TMNT/Ghostbusters II #5 review: Sons of Tang Shen

The Ghostbusters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles prepare for the final battle with Darius Dun. Yet what role does Tang Shen play in it?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Ghostbusters II #5

Writers: Erik Burnham & Tom Waltz

Artists: Dan Schoening & Charles Paul Wilson III

Colorist: Luis Antonio Delgado

Both the world and the comic book realm march towards true diversity. Yet it is often good to take note of the first “representatives” of particular franchises of such groups. Therefore, it is good to remember that the first woman of the TMNT franchise was not April O’Neil. While she came close, the first woman of TMNT is Tang Shen, the often doomed love of Hamato Yoshi. While Yoshi’s survival often depends on the adaptation, Tang Shen often fills a role akin to Gwen Stacy. She is remembered for her death, which serves as motivation.

Image by IDW Publishing

Yet every new adaptation serves as a chance for another opportunity. When the IDW era of TMNT introduced the concept of reincarnation to the backstory, the fate of Tang Shen became theoretically ambiguous. After all, if Yoshi could come back as Splinter and her sons as the Turtles, why not she? While Tang Shen hasn’t found herself in a mutant animal form (yet), her role within this incarnation has arguably been larger than it has ever been. And this issue serves as proof.

Image by IDW Publishing

Enter the Garden of Tang Shen!

After the ghost of Darius Dunn summoned the demonic Collectors, the Turtles and Ghostbusters have been on the run. In practice, it has meant roughly three issues of focus on both teams splitting up and having separate adventures in other dimensions. Via the inclusion of additional artists, the focus was more on character interaction than plot. Now the final battle approaches, and Tang Shen has united both teams in order to offer a much needed respite, and motherly love.

Image by IDW Publishing

Much like Darius Dun, Tang Shen exists in a sort of purgatory or afterlife as well, watching over the living. Yet unlike him, her intentions are noble, and basic. Despite centuries of time and new mutated forms, Tang Shen has never forgotten her beloved sons (or their father, Splinter). Like a guardian angel throughout the series, Tang Shen has appeared before her sons in their darkest hours. Yet this time she is able to visit with all four collectively, rather than individually.

Image by IDW Publishing

While Winston Zeddemore’s mental link to Donatello has given him perspective on the affair, Ray Stanz and Peter Venkman see it differently. Ray, as usual, is fascinated by meeting a new type of ghost in a different realm, and explaining the events scientifically. Venkman, meanwhile, diffuses any potential of catching mushy feelings himself with his traditional sarcastic banter. Yet Tang Shen is able to gently cut past their emotional defenses and bring some warmth to them as well.

Image by IDW Publishing

Only the Shredder Could Remain Unmoved!

It is different to describe and review the scene beyond stating it is a heartwarming and tender sequence between a mother and her sons. The details of death, resurrection, mutants, and so on wash away behind the pure, positive emotion. In fact, it is among the most tender and emotional scenes IDW has ever produced for the franchise, which is a tough feat. Wilson III’s artwork is critical to this scene, especially the page where Tang Shen describes each Turtle one by one.

Image by IDW Publishing

This scene, written by Erik Burnham and Tom Waltz, is a masterstroke. It is easily the most memorable scene of the series, which says a lot. The fact that the tone of the series was more along the lines of horror/comedy before now also helps establish it. It was hard to expect a sequence so tender coming after romps with Vikings, animal people or Punk Frogs. Most importantly, it doesn’t overstay its welcome and get too sappy. It leaves the Turtles and readers wanting more.

Image by IDW Publishing

Compared to the raw emotion of Tang Shen’s presence, the finale is almost an obligation. The Collectors sought to devour Darius Dun’s soul, yet it was they who were consumed. Now possessing their forms and powers, Dun eagerly reappears in the Ghostbusters’ Central Park to begin his revenge. Yet what Dun has gained in raw power, he has lost in both experience and tactics. Peter Venkman is easily able to distract him until both teams are ready to attack!

Image by IDW Publishing

Donatello Was Able to Build This in a Sewer! With a Box of Scraps!

Neither Egon Spengler nor Donatello had used their lab time poorly. Each of them were inspired by the work of the other to enhance their arsenals. Donatello adapted proton-blaster technology to create proton-weapons that his brothers could use to fight ghosts. In addition, he also helped Egon perfect a trapping device which was capable of holding even demons as powerful as the Collectors. Seriously, how does Donatello not end up on various “top 10 smartest comic heroes” lists!?

Image by IDW Publishing

While the fight against the demonic Darius Dun (the “Dun-lectors”) is full of vibrant art and action, the real meat remains in the character beats. Dun was not just an enemy, he represented a turning point in the Turtles’ lives. Splinter’s execution of him convinced even Leonardo to turn their shells and walk their own path. Yet in fighting against the vengeance craving Dun, the Turtles finally experience the other perspective. Splinter may have went too far, but Darius hardly left him a choice.

Image by IDW Publishing

Next to the drama with the Turtles, the Ghostbusters themselves almost feel like pedestrians along for the ride. Yet it is they who strike the final blow, trapping Darius Dun into a new purgatory from which there is no escape. After that, there’s time for one more cameo by Janine Melnitz and one final goodbye before the Ninja Turtles head back to their own ongoing series. What awaits them on the other side? Only an invasion by Triceratons from Dimension X — y’know, the usual!

Image by IDW Publishing

Tang Shen Has Never Been So Alive!

Having teamed up a second time for another 1980s team up, Erik Burnham and Tom Waltz have produced a tale which is mightier than the sum of its parts. While those individual parts were grand, the crux of the series has been on figuring out ways for the casts to interact. From Egon and Donatello chatting mortality to Mikey and Peter about psychology, to the continued bond between Winston and Leonardo, the main draw is in seeing these iconic heroes gel and cooperate.

Image by IDW Publishing

So many unions between franchises focus entirely on negativity and strife. A  battle among heroes is an often obligatory and drawn out affair. Beyond one page in their previous team up, this series has no time for that noise. Instead it is more focused on showing readers Ray’s attempt to reach Raphael, or Mikey getting genuine advice from Peter, or even Donatello getting official recognition of his genius from Egon. After so many interactions and adventures, it is easy to see what Tang Shen saw.

Image by IDW Publishing

Speaking of Tang Shen, I continue to be marveled by Tom Waltz’s use of her throughout his run. While I do think it could be fun if she was reincarnated too, I like how Waltz makes her a pinnacle of motherly grace. She is strong-willed and dedicated, and is a strong fighter in her own ways. Yet she doesn’t achieve this with aggression, violence, or tricks. She can disarm even Venkman with a look. Her weapon is a mother’s love, which is a boundless resource which lasts beyond the ages.

Image by IDW Publishing

What the Ninja Turtles Stand For!

Whenever someone asks me what the Ninja Turtles are about, my answer is always one word — family. Behind all of the weird details and quirky science fiction is a tale of a non-traditional family facing the world and coming out stronger for it despite all the trials and tribulations. In a sense they’re a post-modern Fantastic Four in this way. Yet one could also say that the Ghostbusters are similar, a team of oddballs and outcasts who are stronger together. Maybe this is why they gel so well.

Image by IDW Publishing

In the end, Darius Dun and the Collectors had a simple role. They merely needed to exist as antagonists to incite the action. There had to be a reason why the Turtles crossed dimensions again, and a justification for the world hopping. Speaking of justification, Tang Shen’s words about Splinter seem to ring true. Even in death, she does her best to unite her family. And Darius Dun’s zeal for power proved so potent that not even death or immortal demons could slow him down!

Image by IDW Publishing

The artwork by Charles Paul Wilson III is utterly brilliant. His solid line work proves to do the trick to convey a ton of emotions in only eight pages. From the glee on Michelangelo’s face to Raphael’s tears, to the gentle elegance of Tang Shen and her garden itself, it is breathtaking work. As emotional as the script was, Wilson III added another half dozen buckets of emotion to the sequence. It is the sort of work that deserves to go viral to Turtle fans across the globe!

Image by IDW Publishing

A Sequel Even Better Than the Original! For Real!

Dan Schoening is no second banana either! He brings it home in a vibrant final battle in Central Park. It has all of the ninja kicks and proton-packs fans of both characters could want. The amazing color work by Luis Antonio Delgado works for both sequences. Even Shawn Lee’s lettering works to complete the effect, with Tang Sheng’s transparent balloons. The entire issue from cover to cover is a feast for the eyes. Even the Darius Dun-Collectors never looked nastier!

Image by IDW Publishing

Often when a comic book offers a “surprise,” especially a crossover, it’s something to dread. Yet from start to finish this has been a shell of a story. Peter Venkman hints of a third chapter, and after seeing this finale I am convinced. While their first team-up was a feel-good romp, this one ends with a chapter which touches the very soul. Tang Shen is able to rise above death to be a champion to her family once again. With comedy, action, tons of imagination and plenty of genuine emotion, this has been a tag team for the ages!