an experimental generator is stolen, Batgirl (Rachel Bloom) has a very strange account of events – how enemy ninjas invaded the laboratory, and fought four “lizard-men.” Batman (Troy Baker) vows to stop them from stealing more equipment, and soon discovers that the enemy ninjas are led by the masked, bladed Shredder (Andrew Kishino). He also encounters four mutant Turtles who are attempting to stop Shredder, brothers Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo (Eric Bauza, Darren Criss, Baron Vaughn and Kyle Mooney). And after some initial misunderstandings, the two families join forces.

And thanks to Robin (Ben Giroux), they soon get a picture of what Shredder is planning to do – he’s joined forces with the malevolent Ra’s al Ghul, and is building a machine that could potentially mutate all of Gotham. But first, they’re going to mutate the residents of Arkham Asylum, unleashing a terrifying band of mutants who might just be able to take down Batman and the Turtles. And even if the heroes survive the encounter, they still have two armies of evil ninja waiting to cause mass mayhem.

There isn’t a lot of actual “versus” in Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (they get over their antagonism pretty fast), but this little crossover knows why you’re here – to see Batman hang out with everybody’s favorite mutant reptiles, combining the dark brooding seriousness of Gotham with the lighter but still action-packed Turtle aesthetic. Batman’s world brings some darkness to the Turtles (mutated Harley Quinn is strangely nightmarish), while the Turtles bring some fun to Batman (Michelangelo dressing up in Batman’s cowl and riding his T-Rex).

And, of course, to see awesome fight scenes such as Shredder going toe-to-toe with Batman, which is a fight that you probably never knew you needed desperately to see. In fact, the movie is packed with such action – dodging Mr. Freeze’s blasts of ice, a frenzied vehicular battle against the Foot Clan, attacks from mutated ninja, and of course some nasty battles in Arkham. They’re not bloodless either – we get shuriken in the head, broken teeth, and quite a few people are killed in rather messy ways, ranging from arrows to explosions.

And of course, the movie seems very aware of how awesome this team-up is, and never hesitates to trot out the stuff that will make your inner eight-year-old cheer (the long chase involving the Turtle Van and a certain giant mutant). Perhaps the biggest stumble is the decision to have Batman and the Turtles as natives of the same universe, rather than from parallel Earths – it’s hard to believe that people in the far-off land of New York would think that Batman, one of the greatest superheroes of all time and a well-documented presence, is just an urban legend.

The voice acting is pretty strong here, especially for Batman, the Turtles, Ra’s al Ghul and Robin. The characters are also given a fair amount of fleshing out, considering the action-heavy storyline. They’re all familiar forms of the characters we know and love (Raphael is a rebel who clashes with Leonardo over how to treat bad guys, Batman is a brooding loner, Michelangelo is the fun-loving one who squees over cool stuff), but we have some nice moments such as Leonardo struggling through a nightmare of his brothers’ gruesome deaths, and his feelings of guilt.

For anyone familiar with either franchise – or both, preferably – Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a fun rollercoaster ride of mildly bloody action, awesome battles, and the best crossover team-up that every geek has ever wanted to see. It has a few adaptational flaws, but taken on its own merits, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Macro-Series

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When a comic book series runs for a hundred issues — plus a lot of accompanying miniseries, side-series and specials — you can expect there to be a number of plot threads that need to be tied up.

And some of those plot threads are wrapped up — or at least twisted in a new direction — in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Macro-Series,” which provides individual adventures for each of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And like the Turtles themselves, the stories provide plenty of variety — the artwork ranges from rough-hewn to exquisitely atmospheric, and the tales dip into everything from family drama to bloody angsty action.

In Donatello’s tale, the genius Turtle reconnects with his ex-friend Harold Lilja, over a new project. Donnie wants to create a device that can effectively predict the future, allowing him to keep his brothers and friends from suffering. But his work attracts the attention of someone far more dangerous than Harold: Metalhead, his robotic doppelgänger, who has his own reasons for seeing the project come to fruition. But can Donatello trust him?

In Michelangelo’s story, the Turtles have brought a number of orphaned children to the Foot Clan, hoping that Splinter will take them in. He agrees — on the condition that they are trained as the next generation of Foot ninja. While his brothers reluctantly agree, a horrified Michelangelo can’t accept this situation, and openly rebels against his father in order to save the children.

In Leonardo’s tale, the Turtles are spending some quiet time in the countryside at April’s family farm, trying to manage astral travel. A troubled Leo goes on a walk in the woods to be alone with his thoughts, only to run into an old enemy — Koya the hawk mutant, who still wants to kill him for crippling her wings. But his fight with Koya takes an unexpected turn, and the Turtle brothers encounter an old enemy who might become a valuable ally.

And finally, Raphael takes a solitary walk after some roughhousing with Casey, only to be captured by Agent Bishop and the Earth Protection Force. For any mutant unlucky enough to be caught, that’s a death sentence. In danger of being murdered and dissected, Raphael must harness all the rage and pain of two lifetimes to escape his enemies — as well as the grief he still feels over the loss of his very first friend.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Macro-Series” takes the opportunity to further some subplots in the series (Harold Lillja, Metalhead, Koya, Mikey’s strained relationship with the increasingly cruel Splinter) while also laying out groundwork for future storylines (Raphael’s torment at Bishop’s hands, forming a tenuous alliance with a former foe). Basically, anyone who follows the IDW comic books — and why wouldn’t you? — will see its many intertwined subplots leaping forward.

It also is a very emotionally charged collection. The Donatello issue is perhaps the weakest simply because it has less of that raw emotion that suffuses the others, though Donatello’s loneliness without normal friends is palpable. Raphael’s story is a raw ball of pain, blood and sorrow, including the wrenching sight of his hysterical, confused panic when he first mutated. Mikey’s story is taut with simmering anger and a fierce protectiveness. And Leo’s is more subdued, but it reflects both his troubled spirit and his deep love for his brothers.

It also has some very good art here. Brahm Revel’s rough-hewn, sketchy artwork takes some getting used to, but he does do a good job conveying emotions and Metalhead’s form. Michael Dialynas’s art has a lot of splashes of color and expressive faces, and Ben Bishop’s style is grounded, stocky and splattered with blood and broken glass. And Sophie Campbell’s art is absolutely divine — I particularly loved the montage of the Turtles spending time with one another at the farm, at peace and happy.

For those who are lucky enough to read the IDW Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Macro Series” is a must read, both for the stories and for the chance to catch up with our favorite anthropomorphic turtles.

Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 1: Change is Constant

In 2011, IDW Comics made a very exciting announcement: they would be publishing a brand new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book series, completely separate from the series that had been published before.

And I have to say, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 1: Change is Constant is a promising launch for this new series. While the basic story of four ninjutsu-practicing anthropomorphic reptiles (tutored by a wise old rat) is there, Tom Waltz and Kevin Eastman (yes, the guy who co-created the Turtles) add some new elements to the franchise even as they remix some stuff from previous iterations.

Every night, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Leonardo, Donatello and Michelangelo – search for their missing brother Raphael, and fight off the street gangs of the mutant cat Old Hob with their father Splinter. However, the Turtles are beginning to lose heart, and Donatello is convinced that their father’s quest for Raphael is motivated by guilt at losing one of his sons, and that Raphael is probably dead.

He’s wrong, of course. Elsewhere in New York, Raphael wanders the streets as a shunned vagrant, unaware that his brothers even exist, and rooting through trash for basic sustenance. Then he stumbles across a man beating his teenage son Casey Jones, and rushes in to the rescue. He and Casey strike up an instant rapport, but their nightly excursion takes them into a dangerous confrontation with Old Hob’s gang.

And through flashbacks, we see how the Turtles came to be what they are – as adorable little lab experiments at Baxter Stockman’s genetics lab, and given their Renaissance names by an intern named April O’Neil. But something sinister is afoot at StockGen, and the four Turtles – plus Splinter, who is smarter than any ordinary rat – are swept up in a bizarre attack that transforms them forever. Shockingly, it involves glowing green goo.

As a start for a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book series, Change is Constant is a good pretty good launchpad. It throws the audience right into the action and quickly establishes where the central four characters are and what they’re doing – which is particularly important when one of the Turtles has been separated from his brothers for his entire mutant life and doesn’t even know about his family. Why yes, it is really wrenching to see poor Raphael wandering the streets alone, looking like he’s about to cry.

And it smoothly introduces new versions of classic characters (April O’Neil, Casey Jones, Baxter Stockman) as well as a handful of new ones, particularly the vicious mutant cat Old Hob. The story unfolds both in the present and the past, and by doing so, Waltz and Eastman weave in a number of moments that either make you go “Oh, so that explains it” (such as why Old Hob hates Splinter and the Turtles so much) or lays groundwork for future plot developments. The latter includes a rather mysterious line of Splinter’s about how he is the Turtles’ father and sensei “as before.” Stay tuned.

It also does a pretty good establishing the Turtles’ personalities, rather than just relying on readers’ familiarity. Leonardo is the dutiful, filial one who does sword practice in his spare time, Donatello is a pragmatist and has a rather antagonistic relationship with Leonardo because of it, Michelangelo is the easygoing and peacemaking one, and Raphael is the lonely brawler who lights up when he makes his first friend.

Dan Duncan provides some decent artwork here – the art style is rough but decent, and character designs are lanky and weedy and, in the case of the Turtles and Hob, pretty muscled. The only flaw is that… well, for some reason he makes the Turtles’ eyes completely white… when their masks are off. They look possessed.

But despite the eyes of the demon disciples, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 1: Change is Constant is a pretty solid start to an excellent comic book series, whether for newcomers or longtime fans who can spot all the references.

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