In their turn on "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Casey and April," Mariko Tamaki and Irene Koh bring a welcome indie edge -- and not-so-welcome indie slowness -- to the TMNT franchise. Instead of a supernatural, clue-collecting adventure, April and Casey's road trip starts off as a surprisingly quiet exploration of their relationship. While it has plenty of room to grow, "Casey and April" #1 is a lovely surprise nested in a mainstream title. If Tamaki can tease a little more originality out of the couples' disagreements and if Koh and colorist Paul Reinwand can inject the supernatural scenes with more mood, this could be a very rewarding miniseries.
Though April and Casey are ostensibly on a Pantheon-related mission, issue #1 focuses on their relationship dynamic. While this dynamic often treads familiar ground -- more on that later -- Tamaki makes excellent use of the road trip setting. Long drives are at once intensely private and intensely communal, and the creative team uses both those modes to their advantage. Sometimes the scene is rife with the claustrophobia of a car's tight, shared space; at other times, Casey or April escapes a difficult conversation by staring out the window and letting the radio fill the space. Tamaki has a wonderful ear for the rise and fall of conversation and the way random words can take an unexpected meaning. The dialogue makes plenty of unexpected, poignant turns.
However, parts of the issue are too slow and too easy. At one point, Casey picks up an actual heart-shaped rock. He clutches it throughout the issue before tossing it in a moment of anger with April. Visuals like this are just too obvious to merit slower, more indulgent pacing. I can enjoy a relaxed meditation on a relationship, so long as the story gets into that relationship's unique nooks and crannies. When the discussion becomes too broad, though, the slowness becomes much more noticeable. April and Casey's argument over his fight in the diner is particularly obvious, and it hurts the pacing even more when they abruptly get into a car accident. That scene is the only one in the issue that truly drags, but drag it does.
Irene Koh's breezy lines and Paul Reinwand's warm colors create a bright, breakable landscape for the title couple to travel through. When April asks, "Doesn't it feel like we should be on vacation or something?" I could see why -- the sunny car, bright blue sky and casual body language of the characters all suggested an easy summer road trip. This gives the book a lovely look for most of it, but it does rob the villain at the end of some of his menace. He looks more incongruous than anything, so some more gradual transitions would have been beneficial. Still, it's hard to criticize such pretty, inviting artwork.
All in all, "Casey and April" #1 offers an unexpected, ultimately rewarding take on a TMNT property. I'll be curious to see where this goes, especially as the villain starts to make his move.