Jiu-Jitsu Hot Dogs: TMNT: Raphael #1 Review

When I was five years old, I ate a bad hot dog on Christmas Eve and spent Christmas Day hurling like an inveterate alcoholic on an Antabuse drip instead of playing with my shiny new Maskatron. The experience was so bad that I literally couldn’t even look at a hot dog for about ten years afterwards; the thought of them made me sick, even though I knew that I might like them if I could put the bad memories behind me and try them again.

It was in this spirit that I bought Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle: Raphael #1.

Intellectually, I know that TMNT started as a pretty hard-edged satire of Frank Miller’s Daredevil and Ronin, and that any humor in the book came from the inherent absurdity of turtles being involved in a ninja story played completely straight. And that I actually liked those early stories. And that there was a reason that those books were so sought-after in the middle, late 80s. I know this.

But then there was that fucking cartoon.

There is nothing worse then being sixteen years old and watching something you enjoy being mined for the giggles of five to seven year olds. To go from seeing a team of ninjas offer their enemy the chance to meet defeat with honor by committing seppuku… to seeing an empty-eyed simpleton yammering “Turtle Power!” while shoveling pizza down its catchphrase-hole. Ask again what the cause of Generation Y obesity is… and ask again why I lost so much weight during the years that cartoon was on. Hint: it wasn’t because of hot dogs, but the result was the same.

But I’ll try to put that aside for the purposes of this review. IDW Comics begain putting out a new TMNT series cowritten by TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman. Which at face value isn’t a bad sign… except he’s also the same guy who gave the green light to that everfucking cartoon, and one time I had a clean shot at him outside the men’s room at a comic convention in Boston and I let him live and…

*deep breath*

Okay. This issue is part of a side series of issues focusing on individual turtles. This one’s about Raphael, with an additional bonus of a healthy dose of Casey Jones, which goes a long way with me, because that character was one of my favorites from the original comic series.

The main thrust of the issue is Raphael out on patrol with Casey, when they come across two guys chasing someone who turns out to be a mutated arctic fox named Alopex, probably because it sounds cool, and “White Dog” would be a little on the nose and a lot racist. Alopex claims to be an actual fox who was experimented on and made humanoid, despite having an affection for masks – y’know, so no one can tell which six-foot anthropomorphic fox she is at her day job – and being light about four sets of teats.

Raphael misses all this and gets ready to bring her back to the sewer for training and possibly some light bestiality when he realizes perhaps it is unwise to trust the walking masked karate expert. Turns out she’s a mole, and flings a plethora of shuriken and phosphorous bombs at Raphael despite not having a utility belt, pockets or, in fact, pants. She escapes, we discover Alopex is working for Shredder (Because it is, after all, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle story), Raphael reports back to the other turtles, and has enough time to share a brotherly moment with Casey. So in the end, many animals were harmed in the depiction this story… but thankfully, no pizzas.

If this all sounds silly, it’s because it is. It’s funny animals beating the shit out of other funny animals. All of which really wants to trigger off my anti-cartoon feelings… but it all kind of works. It’s very easy for me to forget that, while the original, pre-cartoon stories weren’t as yukked-up as that Godforesaken show, they were, in fact, satire. The silliness came from playing it absolutely straight… and Bryan Lynch clearly understand this. He writes it as if it is an absolutely serious, portentious battle with catastrophic consequences… between a talking turtle and a walking fox.

Franco Urru’s art fits well with the story. An old-school TMNT story needs an artist who can commit to the absolute reality behind two talking animals trying to stab each other in the carotid – i.e., realism in cartoons. It’s not something you see every day, or that I imagine that you draw every day, but Urru draws a dynamic fight scene… that happens to involve funny animals. Urru actually uses some obvious photoreferencing of actual white foxes – possibly lightboxed, but it’s just a frame or two, that subtly reinforce the reality of a white fox. As a, you know… ninja bitch.

Look: I’m not convinced that this book is really for me. I have a deeply-rooted problem with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that might never be cured (Every time I hear the word “Cowabunga!” my joy of adolescence goes a little more necrotic). But I have to admit that this book works for what it is. If you actually like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you will probably like this book. If you like ninja action with a healthy dose of ridiculous absurdity, you will probably like this book.

I’m just not yet convinced that I do. But what the hell; I got over the hot dog thing eventually, maybe I’ll learn to forgive TMNT. But the first time I see a skateboard, or even think of Vanilla Ice? Projectile city, baby.