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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) Season 2, Part 1 Review


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) Season 2, Part 1 Review

Okay, I’m gonna level with you people. I *hate it* when the Ninja Turtles go on protracted outer space adventures. I didn’t like it when the original Mirage comics did it, I didn’t like it when the recent Nickelodeon cartoon did it (for THIRTEEN episodes), and I didn’t dig it when the 2003 TMNT cartoon did it. When the Turtles go into space, I always just sorta check out.Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) Season 2, Part 1 ReviewBut it’s only for five episodes. And as little interest as I have in Space Turtles stuff, I won’t deny that doing these familiar storylines expands the mythology and introduces characters and elements I DO like. I mean, I love the Triceratons. Hate the space stuff, but love the Triceratons. Fancy that. The Fugitoid is alright in my book, too, I guess.

I think my frustration with the Space Turtles storylines is that they stop the terrestrial narrative dead and put the Turtles through a bunch of sci-fi predicaments I couldn’t care less about. Maybe if these arcs weren’t always so long, I wouldn’t mind them so much? God, let’s just get this over with. There’s some really cool shit in season 2 and I want to get there.

“Turtles in Space, Part 1: The Fugitoid” (written by Michael Ryan)

Teleported halfway across the universe, the Turtles find themselves on the alien world of D’Hoonib. They soon befriend a fugitive android, a “Fugitoid,” named Professor Honeycutt. He’s actually a scientist whose mind was put inside a robot body. He’s on the run from General Blanque and the Federation, soldiers who want the Fugitoid and the secrets to his teleportal device. And so now the Turtles are on the run, too.Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) Season 2, Part 1 ReviewWe enter Act II of this ambitious ten-part storyline. The first act was “The Search for Splinter” two-parter. This second act, “Turtles in Space,” is the longest at five parts, and the third act will finish everything off with the “Secret Origins” three-parter. Needless to say, it is a LONG storyline. It certainly exhausts the audience by the time it’s through, but we aren’t even close to being there yet.

This particular episode is a dual-adaptation, mining its material from Fugitoid (microseries) #1 and the first half of TMNT (Vol. 1) #5. Funny story about the Fugitoid; he actually predates the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by a year. He was originally created by Eastman and Laird for a back-up serial that they shopped around to other publishers, but ultimately printed themselves in their short-lived Gobbledygook anthology. His serial was left hanging when that series petered out, but once the TMNT series hit it big, Eastman and Laird wove the narratives together, penning a final chapter that dropped the Fugitoid into the TMNT’s outer space plot line and then having the characters collide in the pages of TMNT #5. Likewise, the Triceratons originated in the Fugitoid back-up serial (though they’d been floating around as random pin-up art from Peter Laird before that), making them older than the Turtles, too.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) Season 2, Part 1 Review

But that’s enough history. This episode adapts the first half of TMNT #5, weaving in only the most necessary elements from the Fugitoid microseries (his origin and the scene where Officer Lonae delivers intel to the Triceratons). The rest is filler to pad out the story and make this storyline last longer than it needs to. So we get a pointless bit where the Turtles fight a robotic sanitation machine in the sewers of D’Hoonib and it’s as stupid as it sounds. The only padding that really works is the tank battle with the Federation soldiers, as it better fits into the narrative of the Turtles on the run. Better than a random robot in the sewers, anyway.

Oliver Wyman plays the Fugitoid in his first-ever animated appearance (though he’d received an action figure in the 1980s TMNT toyline, he never appeared in the cartoon). While Wyman’s performance owes a lot to Anthony Daniels’ C3PO, a fact they’ll joke about in the next episode, it’ll wind up being the default interpretation of the character. You can’t help but hear a bit of Wyman’s portrayal in David Tennant’s go at the character in the 2012 cartoon.Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) Season 2, Part 1 ReviewAnd contrary to my grievances with the Space Turtles storylines, which invariably serve to introduce the Fugitoid into whichever continuity, I’m actually pretty fond of the character. He provides a mentor character for Donatello and plays the convenient know-it-all for exposition whenever something extraterrestrial happens in the plot. I think I like him most in the IDW comics, where he’d been worked into the terrestrial storylines well in advance of sending the Turtles to space, and even after that he’s hung on as part of a “brain trust” with Donatello and other tech-based characters. When written well, he can be very fun.

He doesn’t do a whole lot in this episode as his dynamic with the Turtles is still getting some traction. What I do like is how, physically, he can keep up with them because he’s a robot and all, but he’s got the mind of a meek little poindexter, so he isn’t up for all the action and adventure. It’s a different sort of scenario than a deadweight character whom the Turtles have to drag everywhere; the Fugitoid is ostensibly stronger than they are. He just doesn’t WANT to be there.Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) Season 2, Part 1 ReviewBut while the episode drags in plot, the animation ranges from gorgeous to “gettin’ pretty cheap there, Dong Woo.” The opening fight sequence with the Federation troops in the alley looks superb with some fluid fight choreography. But later on in the episode, you’ll start seeing some seams, like how whenever the hover tanks approach or depart from the Fourth Wall, it’s just the animation cel being pulled closer to or further from the camera. So it doesn’t look like the tanks are moving so much as they’re either growing or shrinking. You’ll see what I mean.

Anyway, that’s one down. At least it ends with a Triceraton.

“Turtles in Space, Part 2: The Trouble with Triceratons” (written by Eric Luke)

While trying to escape from the Federation, the Turtles and the Fugitoid run afoul of Commander Mozar and the Triceratons. The Triceratons snatch the Fugitoid and the Turtles give chase.Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) Season 2, Part 1 ReviewThis episode adapts the second half of TMNT (Vol. 1) #5, which is the much, MUCH more interesting half of that issue. So the padding here isn’t quite as awful as in the previous episode (though they still could have condensed this down to one episode, I think). More importantly, the Triceratons make their big entrance in this episode (after a teaser at the end of the previous one) and they leave a damn good first impression.

While I’m not big on the sci-fi parts of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I’ll sit through all of it in exchange for the Triceratons. I love those guys. And luckily, we’re going to see a LOT of them in the 4Kids series (particularly during season 3). They’re one of Peter Laird’s best designs; more than just generic dinosaur-men. In particular, I love it when Triceraton characters get customized attributes that set them apart from their otherwise identical siblings. The villain of this episode is Commander Mozar, who was indistinguishable from other Triceratons in the Mirage comics, but is given an eyepatch, scars and a robot hand to help him stand out in the cartoon. I love it when little touches like that are applied to Triceratons with characterization, even if they aren’t big standout personalities.Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) Season 2, Part 1 ReviewThis episode is defined more by its action sequences and set pieces than its plot. The “story” is honestly just a case of the Turtles getting attacked, the Fugitoid getting kidnapped, and the Turtles chasing after him. The action is just there to stretch things out, but at least it all complements what’s going on and isn’t some dumb robot in the sewer.

While the fight in the cantina is alright (if marred by a dumb sequence where the Turtles escape via a flying table), it’s the battle between the Turtles in an aircar and the Triceraton Rear Guard on jetpacks that really stands out. There’s one Triceraton, the one that completely wrecks their shit with his bare hands, that definitely sets their species up as a force to be reckoned with (more so than anything Mozar does, as a matter of fact). It’s animated very well and the sequence even includes one of the rare moments of casual murder you’ll find in the series (Donnie tricks one of the Rear Guard into flying into a tree where his jetpack explodes him into little chunks).

Everything else is minimal. Again, TMNT #5 had just enough content to accommodate one episode. Stretching it into two really makes this arc feel tedious from the get-go and we aren’t even halfway through.

“Turtles in Space, Part 3: The Big House” (written by Marty Isenberg)

The Turtles are incarcerated in a Triceraton prison while Prime Leader Zanramon coerces the Fugitoid into building the teleportal, lest the Turtles be executed. Meanwhile, the Turtles plot a jailbreak.Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) Season 2, Part 1 ReviewThis episode takes a few snippets from the beginning TMNT (Vol. 1) #6 but is otherwise an entirely new plot. In the comic, as soon as the Turtles were captured after stowing away aboard the Triceraton freighter, they were sent directly to the gladiatorial games. Here, writer Marty Isenberg tries to pad things out just as was done with the adaptation of TMNT #5.

It’s maybe even a little worse in this instance, as nothing interesting is done with the Turtles-in-prison shtick. They do everything you’d expect, such as getting into mess hall brawls with gangs of thugs, getting sent to solitary confinement, etc. They plot to escape throughout the episode, but it goes nowhere because they’ll need to be back in Triceraton custody by next episode to facilitate the rest of the TMNT #6 adaptation. This is just a case of the plot spinning its wheels for an episode.Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) Season 2, Part 1 ReviewBut even when this show is just wasting time, it can still be pretty good, at least in these early seasons. Dong Woo’s animation here is as good as their best episodes of the series and the fight scenes are up to standard. In the last act, the Turtles utilize a bunch of janitorial supplies as makeshift weapons and use them in a goofy battle against the guards. It’s animated with the same style and energy as the more “serious” fights and the blending of action and silliness gave me momentary flashes of the Fred Wolf cartoon (though it was rarely animated this well).

“Turtles in Space, Part 4: The Arena” (written by Michael Ryan)

To further encourage the Fugitoid to cooperate, Zanramon has the Turtles taken to the Tri-Sports Arena to fight in The Games. The Turtles fare well in combat, much to Zanramon’s frustration, and even earn the respect of Traximus the Triceraton Gladiator.Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) Season 2, Part 1 ReviewThis episode adapts the meat of TMNT #6, which to put it politely, wasn’t a very innovative Ninja Turtles story to begin with. It was an “homage” to John Carter of Mars, but even by the 1980s I think the realm of science fiction had seen more than enough John Carter spoofs. By the time the Star Wars prequels got around to that shit, I think we’d all had our fill. Any other ideas added to this adaptation are lifted directly from the film Gladiator (right down to Traximus being an obvious parody of Russel Crow’s Maximus). So it’s two half-assed spoofs in one.

They stretch it out, of course, because that’s all this “Turtles in Space” arc has been doing so far. The Turtles fight the Spasmasaur (which appeared in the comic but didn’t fight the Turtles) and then a bunch of “honorable gladiator” stereotypes (not from the comic), ultimately culminating in a showdown with Monza Ram and the Triceraton All-Stars (from the comic). That last bit, the one battle the Turtles DID have in the Mirage comic, is cut short and the Turtles take the Triceraton All-Stars out quickly and efficiently. So it seems the one thing the 4Kids crew didn’t decompress was the actual battle from the source material. Kind of disappointing.Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) Season 2, Part 1 ReviewAnd that’s really all there is to this episode. Just the Turtles stuck in an arena, fighting gladiators, aliens and monsters until they find a way to break free and take Zanramon hostage. Also, I hope you like seeing the Turtles participating in arena fighting tournaments, because that’s going to be a returning theme this season.

“Turtles in Space, Part 5: Triceraton Wars” (written by Marty Isenberg)

On the run yet again, the Turtles and the Fugitoid find themselves trapped between Commander Mozar’s Triceratons and General Blanque’s Federation. Hoping to buy enough time to let the Fugitoid build his teleportal and send them home, the Turtles pit the two warring factions against each other.Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) Season 2, Part 1 ReviewThis episode is 99% original material, only taking the smallest elements from TMNT #6 (taking Zanramon prisoner, running through hallways, teleporting back to Earth at the last second). Everything else is just more stuff to make the arc last five episodes.

And I guess that’s one of the things that ultimately bugs me about “Turtles in Space.” They take two issues of the comic and try to decompress it into five episodes, but the material they add is a whole lot of nothing. While they do flesh out aspects of the Federation/Triceraton hostilities and introduce some original characters who will be appearing later (Traximus), it could have been done just as substantially in three episodes instead of five.Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) Season 2, Part 1 ReviewThe 2012 TMNT cartoon may have elongated its outer space storyline to half a season, but at least each episode was a complete story with a memorable plot and identity. This episode is just fuckin’ filler. All of the Turtles’ work to distract the armies while the Fugitoid builds the teleportal amounts to nothing, as his platform is destroyed in the altercation … only for the Utroms to swoop in and teleport them to safety in the final seconds. A whole lot of delaying tactics for something that doesn’t matter. Same thing they did in “The Big House,” as matter of fact. Hell, same thing they’ve done in just about every episode from this five-parter.

If anything legitimately substantial was added with this episode, it would be the bit where the Fugitoid makes the Turtles promise to kill him if worse comes to worse so that his knowledge cannot fall into the wrong hands. There’s, of course, a copout at the last second where Leo is about to pull the trigger on the Fugitoid only for them all to be saved at the last second, but it’s still pretty dark stuff. There’s even a sequence where the Fugitoid holds a gun up to his own head and the Turtles have to talk him down from suicide. I mean, I know they got away with it because BS&P thought the Fugitoid was “just a robot,” but I’m still a little surprised that they did.Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) Season 2, Part 1 ReviewI like the ideas and characters introduced during “Turtles in Space,” but I like them more for what they offer later on in the series as opposed to anything they contribute now. And I feel the same way about the Mirage comic; don’t like that initial outer space story but I love what the Utroms and Triceratons and Fugitoid bring to the table down the line. So this storyline is a … necessary evil? That seems rather harsh, but I have to reiterate that if they’d just cropped it down to three episodes I wouldn’t have much to hold against it.

Well, anyway, that’s that. The epic 10-parter still isn’t quite over, we’ve only just gotten through the second act. Luckily, the final three parts are leaner and much more interesting, so I’ll be pleased once we get to them. We’ll also have a clip show (boo), a setup for the Battle Nexus storyline (meh), and the return of Nano (eh). Man, I’m glad to be through this stretch of episodes, though.

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