The Annotated CITY AT WAR Part 9: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #58
“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 9 of the Turtles’ most epic story.
A.C. Farley gives us a close-up image of one of the Turtles, their teeth bared in a grimace. Now, because of the red mask my mind thinks it to be Raphael – that’s what being a fan of the franchise’s many incarnations for almost 30 years will do to you. However, this is the Mirage Turtles, which means that they all wore red. Given the major role he’s played in the story, my guess is it’s Leonardo.
This specific cover has an added level of significance to the story. According to Farley:
Starting with this cover I decided to get into the spirit with the comics medium. Comics are also referred to as “sequential art”, so I worked out a sequence for the remaining “City at War” covers. The covers weren’t apart from the story, they became part of the process of telling the story.
In the grand scheme of Mirage’s Ninja Turtles books, this opening splash page is pretty magical. It features Casey and Gabe walking through a picturesque natural setting. The sun appears to be shining brightly while smiles adorn their faces. Because everything looks picture-perfect and this is a TMNT comic, something has to go wrong. And it does.
Casey and Gabe’s happy moment is interrupted by the hulking visage of Casey’s vigilante self. At this point, it should be clear that this is a dream. Given who the interrupter is, safe money is on it being Casey’s dream. The doppelganger assaults Casey with a hockey stick, knocking him unconscious, before swooping up Gabe and driving off with her.
What does this mean? Well, despite the peaceful, happy life he’s managed to find for himself, his past continues to haunt him. Not only that, he lives in fear that this good life will come to an end.
As he recovers from the attack, he notices a woman crying on a bench. He goes over to comfort her, assuming it to be Gabrielle – it’s a dream after all, so the rules of physics or logic need not apply. But it isn’t Gabe – it’s April. The sight of her startles Casey awake, and we see he is in the waiting room at the hospital where Gabe is supposed to be giving birth.
The dream may be over, but Casey’s nightmare has just begun. He and one of the doctors – Dr. Brenner – walk and talk on the way to his office about Gabe and the baby. While the baby is fine, the stress of childbirth was too much for Gabe’s body to handle.
To have Gabe pass away off panel is a scenario I’m conflicted about. On one hand, comics are a visual medium, and with this being an important character in the story, to have her death be off panel does the character somewhat of a disservice. However, in the grand scheme, she is a minor character who’s purpose was to give Casey’s character agency (which can be a whole other discussion). As a result, the reader ends up with some wonderful physical storytelling via Jim Lawson’s art, who captures Casey’s sudden shock and sadness upon hearing the news.
Back in New York, the Turtles are having a serious discussion about possibly aligning themselves with the Foot Clan – or at least the faction lead by Karai. What is fascinating about this interaction compared to similar ones in other media is that there is less bickering and yelling. Rather, they are able to control themselves and think through the situation. This shows a real maturation of the characters, which can be traced back to their experiences back in Northampton.
One point brought up is that, despite being at war with the Foot for years, should they be? Is this fight really even theirs? With a callback to the very first issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, they conclude that the answer is no. This war they’ve endured for all of these years belongs to Splinter.
Their conversation continues, with Donnie arguing that the quartet must continue to stand against the Foot to honor their master. The rest chime in, saying that that they’ve fought the Foot these years because they are genuinely evil, but Leo isn’t buying it. Unlike his brothers, he sees that he world is made of shades of gray, not black and white. In the end, they do decide to at least see what Karai has planned – the lure being not having to consistently look over their shoulders. Raph also reminds the team (and the reader) that the Shredder Elite are honor bound to slay Leo, so the threat of danger remains ever-present.
Splinter is startled by the Rat King suddenly appearing, commenting that he would make a good ninja due to his stealthy movements. Splinter’s strength is also returning, and the Rat King reveals that two months have passed since Splinter ended up trapped in the silo. The Rat King is pleased with Splinter’s recovery, stating that where the latter sought enlightenment, the former has been the guide. Splinter doesn’t necessarily agree – referring to him as a tormentor – but sees the merits of the Rat King’s presence.
As a quick aside, we see that Nate – the victim of the bombing way back in Part 1 – is recovering nicely as well.
The Turtles make their way across the rooftops of New York on their way to Karai, commenting that they might be headed into a trap. If it was a trap, it wasn’t meant for the Turtles as they come across the body of slaughtered member of Karai’s foot. Ultimately though, these pages serve as a showcase for Jim Lawson’s art. Big, detailed panels prevail on these pages.
The Turtles continue to make their way through the carnage left by the Shredder Elite. Eventually, they make their way to Karai, who they find cradling the body of her assistant. Only it’s not just her assistant, but her daughter as well. In a fit of rage, she begs the Turtles to swear to avenge her daughter and eliminate all of the remaining Shredder Elite. Solemnly, Leonardo promises.
There’s a lot of stuff to question here. First, is Karai really old enough to have a daughter (seemingly) in her 20s? That seems odd, but possible. Also, there’s no sign of the Shredder Elite anywhere, and Karai is the lone survivor – could this have been staged in order to win the Turtles over? These are some lingering questions which might hang with the reader for the remainder of this story.
Not much happens over these three pages. April and Robyn meet with their father’s attorney to go over the contents of his will – and each will be receiving $200,000. Robyn tries one last time to convince April to come back to L.A., but her mind is made up. They embrace as they say their final goodbyes.
With the baby still at the hospital, we follow Casey as he drives out to the Colorado wilderness – fast. He’s moving with purpose, as evidenced by the expression on his face. Eventually, he moves from the car to on-foot. When reaches the top of summit, he pulls out an urn – presumably the one that is holding Gabe’s ashes. He opens the lid and dumps the ashes out, allowing them to scatter in the wind. In doing so, he says “God speed, Gabe,” and the issue comes to a close.
Both for Casey and for April, these last two sequences see Eastman, Laird, and Lawson bring these characters’ journeys to an end. We can expect Casey and April to “reset” and find their way back into each other’s lives.