One of the toughest things to do in the comic book industry is taking over a series that is coming off an incredible comic book run. That is what Sophie Campbell was challenge with doing when she took over IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series from Tom Waltz with issue #101. In his 100 issues of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Waltz created one incredible story after another. All of Waltz’s stories worked to create a universe rich with characters and settings that honored everything Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ fans. Waltz ended his run on an incredible high note with the “City At War” storyline that saw it end with Master Splinter sacrificing his life so his sons and the world can live on.
Having such a big status quo shift for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles now being without their father and mentor around is a big task to take on. Add in the fact that a fifth member of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was introduced during “City At War” in the form of Jennika there is a lot Sophie Campbell is taking with this fan favorite franchise. Now after three issues into her run has Campbell established her run on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a must have? Let’s take a look.
Right away what stuck out when reading Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #101 is the fearless way Sophie Campbell dove into the beginning of her run on this series. From the moment you open the first page of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #101 Campbell fully embraces the new status quo the franchise was given at the end of Tom Waltz’s run. By diving into the fallout of Master Splinter’s death, hundreds of people being turned into mutants and New York City coming off being the epicenter of a ninja war Campbell has created stories that respect what Waltz did and moved it to the next logical step.
The death of Master Splinter in particular is a huge status quo shift for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This isn’t a new story for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We most recently saw the fifth season of the 2012 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ Nickelodeon cartoon deal with how everyone deals with life without Master Splinter. Even though it was a story recently explored in another medium Campbell immediately established how that did not take away from the impact of Master Splinter’s death at the end of “City At War.”
As soon as you open Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #101 and see the first page being a silent scene of the Turtles holding their deceased father in their arms your heart breaks. Campbell made the right choice to continue the silence by having the emotions on Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael and Jennika’s faces tell the story. These first two pages of Campbell’s run set the tone how nothing would be the same again when it came to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles status quo.
Things not being as they were is exactly what we see through the course of Campbell’s first three issues on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Everyone from Leonardo to Jennika to April O’Neil to Old Hob are in positions that are different from when things kicked off in “City At War.” The entire cast of characters we’ve grown to know and love over 100 issues of IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, plus all the micro-series’, are dealing with their situations differently.
The way Leonardo and Michelangelo in particular have dealt with Master Splinter has been the most shocking and understandable at the same time. Leonardo has shown to be so emotionally drained that he has lost all motivation to be the inspirational leader to his brothers and allies. Similarly, Michelangelo has retreated into O’Neil farm to hide from talking about how he feels to anyone. This similar position for Leonardo and Michelangelo made their scene together in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #103 while looking for Mikey cat Klunk even more impactful. Campbell leaves a lot of room to continue to explore both these characters in new ways before they reunite with everyone back in New York City.
Leonardo and Michelangelo being in spots where they don’t want to leave O’Neil Farm made Donatello’s own arc stand out even more. Donatello clearly recognizes that they should all do something. At the same time the reason Donatello is shown at the farm is because he feels a similar sense of loss that Leo and Mikey do. Putting him in this spot to open this new era made Donatello’s eventual decision to leave and go back to New York City in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #102. Even if he has no plans for when he arrived, as he admitted to April O’Neil in the next issue, at least he feels he is making a step forward.
In having Donatello go to April first Campbell is able to emphasize the importance of April as the rock of the franchise. Even with April not being in the best spot personally we see how quickly she returns to being the supportive friend/big sister to Donatello when he shows up. She is able to provide Donatello with some sense of confidence they can do something positive.
April being spotlighted in this way also brings a direct tie to the government’s choice to create the Mutant Town community in New York City. April working for Mayor Baxter Stockman, who lead the creation of Mutant Town, creates a lot of immediate questions to how the mutant crisis is being dealt with. April obviously has her motives for working with Mayor Stockman. Now that Donatello is going to be helping her Campbell can dive into more of the inner workings of the New York’s government.
The way Campbell has used the fallout of “City At War” to integrate real world commentary has been handled with care. Getting political is always a tricky thing in any form. To Campbell’s credit she has used politics in a way that stays true to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe. Specifically, everything to do with the Mutant Town community that has been created sticks to how this is a logical answer to how a government would respond to a war they had no control of took over one of their major cities.
In creating is essentially a refugee camp for people that were turned into mutants Campbell has created a small corner of the world that can be developed into something bigger. That is what we see hints of in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #103 as we learn more about Old Hob’s selling child mutants to the Foot Clan. Old Hob’s attitude towards how the outside world has treated mutants by building walls to house them in shows that there is a bigger story that is going to explode as things progress.
The Mutant Town set-up opens a lot of character exploration for each of the five Turtles. Specifically we’ve seen Jennika and Raphael work as protectors in Mutant Town. Like their brothers, both Jennika and Raphael are still dealing with the emotional toll of Master Splinter’s death. With how Leonardo, Michelangelo and Donatello have retreated to O’Neil farm it has made the fact that Jennika and Raphael have decided to strike out on their own stick out even more.
For Raphael we have found him in a spot where he is returning to his solo vigilante form like when we met him at the beginning of IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Becoming a solo vigilante speaks to how Raphael sees this as the best way to release the anger he is currently feeling. At the same time, continuing to take care of the young Peperoni shows that Raphael isn’t closing himself off to the world. Campbell has smartly used Peperoni to show the character growth Raphael has been through that he can still be someone’s guardian even when he is going solo.
While Raphael’s direction has been interesting the big star of Campbell’s run has been Jennika. Jennika is not necessarily a new character as Waltz developed her as a core member of the Foot Clan during Master Splinter’s leadership. During that time we got to learn a lot about who Jennika is and what her motives are.
To her credit Campbell makes sure not forget who Jennika was before she became the fifth Turtle in the family. A lot of the core traits that made her a great supporting character have been emphasized as she has become one of the leads. In particular, what’s made Jennika’s early period as one of the Turtles is how she has immediately embraced her family.
Right away we see how even as Leonardo, Michelangelo and Donatello decided to live at O’Neil Farm, Jennika is making sure she is keeping an eye on her brothers. She is very much acting as the big sister of the family who is doing what she can to help her brothers out. That is best shown with her interactions with Raphael. Jennika is not afraid to call Raphael out on how striking out on his own isn’t the best thing to solve the problems in Mutant Town. It is all done out of concern which makes her addition to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles core family come across as natural thus far.
All of this speaks to the strength of Jennika’s character as she has had to get used to becoming a mutant Turtle alone. She hasn’t had her brothers or Master Splinter’s guidance to get used to her new status quo. This is where her previous history in this series helps make Jennika’s growth in the early part of Campbell’s run work to the character’s favor. Even when she is not sure about her place in the world, Jennika’s heroic instincts come out when needed. That is what we see when Jennika defends the newly introduced Mona Lisa from some Mutanimal thugs.
Developing Jennika away from her brothers early has built anticipation for how everyone will act once they are reunited. Thus far we’ve only seen Jennika and Raphael interact within the Mutant Town setting. What the relationship will be with the five Turtles with all the things that have changed since “City At War” is one of the things to be highly anticipating during the beginning of Campbell’s run.
WHAT HASN’T WORKED
As much credit as I’ll give Campbell for seamlessly stepping in and taking over Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles after the big events of “City At War” there is one thing that is working against it. That is the fact that there is a lot of continuity going into Campbell’s run. To maximize the enjoyment of the first three issues of Campbell’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles run you will have to at least read “City At War.” That may be tough since the collection for “City At War” is not out yet and getting all the single issues are likely not available at cover price because of how big of deal Jennika’s debut as the fifth Turtle was in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #95.
That is not to say that Campbell’s first three issues are impenetrable for new readers. As long as you go in understanding that Master Splinter is dead and Jennika is the fifth Turtle you can be be okay to step in with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #101. But I would not blame anyone if that feels like the heavy reliance on continuity as part of the foundation for this new era of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a big hesitation. It may be best reading experience for new readers to wait for the collection of “City At War” to be released later this year and then start up with Campbell’s run.
Now from a fan of IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles one thing that has stuck out in the first three issues of Campbell’s run is the absence of Casey Jones. Given how we’ve seen or heard of many characters outside the Turtles current situation it is odd that Casey is nowhere to be found. Especially when you consider how close he was not only to Raphael and April but also Jennika, who was his girlfriend going into and during “City At War.” Casey being MIA thus far is a big red flag that is hopefully explained in future issues of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Sophie Campbell did not have an easy job stepping up to takeover Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles after Tom Waltz’s legendary run on the series. Which makes the fact that Campbell has been able to take on as writer and artist on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles without missing a beat that much more impressive. Campbell has used everything Waltz established during his run on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to propel this series to its next logical era.
The world building in particular has been fun to watch develop under Campbell’s writing and artwork. Campbell has shown she is able to take the ramifications of how “City At War” changed everything about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to test everyone in this universe. Every character is being tested in ways they have not before. From the iconic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles characters to the new blood like Jennika and Mona Lisa, there are so many fascinating things to be excited if you are a fan of the franchise.
For new fans if you have the means to I recommend at least reading the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ issues that came out in 2019 and start reading Campbell’s run. This is already shaping up to be something special new and long-time fans will enjoy. And if you don’t have the means in the moment I highly recommend at least reading this series in trade paperback format. Like Waltz before her, Campbell’s run is something no Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan should miss out on reading.
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