Today, Drew and Patrick are discussing Secret History of the Foot Clan 4, originally released March 20th, 2013.
Drew: In my experience, there are two types of characters in action movies: those that act like it’s no big deal that that car just blew up, and those that understand that HOLY SHIT THAT CAR JUST BLEW UP! The former is obviously more badass, and I think captures a kind of aspirational relatability in the audience, even if the latter is ultimately more relatable — who wouldn’t freak out if they were caught in the middle of an action movie? Curiously, the relatability may make the characters in the latter category less realistic, as their presence often draws our attention to the artifice of the genre. It can be tricky to balance these characters (or these traits within characters), but Secret History of the Foot Clan continues to do so with aplomb.
The issue begins in feudal Japan, as Oroku Saki rises to power in the wake of his father’s assassination. He gradually bends the Foot Clan to the ways of Takeshi Tatsuo, becoming increasingly ruthless in his pursuit of his enemies (you know, more so than killing his own father). He eventually betrays his Utrom benefactor, stealing enough ooze to preserve his body until Karai woke him in the present day. We see those ruthless tactics come to light as he lays siege to the bar where our heroes have holed up with professor Miller. The professor is offended by Splinter’s plan to destroy the Ashi No Himitsu, so runs straight into Shredder’s grasp. Thanks to some quick thinking on April’s part, the turtles et al. escape with the book, and destroy it when they return to their hideout.
It’s an action-packed issue, but what continues to please me about this series is the way it balances that serious ninja action with winking levity. Mateus Santol0uco cleverly avoids the pitfall of a freaking-out character by hanging a lantern on it: Dr. Miller is so flabbergasted by the presence of anthropomorphic turtles that he can barely speak. Ironically, this very realistic reaction distances Miller from the audience, who are kind of used to the idea of teenage mutant ninja turtles (in fact, you might say that their presence is a draw). With that extreme dismissed as stodgy and lame (I could maybe see some parents not getting what is so great about these totally unrealistic adolescent reptilian assassins), Santolouco opens up a whole field of self-awareness without danger of bursting the narrative bubble, and –as usual — he uses that flexibility to great effect.
Mike, always the most lighthearted of the turtles, has some great moments in this issue, but the absolute best is his outside-the-box analogy explaining the concept of reincarnation:
Memories of the TMNT arcade game are so seared into my brain that I’m willing to assert that no turtle fan can read that panel and NOT immediately replay the whole thing in their mind (or at least through the sewer level).
It feels like another coy reference to old turtle stuff, but it actually serves an important function here: in aligning us — devoted turtles arcade players — with Mikey’s immortal soul, Santolouco and co-scripter Eric Burnham are asserting a much stronger audience surrogate with the turtles than we ever get with Dr. Miller. It’s a clever way to pull us into the action, but damn it if it doesn’t work beautifully.
You can contrast Mikey’s wonderment with Raph and Leo’s more action-heroey brass tacks attitude, as they continue to be the ones who step up to do whatever badassery needs doing. Actually, the most badass award for this issue might belong to Splinter, who opts to face Shredder single-handedly to insure everyone else’s escape. This is a much more capable Splinter than the aged sensei figure I’m used to, and I like it. At any rate, those action movie moments are beautifully balanced throughout the issue, and I can’t get over just how well it all works.
The big narrative thrust here is Shredder’s betrayal of the Utroms, which explains why they are now at odds, and positions the turtles in what could be an exciting role in the impending Foot vs. Dimension X battle. Will they unite with the Foot Clan against Krang, or with Krang against the Foot? Will they simply sit back and watch as their enemies destroy each other? How will the Neutrino resistance play into all of this? Patrick, are you as excited for the answers to these questions as I am?
Patrick: I am totally excited for the answers to all of those questions – especially given Karai’s actions at the end of TMNT 20 (on sale now! (and I’m writing about it with Mogo for Friday)). This series actually has me excited for a bunch of other things in the Ninja Turtle universe. First, I’m really looking forward to the Villain Micro-Series that have been announced for the next couple months. Shredder and the Foot Clan might prove to be a uniquely colorful background against which to paint a villain’s journey, but I’m not less excited to learn about Krang, Baxter Stockman and Old Hobb (who have all been announced, in that order). But the thing that’s got me impossibly jazzed for the future of series is Cityfall.
Cityfall is going to be the next big story arc in the main TMNT series, starting with issue 22 in May. It’ll revolve around the Foot Clan making their big play for glory as teased at the end of this issue. Which – like, okay, that’s plenty enticing right there, but the king-kicker is that Mateus Santolouco will be doing the art. That means we can the series’ future will be filled with sequences like this:
Drew, you focused a lot on Michelangelo in your write-up, and it’s totally warranted. He’s amazingly cute in this issue. I was never a big Mikey fan as a kid – I was too big of a nerd not to identify Donny as my favorite. As I have aged, I found it increasingly hard to relate to… well, to the party dude. I may not have been perceptive enough as a kid to realize that Michelangelo is the most sensitive of his brothers, and with that sensitivity comes a kind of intuition. He’s too immature to focus it in any productive way, but Mike’s so open to new ideas and new experiences that OF COURSE he remembers how to read Japanese from his past life.
Not only is Splinter showing some signs of added utility, April gets in a few punches this issue. By most counts, the current series does a pretty good job of painting April as a competent character with some real agency, but it’s still a rare occasion when she starts throwing fists. Plus, she has the foresight to call the cops to force a speedy ninja retreat. That’s one of those solutions that seems so damn obvious in hindsight, but it’s also counter-intuitive. I wonder if any of that is supposed to show just how tactically sharp April’s mind is – we’ve already seen her quick on her feet when gathering intel. Splinter may be full of personal insights and wisdom born from experience, but the group doesn’t really have anyone focused on strategy. It’s an exciting role that’s worlds away from the damsel in distress I remember from my childhood. Plus, that calling-the-cops gambit gave us this marvelously staged (and electrically colored) fight in the light of the cop cars.
João “Azeitona” Vieira’s colors inject this fight with so much chaotic energy and I absolutely love the way the color of the siren sound effect changes from one end of the panel to the other. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before, but it’s just beautiful.
Damn it, Drew: now I want to play some Ninja Turtle video games. They did a remaster of Turtles in Time a few years ago, but I mostly read shitty things about it. Pete Pfarr — who guested on Talon 0 with us and recorded the music for our cram sessions — bought me TMNT Smash Up for Christmas one year, but it is also not very good. As much as I associate the Turtles with the games they so frequently inhabit, I can’t really think of a good one in recent memory. I’ll take everyone’s suggestions for TMNT games in the comments. As a point of reference, I absolutely loved the NES classic, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project. Top that.
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 Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?