For 100 issues, IDW Publishing's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series told the story of street-level heroes often pulled into sci-fi and fantasy adventures. Through these adventures, the series was always about the family unit formed by the Turtles and their father, Splinter. Sophie Campbell has scaled up that theme since becoming the new series writer with issue #101. While the Splinter Clan—now without Splinter, following the master's death—remains at the heart of the series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has become more broadly about Mutant Town, the community of those recently transformed into mutants by Old Hob's mutagen bomb. Campbell and her collaborators have depicted the Splinter Clan and the Mutanimals vying for power, each trying to create someplace where mutants can thrive in the heart of a city that has quarantined and turned its back on them.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #124 sees Campbell team up with artist Ken Garing for a holiday story. Seemingly taking a cue from "Silent Night," the issue is free of dialog and narration. Instead, it leans on comics visuals to convey its themes and emotions, starting large before honing in on the series' heart.
It begins with the macro view. At the end of the previous issue, the three young weasels in the Turtles' care went missing, lured away by their own complicated father figure, Old Hob. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #124 begins with the turtles canvasing mutant town to find the missing children. There are only two panels on this opening page, a close shot of the missing poster with weasels' photos and a pulled-out overhead panel of the Turtles and friends on the search. After this, Garing settles into a 4-6 panel rhythm as the Turtles head indoors to get out of the snow.
From here, the story isolates the Turtles, either in their thoughts or with other distractions. Alopex, the recently added sixth member of the clan, heads back out into the snow (being a mutated arctic fox, she's presumably less bothered by the cold). Her run through the streets offers glimpses at how other members of the Mutant Town community are spending their holiday, a sequence that helps remind readers of the extended family to which the Turtles now belong.
While Alopex is unsuccessful, Oroku Saki—the former Shredder, now serving as a kind of spectral guardian angel to the Turtles after finding peace in the afterlife—manages to locate the weasels, who seem happy in Old Hob's care. Conveying the message anonymously to the Turtles allows the issue to focus on the real ghost haunting them, Splinter.
The closing pages of the issue have the Turtles quietly reckoning with their father's absence. They gather closely in the same panel for the first time in the story, looking back on old photos and remembering the father they each miss. It's a well-staged and touching moment, especially resonant for anyone who has had to attempt to fill the void in a holiday gathering left by a lost loved one. Finally, after taking the time they need, the Turtles look over to the friends and extended family who have gathered to support them, turning graciously from their past towards their future. The issue closes out without another two-panel page, an inversion of how Garing began the comic, tying it all together nicely.
The issue does stumble in places. Garing's art style has a starchiness that may be better suited to street action than intimate emotional storytelling. As a result, it's hard not to imagine how this issue could have turned out if another artist had illustrated it, perhaps even Campbell herself, who proved her mastery of emotional visual storytelling in the series as far back as the "Northhampton" arc years ago. There are also a few panels where Garing struggles to convey what's happening without help from narration or dialog and may confuse the reader. Another moment serves only to tease some new characters that'll be central to the next issue's story, which proves particularly confusing as they could be mistaken for the Turtles based on appearance and are given prominence without context.
Even with these stumbles, Campbell and Garing have put together an intimate portrait of the Turtles family. It's an issue likely to warm readers from the inside out on a cold winter night.
Published by IDW Publishing
On December 15, 2021
Written by Sophie Campbell
Art by Ken Garing
Colors by Ronda Pattison
Letters by Shawn Lee
Cover by Ken Garing