Here’s the premiere of a new weekly feature, the “Reading List,” where Overthinking It writers will analyze books, comics, and other media that they’d be reading anyway. In this installment, Richard Rosenbaum discusses the four comic books he’s been reading this week. Pick up any of these titles at your local comic book shop, or at the Amazon Affiliate Links below.
Assume a blanket spoiler warning for all of the series that are discussed below.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Amazing Adventures #1
Good way to start a new Overthinking It feature: with a new comics series! Sort of. See, IDW had already been publishing a tie-in book with the ongoing TMNT cartoon on Nickelodeon – that series was called “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles New Animated Adventures,” in the proud tradition of comics based on cartoons that have “Adventures” appended to the title. That series ended last month, at issue #24, due to low sales. New Animated Adventures wasn’t a bad book – it was funny and well-illustrated – but it was hamstrung by the requirement that it not diverge from the continuity of its source material (i.e. the cartoon). Meaning that we could never get any stories that contradicted stories from the show, or that might possibly contradict anything that the show was going to do in the future. So although the stories were often entertaining, they weren’t ever very compelling or meaningful. They couldn’t be.
With this new series, the creative team is off the leash, and free to diverge from the cartoon’s continuity. Back in the ‘90s, when Archie Comics published their “TMNT Adventures,” which was the same kind of cartoon-spinoff, they stuck to straight adaptations of stories from the show for the first handful of issues, and then went off on their own, spawning a series that ran for more than seven years and 72 issues, and introduced a bunch of really compelling new characters – something that the new cartoon, as much as I think that it’s the best adaptation of the TMNT ever, has yet to do. Okay, that’s not exactly true. Ice Cream Kitty is great.
So TMNT Amazing Adventures is a new start – or, rather, a new branch in the Turtleverse – and I’ve got to say that it gets it right straight out of the gate. Written by Landry Q. Walker (writer of such all-ages comics adaptations as The Incredibles and Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and possessor of maybe the coolest name ever), starts out in media res, assuming that we’re all caught up with the show and that we’ll recognize weird recent mutants like Dr. Cluckingsworth, a superintelligent (but not anthropomorphic) hen whose enormous brain is completely visible protruding from her head. When the Turtles find her chasing Shredder’s mutant henchfish Fishface into the river – and then, when Dr. Cluckingsworth defeats all four Turtles without batting one of her weird, creepy chicken eyes – they realize there’s a new player in town. Someone is collecting mutants and taking control of their minds – but not all mutants, seemingly only very specific ones. Fishface and the Turtles were let go, whereas Dr. Cluckingsworth, Bebop, Leatherhead, Tiger Claw, and some others, have disappeared. Even Shredder is worried, and proposes a truce with the Turtles to investigate. At the end of the issue, we learn that this is the work of a new villain – a mutant ram called Zodiac, who is assembling a team based on the animal figures from Chinese astrology.
This is really cool! It’s a great premise for a character, and portends well for this new series. It’s a solid way to tie the Turtles mythology into the Eastern side of their origin and investigate the symbolism of the mutant-world’s animal identities, whiich is one of TMNT’s fundamental themes. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Zodiac became the first of the new generation of characters to escape from their original medium and get absorbed into the larger continuity (Pigeon Pete notwithstanding).
For anyone who’s interested in TMNT at all, this is a perfect spot to jump on board.
The Amazing Spider Man: Renew Your Vows #4
In case you haven’t been keeping up with Marvel’s “Secret Wars” event, here’s the rundown: “The multiverse was destroyed! The Heroes of Earth-616 (that’s the standard Marvel continuity) and Earth-1610 (that’s the Ultimate universe) were powerless to save it. Now, all that remains…is BATTLEWORLD: a massive, patchwork planet composed of the fragments of worlds that no longer exist. Maintained by the iron will of its god and master, Victor Von Doom! Each Region is a domain unto itself!”
In other words, it’s Marvel’s version of Crisis on Infinite Earths, and we’re still waiting to find out if it’s going to clean up and improve the Marvel Universe and make it easier for new and veteran readers alike to navigate, or if it’ll be an alienating clusterbang like DC’s seemingly endless reboots and un-reboots (de-boots? Whatever; I’m looking at you, New 52).
I haven’t been reading all of the Secret Wars titles because there’s like six hundred of them, and most of the ones that I started reading I lost interest in after one or two or three issues. But Renew Your Vows is different. Written and illustrated by the all-star creative team of Dan Slott and Adam Kubert (respectively), this series takes place in an area of Battleworld called The Regency, where a business magnate turned supervillain called Regent has defeated all the superheroes he could find, absorbed their powers, and used them to take over New York City and rule it with an iron fist (which, presumably, he stole from Iron Fist).
Peter Parker – a.k.a. The Amazing Spider-Man! – is one of the few heroes to have survive, and he did this by forsaking his superhero identity and going underground. While Regent was busy taking out the Avengers using powers he appropriated from the X-Men, Spider-Man decided to sit this one out. Why would he do such a thing? What happened to “with great power comes great responsibility”? Well, The Regency is also a place where the blazingly stupid and awful “One More Day” storyline from 2007 never happened. In other words, Peter Parker never retconned his marriage to Mary Jane Watson in exchange for saving the life of Aunt May in an ill-conceived deal with Mephisto. Meaning that now, years later, Peter and MJ are still happily married and they have a young daughter, Annie May, with her mom’s red hair and her dad’s spider powers. The way it should be!
Here in Issue #4, Spider-Man has come out of retirement after mistakenly believing that his daughter was about to be revealed as superpowered at her school. He revealed himself to protect her – because his family, he knows, is where his real responsibility lies. This, though, has allowed him to be captured by Regent, who sees Spider-Man’s powers as the key to his ultimate goal of taking on and overthrowing Doom, tyrant over all of Battleworld. Meanwhile, Mary Jane and Annie team up with the straggling survivors of the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. to use Parker-designed inhibitor chips to de-power and defeat Regent.
Renew Your Vows is everything that a Spider-Man book should be: action-packed, emotionally grounded, fun and funny and just a little bit dark. The art is superb and classicaly Marvel; and, best of all, it gives me hope that the post-Secret Wars Marvel Universe will move in the right direction, actually setting right what once went wrong, reinstating Peter and MJ’s marriage – one of the most believable romantic relationships in all of comics, no matter what Joe Quesada thinks – which means that maybe Marvel really has got a grip on themselves and the new continuity will repair many of the narrative missteps that the core books have been taking as far back as the mid-90s, when Spider-Man’s “Clone Saga” and the X-Men’s post-Age of Apocalypse “Onslaught Saga.”
Even if it doesn’t, though, Renew Your Vows is still a great Spider-Man book.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #49
Yes, more Ninja Turtles! This is the core ongoing series, where the Turtles, Splinter, and Shredder, are the reincarnated spirits of warriors from medieval Japan, and all kinds of other weird things that amalgamate elements from every previous iteration of the TMNT – which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, but which is always in the spirit of the original series. We’re coming up fast on Issue #50, and we’re still in the wake of the shell-shattering events of Issue #45 when Donatello (the best turtle!) was brutalized and left for dead by Bebop and Rocksteady, only to have his mind implanted in the robotic body of Metalhead by Neutrino scientist Professor Honeycutt / Fugitoid (who knows a few things about robots and near-death experiences).
Which is to say that this series is taking chances and pulling no punches. The way that artist Cory Smith draws the Turtles still bugs me – especially because everything else that he draws in this book is so good, so I know it’s a stylistic choice and absolutely not any lack of talent – but while the stories leading up to this point have sometimes become slightly more elaborate (read: confusing) than traditional TMNT stories have typically been, the series has a solid hold on its characters and its expanding mythology, and has been doing an expert job of ramping up tension in each story arc and then executing its climaxes with satisfying and sometimes heartbreaking catharses. Like the “death” of Donatello! It was genuinely shocking and yet didn’t feel like a stunt, and they’re using it to investigate Donnie’s character as he has to come to terms not only with having his mind trapped in a machine, but with the realization that his long-held scientific philosophy is not all that there is, but only a small part of the real fabric of the universe.
Anyway, this issue follows the Turtles-engineered battle between Shredder’s and Krang’s forces, and the villains’ mutual defeat. Shredder survived, thanks to Baxter Stockman, and has turned his full forces to destroying Splinter and the Turtles once and for all. Karai, Shredder’s chunin (assistant leader, basically), defies her master and saves the Turtles in order to propose a sacred “gauntlet” challenge: a four-on-four fight between students, followed by a one-on-one battle to the death between masters – which both Splinter and Shredder accept.
Next month is Issue #50, and the creators have been promising something big. I’m pretty sure they’re prepared to deliver.
Invader Zim #2
Invader Zim has been off the air for twelve years, so I have no idea what made Nickelodeon and/or creator Jhonen Vasquez think that now was the right time to bring it back in comic form – but I’m glad that they did. The story of an incompetent alien from the planet Irk, sent to Earth to get him away from anywhere that the Irken Leaders (the Almighty Tallest) actually care about, he and his broken robot GIR are opposed in their stupid plans by Dib, an eleven-year-old pseudo-Mulder who’s the only human sufficiently obsessive and insufficiently idiotic to notice that Zim is a green bug-eyed monster from space planning to enslave humanity.
In Issue #1 we learned that Zim has been gone for a long, long time (“feels like years,” according to Dib), but Dib hasn’t given up – in fact, he’s spent all that time sitting and waiting for Zim’s inevitable return so that he (Dib) can thwart whatever horrible plan Zim has been formulating. In the meantime, Dib’s got all fat and unwashed and generally disgusting – and it’s not hard not to interpret the whole situation as a metaphor for Jhonen Vasquez’s “disappearance” following Invader Zim’s cancellation, and his ravenous fanbase’s relentless pestering for him to return to Zim or Johnny the Homicidal Maniac or something, just do anything, for the love of Meat! Of course, Jhonen has not actually been hiding in a toilet all this time (what Zim was doing) or rolling around in his piles of money Scrooge McDuck style and laughing at us mindless consumers who keep buying his comics and DVDs and fuzzy slippers while he can sit back and just not draw or write anything for more than a decade. I’m pretty sure that he hasn’t been doing nothing all this time. What he has been doing has just not been particularly, uh, visible. Okay, he did a couple of things for Marvel and a new Filler Bunny book. And he just announced a new show for Disney called Very Important House. And he tweets pretty frequently. Has Jhonen finally run out of money? Has he finally run out of the fans’ blood and saliva that he needs to fuel his rocket-powered house? Probably!
So Zim reveals that he’s been biding his time so Dib would get all desperate and out of shape, so that when he (Zim) enacted his next plan, Dib would be too fat and disgusting to interfere. And it worked! Dib has to take the time to get fit and to shower for the first time since 2003, by which time Zim has a huge head start in his search for something called the Gigantis Array. But follow Zim Dib does, using a stolen Irken ship (that hates Dib and Zim about equally, so it gets into arguments with itself about whether it even wants to help Dib or not) to chase Zim through every cheesy tourist trap in space (including The Galaxy’s Largest Space Donut, The Smelliest Place in Space, The Infinite Head, and The Universe’s Biggest Ball of Shmoop (“It’s kind of sentient!”)).
This book is fun. It’s just fun to see Zim and Dib and GIR and Gaz and to hear all their little voices in our heads – or to scream them spontaneously at the top of our lungs at unwitting passersby, the way God intended. The pacing is necessarily a lot different than the cartoon’s was, of course, which makes it feel like the jokes are further apart, but that’s an artifact of the medium and not a criticism. The end of this issue, and the first story arc of this new ongoing series, is probably as dark as anything that the show ever did, and also surprisingly topical in our YouTube and social-media soaked era that didn’t yet exist during Invader Zim’s short but influential television run. I won’t spoil it for you here, because I want you to read it for yourself and then feel bad.
So there. Comics! See you next week(!)(?)