Today, Patrick and Taylor are discussing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Microseries Villains 6: Hun originally released September 11th, 2013.
Patrick: Redemption. It almost doesn’t matter how far a character has fallen – we want to believe they are capable of evening their karmic score. It’s a powerful idea, one that is almost a more effective motivator for the audience than the reader. We want Darth Vader to toss the Emperor into a bottomless pit because we know it’ll be satisfying to see him come full circle, back to being a hero. Whatever Anakin’s psychology in that moment, we cheer the act because we perceive Vader to be rejecting his inner demons and embracing something better. TMNT Villain Microseries 6: Hun asks us to bear witness to another redemption, but this time, we don’t get to dictate the terms. As Casey Jones’ father rejects one set of demons and gets his life in order, we have to wrestle with a redemption that’s objectively more destructive to himself and his family.
The issue is framed by Papa Jones’ confession at an AA meeting. He tells everyone about how he’s finally quit drinking and found new purpose in his job – which he’s really good at. The details he leaves out are significant. The job that’s giving him so much purpose is Leader of the Purple Dragons. With some guidance from The Shredder (and a canister of ooze, for muscles), Arnold re-embraces his identity as “Hun,” and uses his gang to suppress the influence of the Savate Ninja clan. This new-found confidence also lets him try to make amends with his son, but Casey’s a little to smart to believe what he’s seeing (and maybe a little too dumb to put all the pieces together).
One thing that I’ve really enjoyed about the Villains Micro Series is that they will occasionally act as sequels to specific issues from the last chunk of Micro Series. Usually, that takes the form of reuniting a creative team under the TMNT banner, but this issue doubles down on that sequelness – writers Mike Costa and Ben Epstein and artist Mike Henderson worked on Micro Series 6 (also 6): Casey Jones. I had to go back and check to make sure that it’s the exact same creative team, but Henderson’s distinct visual style subconsciously snapped me back into this Jones-family mindset. The only real conceptual difference between these two issues is that this one is from Arnold’s perspective, which is extra-fitting seeing as he’s very clearly the villain of Casey’s issue from over a year ago. I don’t know what it is about seeing these tiny dramas playing out incrementally over years, but the universe feels all the richer for it.
Can I go on record and declare that a certain rhetorical device always works for me? I love it any time a character lies about their life, but the audience is immediately privy to the truth, because we see it playing out in front of us. The actual meat of this story is pretty slight — Arnold Jones takes over the Purple Dragons at the behest of the Foot and attacks the Savate — but the framing device gives the story a much sadder undercurrent. Arnold’s needs are relateable: he wants to feel needed, useful. Obviously, this is like the Twilight Zone version of that, where the solution is actually worse than the problem. But you gotta respect Shredder for knowing just which buttons to pull Hun out of retirement. Arnold’s so eager to accept his purpose is life, that he lets this little gem slip by unchallenged.
Also, dig how beautiful that drawing is. There’s no mistaking the power dynamics of this panel.
There are still so many pieces of Turtles mythology that are mysterious to me. Skara Brae, the Purple Dragons, the Savate — all of these ideas that we first saw in the TMNT Annual. Information about all of that comes in drips, without ever overburdening the reader with exposition. Even as Shredder is telling Arnold something he already knows (i.e., that he used to lead the Purple Dragons), the nitpicky details are left up to the reader’s imagination. The rise and fall of Hun is tossed off in three insignificant panels right up top.
All of these issues have done a great job of focusing on formative incident, and not trying to stretch character origins out over their entire lifespan (with the possible exception of Old Hob, which I enjoyed anyway, because: kitty!).
Taylor, how did you like this issue? I know you and I occasionally disagree about how much we like Casey and how engaging his story is. But, if I recall correctly, his solo issue was kind of a turning point for you. How does this issue effect the way you feel about the Jones family? Do you wish there was a little more information about the Purple Dragons and the Savate, or are you content to let your imagination fill in those gaps?
Taylor: As I’ve said before, I love all of the miniseries associated with TMNT and perhaps this Villains series the best of all. I’ve consistently been amazed at how artfully each issue has given us insight into the minds of some the turtles most mysterious villains. That being said, I had some reservations about the Hun issue because, like you said Patrick, I’m not the biggest fan of Casey Jones or anything really having to do with him not related to ninjas or turtles. But I was pleasantly surprised by this issue and I think the “less is more” approach taken by writers by Costa and Epstein is a big reason for that.
So to answer your question directly, Patrick, I don’t really want more information on the Purple Dragons or the Savate, at least in this issue. I like that all we know about Hun’s past is that he was in the Purple Dragons and that he was a total bruising, badass. The little information we get about his life compliments the TMNT universe really well and the reason for that is perhaps a little nuanced. The very idea of ninjas running around New York City and causing trouble is pretty far fetched, but add an implied history of such activity happening for years and it becomes outright bizarre. In this universe, what exactly happened in New York to make it such a hub of ninja activity? This question alone could the basis of an entirely different miniseries so I think it’s best that the subject was avoided in this issue. Still, I like that I can ponder this history and craft it on my own. It’s a nice little relationship the authors have created with their readers here and it shows trust on their part in how we fill in those gaps. That being said, it’s always enjoyable to have the curtain pulled back a little bit and that’s just what we have here.
This same subtle touch is interweaved in the personal history of Hun as well. His backstory isn’t anything that spectacular and his relationship with Casey is pretty formulaic as far as troubled youth stories go. Family tragedy spawns a crisis, the crisis drives the parent to extremes, the parent takes it out on the child. While that particular aspect of Hun’s development didn’t stand out all that much, what I did find moving was his relationship with himself.
Even though he’s making his lead appearance in the Villains microseries I find it difficult to classify Hun as a true baddy on the same level as a Shredder or Karai. Instead, Hun seems to have more in common with a different villain: Alopex. Both characters, as we see in this issue and in Villains 4, are perhaps fundamentally good people who are victims of bad circumstances. For Hun, that means he is perpetually tempted by that which he would be wise to avoid. Whether it’s booze or ooze, the man has a character flaw that prevents him from recognizing a bad influence when he sees it. In both cases, as we see above, the man views these influences not as a bad thing, but rather as something bordering on divine intervention. This alone makes Hun an incredibly flawed character, who is both pathetic and powerful at the same time. Again, the writing uses such a soft touch to explore and deepen characters who initially seem fairly flat that it’s easy to forget just how good it is.
For all that sweet and juicy character development, the question remains whether or not I’ve come round to Jonsin’ for the Jones’. What started as skepticism has slowly transformed into a budding optimism. Like seeing the first flower of Spring after a long winter, I’m beginning to think that maybe there is reason to look forward to the future of Casey and company. While I’m not totally enraptured by the character of Hun, I do like what the character does to flesh out the character and backstory of his son. Before, Casey was just an angry kid who wanted to work out his aggression on some hapless thugs. His reasons for wearing a hockey mask while kicking ass were similarly shallow and I found this a bit off-putting. But as the TMNT continues, Casey continues to deepen and it’s nice to see his reason for wearing the mask also begin to matter.
Whether he wears it as a memento of love and devotion to his father or as a reminder of how much he doesn’t want to become Hun, it’s fascinating to see Casey’s iconic symbol imbued with more meaning than simple aesthetics. I think this is representative of the Villains microseries so far in that readers are coming to realize everything has a place and meaning in this universe. This is a mature Ninja Turtles story and the creation of depth on display here reminds us of that on every page. Perhaps one could say this is a redemption for the series itself as it casts off some of it’s cultural baggage in exchange for story that is thoughtful and more than meets the eye.
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