The Annotated CITY AT WAR Part 3: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #52
“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 #52.
Compared to the understated and thought-provoking covers from Part One and Part Two, the cover to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #52 is bonkers. A.C. Farley providing the cover art, depicting a wild battle between the Turtles, the Foot, and some sort of insect-looking robot. If you look closely, there is a nice little touch added in the form of the street signs; the battle depicted on the cover takes place at the corner of Trouble Street and Strife Avenue. Just in case anyone was thinking of checking out that battle site in real life, a quick search on Google Maps verifies that Trouble Street or Strife Avenue are not real streets in New York City.
We open with a nice big splash page of a New York City street corner. Specifically, it’s a bus stop with four individuals given prominence. It’s a textless page without any connection to what comes next. However, there’s a lot of little details and sight gags that are thrown in for the reader’s enjoyment. For example, there’s a flyer for a Three Stooges Film Festival. Jim Lawson’s knack for page composition draws the reader’s attention to the well-dressed gentlemen in the center holding a briefcase.
An establishing panel features a trailer in the middle of rolling hills, with a Jeep parked outside it. Inside, we see this is Gabrielle’s home and that Casey has spent the night recovering from the robbery (as seen in the previous issue). We also see that the trailer is surprisingly spacious, with plenty of room for Casey’s muscular physique. He’s sporting a nasty-looking black eye, which catches Gabrielle’s attention. After offering him coffee and breakfast (which he never actually gets), Gabrielle leaves for work.
Casey watches from the window as Gabrielle drives off before turning to the telephone. He dials the number for the local police department, but stops himself from fully reporting the incident from the previous issue. He wears a somber, almost emotionless expression as he hangs up the phone. He goes to the refrigerator – a small, one tucked under the counter – and grabs a beer.
Casey brings it with him as he ventures outside, exploring the new surroundings. This is yet another textless sequence, with Eastman and Laird relying heavily on Jim Lawson’s pencils to convey Casey’s thoughts and emotions to the reader. And overall, it still isn’t known what is going on in Casey’s head. He is still a broken man, damaged from the events of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #48-49, in which he (SPOILER) inadvertently kills someone in self defense. As he stares out into the Colorado wilderness, it’s unknown if he can ever really recover.
We transition over to April, who despite moving out to California is still keeping tabs on her old home by reading a copy of the New York Times. Lawson sneaks in humorous headline “Elvis Sightings Continue”, giving the reader a needed bit of levity. There’s also a poster for the U2 album “Achtung Baby” hiding behind April.
As interesting as her thoughts on the apparent resurrection of The King may be, she is instead focused on a different story all together – the gang war in New York between different factions of the Foot. Suddenly, her newspaper bursts into flames and an unseen figure is shown standing behind her with a sword drawn.
In a flashback to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #10, April is now back in her New York City antique store. Engulfed in flames, she watches helplessly as the Turtles and the Foot battle. Casey is there too, helping the Turtles and herself make their escape. This was a recurring nightmare that April was shown to have back in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #11, and it is clear that she still suffering from the trauma of that experience.
April’s sister calls her name, snapping her back to reality before they proceed to go out for a bite and shopping. Once again, April forces herself to bury her problems rather than open up about them – even to her loved ones.
Gabrielle returns home during her lunch break, singing “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid. Though it holds no importance on the narrative at large, it offers readers insight into her personality. As she enters the trailer, she is surprised to see Casey is still there – and that he’s cleaned the place from top to bottom. He also has whipped up a tuna-based lunch for her, which he simply refers to as a “C.J. Special.” She’s skeptical of the food’s quality, and based on how Jim Lawson draws it, she has every right to be.
This page is seemingly out of nowhere. It cuts to Splinter, who is still meditating in the forest, as he has in the previous two installments. He pours himself a cup of a hot liquid (it could be tea, soup, or something else), before violently smacking it to the side. That’s all we get.
Back in Colorado, Gabrielle has finished eating, surprised that Casey’s cooking is pretty good. She asks him if he learned that dish from this Splinter she’s heard about, and he quips that they didn’t let Splinter cook because he’d always get hair in the food. Casey then admits to missing his family, but doesn’t divulge more than that. After letting him know that she’d like him to stay, Gabrielle leans in for a kiss.
Finally, the creative team brings the story back to what was laid out in the first page. The businessman that was the focal point of Page 1 is currently riding one of the city buses and places his briefcase on his lap. Only it’s not a briefcase, it’s a portable computer and telephone. For our younger readers, before smartphones came into prominence, people had to haul around bulky stuff like this.
On his briefcase computer (I’m hesitant to call it a laptop), this business man conducts the questionable and shady business of changing someone’s utility bill records. He then looks directly at the viewer as if to say “I didn’t do anything wrong…”
At the utility company, a technician or accountant (regardless, it’s someone who works there) notices an account has been flagged as seven months overdue. He and a coworker decide to shut off power to that address. The page transitions over to show the foot constructing robots (like the one featured on the cover) before the power goes out.
At this point, it should become clear that the businessman we saw earlier is working for someone clearly against this faction of the foot. Could it be the same group as the one that took out a small army of foot soldiers in the previous issue, or someone completely different? It’s not clear yet.
In Tokyo, a board meeting of sorts discusses the deteriorating situation between factions of the Foot in New York. This is our first look at Karai, who declares that they will continue to wait, as “in chaos there is weakness.” That one line of dialogue says much about her character; it says that she is smart, cunning, and a strategist. Like the Shredder, she is unlike anything that the Turtles have faced, and if pitted against them will present quite a challenge.
A group of muggers have a couple cornered against a brick wall. On one side of them, a chain-linked fence blocks the way. On the other side is the pointy end of a switchblade. Both the man and woman cower in fear. Suddenly, Leonardo jumps into the frame, taking out one of them. Donatello shows up and kicks one of them in the face. Raphael dodges bullets before finishing off his dance partner. And Michaelangelo makes quick work of the last guy. In one page, readers are treated to a timeless Ninja Turtles scene.
After cleaning up the streets, Raph acts flustered, prompting an argument that is the heart of the Turtles’ internal struggle. As usual, it is Leo and Raph who stake out opposing positions – one in favor of intervening and helping those in need, and one that isn’t. Center in the middle of the page, Eastman, Laird, and Lawson remind readers of Nate, the man who’s apartment was blown up in Part One of this arc.
Their argument continues. Raphael’s stance is full of ambition but lacks direction. He believes that they came back to New York for a purpose greater than acting like a “guardian angel,” but offers nothing in terms of what they should do. Meanwhile, Leo says that their purpose is allowed to evolve with time, that it isn’t defined one way or another.
Meanwhile, the Foot unload a giant robot from a van onto the streets of New York.
Raphael turns around to notice the robot, and the remainder of the page is dedicated to our first full look (the cover not withstanding) at this monstrous robot a faction of the Foot has cooked up. Lawson provides readers with a wonderful demonstration of its strength as it begins ripping apart a bus as if it were made of cheap cardboard.
These six pages are comprised of three double-page splashes by Jim Lawson. With each turn of the page, the battle escalates as the Turtles, the Foot, and the giant robot duke it out on the streets of New York. Its fun to see the Turtles and the Foot emerge from alleyways on opposite sides of the street, which gives off a bit of a West Side Story vibe as they converge upon the robot.
Raphael delivers a killing blow to the robot (with a nice Terminator reference to boot), but his brothers quickly realize that they are now surrounded by the Foot, and two more giant robots.
Again, Lawson delivers a fantastic splash page. It’s effective in conveying the peril which the Turtles find themselves in. As the Foot close in, hoping to overpower the foursome with pure numbers, it appears that things can’t get much worse. Cue a single closing panel of an “elite” Foot soldier standing atop a nearby building overlooking the the events on the streets.