It has sure been a while since we’ve had an adventure in the world of IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so the release of TMNT Universe #9 is a welcome occasion. Kicking off a new story arc, the series follows two popular supporting characters: Alopex and Nobody.
Comic Review: TMNT Universe #9
(W) Sophie Campbell & Bobby Curnow, (A) Pablo Tunica, (L) Shawn Lee
Let’s just get this out in the open: TMNT Universe #9 is an astoundingly weird book, even by Ninja Turtles standards. What looks to be a quiet and character-driven issue quickly becomes an acid-trip featuring amphibious royalty, steampunk design, and partying like it’s 1999. I don’t know the extent of Sophie Campbell, Bobby Curnow, or Pablo Tunica’s experience with original TMNT comics by Mirage Studios, but reads like Mirage title in all the right ways.
Sharing the writing duties are the aforementioned Campbell and Curnow. The duo uses this opportunity to flesh out the friendship between our main characters, Alopex and Angel. The two are contrasted from the opening pages. Alopex is attempting to meditate peacefully. Angel is [noisily and angrily] work on her Nobody suit. While this juxtaposition demonstrates that these two might be an odder pair than their friends, Raphael and Casey, the writers also indicate that these two share more similarities than they let on. For example, even as she attempts to meditate, Alopex is unable to really focus, distracted by her surroundings.
However, the character study takes a back seat as the issue hits is midpoint, with Campbell and Curnow introducing a giant frog which seemingly eats Alopex and Angel, sending them into the wacky and weird world of the Toad Baron, host of a never-ending party. He also is a member of the Pantheon, meaning he will end up playing a bigger role the main TMNT ongoing title.
From here, artist Pablo Tunica takes over and gives the reader a fully immersive experience. The character and setting designs are truly bizarre, but fitting for the IDW-verse (Writer’s Note: If someone could give me a definitive name for this incarnation the TMNT in the comments, it’d be much appreciated). Shockingly, the only character design that shows restraint is the Toad Baron, who is just an overgrown toad dressed like an Aladdin extra. Also, Tunica’s color palette lacks range, as the real world and that of the Toad Baron are indistinguishable.
Tunica is aided by the lettering work of Shawn Lee. It’s a common belief the mark of a good letterer is that you don’t really notice their contribution. However, his lettering shifts and morphs throughout this book to indicate the influence of the Toad Baron over his victims.
While not perfect, TMNT Universe #9 is a complete package from the writing down through the lettering. Even the back-up story, the finale of Brahm Revel’s “What is Ninja?” sticks the landing with an emotional and affecting exchange between Splinter and Jennika. It is a perfect ode to classic comics from Mirage Studios while continuing to push the Turtles’ story forward.