The Annotated CITY AT WAR Part 8: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #57
“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 8 of the Turtles’ most epic story.
Last issue ended with Leonardo stunned and captured by Karai’s team following an ambush on their new home. A.C. Farley picks up on that plot thread in his cover to TMNT #57, with Leonardo held at sword-point(?) by his captor. Given Karai’s relationship with the Turtles in other media, one can assume that this chapter will feature the strenuous beginnings of an uneasy relationship.
Unlike previous chapters, the opening page of TMNT #57 jumps right into the story. While still featuring a full-page splash from Jim Lawson, the story by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird hits the ground running. The Turtles contacting Karai, who took Leonardo hostage at the end of the last issue. From the looks of things, it is Donatello that is making the phone call, while Mikey and Raph are on lookout duty from the rooftop. It’s interesting to note that Raphael expresses an uncharacteristic willingness to trust her – he’s even aware that this feeling is not normal.
Here we have Karai rolling up to an abandoned warehouse in a limousine like a straight-up boss (because she is). She instructs the driver to wait outside and “don’t try to stop them.” It appears that she has plans for the Turtles.
As we follow her inside, we see that Leo is bound and under the watch of several members of the Foot. Once more, she dismisses her lackeys, preferring to be alone with the Turtles’ leader.
Alone with Leonardo, Karai begins to test out his swords for weight and balance. He remains motionless, assuming that Karai is going to end him. While she exclaims that his swords are perfect “for a killing stroke”, the only thing that she slices are the ropes which bound him together. Page 4 is framed mostly around the image of Karai holding one Leo’s swords. Lawson’s sparse use of backgrounds puts all of the attention onto her. The image is one that conveys that she herself is a skilled fighter and swordsman, while the skin-tight outfight tries to walk the line of being both functional and sexy.
Page 5 does not seem to utilize space very well. While the physical storytelling by Lawson is well done, the amount of space between panels feels wasteful and only serves the decompressed storytelling. There have been a number of pages like this throughout CITY AT WAR, and it is easy to envision cutting at least 2 issues out had space been more economically utilized.
With Karai introducing herself to Leonardo and returning one of his swords, she says that there is no honor in killing an unarmed opponent. With a statement like that, one would think that her intention is to battle Leonardo one-on-one to the death, right?
That never ends up happening, as Leo’s brothers show up. While in some instances, Lawson’s experimentation with layouts can go awry, this time it result in an effective (and frankly, pretty cool) panel structure. Using Leonardo’s sword as the panel divider conveys how quickly events are unfolding.
Karai explains to the Turtles that she is the head of the Foot in Japan, and that the Shredder had run the Foot as a rogue operation. His death has left a power vacuum among warring factions, and she is here to clean up the mess.
These pages, while filled with exposition, to push the story forward. But even more than that, it’s just cool to see the Shredder once again, even if it’s just his specter.
Karai continues to monologue, which ultimately boils down to her offering to have the Foot back off of the Turtles in exchange for their services. Those “services” happen to be taking out the Shredder’s elite guard – you know, those guys with the wide-brimmed hats that have slaughtering hordes of people throughout this story arc. The Turtles – specifically Raphael – sense that something doesn’t smell right with this offer. And he may be right, since only a couple pages ago Karai seemed primed and ready to take out Leonardo. Then again, she had anticipated the Turtles’ arrival (she even gave them a number to call), so anything goes at this point.
Casey and Gabe are working at the diner, and they discuss their living situation. With a baby on the way, the trailer might be a little too small for the three of them. Though Gabe is unsure about the future, Casey promises her that they’ll make due.
Though the situation is somber, this is a great splash page of a funeral by Lawson. Based on the frazzled hair of one of the attendees (and the phone call at the end of the previous issue), it’s a good guess that this is the funeral of April’s father. More interestingly is the names on the surrounding graves. There’s Art Nichols, Mia Hopper, Dan Houck, and other indie comic book creators of the era.
As the funeral concludes, April reveals in a conversation with her Aunt Ruth that she’ll be going back to New York – a revealation which catches Robyn by complete surprise. To be honest, it’s not at all surprising. Also not surprising is April’s reasoning, that she never really felt comfortable in California. Not only is it too laid back for her liking, but she’s realized that she just can’t run away from her problems.
From a storytelling perspective, this all makes sense. While all of the major parties were separated at the beginning of this story, we can now expect everyone to find their way to each other as it draws closer to a conclusion.
Speaking of separated parties, Splinter is still hobbled and now face-to-face with a gigantic rat-monster. No, he isn’t seeing a reflection, he’s a giant rat, not a rat-monster – there’s a difference. All kidding aside, this a horrific looking image created by Lawson. Unfortunately, the black-and-white shading inadvertantly causes the panels to bleed together, creating a bit of a mess from a lettering perspective. With that said, it’s an easy thing to overlook as most of the attention is placed on this monster that is terrorizing Splinter. There is a notable size differential that makes the odds of survival appear bleak.
The terrorizing of Splinter continues. Not much worth noting here, but the depiction of Splinter’s fear by Lawson is amazing.
The monster that had been terrorizing Splinter is revealed to be just a normal rat. It was all a delusion, one that finally breaks Splinter. He reaches out and snatches the rat. With an almost lifeless look in his eyes, he begins to eat it while an off-panel figure enjoys this sight.
On page 20, we see that it is the Rat King, who is rejoicing that Splinter has given in to his animalistic desires. This is probably the biggest difference from how this played out in the Nickelodeon series, where Splinter was strong enough to fight off the Rat King’s suggestions. Then again, eating a rat would probably cross a certain line for a kids’ show.
The reason Karai had for the Turtles to take out the Shredder’s elite guard is apparent now: her own Foot soldiers can’t take them on. Over the course of these three pages, Eastman and Laird have Lawson depict the elite guard’s methodical dismantling of Karai’s soldiers. And now, having taken out those that kept watch on the Turtles’ water-tower lair, they are aware of Karai’s latest recruits.
This “The End” page sees Jim Lawson channel his inner Will Eisner.