How Does Mondo Gecko Handle Trauma In TMNT Universe #23?

by James Ferguson

Michelangelo and Mondo Gecko are two mutants cut from the same cloth. These two party dudes have been through a lot recently so their personalities are starting to shift. Mikey is still the young, innocent Ninja Turtle, but he’s a bit more mature and responsible. Meanwhile, Mondo Gecko has seen tragedy first hand during his time with the Mutanimals and is now more like an exposed nerve.

The Mutanimals are capable of pulling real trauma and hardship into the Ninja Turtles world. They’re not big mutant bananas, or something equally ridiculous that we were used to seeing in the original cartoon. Instead we get something heartbreaking like Mutagen Man. His very existence is painful as he’s little more than a head floating in a jar. He’s clearly circling the drain and he’s happy about it.
This can hit a little close to home for some as Mutagen Man lashes out at Mondo Gecko, his friend who’s just trying to make him feel better. He flat out tells this kid that he wants to die and he will hate Mondo if he tries to stop it. That hits like a punch to the gut, especially to this character. Here you have a fun-loving, bright kid who’s trying to cheer up his friend, only to get the wind ripped out of his sails by stark reality.

You can feel Mutagen Man’s painful life from Patricio Delpeche’s colors. His containment suit glows with an eerie yellow as his face lolls within. Whatever liquid mixture is keeping him alive extends out to elaborate tubes that rise into the ceiling, lighting the room with that same iridescent hue.
Mutagen Man’s pain comes through in Shawn Lee’s letters too. His word balloons are rough shapes, like they can’t form themselves into an oval due to lack of strength. It’s only when he’s fueled with rage at his good friend that they come together.

Pablo Tunica’s art grew on me throughout Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe #23. It was a little jarring at first, as his characters really embrace the mutant aspect. Basically, they’re ugly. Mondo Gecko is lumpy and malformed with overly large teeth jutting out in awkward angles. Michelangelo is a bit better with smoother skin and a rough shell. I quickly got used to this and grew to like it a lot. It works well not only with the characters, but the story itself. Life isn’t pretty.
This also plays into how the two characters have changed. Despite the hardships Mikey has been through, his life isn’t all that bad. Mondo Gecko is essentially on the run with Old Hob and the rest of the Mutanimals, scrapping by where he can. You see this in their facial expressions as Michelangelo has this wide-eyed innocence and excitement while Mondo Gecko is full of anger and pain.

The pair go out in search of some supplies to help save Mutagen Man which leads them first into some tough decisions and then into the belly of the beast itself within the Earth Protection Force headquarters. This full-on adventure is steeped in reality, despite starring a big mutant turtle and gecko. Writer Ryan Ferrier pulls real world trauma into this story without beating you over the head with a message.
While there are some definite serious moments through TMNT Universe #23, there are still some signature gags from Mikey that will bring a smile to your face. They work as comic relief, especially after some rather tense scenes.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe #23 is a great examination of trauma and loss and how we handle them. In Mondo Gecko’s case, he turns it into anger, lashing out in a punk rock battle against fascist pigs like the EPF. It also pushes him over lines he would otherwise never cross. Fortunately, Michelangelo serves as his conscious to pull him back from the brink, but I’m not sure how long he’ll be able to do that.
Also included in TMNT Universe #23 is a backup story called “Nobody Cares” which is a perfect bonus tale that wouldn’t necessarily fit anywhere else. Writer Rich Douek and artist Brahm Revel present a quick and heated battle between Nobody and the mutant scorpion Zodi. There’s some excellent wordplay as Nobody explains her name to Zodi like something out of an Abbott & Costello routine.

Nobody’s suit interface looks like that of Iron Man’s in the Marvel movies with a glowing heads-up display surrounding her face. These bright lights contrast to the dark shadows around Zodi and her attack.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Universe #23 from IDW Publishing is currently available at your local comic shop and digitally through ComiXology and Amazon Kindle.

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