Today, Patrick and Drew are discussing Secret History of the Foot Clan 1, originally released January 9th, 2013.
Patrick: The Secret History in question is delivered via a few discrete sources: Dr. Miller (a lecturer at April and Casey’s school), Splinter and Shredder. For obvious reasons, not everyone has all of these pieces of the Foot Clan story, but everyone does seem to want all these pieces. I always like it when our heroes are in search of a truth that I am also interested in — it makes me feel like we’re all on the same side. It’s like a detective story, except instead of trying to solve a murder, we’re working to understand history. Mateus Santolouco portions out the clues and delivers a story rich in culture and mythology, simultaneously important to all corners of the TMNT Universe.
Here’s what we know: Takeshi Tatsuo was a samurai so mighty, he was feared even by his master, Ashikaga. So, Ashikaga sent an entire army to take Tatsuo out. Because he’s, like, the best at murder, Tatsuo vanquished his enemies, but lost a leg (and presumably a lot of blood) in the process. He was rescued and made whole by the witch Kitsune, whose magic and demonic connections would empower Tatsuo to form his own savage army: the Foot Clan. Tatsuo conquered a ton of land and lived for hundreds of years, but these demon powers were not without a price. Once a month, Kitsune had to return to her patron-Oni and retrieve a bubbly green potion that would keep Tatsuo alive and non-feeble for another couple weeks. Fearing for his life and his honor, Oroku Maki (an ancestor of Oroku Saki) betrayed his master in the moment of weakness before imbibing the stay-alive potion. This left Oroku Maki in charge of the Foot Clan, which he directed to more benevolent purposes. But Kitsune escaped and returned to her demon-lord to ask for help once again. Which is where we get a jaw-dropping twist: her demon is an utrom from Dimension X.
Sorry to get so wordy in my recap. Normally, this is the kind of thing that would really get on my nerves: spending time relaying a history that doesn’t actively involve my main characters. But much of the Takeshi Tatsuo saga feels more like an exaggerated legend and less like history. Instead of bothering ourselves with the minutia of how a single man survives his encounter with a whole army, we buy into it as part of the myth. This is less about understanding the story and more about developing the culture around the birth of the Foot Clan.
I also think it works because the connections to the present are so strong and so frequent, that the readers can see the ripples from the past coming out to upset the waves of the present. The later we get in the history, the more explicit those references become. Santolouco teases Kitsune on page 4, introduces her on page 9 (in the form of a fox), names her on page 10 and reveals the witch and the fox to be one and the same on page 11. “Kitsune” is the Japanese word for “fox,” which may seem like weak sauce from the outset, but: a) foxes are traditionally linked to witchcraft in Japanese folklore; and b) there’s a character in the present of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that is a fox, is named for her species and works for the Foot: Alopex. The similarities between these characters are obvious, but only when Santolouco reminds us that Alopex exists on page 19.
The other connections to the present are even more shocking because they connect the Foot Clan to the more science fiction-y elements from TMNT. The potion that keeps Tatsuo alive is green and it glows. Standard properties of magic potions? Or is it the same ooze that mutates our titular turtles? Dr. Miller has an interesting note on his cork board:
Look at the way he’s got “regeneration” in quotes there. He’s already put it together that the potion was extending Tatsuo’s life span (!!), but it’s interesting that he’s applying this much more scientific vocabulary to that phenomenon. How long before you think he can connect that to the research at StockGen?
And the last connection — that utrom at the end — suggests answers to Donatello’s oft-repeated questions about magic and reincarnation. I love Donny, the skeptic and I’m glad his own apparent reincarnation hasn’t made him stop questioning the insane world around him.
Raph may blow him off here (consistent with both of their characters), but the fact that the demon at the source of Tatsuo and Kitsune’s powers is an alien from another dimension suggests that there’s more pseudo-science behind this world than magic.
I get so excited about the raw narrative power of this series that I’ve totally neglected the art (also by Santolouco), which is varied, detailed and evocative. I’m especially enamored by the coloring in this issue. Colorist Joāo “Azeitona” Vieira makes excellent use of different color palettes to emphasize the danger in a scene — be it the green glow of the ooze or deep oranges of a city on fire.
Drew, how’d you like this issue? I know you came late to TMNT, so this might be providing answers to questions you didn’t know you had. Also, is this the first time you’ve seen Alopex? If so, did you find her appearance to be a fun hint (like I did) or another frustrating element you didn’t understand? And if you did find her frustrating, please let this picture of a sleeping alopex melt your heart.
Drew: I fully acknowledge that there may have been stuff in this issue I don’t fully have the context for, but I don’t think it impaired my enjoyment at all. As with any good art, there are enough ideas here to satisfy varied interests, so while I didn’t get as much out of the connections you singled out, I found plenty to sink my teeth into. My favorite detail has to be the one you alluded to in your introduction: the sheer number of narrators in this issue.
We open with Tatsuo’s story as told by Dr. Miller, only we don’t know who is narrating this story as it opens. It’s clear that this action is taking place in the past, but since the narrator isn’t explicit, we’re left to assume it’s some kind of omniscient entity (leaving aside comicbookdom’s penchant for pulling that particular rug out from under us). When Santolouco pulls the camera back to reveal a diegetic narrator, it’s the first hint that something is up with the notion of narrative authority. That’s an ambitious subject to tackle in a story that has multiple narrators, pointedly calling Roshomon to mind. Both deal with piecing together an objective whole out of subjective parts, but Roshomon deals with events each of the narrators actually witnessed. Here, the whole story is obscured by time and retellings.
Curiously, Santolouco plays down the subjective nature of this patchwork narrative, instead focusing on how knowing only parts of the story influences how it is interpreted. Stories about stories tend to call these kind of meta-details to our attention, but I think Santolouco is going for something much more ambitious here. Indeed, the notion of a larger narrative pieced together through the stories of several narrators feels very much like a commentary about comics in general. We often talk about comics as being a collaborative medium, which I always assumed referred to the collaboration between writers and artists and editors on a single issue, but this issue seems to be positing the notion of collaboration across time. The notion that a story could be started by one storyteller could be continued seamlessly by another doesn’t always jibe with our notion of artists as singular geniuses, but does reflect the realities of monthly comics.
Those realities seem no truer than with the Turtles, which have a mythology that has expanded to include many one-offs by other creative teams — and that’s just within this iteration of the Turtles mythology. That the “truth” of the Turtles could lie in the collective works of all the creators involved is a beautiful idea, but extends in turn to encompass all of comics.
I know what you’re thinking: Drew has lost it again. I tend to go a little nuts when looking for these meta-textual conclusions, but I really think Santolouco means for us to be thinking about these ideas. Consider just where the images that accompany these “story” scenes are coming from. Are they the narrators’ interpretations of the stories they’re telling? Is it the audiences? Are we part of that audience? Are these objective truths about what actually happened? Santolouco leaves this up to our interpretation, but pointedly calls any of our conclusions into question with that final scene.
Patrick suggested that this last bit was narrated by Shredder, which is a reasonable read, but given that no narrator is implied, I’m not convinced. We see the same context cues as the previous narrated portions — the textured panel borders and muted color palette — but no actual narration. It’s implied that this is being recalled or constructed in the same way, but without a narrator or audience to attribute those actions to, I’m left to name Santolouco as the narrator, and the reader as the audience. The effect is that we forget that the story has to be told by anyone at all, pulling this meta-text from the world of painfully post-modern to a kind of vérité (albeit, one with mutant ninja turtles). It’s a neat trick, and one that makes me respect Santolouco all the more.
Santolouco really does deserve a lot of praise here. As much as I love what he’s doing with the story, his art is absolutely gorgeous. His art is vibrant and expressive, but I’m most impressed with just how many badass ninja scenes there are.
I don’t know why I’m so pleased with sequences where ninjas disappear, but I would probably read a book that was just that.
Anyway, as the first issue of a miniseries, consider me thoroughly impressed. I’m sure the connections to Splinter and the Turtles will become even more explicit as the story winds on, and I couldn’t be more excited.
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?