The only problem I had with this collection of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Micro Series from IDW is that every time I read a passage I spent the rest of the day humming the theme to the 1987 animated series. I don’t wish to give the impression that this book hews closely to a show that, nostalgia aside, I suspect wasn’t of particularly high artistic or literary quality. However, it is evident that Lynch has a strong understanding of and appreciation for his subject matter and it seems a safe bet that the cartoon series played a role in the development of these qualities. In other words, I quickly realized that Lynch and I are cut from the same nerdy, cartoon-watching cloth and felt right at home as I settled into his turtle stories.
This collection includes four stories, each focusing on a different brother and each drawn by a different artist. The storylines don’t relate to each other in any direct way, but do refer back to events in the ongoing IDW series. I haven’t followed that series, but I didn’t have any trouble keeping up here. I suppose a reader wholly unfamiliar with the turtles and their hangers-on might feel a bit adrift, but the salient facts are all right there in the title.
The greatest feat of this collection is the extent to which both the writing and the art balance the individuality of each brother against the need for cohesion of style and tone within the series. Raphael and Leonardo’s stories have darker, grittier art by Franco Urru and Ross Campbell, respectively. Raphael struggles with trust and betrayal while Leonardo strives to maintain the honor his father instilled in him. Michelangelo and Donatello’s stories have more cartoonish art. Respective artists Andy Kuhn and Valerio Schiti are quite ready to throw in comically distorted faces or slapsticky sight gags as Michelangelo tries to pass for a normal human party dude and Donatello reaches out for a friend who can match him intellectually in a way his brothers can’t. All four stories are absolutely true to the quirks of each of the four brothers and bind to each other through shared themes of family and community.
It’s clear that Lynch has put some thought into what makes the turtles compelling, both individually and as a family. Just as importantly, he never loses sight of the fact that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are born of an inherently ridiculous premise. To drive this point home, the Michelangelo, Donatello, and Leonardo stories each contain a line referencing the 1987 cartoon theme, jokes too fun to spoil here. I’m certain there must be a matching reference somewhere in the Raphael story but I’ve not yet found it. Luckily, it’s a pleasure to reread the book a few times looking for it.