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Comic Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #81 – The Rat King Cometh!

by Dan Gehen

In the aftermath of “Invasion of the Triceratons,” the Pantheon returns! But is the Rat King working in concert with this siblings, or on his own?

Comic Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #81

(W) Tom Waltz, Kevin Eastman, Bobby Curnow (A) Dave Wachter (C) Ronda Pattison

With the conclusion of “Invasion of the Triceratons,” it looks like Tom Waltz and company have their eyes set on redirecting the TMNT to the street-level and supernatural themed storytelling that was once a staple of this series. And it’s about damn time, as the last 30 or so issues, with space adventures and dimension hopping haves seen the once great series slump towards mediocrity.

The cover of this issue, by Wachter, signals the (hopeful) return to form. Rat King, perched atop one of New York’s countless buildings, plays his flute like the Pied Piper, calling readers turned off by the series to return. And while some dynamics remain changed – especially the relationship between the Turtles and Splinter – the book has a “classic TMNT” feel to it. The Turtles and April are sneaking around behind Stockman’s back. Casey is out trying to protect the streets while dealing with the, ahem, complicated relationship with his father. Oh, and Bishop is still a smarmy bastard that keeps readers on their toes.

Wachter’s artwork – specifically his visual storytelling – is what hooks readers into the issue. The first several pages of the book sees a parallel narrative following Splinter and Leonardo, and the leadership methods they employ in service of their respective clans. It also demonstrates the difference between a leader who joins his soldiers in the field versus one who sits back and delegates, and how those approaches can lead to different interpretations of events.

The strong artwork continues throughout the issue, a welcome improvement over the mess that was delivered in Issue #80. Throughout this middling stretch of TMNT comics, Wachter’s artwork has been the one consistently shining element, and it is great to see him once again be given a script that matches the quality of his talent. It would also be remiss to forget Ronda Pattison’s contribution to this issue, who has a strong bounce-back performance after rough outing in the last issue.

If there is a criticism to be made, it is that this issue feels less like the start of a new arc and more like a filler issue. Not much of significance actually happens until the final two pages. However, that is not necessarily a bad thing, as the series has been moving at a breakneck pace for quite a while now. Taking a breather for an issue to reset and refocus on the characters and their relationships with one another might be just what the book needs.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #81 is a nice palette cleanser for fans hoping to see this series finally return to form. While a story as impactful as “City Fall” may not be in the cards for the immediate future, the creative team has made a concerted effort to right the ship as it marches towards issue #100. This issue, full of character moments and much improved artwork, is a good start.

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