The Annotated CITY AT WAR Part 2: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #51
“City At War”, the 13-part story arc that concluded Mirage Volume 1, is a significant chapter in the Ninja Turtles’ history. It has driven TMNT storylines through Volume 2 and Volume 4 of the Mirage Studios comics, the current series from IDW Publishing, the 2003 animated series, and 2012 animated series. As the TMNT Fansite has previously discussed, “City At War” marks the maturation of the Turtles from teenagers into (for lack of a better term) men. Because of this story’s sheer significance and scope, one article is not enough to do it justice. It’s time to dig in, page-by-page and panel-by-panel into “City At War”.
Today, we dive into Part 2 of the story from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #51.
Cover artist A.C. Farley positions the Turtles around (or in Donatello’s case, atop) a Neighborhood Watch road sign. This foreshadows the main through line of the issue: what purpose do the Turtles serve now that Shredder is gone?
A keen eye will notice that the art style is different from TMNT #50. That’s because Jim Lawson has been brought in to provide the art. By this point, Lawson had entrenched himself in the minds of many as the definitive TMNT artist having drawn more issues of either the main book or Tales of the TMNT than anyone else.
The issue opens with an establishing shot of New York City, focusing in on the water tower from TMNT #50. It’s evident even from these images of buildings that Lawson’s technique is quite different from Eastman and Laird. The thick linework from the previous issue is replaced with a more refined, cleaner style that is easy on the eyes. It also enables Lawson to inject his pages with little details for the reader to uncover, like the image of one of the titular characters casually leaning against it in the morning sun.
Continuing from the first page, a news report discusses the city’s current crime wave and power struggle. The Turtle from Page 1 is revealed to be Raphael; his sai prominently sticking out from his belt. Entering the water tower, we see that the Turtles have made it their new home. By candlelight, Donatello reads the newspaper to his brothers; Leonardo in particular is giving him his full attention.
This begs a question that no one has thought to ask: can the rest of the Turtles read? Donatello clearly can, but the other Turtles are not shown reading at all in these Mirage Studios comics. This does not play any significant role in the story going forward, but it is a little character nugget that adds to the uniqueness of these characters.
A classic TMNT trope is once again revisited: Leonardo vs. Raphael. Jim Lawson lays out the page so that the catalyst to this verbal tussle is center stage. Leonardo is standing contemplatively with his brothers looking to him for direction.
Faced with the current state of the city, Leonardo is unsure as to which path his brothers should follow. Dismayed at what he hears, Raphael offers up the clear direction he has in mind: take out anyone that might try to cause trouble. Leonardo’s rebuttal is simple – that they never seek out trouble on their own. The Turtles are indeed a reactionary group, which is something that separates them from other “superheroes”. Even though most do not take extreme preventive measures, most at least go patrolling or attempt to figure out what their foes are up to. With the Turtles, they tend to fall into situations which happen to require their talents.
Michaelangelo (the misspelling is intentional) points out that Leonardo is not correct with regard to the Shredder, who they specifically sought out (way back in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1). Leo replies that that situation was different, and their actions were done for Splinter’s honor. Raphael jumps in, asking where the honor is in not even trying. Leo responds that they all should go out and get some fresh air.
Lawson cuts the argument in half by injecting a page-width panel of Splinter in meditation. The significance of this can be interpreted in a number of ways. It can serve to remind readers that Splinter is still alive, and that the Turtles chose to return to New York with out him. It may be Leonardo’s consciousness reminding him to remain at peace with himself and his brothers. What it represents can vary from reader to reader.
It’s time to check in on Casey Jones, who was fleeing his own personal demons in TMNT #50. He’s been driving through the night, and is having difficulty staying awake. There are little details in his car which allude to his state, as well as his overall personality. Hanging from his rear-view mirror is a little skull, while different cassette tapes lay across the bench seat.
Though he tries to stay awake and focused on the road ahead, his mind begins to drift as he thinks about the life he’s leaving behind. Specifically, he begins to think about April…
Whether this is a dream, a flashback, or both, the transition through Lawson’s art to this sequence is pretty slick. We understand now what is causing Casey such emotional turmoil, as his romantic advances on April are rejected. Considering that the events of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #48-49 have already caused him a fair amount of psychological trauma, he appeared to handle this situation surprisingly well.
We briefly return to Casey in the car, muttering “Smooth, Jones… real smooth” to himself – something many guys can relate to. Back in the dream sequence, we see Casey pick some flowers, presumably intended for April, before returning to the farmhouse to look for her.
It turns out, April has left without giving any notice; her room is completely bare. The mattress has been stripped of its bedding and the drawers completely emptied. In fit of rage, perhaps at April and himself, Casey hurls the now-empty dress through the window. While it is easy to chalk this up as “that’s the Casey we know and love,” it’s a rather somber moment. Casey has grown a lot from the crazed hothead he was depicted as earlier in the series, and to see him revert back to these tendencies feels like a step back, but it will eventually serve as a catalyst for even further character development.
After a near-death experience with an 18-wheeler, Casey decides it best to pull over for a bite to eat and some coffee. From the outside, Graham’s Goodtime Grill looks equally charming and run down. The “Dad Approved” marking of the billboard is a nice touch, signalling intentions for this place to be a homey little spot on the road. However, the “Welcome” sign strewn on the ground brings attention to the fact that time has not been kind to this place.
Inside the diner, Casey makes small-talk with the girl behind the counter, with some flirting as well. Their chit-chat reveals that Casey is currently in Goathead, Colorado with intentions of making his way out to Los Angeles. Unlike its detailed and weathered exterior, the diner’s interior is both sparse and clean.
Speaking of Los Angeles, the creators transition over to the City of Angels to catch readers up with April. Sitting alongside her at the bar of a packed, albeit spacious dance club is her sister. She begins probing April with questions about her happiness, and whether it has to do with Casey or those “Italian guys.”
Despite her claims of being happy, her expression tells a different story. Again, Jim Lawson deserves a lot of credit. Here and throughout the rest of this issue, he visualizes a character’s thoughts in their facial expressions expertly, adding an additional layer to the story aside from simply reading the dialogue boxes.
Readers are greeted with a splash page of an exploded building. Specifically, it’s the site of the explosion which concluded the previous issue. Pipes are bent every which-way, and the roof has collapsed onto what remains of the sex shop and housing above it.
The Turtles continue investigating the cause of the explosion, with Leo commenting that it looks like “a total loss.” We are then directed to the image of Nate Busheyev, the apartment building tenant from the previous issue, bandaged from head to toe in a hospital room. Already, readers are given a visible reminder of the toll this power struggle has had on ordinary citizens.
Also, Leo reads a newspaper clip which gives the team direction on where they should head next. Donnie isn’t the only one that can read in this incarnation after all.
We return to Casey, who has struck up quite a conversation with the waitress (her name is Gabrielle by the way). No longer is he the sullen, depressed figure from earlier in the issue. He’s smiling, and is holding himself with a more confident-looking posture. He says his goodbyes and is greeted outside by three of the locals.
Turns out, the locals want Casey’s car. These next two pages is Casey attempting to fight them off. Courtesy of Lawson, there is great physicality and sense of movement in these pages. Each punch or kick has a raw, dynamic energy. There is a brutality that continues until Casey is finally knocked silly with a blow to the head.
Knocked silly, Casey is helpless as the three attackers steal his car – and all of his belongings. Gabrielle quickly rushes out to his aide and offers him a place to stay since he’s now marooned in Colorado.
The Turtles are investigating the scene of last issue’s Foot massacre. The team concurs that this is pretty weird, but that’s all we really get from this page.
This issue has jumped around between the 3 main plot threads quite a bit, and continue to do so here. April and her sister, Robyn, return the the latter’s apartment. It’s a mess, a sentiment which April is all to willing to voice. However, Robyn takes in in stride as the two share an embrace and the promise of a new beginning.
And now we’re back with the Turtles. This is just a gorgeous page of the team doing what they do best: parkour across the rooftops of New York. Again, Lawson’s attention to detail is second-to-none. Even though most readers might gloss over it, the ally below them is meticulously rendered and serves as a reminder that this is a living, breathing city.
In their patrol run, they happen upon a group of teenagers that are roughing up a trashcan pretty well, but otherwise are not making trouble. Raph suggests they go rough them up, which Leo shoots down immediately.
As the teenagers move along, Raphael laments the fact that he and his brothers have been reduced to, as he so aptly puts it, the “neighborhood watch.” Of course, this line is the big payoff to the cover image. Not to sound like a broken record, but Lawson delivers yet another fine rendering of the Turtles set against the New York skyline. The quartet look out into the distance dangers both immediate and yet to be revealed.