Today, Taylor and Patrick are discussing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Microseries Villains 3: Old Hob originally released June 19th, 2013.
Taylor: Cats always land on their feet. Or at least that’s what they do in the popular consciousness. While this old adage might not be as true as many believe, there does seem to be some serious science behind it. Youtube has a plethora of videos showing off the twists and turn cats go through while falling to ensure they land on their feet. Also, as a species, cats have proven to be fairly adept at landing themselves in fortuitous situations. Since the time of ancient Egypt cats have been man’s second best friend right after the dog. Wherever humans exist, there are bound to be cats in their homes and roaming their streets. Cats are survivors and because of this, none us should have been surprised when it was revealed that Ol’ Hob survived being double crossed by Baxter Stockman. But as we find out in the TMNT villains micro-series, this double cross is just one in a series of events where Hob is thrust into a bad situation, only to once again land squarely on his feet.
At the end of issue 16 of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it was revealed that Slash, a mutant turtle bread to destroy Splinter and the turtles, survived his run-in with our titular heroes and befriended Hob. This issue is Hob retelling his own narrative to Slash as a means of explaining his motives to the hulky turtle. Hob started out life as a normal housecat, sleeping half the day and chasing string. However, while his owner, a small boy loves him very much, the boy’s mother does not. Hob finds himself thrown out onto the streets where he has to fight just to ensure he gets a meal every day. It is during this time when Hob has his first encounter with the pre-mutated turtles and Splinter – the encounter that costs him his eye and transforms him into a man-cat. Baxter Stockman discovers Hob and supports him financially while also running tests on him. Through his various run-ins with the turtles (as seen throughout the series) Hob decides to cast-off his loyalties to Stockman, and to all humans. Also, surprise! He’s teaming up with the turtles at the end?
I’m a strong believer in the idea that a good story can only be as strong as its portrayal of the antagonist. In any proper story, all of the characters we meet should be well-rounded and have a certain amount of depth and dimension to their existence. Naturally, antagonists should not be the exception to this rule and it’s a great pleasure to see the creators of TMNT recognize the importance of making their characters believable in their motivations. In particular, the exploration of Old Hob’s character has proven especially fruitful in this endeavor. What I find most interesting about Hob is that his primary motivation is to be loved and accepted which is a motivation we all know well but often don’t associate with the “bad guys.”
What makes Hob different from a lot of the villains we’ve been introduced to in this series is that he knew love in his early days, which is something that informs his actions as a mutant. Because of this, he knows how good a life of acceptance and family can be compared to the servitude he finds himself in with Stockman. While working for the mad scientist, Hob has the revelation that even though he claims to care for his well-being, Stockman sees him as nothing more than an experiment and a tool rather than as a living entity.
This obviously has an effect on our Cat-Man: his life is steeped in violence and strife. What makes this issue neat is that before, in the TMNT main series, we only saw this one side of Hob, so it was pretty easy to dismiss him a one-dimensional character. Aside from his being a cat I found nothing really compelling about the character since he seemed like your typical goon in the vein of Bebop and Rock Steady. However, seeing Hob’s tragic back story and his fall from grace makes him more interesting and empathetic character.
What makes this development of Hob’s character all the more pleasing is that it fits in with one of the main themes of TMNT. Hob is reminded of the love he is no longer privy to when he sees the turtles fighting together as a family. Given his background in organized violence, Hob can tell that the turtles and Splinter share a bond that runs deeper than anything he has felt since his days as a housecat.
This angers Hob because he’s confronted with the very thing he has been denied ever since he was thrown out of his master’s house (not to mention the fact that Splinter also gouged out his eye). In the main TMNT series the theme of family and loyalty takes center stage and its pleasing to see it reflected in Hob’s narrative as well. Credit should be given to Jason Ciaramella for weaving this theme into this issue so naturally and effectively. This presents a unified front to the reader on behalf of the IDW team which makes the TMNT universe both fulfilling and oddly believable (y’know, despite all of its mutants and ninjas).
Patrick, how did you like this feline-centric issue? Were you as pleased as I was to see Hob drawn as a sympathetic character or did you like him better when he was simply a stock baddy? Also, Hob gives us some insight into the mutation process which is something that up until now has remained somewhat of a mystery. Would you like to know more about it or do you think that would ruin the pseudo-science behind the whole mutant thing?
Patrick: Oh even with Hob’s first hand account of what mutating is like, it remains plenty mysterious. He describes the pain and the confusion at being able to understand human speech, but most of his observations are anecdotal – he goes so far as to say that there’s science there too, but he doesn’t understand it. And that’s just fine with me.
In fact, its super fun to see how he expresses any of the memories he has from his days as a normal cat. Obviously, he has to project some meaning on to those moments after he gains the power of language and self-reflection. He knows that he loved his boy-owner, and that the boy-owner loved him, but there’s no way he could have even known his name at the time.
The voiceover — which is so persistent during the rest of the flashback – drops out as we see the the boy and his mother arguing. The poor kitty cat can’t understand what’s happening to him in this moment, only that he’s being thrown out to survive on the streets of New York City. Once he’s back to describing what it takes to survive, the voiceover is back in full force, because he was able to understand hunger and fear as a cat. It’s a neat little trick that shows how clearly Ciaramella thought through the changes the brain goes through in the mutation process.
I love David Wachter’s art throughout this issue, he’s got such a good handle on the size of these characters and what that means. A strange observation, I know, but hang with me. In the kitty-cat portions, Hob is adorably small, and his size betrays a fragility that utterly disarming. The only creatures he finds that are smaller? Oh, it’s our baby turtle friends, and he refers to them as “a snack.” But then there are the “present” sections that show Slash as this impossibly hulking creature. He’s huge. And just so we know how big he is, in his first appearance, his figure envelopes Hob’s.
And all this after Hob made such a big deal about how much larger he had grown since the mutation. If being bigger gave Hob the ability to take control of his own destiny, then teaming up with the biggest guy on the block enables him take that much more control.
The promise that Hob and Slash are going to play an active role in this whole City Fall thing is almost too exciting to me. It’s interesting to see the factions forming, and seeing these two — however temporarily — ally themselves with the Turtles just feels right. I love that Hob seemed to understand that there was a power-vacuum in the city and then later notices that there is no such vacuum. He might just be a scrappy alley cat, but dude’s perceptive. His choice of allies here is inspired – I thought for sure that they’d be teaming up with the Savate Ninjas, about whom we still know very little. But this is much better. In fact, if we don’t hear from the Savate again until this is whole battle for the soul of New York is in the books, then all the better.
But Taylor really got to the heart of this – Hob is a surprisingly relatable figure, and he’s motivated by love. If we didn’t know that the heroes of this series are named Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo, we might consider that this poor kitty cat — a perpetual victim, but consummate survivor — is the real hero of his own saga. Plus, ask anyone: I’m a sucker for cats (fiction cats, anyway: I’m allergic). I love the ridiculousness of the Red Lantern Dex Starr (a regular Earth cat, originally named Dexter) and the new Super Mario 3D World trailer has me convinced that I need to buy a Wii U (guess which feature sold me on it).
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?