RETROSPECTIVE: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES Vol. 2
Of all the comics to bear the title “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” the second volume is the one most often overlooked. The first series is revered by fans for not only introducing the world to the TMNT, but for containing memorable story arcs including “Return to New York” and “City at War.” The third volume, published by Image Comics, is notorious for the extreme changes made to the core characters. The fourth volume, which as of this writing remains unfinished, has garnered a cult following, while it’s completion has become the Half Life 3 of the TMNT fan community (Please Mr. Laird, finish volume four). But when it comes to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol 2, reaction tends to range from “Oh yeah, I forgot about that” to “What are you talking about?”
Until the current series from IDW Publishing, TMNT Vol.2 was the only core series to be published in full color. Yes, there was the Archie Comics series based on the 1987 cartoon, but for fans of the Mirage continuity, this was the only chance to see the Turtles’ adventures in full color. It is also the only series in the Mirage continuity to not involve either Kevin Eastman or Peter Laird (the Image series has been explicitly excluded from the Mirage continuity by Mr. Laird himself). Set after the events of “City at War”, TMNT Vol.2 sees the brothers separated and the return of an old nemesis.
With neither of the TMNT’s co-creators involved, Jim Lawson took on full writing duties, having cut his teeth co-scripting “City at War” with Laird. Inking and coloring Lawson’s pencils fell on the shoulders of Eric Talbot and Eric Vincent, respectively, for the bulk of the series. But as a result of the goodwill they had built up during their work in Volume 1, they were given carte blanche to tell the story they wanted to, resulting in a solid, but sadly truncated story which saw the Turtles (and their allies) take on Baxter Stockman.
By the time this volume of TMNT was being published, the popular animated series was in full swing, and “Turtlemania” was at full swing. It would have been easy, and no one would fault the creators, to make Stockman into the man-fly hybrid of the cartoon. But, in true Mirage fashion, the creators rejected this idea, instead opting for a different, darker incarnation. This version of Stockman, as well as retaining his African-American heritage, is a murderous, self-mutilating cyborg. Retaining his genius mind, he plans a nefarious scheme with aims beyond the traditional villainous grudges.
As for the Turtles themselves, they’re more or less were they were at the end of “City at War”. Donnie is off living with Splinter in Northampton, while his three brothers are crashing in the basement apartment of April and Casey’s building. But very quickly, they decide that their current living situation isn’t going to work. In a coming of age moment for the team, they determine it’s best if they moved out and found their own places.
Of course, there is a big showdown and freaky creatures, but that does not take away from the character-focused narrative. In a way, TMNT Vol.2 is as much a continuation of the Turtles’ story as it is a celebration of their wacky and weird heritage. Despite its low sales, this volume has been embraced by both fans as well as Peter Laird, who would pick up on these plot threads in Volume Four, choosing to completely ignore the Image Comics published Volume Three. While lacking any notable or iconic moments, this remains an important, transition story in the greater TMNT canon that should not be overlooked.