The Annotated CITY AT WAR Part 7: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #56
“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 7 of the Turtles’ most epic story.
A.C. Farley’s cover to TMNT #56 avoids the crazy visuals of the past few issues, instead focusing on a rather simple image of Karai perched atop a city rooftop. Armed with a bow and full quiver of arrows, she appears to be on the hunt for someone or, if past issues are any indication, something.
The issue begins with a character for whom this story has not been particularly kind to: April. For the previous six installments, April has just sort of… existed. While Casey, the Turtles, and even Splinter have seen significant story progression, she has been at a narrative standstill.
This sequence begins innocently enough. April is working at her desk when she notices that one of her tasks is seemingly an inefficient waste of time. She brings this to the attention of her boss, who one would assume would be appreciative of her diligence and care for company resources. That assumption is far from reality. Instead, he chews her out for “rocking the boat” instead of keeping her head down and plowing through. While infuriating (for both April and the reader), it’s a situation that most people can relate to in one form or another. This universal experience is our gateway into April’s frame of mind.
While April is living in a joyless existence, everything seems to be coming up Casey. His romance with Gabrielle hits its apex as they finally tie the knot. Although it’s very low key, they couldn’t be happier. Considering how glum this story arc has been as a whole, little bright spots such as this are a welcome addition.
The feel-good moments continue as newlyweds return home. Given Gabrielle’s condition (and their overall financial situation), a real honeymoon seemed out of the question. In a sequence right out of a Hollywood romance, Casey has brought the tropics to their trailer, redecorating their cosy home to represent what Casey refers to as “trailerique” (if anyone can let me know what that’s supposed to reference, it would be a big help!) – complete with virgin Mai Tais.
Anyone else have a feeling that things are going a little too good for Casey?
You know who is not having a good time right now? Splinter. Ah yes, poor Splinter. He is still trapped in a brick silo with a broken leg. Despite the lack of mobility in this story arc, Jim Lawson deserves credit for keeping it visually interesting.
I want to call attention to one panel which takes up about half the page. Very simply, its just a close-up of Splinter drinking some water out of a metal cup or can. While the other half of the page shows Splinter in agony, both from the pain in his leg and his hunger, this one large panel shows him largely at peace. It has a rather calming effect too, enabling the reader to settle in for the heavy dialogue which awaits.
That heavy dialogue is courtesy of the Rat King, who continues to psychologically torture Splinter. But rather than using mind-control like in more widely-known incarnations, this Rat King just uses his words to get under Splinter’s skin. He continues to goad him into embracing the animal within, whereas Splinter fights to retain the humanity he gained from mutation.
After all, this version of Splinter was simply a rat, not a former human (like in the 1987 and 2012 cartoons) or a reincarnated soul (like in the 2011 IDW series). Because of this, maintaining peace and humanity has been a greater struggle overall for Splinter.
It should be noted that this psychological struggle was adapted in the 2012 animated series episode “Darkest Plight” from Season 4.
Ten pages in, and still no sign of the Turtles. Instead, we’re back with April, who has arrived home after her… let’s call it a “less than stellar” day of work. Unfortunately, she hasn’t been able to adjust to living with her sister either. Aside from a lack of groceries, there is a lack of tidiness in Robyn’s house – a fact which April has repeatedly pointed out over the course of her stay. However, she mentions it one too many times, trigging a feud between the two.
Something that I’ve notice for a while but haven’t mentioned until now, is that Lawson places heavy emphasis on the groin area of his human characters. It’s true for April, Casey, and (as we’ll see soon) the Rat King.
A hairy hand reaches out and grabs a rat as it scurries about. In the next panel we see it is Splinter holding the rat, contemplating as to whether or not he should give in to his feral instincts and satisfy his hunger. After some thought, he allows the rodent to live. With the Rat King goading him, Splinter proclaims it is better to die than to give in to his inner beast.
The Rat King scoffs at this display of willpower, saying that he is “just as weak and confused as any mere human.” This choice of words by Peter Laird is peculiar, as Rat King has been leaning heavily into the notion that Splinter is a beast and nothing more. Yet here he contradicts his primary argument by saying that Splinter is just like humans.
It’s a Turtle! While it isn’t clear from the first panel, it’s later revealed to be Mikey sitting outside of their water-tower lair. Lawson’s art shows Mikey sitting outside from quite a distance – the reason being the’s actually being watched. The Karai-led faction of the Foot has been hunting them down, presumably since she discovered their existence back in TMNT #54.
“City at War” has not been particularly kind to the Foot – lower tier members especially – as the Shredder’s elite personal guard has wiped the floor with them. However, under Karai’s leadership, they’re shown to be quite capable. We see them tracking the Turtles down and monitoring their activies, ready to strike with the a level of precision that frankly has been absent since TMNT #10.
Mikey retreates inside the water-tower and is welcomed by the sight of his brothers playing a game of poker. Meanwhile, one lone Foot Solider sets up right outside of their lair, setting charges.
One fun observation to interject: when they aren’t in their lair, the Turtles on the Nickelodeon show frequently hang around a water-tower very similar to the one here.
The charges go off, and the result is a wonderfully rendered page from Jim Lawson.
These next couple pages are simply iconic TMNT imagery, dating back to the first issue in 1984. The Turtles versus the Foot at night on a rooftop. This sight has been a cornerstone of the franchise, having been adapted in the 1987, 2003, and 2012 cartoons, the live-acton movies, and the classic videogame TMNT IV: Turtles in Time.
On page 19, Laird and Lawson interject a panel of Nate, the victim of this arc’s first chapter, in the hospital.
Karai orders the first wave of Foot soldiers to withdraw on the grounds that the battle has escalated too quickly, and that she wants the “Turtlemen” (her words, not mine) alive for the next phase of her plan. That next phase boils down to one word: tasers.
Apparently, tasers don’t bouce off of turtle shells. This is bad news for Leo, who has been through the ringer during the “official canon” issues of TMNT Vol.1 (particularly the famed “Shredder Returns” arc that kicked off in the Leonardo microseries). With Leo incapacitated, the other Turtles are forced to retreat, leaving their brother in the hands of the Foot.
Forced to retreat, the Turtles begrudgingly make their way across the rooftops of New York when an arrow flies past their heads and stick into a nearby chimney. The message is from Karai, and it is brief: “555-4290 Call Me.” It appears that she’s looking to make a deal for Leo’s life.
Back in Los Angeles, the issue ends with April and Robyn finding out that their father has passed away. Thus