Comics

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Bodycount – Comic Review

‘After being out of print for years, a grindhouse-style classic returns—better than ever. Inspired by the magazine Heavy Metal and the films of John Woo, creators Kevin Eastman and Simon Bisley present a much darker take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, spinning a pulse-pounding yarn of over-the-top action and more than a bit of the old ultraviolence. In gritty 1990s New York, our boys Raphael and Casey are swept up into an international murder/revenge/assassination plot, complete with gangsters, thugs, cops, cyborgs, machine guns, and (of course) hockey sticks. Don’t miss what might just be the longest-running gunfight in comic book history!’

I grew up watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon as a kid (Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles for those like me, watching it in the UK) and fell in love with the gang of green heroes. As I got older, I found out that the show was based upon comics and that the books were much more adult and darker in tone than the children’s series.

I’ve now read quite a bit of these comics and have experienced this ‘darker’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but even the early comics didn’t quite prepare me for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Bodycount.

Originally published as a mini-series in 1996, the story tells the bloody and gruesome tale of Hong Kong gangster Midnight, who has travelled to New York City on the run from her former colleagues who are now hunter her for apparently betraying them. Running into Casey Jones, then Raphael, the two of them end up helping Midnight as she travels across the country seeking Sanctuary, a place where she can be safe.

Whilst this doesn’t sound too far removed from a fairly standard TMNT plot, the execution (and I’ve chosen that word intentionally) is something very different. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Bodycount, as the name suggests, wracks up a huge amount of kills. Johnny Woo Woo, the cyborg assassin sent after Midnight, cares nothing for collateral damage and as such mows down anyone that’s between him and his target.

The majority of the book is one long gun fight with dozens killed. They are not quick, clean kills either; people have arms and legs blown off, their guts blasted out, and are even decapitated by bullets. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Bodycount isn’t helped in its ultra-violence by the artwork of Simon Bisley.

An artist that I’ve always considered ‘messy’, Bisley’s scraggy and misshapen people look gross at the best of times, but are downright disgusting when being shot to pieces. It makes the death and violence more visceral than it otherwise would be. Whilst the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has never shied away from violence, it has never been gratuitous or disgusting; but this book seems to revel in it, appealing most to people who love gore and torture porn.

Bisley’s art also adds horror to the book whenever he draws Raphael, making the heroic turtle look like like a hideous monster. His limbs are misshapen and uneven, covered in veins and bulges, his mouth looks like The Joker and the Cheshire Cat had a nightmare baby; he’s ugly and looks like a demon.

The worst of the artwork has to be Midnight in the final battle against Johnny Woo Woo. Wearing what can only be described as a thong and strips of skintight cloth, Midnight’s over the top breasts are barely held in place as she participates in a knife fight, every panel focusing on either her arse or pointed nipples. She’s made into a violent sexual fantasy designed to arouse as she performs violence.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Bodycount has been described as encapsulating the ‘grim and gritty’ sensibilities of the 90s and turned it to the extreme. This is completely true, but it takes everything that was awful with 90s comics and dials it up to 11. The violence is over the top and full of gore. Women are sexualised objects with breasts bigger than their heads and costumes that could barely clothe a cat, and even the heroes are pushed into ‘ultra-dark’ as Eastman makes Raphael murder dozens of people with guns and grenades.

The book might be written by Kevin Eastman, one of the creators of the Turtles, but it feels like he’s failed to capture the essence of the characters or the series at all. Gory and violent for the sake of it, filled with awful language and even has Raphael using disgusting slurs such as ‘retarded’; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Bodycount is the goriest, most violent and vulgar TMNT comic I’ve ever read. Absolutely awful.

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