Story: Tom Waltz
Artist: Casey Maloney
Release Date: July 28th, 2021
IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Annual 2021 #1: “The King’s Gambit” focuses on Rat King and the Pantheon family. Rat King travels earthly and magical realms seeking opponents in a game of manipulation, conquest and chaos. It serves as an introduction to the next major TMNT event, THE ARMAGEDDON GAME!
In IDW continuity the Pantheon is a family of immortal demi-gods of which Rat King is a member. They ruled earth before humanity proliferated the planet. The Pantheon has since then been secretly using their powers to influence the course of human civilization.
There’s no B arc in this one. TMNT Annual 2021 #1 is 32 straight pages of pure, unadulterated Rat King, mostly talking non-stop.
Long ago, the immortal beings that make up the Pantheon made sport of influencing the affairs of mortal men. Rat King visits his siblings, one by one, prodding them to re-engage in the familial game of bedlam and dominion. Rat King is disappointed to find his siblings no longer interested in the game, having grown beyond it.
When Rat King finds that none of his siblings will participate in making sport of manipulating human affairs he seeks out new players. He enlists major adversaries of Splinter Clan in a new game, of apparent galactic conquest, he dubs “the Armageddon Game.”
The art is somewhat lacking compared to the standard set by franchise favorites Ben Bishop and Sophie Campbell. Anyone who can illustrate a 32 page book deserves to be commended but neither the line art or coloring in this issue rises above basic utility. There’s nothing particularly exciting about the compositions or drawings. For such a mundane story, a more dramatic art style really could have helped keep readers engaged while trudging through the endless exposition. Speaking of which…
TMNT Annual 2021 #1 literally starts with 9 pages of unbroken, long winded, expositional monologue directly from Rat King himself. What happened to “show, don’t tell”? Frustratingly, this book is all tell.
I feel this relates to a phenomenon that the TMNT franchise has dealt with for nearly its entire existence. The original Mirage series, while goofy, featured ultra-violence and cursing and was not intended for children. The subsequent cartoon show and toys were intended for very young kids. And TMNT has been walking a tightrope of trying to appeal to children and adult audiences simultaneously ever since.
The problem is that some people think that creating content for children or even all-ages material means throwing craft out the window. But it doesn’t. The Incredibles, The Last Airbender, projects like these illustrate that focusing on the craft of storytelling albeit with themes appropriate for children can produce phenomenal results. 32 pages of exposition instead of investing the time to tell a story that shows why we should care about this story comes across as lazy. The lack of craft insults the intelligence of readers.
TMNT Annual 2021 #1 is a very frustrating read. Too many of the Pantheon members talk like Wonderland extras. The constant alliteration is grating. Most guilty of this is Rat King himself who has nothing interesting to say but never shuts up.
It really seems like IDW has let things slip in the face of The Last Ronin’s success. I’m surprised to find Tom Waltz credited with writing this. Tom Waltz is involved in writing The Last Ronin, which is basically the high water mark for contemporary TMNT stories. I hope “the Armageddon Game” can be saved but “The King’s Gambit” doesn’t inspire confidence.