Today I’m taking a look at 2021’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Annual from IDW, written by former TMNT head writer Tom Waltz, with art by Casey Maloney, Maria Keene and Luis Antonio Delgado. This issue, while largely unconcerned with current events in the main book, follows up on a lot of Waltz’s previous plot threads from the first 100 issues, as well as last year’s annual. In his usual fashion, it’s setting up an exciting long game, and has plenty for me to dig into.
The focus is on the Rat King, a long time enemy of the Turtles in many continuities, but this particular version is one that outsiders to this canon may find unfamiliar. This Rat King is a member of a group of Demigods named the Pantheon, a sort of follow up to an idea presented in Peter Laird’s unfinished TMNT Vol. 4, in which the original Mirage Rat King was said to be part of a similar, unseen group.
The plot is solid all around, if a bit confusing if you aren’t a long time reader. That being said, Waltz goes out of his way to make sure the plot itself helps catch people up to speed, with Rat King explaining his history through the lens of telling his story to an unseen listener. The book takes its time exploring the different Pantheon members through Rat King’s eyes, showing how their views and abnormalities shape the actions he takes by the end of the issue. It concludes with the revelation that he’s actually been speaking to many people, all major villains in the history of the IDW comic, recruiting them into taking down the Turtles once and for all. Most notably, it has the return of Krang, another longstanding classic Turtles villain who’s been out of the action for a while now. The idea of all these characters joining forces is extremely exciting (especially to a Turtles superfan like myself), so I can’t wait to see this get followed up on.
The characterization in this issue is phenomenal. IDW’s Rat King has been a part of the book for a long time, and is clearly one Waltz has a blast writing. His flowery but calculated manner of speaking says a lot about the character, giving you a strong idea of how he ticks without ever having to have read anything prior to this. This works well for this issue in particular, as it serves as both a recap of events involving the Pantheon up until now, and also setting up same major future story lines by the end. The Pantheon themselves are all distinct and very different, but you still get the sense of their familial bond, which I think was very well handled.
The art is fantastic, with the Toad Baron section in particular feeling like classic fairy tale meets Candyland. Maloney’s pencils are complemented wonderfully by the inking and coloring (by Maria Keene and Luis Antonio Delgado respectively). It gives a feeling of twisted merriment and whimsy, which feels wholly appropriate for the Pantheon. The Rat King himself is also very expressive, and the artwork makes a point to show him making exaggerated, dramatic gestures, which suits his purposefully over the top nature perfectly.
All in all, this was a great showing from Waltz and crew. It’s always nice to see him pop back onto the main series in some capacity (even if just for a brief moment), and I’ll never get tired of how easily he manages to hook me into reading more to see what he’s building toward (you’ve trapped me for years, Waltz, darn you!). The plot is fun and good at getting folks up to speed, and it’s well characterized which makes for a brisk but meaty read. The artwork (especially the Toad Baron scene) is wonderfully crafted, and I found myself pausing to take in all the details often. Overall, a must read if you love this series.
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