Hail to “The King”, Baby
19 February 2011 1 Comment
“Kirby, you are The King.”–Donatello
Written by: Mike Ryan
Original Air Date: May 31, 2003
Teaser Narrator: Donatello
In a departure from the usual, the episode opens with a dedication to Jack Kirby before heading into the usual teaser. It’s sweet.
It’s another night in April’s apartment, and the turtles are discussing their current situation vis-a-vis the Foot Ninja that drove them away from their home last episode. Leo and Raph are arguing about what to do—wait out the situation until they know more (Leo’s suggestion), or go in and kick ass (Raph’s). Mikey is worried about them finding the lair and the fact that the Foot is still around after the Shredder’s defeat, and Don reassures him that won’t happen, given the security measures he’s installed. Splinter oversees it all, commenting here and there. And April…well, she’s just trying to watch TV.
The doorbell rings. April tells the turtles to hide, but the warning is unnecessary, since they’re already masters of the Batman vanishing act. She opens the door, and finds that it’s the delivery person for a Chinese take-out place. April is initially surprised, since she hadn’t ordered anything, but quickly catches on, and pays the man. The delivery dude, for his part, notices Mikey hiding behind an easy chair, but a second glance reveals it’s “just” a teddy bear, and he doesn’t get to do much about it before he’s rushed out the door.
With the danger past, the turtles resume their positions as if nothing had ever happened. April somewhat exasperated, hands Don and Mikey, the culprits, their food.
Raph announces that he’s going to take a shower. He enters the bathroom, but it’s not long before he exits again, complaining to Don about the hot water. Don, despite complaining that he’s already dealt with the heater once (we saw him refer to it last episode!) reluctantly agrees to check it out. As he leaves, April warns him to watch out for Kirby, a new tenant of hers living in the basement apartment.
Later, as Don makes his way through the basement, he runs into trouble: not Kirby, but instead a very noisy winged gargoyle-like creature flying through the halls, y’know, like they do. The creature flies out of sight, and Donny follows it into a closed room, only to realize that it’s no longer there.
As he looks for the missing creature, Donatello peeks through an open door and finds a man hunched over a desk, drawing—Kirby, the turtle surmises correctly. Don watches as the artist places the finishing touches on a a drawing of a large, spherical insect, and then gasps the insect pops out of the page (leaving behind the original drawing) and springs to life before Kirby’s very (calm) eyes, flying away from the scene before poofing into dust.
Forgetting all about being a ninja and remaining unseen, Donatello asks Kirby how he did that. Kirby, unsettled but not distraught, concludes that since he didn’t draw the turtle, he must be the original owner of “[his] crystal”. Kirby apologizes for using it, and promises to give it back, and asks Don not to attack him.
Don introduces himself and assures the artist that he doesn’t want to hurt him—he just wants to find out how he brought his drawing to life. Kirby explains that he just draws; it’s the crystal tied to the pencil—which he’d found in a pile of coal one day—that provides the “oomph” that brings drawings to life.
Kirby properly introduces himself and offers Donatello a chance to try the crystal out, which Don accepts; apologizing for his lack of drawing skills, the ninja turtle doodles a stick figure, which, like the insect before it, comes to life. The stick figure then begins leaps around the room and kicking Donny in the shin before vanishing.
Kirby explains that the vanishing is normal, and has happened to everything he’s drawn. The one exception is something he’d drawn a couple of weeks before—something he’d drawn on a whim without knowing what it was he was creating—a portal.
Don, ever curious, tests Kirby’s invention by sticking his hand in it. It vanishes. He steps inside and disappears from the room altogether, which worries Kirby until Don returns, astounded about what he’s seen on the other side, and insisting that Kirby witness it for himself. Kirby agrees, and after grabbing his notebook, he steps through the portal.
The other side. After a few glances, Kirby immediately identifies the world they’ve stepped into as his own creation—one can see sketches of it in his notebook.
Don spots a creature in the distance; like the world itself, it’s also something Kirby created, and the two new friends decide to follow it to see where its going. The watch as it joins several other creatures in their offensive against a handful of humanoid men (also created by Kirby—one could see several sketches of them decorating his apartment walls) who are fighting to defend the bridge leading to a city floating in the sky.
The defending warriors, although formidable, are outnumbered. Upon seeing them taken down by the monsters, Don decides to help them, fighting the monsters until the men can rally and return to the battle. They succeed, and the monsters are driven away.
Given a few moments to catch their breath, Donatello and Kirby introduce themselves to the warriors, who explain the situation in broad strokes: they are defending the city and their families against the monsters who would destroy it. The breather doesn’t last long, however, as they don’t get a chance to talk much before the monsters—thousands of them this time—return.
Faced by this greater threat, Donatello and the warriors do their best to defend the city. Despite timely assistance from Kirby, who uses his pencil to make a drawing of Don holding an anti-gravity gun (which—and this is important—does not result in the creation of a duplicate ninja turtle, but instead makes the weapon appear on the real Don’s arm) and then a giant scooper robot, the monster hordes continue to advance, breaking the defensive line and heading into the city. Suddenly, as he looks at the drawings of the monsters he accidentally unleashed, Kirby gets an idea, and begins scribbling furiously.
It works. Just as the monsters are about to begin attacking civilians, they find themselves in all manner of bondage—metal straps, handcuffs, even huge blocks of cement. Crisis averted.
With things once again peaceful, a satisfied Donatello and Kirby decide it’s time to head back to New York. As they approach the portal, they notice, with horror, that it appears to be shrinking!
Kirby, realizing that his fate is that of the one-shot character, insists that Don go first. However, as the portal closes in around the turtle, it’s clear that artist won’t get the opportunity to use it; with a push, Kirby pushes Donatello through, and the ninja turtle arrives back in the artist’s cellar. He watches as a paper airplane flies through the gate, just before it shrinks into oblivion.
Distraught, Don can think of nothing to do but pick up the piece of paper and return upstairs. As he makes his wait out of the basement, he runs into Raph, who asks, which his usual non-knack for diplomacy, if the shower is fixed yet. With a look, Don makes it clear that he is not in the mood.
Don makes his way into one of the apartment windows and looks at the city outside. He remembers Kirby’s airplane, and opens it; in it, there’s the drawing of Don holding the gravity gun, along with a message:
* * *
Despite fitting squarely under the category of the light, fluffy, so-called filler episodes, there’s quite a lot to say about this episode—more, maybe than any episode so far in this blog’s history.
This episode was based on Donatello #1, a one-shot issue, that, as the name implies, focused almost exclusively on the brainy turtle. It’s status as an adaptation is notable due to two things: 1) it is by far the most literal screen adaptation of a Mirage stories, and 2) it’s actually the second adaptation of the original comic book story.
At this point, there have been a handful of stories adapted from the comic books; there will be several more over the course of the series. At one end of the spectrum are stories are adaptations in only in the sense that they take the basic plot a story, and then add the various details as befit the cartoon universe. The season 2 episode “The Golden Puck” is arguably considered this (some, including me depending on the day of the week, would argue that it’s not an adaptation at all); season 4’s “The Tale of Master Yoshi is definitively this. Way at the other end of the spectrum is this, a story that takes 90% of its beats (starting from the moment Raph complains about the shower) from the comic book, with very few, if any, changes. It helps that the original story didn’t have much in the way of violence, and that as a one-shot story existing in a narrative vaccum, one can simply retell the tale wholesale without worrying about contradicting past or future cartoon stories.
As said before, this is actually the second adaptation of the Kirby story—the first occurred in an illustrated children’s book featuring the first animated incarnation of the cartoons. Like this version, that story was pretty much translated intact (or at least, that’s how I remember it), which makes it something of an oddity: it’s the one non-mytharc story to have that distinction—possibly because Peter Laird has gone on the record about how this is one of his favorite stories.
And an odd story it is, too. It kind of comes out of nowhere, isn’t particularly logical, and in the end swerves from lighthearted romp to melancholy.
Kirby of course, is a rather blatant homage to comic book creator extraordinaire Jack Kirby, whom Eastman and Laird counted on as a major inspiration. Kirby’s world, appropriately, is a pastiche of the real life Kirby’s creations and art style. So basically the story ends up being “Donatello meets Jack Kirby”.
This is actually not the first time a character has been based on Kirby, either. Back in 1996, the creators of Superman: The Animated Series based their version of existing comic book character Dan Turpin on the King. Note the resemblance:
The episode is also notable for it’s pessimistic-sounding ending—at first glance, having you lose a brand-new friend, with his last words being “life at best is bittersweet” isn’t the most life-affirming of events. However, when asked about it by Executive Producer Lloyd Goldfine, Peter Laird had this to say:
“While the story is a downer in a sense, in another sense it’s not. The only REAL downer, as I see it, is that Don had made a cool new friend and lost that friend all in one afternoon… and MAYBE also that Kirby can’t get back to our world. I guess I always thought that there are two reasons that Kirby sacrifices his chance to get back to our world and lets Don go though the shrinking portal first: One, Kirby’s a good guy with great nobility, and Two, if he had to be stuck somewhere with little or no chance of getting back to our world, this other dimension — where he is now a hero in the eyes of the human-types that live there, and they’ve come right out and told him that he’s welcome in their lands — is definitely far from the worst place to be. And when you think about it — he’s a guy living by himself in a crummy little dingy basement one-room apartment!”
And it’s not a bad point. It would be a better one if we knew more about Kirby’s life—whether he had someone who would miss him aside from Don, for example—but still, it makes a certain amount of sense.
This is the first chronological episode for which Peter Laird has released notes, and his correspondence gives us some insight into what his role in the creative process for the cartoon was. Technically a Creative Consultant for this show, it’s clear that his opinions have a large amount of weight, and that he has a good eye for storytelling—his suggestions usually end up being included in some manner into the final product. And, as one will eventually see in future notes, he is not always the most diplomatic of bosses.
- One of the various plot holes in this episode is immediately apparent: if Kirby drew the portal that took him and Don into his world, why can’t he draw one that would take him back? The episode provides no real answer. A second, equally obvious plot hole, is the way he’s able to draw Donatello without having a second ninja turtle come to life.
- Although we never see Kirby again, we’ll see his apartment again in episode 101 “Adventures in Turtle-Sitting”–which given what happens two episodes after this one, really makes little sense.
- This episode was actually slightly altered after it initially aired. As elaborated in Laird’s blog post, the original ending did not feature Raph, and was slightly different from the scene in the original comic book. This was eventually changed for subsequent airings.
- Bonus question, since the episode doesn’t really answer the question: which do y’all think came first: Kirby’s world, or his sketches for it?