“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Deviations” #1 by Kevin Eastman, Bobby Curnow, Tom Waltz, Zach Howard, Cory Smith and Joylon Yates has an elevator pitch that’s hard to resist: what if the Turtles worked for Shredder instead of Splinter?
IDW’s “Deviations” are one-shot “What If?” or “Elseworlds”-like stories, but the issues start from specific points of deviation, instead of rewriting a world wholesale. It requires readers to be familiar with the original point of deviation for greatest impact, and thus these stories tend to reward longtime, loyal readers instead of drawing in new ones.
Waltz, Eastman and Curnow take their jumping-off point to the “City Fall” storyline. Casey Jones dies, which has two consequences: all four of the Turtles are turned, and Casey Jones’ dad is drawn into the story.
Howard’s gritty art style is a good match for the dark tone of this story. Howard’s linework and the inks have thick, dramatic outlines and the fighting scenes have a lot of energy. The backgrounds are too cluttered in some panels, where the amount of detail detracts from the impression of three-dimensional depth. Ronda Pattison’s colors don’t help with the flow of sequences; she fills in the backgrounds with four different colors in one fight scene, and the colors don’t even correspond to specific turtles.
The biggest draw of the story is the change in loyalty, but Waltz’s script focuses more on action and Splinter’s distress than on the psychology or emotions of the Turtles. The first scene reads like a horror movie, complete with close-ups of a bloody face and a long-angle panel from Splinter’s point of view. The most emotionally intense page is probably the nine-panel grid when Michelangelo gets the last word after the Turtles capture Splinter. Watching the goofiest, most fun-loving Turtle say “dude” while beating down his father is a successful shock.
Unfortunately, the story goes downhill from there. Shredder behaves like a parody of a supervillain, spouting stale dialogue like “there are none left who dare stand in our way.” He asks for Splinter to be captured alive, without explaining why, and then compounds that move by delaying Splinter’s execution like one of the dumber “James Bond” villains.
It’s amusing that Shredder has a “don’t worry your pretty little head” dismissal of Kitsune, who is the keystone of his victory, but rejecting her common sense concerns is a stupid decision and it diminishes Shredder as a villain. Splinter’s execution is then interrupted at last moment, and the Turtles are released from their brainwashing by yet another player’s entrance. This clown-car-like roundup of characters and easy resolution is just too convenient to feel convincing.
The tragedy of the conclusion was a surprise and the last line manages to have some emotional punch, but the pacing is too rushed to allow the Turtles or the reader enough “landing time” to process it. Also, the change to Cory Smith’s art is too abrupt, because his style differs too much from Howard’s.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Deviations” #1 has a good premise and strong opening scenes, but the weak plotting and lack of deeper characterization keeps it from being a stronger one-shot or memorable “What If?” tale.