Today, Patrick and Taylor are discussing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Microseries Villains 4: Alopex originally released July 17th, 2013.
Patrick: You know what’s a weird feeling? Being really stressed out by work or relationships or whatever and then seeing an animal in the wild. The animal may need to fight for its very survival, but the expectations placed on the animal are clear: survive, hunt, gather, frolic, be free. Your life, on the other hand, is full of weird tests of abstract concepts: intelligence, loyalty, honor, decency. In one of the more twisted tests of loyalty, Shredder offers Alopex a choice — which ends up not really being a choice at all — between her old life as a wild animal, and her new life as a member of the Foot Clan family. Alopex makes it look like an easy choice, but only outwardly; readers get a more complete, and much sadder, tale.
On a mission with an unspecified purpose, Alopex leads a band of Foot ninjas to the very facility in which she was mutated in Fairbanks, Alaska. Alopex gets to work setting explosives to blow the lab to hell, but she’s basically too late – the place was abandoned long ago, and the elements have since reclaimed it. Idle hands are the devil’s playthings, so Alopex’ unoccupied mind wanders and she takes in the sights of the forest surrounding the facility. Suddenly, all of her pre-mutant memories come flooding back to her – the good and the bad: a life of an arctic fox with a family. But she’s snapped out of this semi-idyllic flashback by the sights, sounds and smells of the forest burning. Shredder is there, literally and figuratively destroying Alopex’ old world. Driven to animal fury, Alopex lashes out at her master, drawing blood.
I’m going to cut off the recap there, just because it’s getting wordy, but it is remarkable how many subtle psychological twists and turns Alopex goes through in the last couple pages of this issue. Her relationship with Shredder is one based on misplaced gratitude, but there’s so much rage that grinds up against a wall of unquestioning loyalty. In fact, Alopex seems almost eager for the punishment that will be regaining Shredder’s trust. It’s a sad, vicious little cycle, perfectly exemplified here:
Brian Lynch writes a wonderfully complicated character for this issue – which isn’t always the case for these Villain Micros. Alopex is psychologically damaged, and emotionally abused, but she’s never motivated by anything less honest than what’s actually happening to her. This isn’t emotional dependence for the sake of an easy story – in fact, her need to seek Shredder’s approval makes this a much more challenging story over all.
Naturally, the issue doesn’t start off plumbing the depths of Alopex’ psychology. The first scene finds her readily dispatching a rival gang of wannabe ninjas. She’s so confident in her fighting abilities that she immediately gives up the element of surprise, and then takes it a step further by blindfolding herself in front of her enemies. And then she taunts them a little! The character has only appeared on the fringes of the main series, and even then in very small doses, so Lynch is careful to establish just how capable of a warrior she is. Even here, though, we get hints that she’s desperately seeking Papa Foot’s approval – with her eyes covered, she can fantasize that the goons she’s wailing on are Shredder’s worst enemies. Sophie Campbell positively nails this sequence, letting the red band over her eyes announce her fantasies while the cool blue reflects the slightly less dramatic reality.
This is the same creative team that gave us the Leonard vs. A Billion Foot Ninjas micro series (also issue 4, coincidentally), and their work here is just as strong as it was when exploring a character as long-established as Leo. Taylor, I don’t know if Alopex is a genuinely new character as of this series, but she’s certainly new to me. We see so many characters working with either Krang or the Foot for opportunistic reasons, but Alopex might be the first that seems to be craving the Foot identity for the pure purpose of having an identity she can be proud of. She’s quickly become my favorite antagonist in City Fall, and I hope against hope that there’s room for redemption for her. I mean, it looks like the Turtles are going to cut Slash and Old Hob a break – they can’t extend that to Alopex too?
[Also, there’s a teaser announcing that the next issue is Karai’s. I did a little digging and, sure enough: issue 5 is Karai, issue 6 is Hun – new leader of the Purple Dragons – and issue 7 is Bebop and motherfucking Rocksteady. So, you know, get ready for those.]
Taylor: Patrick, I think I enjoyed this issue for much the same reason you did. It’s great to see a character that previously has been so flat fleshed out a bit – even if it’s just for one issue. And really, I think this issue exemplifies what should be the thesis of the Villains micro-series: exploring characters we otherwise wouldn’t have time to examine. Looking at Alopex in her various appearances in TMNT proper gives us very little information about who she is and what her motivations are. It’s always alright for a comic to have henchmen who hench for the simple love of it, but it’s even better when they have believable and even sympathetic motivations informing their actions.
I agree that Alopex does have a lot of misplaced loyalty and rage and it’s interesting to consider what role being a fox plays into creating that tension. Foxes are part of the Canidae family, a large set of animals which includes wolves, dogs, and other such mammals. One of the common characteristics of all these animals is that they are pack oriented, meaning that they are highly social and depend on others to survive. Considering that, it seems no small wonder that Alopex has a desire to fit in with some group and be accepted. It’s not just a desire to be accepted, it’s something that is hardwired into her DNA. Naturally, having been raised by the Foot Clan, she feels an obligation to them – and in particular a loyalty to Shredder. But one has to wonder, does she feel this sense of loyalty to the Foot out of actual gratitude or is it something she almost has no choice but to feel? Could it be that Shredder chose a fox for a mutant henchman specifically because of this (among the other reasons he listed in the issue)?
What makes this issue somewhat tragic is that it’s clear Alopex is smart enough to realize her loyalty to the Foot isn’t making her happy. Even though she enjoys serving Shredder, it remains unclear whether she actually enjoys the actions she is asked to carry out. When walking through her old stomping grounds in the arctic tundra it’s clear that she is at home, and more importantly, happy. She muses on her old family and one has to wonder if she questions her current state of affairs when she encounters one of her own kind in the wild.
With the idea of loyalty and family swirling around in her head it’s interesting to consider what will happen next to this character. Patrick, you suggest that she may have a change of heart in the City Fall event and that the turtles may cut her some slack much in the same way they did Slash and Ol’ Hob. This certainly seems like a probable scenario given that at the close of the issue Alopex swears to kill Shredder (add another to that list) but it will be interesting to see where she might align her loyalty next. My money is on her joining Hob and Slash in a “Mutants Only” club that swears to take over Manhattan and crush any who oppose it. Alopex, Hob, and Slash have all been so fucked up by those who claimed to care for them it seems like a natural fit for them all to come together and therapeutically kick some ass.
Whatever she ends up doing, however, I’m sure I’ll take interest in it. It’s so refreshing to encounter a series where almost every character has an entire issue devoted solely to exploring their psyche. Not only has this deepened the TMNT immeasurably but it has made me more invested in it than I had ever imagined possible.
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?