“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 the Turtles readying themselves for battle to close out the previous issue, it’s time for Part 6 of the Turtles’ most epic story.
Six parts into this story arc, readers have likely noticed a few trends. One such trends is that the covers have, one way or another, been representative of a moment within each respective issue. They may have been either a one-page moment or the focal point of the issue as a whole, but no one can accuse this series of misrepresenting the issue’s content. That trend continues here. A.C. Farley’s cover to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #55 features a hobbled Splinter, with a mysterious figure looming over him.
The issue opens with a series of Jim Lawson splash pages, each one centered on Karai’s arrival in New York. This five-page sequence (which includes a double-page spread) is entirely textless, meaning that the burden of setting the issue’s tone and pace – as well as drawing in readers – is in Lawson’s hands. While the final page in this sequence is wonderful, the buildup is rather pedestrian by comparison. Featuring Karai standing vigilant atop one of New York’s many skyscrapers, this fifth page really should be what opened up the issue. The other pages serve no true narrative purpose. The previous issue alluded to Karai’s Big Apple arrival, and that she’d be on the hunt for the Turtles. By comparison, we open here with Karai’s travel situation, which is rather meandering, tedious, and ultimately pointless.
Casey and Gabrielle’s romance has emerged as the most interesting of the story arc’s featured narratives. Whereas the Turtles, April, and Splinter have embarked on soul-searching journeys, Casey has undergone a true transformation from unhinged vigilante to loving and supportive family man. We find him taking a drive through the Colorado countryside with Gabrielle, who has really begun to show how far along she is in her pregnancy. It’s a great detail to show the passage of time without explictly stating it. With their romance continuously progressing, Casey makes the boldest move of his life, asking Gabrielle to marry him. Lawson’s depiction of her reaction a perfect combination of surprise, bewilderment, and joy.
April has a bad date. It just seems that no one is really interested in this plot thread. From the writing to the art, it’s all very bland. However, the “Earthquake Counseling” storefront is a humorous little shot at the Golden State’s reputation.
Ahh, we have arrived at Splinter’s situation. Crippled, delusional, and hungry, he lays on the ground hearing a disembodied voice. But it’s not the calming voice he typically hears when in mediation. Instead, it’s one asking him to lower himself to his base animal instincts. There’s a great little 3-panel sequence on Page 10 in which Lawson focuses in on one of Splinter’s eyes. As the voice continues, each panel shows Splinter looking in a different direction. The emphasis on a single eye gives adds a layer of paranoia to an already dire situation.
Page 11 reveals the figure, but only slightly. Readers can only see the shadowy outline of Splinter’s tormentor. That torment is not physical, but psychological. Splinter has fought to be more that just a giant rat, but this figure is attempting to unearth a hidden truth, one that could upend Splinter’s entire being.
The Turtles have been laying low since their last outing, opting to stay inside (and occasionally outside on the patio) than be active vigilantes. Their spirits are broken, and Leonardo’s attempts to spark any emotion aside from apathy is fruitless. However, he is successful in rounding them up for a training run, even if they are vocally against it (Raph in particular).
Lawson does include a small panel to check in on Nate in the hospital. It’s sad to see that – months after the original attack on his apartment building – he is still suffering from the war in the streets.
Despite their reservations, Donnie, Mikey, and Raph join Leo for that run, and it appears to be going well. Lawson’s depiction of motion is wonderful, as they leap from rooftop to rooftop. There is one panel that focuses solely on their legs in motion. Snow kicks up with each step, and all is going well… until Raphael has one unfortunate foot-placement.
Yep, it was dog crap. And Raphael’s reaction is as calm, cool, and collected as can be expected.
Running away from his brothers, Raphael moves with big, sweeping motions. High leaps, long strides, and big drops have been hallmarks of the Turtles’ movements since their debut. However, Lawson’s use of exaggerated imagery, from stretching out strides to the use of an elongated panel structure, reflects Raphael’s extreme temperment, right up to the point where he gets a foot in the face.
That foot belongs to… a member of the Foot. More specifically, it’s an Elite Foot Soldier. Very quickly, it becomes clear that Raph is outmatched. This combatant is faster and more skilled. He’s able to land blows to the body, both with blunt force and pointy objects. None of the Turtles have suffered this bad of a beating since Leonardo in the Leonardo microseries issue that preceded Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #10 aka “The One Where Shredder Comes Back” (actually, the real name of the issue is “Silent Night”, which is not nearly as fun to say).
Unlike Leonardo, Raphael is only facing one (albeit very talented) member of the Foot. Being only one man, this presents Raphael with an split-second opportunity to regain the upper hand. He is able to pluck one of his sai from the ground while stunning the Foot with a kick to the head, before piercing them with his weapon. The sense of motion is fluid and natural while being heightened by the overall brutality of the moment.
Raphael’s brothers show up, just in time to have chat with this Foot soldier. They recognize him as one of the Shredder’s personal guard. In turn, he recognizes them – specifically Leonardo – as the ones that killed the Shredder. He explains that he has sought them out, being honor-bound to avenge his master. Defeated, he commits seppuku.
This sequence is signficant for a number of reasons. Although they have been at odds, Eastman, Laird, and Lawson recognize that there is a degree of mutual respect between the Foot and the Turtles. Neither side takes the other lightly – running contrary to the Turtles’ dismissive view of the Foot in the cartoons. Furthermore, it reintroduces the concept of honor to the Turtles, who have been aimless since their return to the city. This moment might reignite their own sense of honor and duty instilled in them by Splinter.
Speaking of Splinter, the issue reverts back to him. Still crippled, it is revealed that the one that has been goading him throughout the issue is none other than the Rat King, who previously appeared in Tales of the Teeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #4.