Teenage Mutant Congolese Child-Soldiers In TMNT Universe #11

This was initially going to be a review of TMNT Universe #11 by Rich Douek and Aaron Conley. It's a fun enough book. It has great art, fast pacing, and a lot of action. And there is also a reference to Congolese child soldiers. One of the characters, a mutant jackal-man named Dreadmon (because his father was Jamaican, which raises questions all its own) is being hunted by the evil Null organization, which wants him back. He was also a former Congolese child soldier. I wasn't expecting to be reminded of Beasts of No Nation while reading a TMNT comic book.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a franchise well known for its high energy, humor, and fun. So the discovery of a backstory to a character being something that real and that terrible was pretty damn surprising. I'm not one to say that generally light media can't handle heavy subject matters like this, but you have to do it well.

TMNT Universe #11 - Congolese Child Soldier scene

Now, there aren't any tacky jokes about it, or anything like that. However, it's kind of briefly mentioned, and then the plot moves on. You need to slow down and unpack that for a second if you're going to throw in one of the most inhumane things actual people do in the real world into your story of animal people and ninja turtles who fight other ninjas, squishy aliens, and triceratops people.

It's made a good bit weirder by the fact that Ray, a manta ray-man who was originally a normal manta ray, hears this and then resents Dreadmon for willingly taking money to become a mutant jackal-man instead of continuing his life as a starving Congolese child soldier, where Ray didn't have a choice in the matter. Are we really going to compare the weights of being a super-powered animal man with newfound sentience to being a starving Congolese child soldier? (No, I'm not going to stop emphasizing that.)

Teenage Mutant Congolese Child-Soldiers In TMNT Universe #11

There is an interesting cultural analysis idea there concerning intersectionality and a racial critique concept called "colorism" in regards to Ray's distaste for Dreadmon "choosing" to become a mutant jackal-man. Well, that idea would be there if it wasn't drowned out by the fact that Dreadmon was a frigging starving Congolese child soldier with dead parents, and if you think about everything that happens to those poor children, this just gets worse.

It's a pretty fun comic read outside of that, but I can't let go of the fact that Dreadmon, who is a really well-adjusted individual by the looks of things, has this horrendous backstory. Real child soldiers rarely really get past that experience, which often involves grievous injury, exposure to hellish warzones, and sexual abuse. Some do make it out the other side, but there is no complete recovery from that kind of thing.

It forms a tonal black hole at the center of this comic that's impossible to escape. Everything else that happens in TMNT Universe #11 is painted differently because of it. It's a baffling narrative misstep that sinks this issue.

Also, watch Beasts of No Nation. It is an emotional battering ram and really hard to get through, but it is a fantastic film that everyone should check out at some point.

About Joshua Davison

Josh is a longtime super hero comic fan and an aspiring comic book and fiction writer himself. He also trades in videogames, Star Wars, and Magic: The Gathering, and he is also a budding film buff. He's always been a huge nerd, and he hopes to contribute something of worth to the wider geek culture conversation. He is also happy to announce that he is the new Reviews Editor for Bleeding Cool. Follow on Twitter @joshdavisonbolt.