Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Microseries 8: Fugitoid, originally released September 5th, 2012.
Drew: Creating compelling characters is hard. Simply conceiving of multi-dimensional, realistic, sympathetic characters is hard enough — driving many writers to make extensive biographical sketches before even attempting to include them in a story — but it’s even more complicated when you want to integrate those characters and their unique motives and traits into your world. For most narratives, the basics of characterization can be handled up-front, as the major players are introduced, but for ongoing serial narratives, introducing new characters often requires clunky exposition that slows the momentum of the story. With the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles microseries, Editor Bobby Curnow and crew have realized a clever work-around, offering a space to explore the motives of the characters without taking time away from the propulsive narrative going on in the main series. It’s a brilliant idea, and Fugitoid is an excellent proof-of-concept.
The story’s purpose is straightforward — to explain the origin of Fugitoid — but since the story itself is quite complicated, taking a whole issue to show rather than tell is incredibly important. The story follows Dr. Honeycutt, an inventor “conscripted” by Krang to help build the Technodrome. Honeycutt isn’t totally thrilled with building a war machine, and neither is his wife. She eventually convinces him to join the rebellion against Krang. Of course, the rebels are tracked down and attacked. In an attempt to save his family, Honeycutt uploads his consciousness into one of his inventions — a nearly indestructible shape-shifting android. His family is killed, but Honeycutt — in his new android body — escapes to Earth. He becomes stuttering Stockgen scientist Chet Allen, but is unwilling to risk the lives of his coworkers to take down Krang. For that, he turns to someone he sees as deserving of whatever evil Krang may unleash: Shredder.
It’s a dense story, but writer Paul Allor manages to make Honeycutt’s uncertainty about “doing the right thing” a strong motivator for the character. Taking the time to explore his history with Krang gives his story an emotional heft it wouldn’t have as a simple explanation. Perhaps more importantly, it allows us a chance to see the story through the eyes of a character with a human face — watching Fugitoid’s unexpressive face relive those events would have the emotional impact of staring at a toaster (albeit, a kind of adorable toaster).
It also gives us a sense of scope of Krang’s plan — he’s abducted countless scientists to achieve his goals, and created an entire culture around building the Technodrome. The leisurely, nine-to-five pace of work in Krang’s lab actually stands in stark contrast with the culture in the rebels’ lab, where you can almost feel the strain of their limited resources.
In fact, Allor takes this idea a few steps further at the start of the issue, where he suggests that the technologies developed for the technodrome could have far-reaching applications. It seems to act as an endorsement of military research — the kind that helped develop the internet and GPS technology — at least, as far as scientists are concerned. Krang may be an evil guy, but the technologies developed to help attain his evil goals might actually do some good.
It’s a gorgeous issue, filled with Paul McCaffrey’s dynamic art. Actually — it may be too dynamic. The sequences above feature some of the least camera movement between panels of any in the issue. Most other sequences swing wildly between low angles to high angles and medium to long shots without any apparent reason.
I think my favorite part of this issue has to be the way it entirely changes my perception of Chet Allen. I haven’t been reading this title for very long, so I don’t know if there was any reason to suspect Allen was more than he appeared, but I was surprised to learn he isn’t just a put-upon Stockgen employee. The fact that he puts up with all the abuse we’ve seen him take is actually more impressive now that we know his story, and the pain he lives with on a daily basis. It adds real depth to the world, rather than simply going for cheap recognition.
I was surprised to like this issue as much as I did — I’m normally a pretty big detractor of origin stories. Maybe it was because it was new to me, or maybe it was because this isn’t taking space away from the ongoing narrative of the main title, but I thought this was incredibly effective. Were you as happy with this issue as I was, Patrick?
Patrick: I was absolutely as happy with this issue as you were. I’ve expressed a couple of times that my wells of patience for ungrounded sci-fi bullshit are drying up at an alarming rate. I’m less invested in Blue Beetle when he’s in space, I care about Superman less when we’re back on Krypton, and I assumed I’d like the Ninja Turtles less when we traveled over to Dimension X. But Allor’s so smart to forgo the political and military intrigue of Krang’s tyrannical rule in favor of this deeply personal story of a scientist trying to use his power responsibly. There may be parallel dimensions and shapeshifting robots, but that emotional thread is honest and as powerful as the themes of family, duty and honor found elsewhere in this series.
Plus, we get to see something as nonsensical as a robot using a computer. He can’t just plug directly into that shit? Not synced up with Bluetooth? You think it’s hard to type with two giant fingers on each hand?
To answer your question Drew, I don’t think there was anything earlier in the series to make me suspect that Dr. Chet Allen was anything more than a Stockgen stooge. I had assumed he was just another dude caught up in that one specific branch of TMNT Villains, Inc. – and a dude with a particularly innocuous role to play in the proceedings. Obviously this issue shows us that this is not the case. One of the things I’ve loved about this series is that the Turtles’ origins and conflicts are tied directly to three organizations (Foot, Krang’s regime and Stockgen), but they are most frequently caught up in the conflict between these organizations. Now, Chet/Fugitoid takes on that same role: lost in the battle between one ancient evil and another.
Which actually brings up a sorta interesting thought. TMNT may be one of the more anarchic comic books I’m reading right now. Every organization is evil (even the cops are mostly corrupt) and the only thing you can trust is family. The Turtles are effectively homeless, but find ever more inventive places to squat while continuing to train themselves in the deadly arts. Why was Splinter training them as such? To protect the innocent? Yeah, maybe. But they’re also living out the only culture they remember: their equally violent culture in feudal Japan. This is another way Fugitoid’s experience echoes that of the Turtles: his previous life-experience taught him that violence was commonplace, and that outlook is at-odds with his current living situation. Obviously, he’s a little more proactive in his anarchism – he did join a rebel group on his homeworld, after all.
I’m also really excited to pieces of the Turtles mythology that I’ve never experienced before. I know Fugitoid isn’t a new concept, but he’s totally new to me. I have no idea how much of this origin story has been told in other iterations, but it was 100% fresh for me. This series has been so good at doling out compelling twists on origin stories, that I wouldn’t be surprised if even Fugitoid fans found something in this issue to be excited about.
Drew, I know you sighted the art as maybe being a little too dynamic at times – something I hadn’t noticed until you pointed it out. The wild shift in camera don’t end up sacrificing clarity so much as they just seem unnecessary. I did like the dynamic coloring throughout this issue. Fugitoid’s metal body always eerily reflects whatever light source is around him, be it screens, fire or the blue glow of an interdimensional gateway.
I can’t wait to see this character interact with our heroes in a more transparent way. He’s been there — literally since their birth — but I’m eager to see how his values stack up with theirs and just where on the spectrum of hero and villain the good Dr. Honeycut lands.For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?