Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Deviations, a review

Deviations was a month-long series of comics that acted as a “What If…”-style story for some of IDW Publishing’s most popular comic books. From the X-Files to G.I. Joe, no one was safe from a little bit of revisionist history. Nestled within the pages of these wild left turns was a story about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

TMNT Deviations brought us back to the very beginning of a story called City Fall. In the main IDW Turtles series, Casey Jones is severely injured by the Shredder which in turn leads to the capture and brainwashing of Leonardo, the intrepid leader of the Turtle teens. City Fall is an incredible story of the Turtles fighting to save the mind and soul of their brother. By the end of that story, the Turtles are beaten and forced to retreat from their home, and despite rescuing their brother Leo, it still feels like a massive defeat for our heroes.

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But Deviations looks at this story a bit differently. (Spoilers) Instead of Casey Jones being badly injured, the Shredder actually murders him and captures all four of the Turtles, where he quickly manipulates their minds and converts them to the Foot Clan, thanks to the witch Kitsune.  It’s from this point that the story opens, as the four Turtles are seen brutally interrogating the mutant anti-hero known as Old Hob for the whereabouts of Splinter, their father and sensei. This scene is shown parallel to the Turtles manhandling Splinter. This scene lets you know that you’re not in for the usual Turtles story. These newer, darker Turtles give no quarter and pull no punches. The kind of beating they give to Splinter has arguably not been seen in the pages of the IDW series either before or since this story. Perhaps the most cringe inducing aspect of this opening scene is that despite the beating Splinter is receiving, he refuses to fight back. No matter how badly Splinter is hurt by his sons, he loves them too much to risk hurting them.

This type of violence, both savage and unrelenting, runs throughout the entire book, with both sides losing many a battle. This book is a stark reminder of how powerful and skilled the Turtles really are.

 

Series writer Tom Waltz has done such a great job with the TMNT comic since staring back in 2011, that to say that his work is impressive is kind of an understatement. Along with story contributors Kevin Eastman and Bobby Curnow, Waltz crafts a story that is painful to read in the best way. If you’re an longtime Turtles fan, you would be forgiven if you thought that seeing the Turtles fight their father is wrong, because it is. Rebelling against your parents is someone everyone will do, but when you throw in ninjas and gunfights, the hits take on a much dark and punishing tone. Possibly the most impressive feat of this story< from a writing standpoint, is the fact that the Turtles, despite being evil now, haven’t lost their personality. Leo is still the leader, Raphael is the muscle, Donatello is analytical and Michelangelo is still…well, he’s still Mikey. While this story is only twenty six pages long, you really feel that this is an epic story that could just go anywhere.

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Old Hob

But a comic book still has to have impressive art and Deviation deliver in a bold way. Artist Zach Howard gives the readers a harsher, grittier look at the Turtles and the world they inhabit. Each character found here is given bold and heavy lines that really emphasize their figures. The Turtles themselves are draped in heavy shadows and aren’t fully revealed until the very end of the story after all hell has broken loose. A great visual clue to the readers that these brainwashed Turtles are not the ones we know. Colorist Ronda Pattison has been with this series since it began back in 2011. Her use of color within the main series has never disappointed, complementing the art with coloring that clues the reader in on the emotions of the characters and the surrounds they’re in before a single word is spoken. With Deviations, Pattison’s colors almost contradict the boldness of the lines with background colors that pop and clash against her muted coloring of the characters.

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The greatest aspect of this one-shot story is its intentionally untapped potential. You go into this story knowing you’re only getting one issue, and by the time you turn the last page, you’re left wondering, much like the Turtles are; what next? These dark Turtles are a breath of fresh air that the series as a whole didn’t even need at the time, and from what I understand, it doesn’t even need it now. You see the Turtles lose themselves and succumb to darkness that they didn’t know they had within them. And as a result, you see the Turtles, people some of us have known for over thirty years now, as brand new characters. Characters that we may sadly never see again, as Deviation was publish almost three years ago. If we were going to see these guys again, I have to imagine that we would have by now.

If you haven’t read this issue before, you should. It’s a great “what if” issue for the Turtles. And if you happen to pick this up online or in your comic shop, I would recommend picking up the City Fall storyline as well, and read Deviations after City Fall, as it carries more of an impact that way.

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