The Annotated CITY AT WAR Part 5: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #54
“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”.
With a chilling warning to close out the previous issue, it’s time for Part 5 of the Turtles’ most epic story.
A.C. Farley’s cover art showcases rag-clad Michealangelo perched atop a smokestack. Why is he wearing some sort of clothing, rather than his usual [lack of] attire? Because winter has come to New York City, and as those in the Northeastern United States are aware, winter not only brings snow, but harsh winds too. While this imagery does play a role in the issue, it is also representative of the unrelenting physical and psychological challenges the Turtles and their allies continue to face throughout the “City At War” arc.
Like the previous issues, TMNT #54 opens not with a bombastic action sequence, but with a full page splash of a rather mundane image. This time, its the sight of a paper shopping bag surrounded by groceries. Two hands are seen loading the bag up. Though this person is currently faceless, it is easy to guess who it might be…
If you guessed it was Casey Jones, congratulations! It turns out that Casey has opted to stay in Colorado and now works at a local grocer while Gabrielle continues to work at the diner. While I find it unrealistic for a supermarket to be as micromanaged as this appears to be, the fact that Casey is able to earn a living off of a minimum wage job is even more unbelievable to a reader in 2016. Casey is verbally berated by his manager, which (unfortunately for the latter) kicks off one of the more humorous sequences in the entire 13-part story.
After being read the riot act by his store manager, Mr. Talbott, Casey responds in kind by flipping a grocery bag over his head and punching him right in the face. Life Pro Tip: don’t punch your boss. He appears to quit on the spot, but only after spewing out the one-liner “clean-up on isle four!”
Alas, Casey’s heart of gold takes over and he returns to help his boss up off the ground. Rightfully so, Mr. Talbott is perplexed and pissed. He tells Casey that the only way he’ll get his job back is if he gets on his knees and begs for it. Talbott says no, which results in his second fist to the face in as many pages.
Considering the dour tone of this story arc, opening this issue with such a comedic sequence is refreshing. It should be noted that Mr. Talbott is likely named after Eric Talbot, longtime friend of Kevin Eastman and frequent contributor to the TMNT comics at Mirage Studios.
The issue shifts to Splinter, who is exploring an abandoned factory in Northampton. Readers of Tales of the TMNT may be familiar with this setting, but those who are not are in for a treat. Splinter makes note that there is something suspicious about this location. His intuition brings uneasiness, while at the same time drawing him to a specific location.
Well, they don’t make them like they used to. The old bricks of the smokestack Splinter was standing on crumble, causing the mutant rat to fall in. Jim Lawson makes an interesting choice in depicting this fall. Typically, the reader would expect to see Splinter either falling in facing the sky, with the reader’s perspective being from above. If not that, the perspective might be from below, with Splinter facing down.
Instead, Lawson gives us a downward perspective, with Splinter also facing down. We as readers share Splinter’s view, staring into the black void. With this perspective, we see that Splinter is unaware of what will come next, but he will face it head-on.
April is hit on by one of her new coworkers, and she is not pleased about it.
Unfortunately, April’s arc has barely been touched to this point, a trend which will continue through the end of the story. Even worse, her arc just isn’t that interesting to this point, and there’s a sense that the writers aren’t interested in writing her character, a trend which would continue until Mirage Volume 4.
The long fall down didn’t kill Splinter, but it did leave him with a broken leg and a lot of blood loss. Quickly, he works to fashion a leg-splint and a bandage to stop the bleeding. It’s a gutsy act, which showcases just how much willpower Splinter has. Unfortunately, even he cannot overcome the shock to his system, which renders him unconsious.
Back to April, who is discussing possible Christmas plans with Robyn. This conversation appears to be mostly fluff, with thoughts about Christmas trees being tossed about. However, a closer look at April’s face reveals the longing she has to return home. There’s a sense that she doesn’t belong in California, no matter how hard she or Robyn tries to push it. There’s a part of her that will always belong to New York, and it will not be quiet.
Jim Lawson owns this page. The image of a shrouded figure, their garments flapping in the wind, is a timeless comicbook staple. The sense of motion from the vertical paneling recalls the works of artists like Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli, and Kelley Jones on another popular rooftop patroller: Batman. The difference is that the shrouded figure here is not looking for trouble at all…
…Instead, it was just Michealangelo trying to get home. He and his brothers are still residing within the old water tower, each one taking shifts patrolling the nearby streets. Inside, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over the team, triggered mostly by Leonardo’s lack of confidence. He is clearly rattled by the events of the previous issue. He expresses disbelief in honor, and that the teachings of their father are the stuff of fantasy. If the Turtles are going to function in any capacity, they need their leader. And right now, they aren’t going anywhere.
Though the topic of their conversation is quite intense, the image of Leonardo making his case to his brothers while wearing a robe and drinking a hot cup of tea adds welcome layer of absurdity.
Enroute to New York, Karai examines surveillence footage of the previous issue’s fight. During her examination, she focuses in a figure that looks like a giant reptile.
Splinter has awakened from his pain-induced nap and stubbornly attempts to put weight on his leg, which has already been established to be broken in two places. This effort goes as well as expected.
Defeated, Splinter concedes that he needs to rest and allow his leg to heal properly. Unfortunately, he is trapped, exposed to the elements, and without food. Death is a real possibility for him. Well, not really, but for a nameless character it would be a very deadly sceneario. Here, it looks like Splinter is poised to endure a psychological trial.
Casey and Gabrielle are putting up Christmas decorations – which is a nice way to indicate the passage of time. Moreover, it’s a way for the creators to showcase that despite his good intentions, Casey is still the master of boneheaded moves. With Gabe further along in her pregnancy, unwrapping the gift of a bathing suit puts her into tears, because in her mind she’ll never wear it. Though Casey reassures her that it’ll be all right, there is a sense of gloom that hangs over this issue.
Also, one panel is dedicated to Nate (you remember him from the previous installments, right?) undergoing treatment at a radiology department. It appears the injuries he sustained back in TMNT #50 were more than just bumps and bruises.
The battle between different factions of the Foot resumes, resulting in the explosion of a factory where some less-than-legitimate operations were underway.
With news reports of cease-fire in Serbia and resumed battles in the streets, the Turtles ponder their next move. The look on Leonardo’s face as the anchor asks “when will this violence stop?” speaks volumes. Though at first he was unsure which direction to take the team – opting to march them into battle blindly – Leo knows what the Turtles can stand and fight for.