The Annotated CITY AT WAR Part 4: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #53
“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”.
After a brief hiatus, we’re back and ready to dive into Part 4 of the story from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #53.
The covers to this arc produced by A.C. Farley typically feature a level of symbolism or foreshadowing that plays into the issue. That’s not the case here. Instead, readers get a wonderful image of an Elite Warrior standing and looking like a badass. Well, the whole image is colored red, which could allude to the bloody fights within the issue. So looks like there is some symbolism here after all.
We are now four parts into this mega-arc, and for half of them, Splinter has been the focus of the opening page. Unlike TMNT #50, his appearance here is not used as a framing device for the issue, but rather due to him being a central focus of this issue. Jim Lawson’s art positions Splinter in the center of the page, beneath a giant wooden “X”. He is in deep meditation, or at least trying to stay in such a state…
This page could have also been a full splash, and many artists would likely employ that tactic. However, Lawson employs a 3 panel structure to indicate the passage of time. This shows the reader that his attempted meditation spans longer than a mere moment. And as the text indicates, his attempts have proven unsuccessful.
The story twists back to April and her sister, Robyn, in sunny California. Though uncomfortable, April appeases Robyn by trying on some clothes that are more in line with the latter’s sensibilities, before mentioning (again) that they ought to spend some time leaning up the house. This sparks an argument between the two, and though grime is the surface-level conflict, it speaks more to April’s need for order and unwillingness to accept change. She’s stuck in a state of arrested development, and the only way for her to find happiness is to push forward and beyond these self-imposed limitations.
Speaking of housekeeping, the story transitions over to the Turtles’ old friend and former handy man, Casey. Experiencing what appears to be a bad dream, he wakes up exclaiming April’s name. It seems that a good amount has passed, indicating that he’s holding onto certain feelings longer than he would like.
He quickly realizes he’s alone in bed, discovering that Gabrielle is sick in the bathroom. When she emerges, she reveals that she’s pregnant – and that she has been since before he came into her life. They embrace, and Casey states that he’s sticking around, that this development isn’t scaring him off.
Note that by this point, Eastman. Laird, and Lawson are allowing sequences to develop over the course of a few pages, rather than jumping to a different scene with each turn of the page as was the case earlier in “City at War.” It allows the writing and art to better flesh out the characters and the narrative, and makes for an overall improved reading experience.
We turn back to Splinter, who has begun making his way through the Massachusetts forests to an unnamed city, likely either Northampton or Springfield. In reading the associated text, he is not wandering but rather being drawn to a specific location.
Curiously, Lawson’s art renders Splinter without eyes. While likely unintentional, it plays well with the unseen forces pulling Splinter to a certain location.
If Eastman and Laird told Lawson “go crazy for the next 10 or so pages,” I wouldn’t be surprised. Remember that big street battle from TMNT #52? We finally pick up on that development here. With a full page splash, Lawson captures the chaotic energy of a battle pitting the Turtles against the Foot with giant robots, Elite Warriors, and the NYPD interspersed.
This might be the most interesting page for what remains in this issue. Two characters are the primary focus: one of the same Elite Warriors [that has hunted down the Foot since the beginning of the story arc] and Leonardo. Let’s begin with the former. As has been the case throughout this story, he has been depicted as capable of taking out an army of the Foot on his own, and that continues. He easily dispatches two of the Foot in one motion, but then he does something unexpected – more on that in a second.
Likewise, Leonardo has been shown to be the most capable of the Turtles. He may not be the strongest, but his technique and discipline has elevated him beyond the skill of his brothers. He too is able to take on a number of Foot soldiers, but he appears to have bitten off more than he can chew. Suddenly, the Elite Warrior launches his weapon at Leo… and past him to take out a Foot soldier that had sunk up behind the Turtles’ leader. With this action, the notion who’s a good guy and who isn’t is completely upended.
The Elite Warriors continue to surprise, as one takes the weapons of the dispatched Foot and using them to help the Turtles turn back swarms of enemies.
The battle continues to rage on, with blood on all sides shed (except from the Turtles, duh). Lawson gives the reader plenty to take in over the course of these textless pages, with explosions, gunfire, and maiming throughout. There’s a Foot firing a bazooka from a rooftop, only to be taken out in a hail of gunfire from a helicopter. It’s nuts!
With the situation out of hand, Leo calls for the team to retreat in order to live and fight another day. Being the first one to make it to safety, he notices the body of an innocent bystander who was killed as a result of the massive street-fight. Though the panel itself is small compared to the page as a whole, it’s impact on Leonardo will take shape in the following pages.
With the four reunited, the the Turtles make their way through the streets, looking for a place to take refuge. At this point, the streets make New York look more like the version seen in the cult classic film Escape From New York (if you haven’t seen it, remedy that right now).
Upon finally making it to safety, Leo laments his decision to have the team intervene in this gang war. In a rare moment of passion, he tells Donatello to “shut up.” He is racked with guilt, having seen the impact this war is having on the ordinary citizens of New York.
In Japan, news footage of the street fight is broadcast. Upon reviewing the footage, Karai announces “it is time,” indicating that we’ll likely be seeing her in New York very soon…