Wednesday, December 21, 2011

TMNT (IDW) #5



Publication date: December 21, 2011

Story: Kevin Eastman and Tom Waltz
Script: Tom Waltz
Art: Dan Duncan (New York City), Mateus Santolouco (Feudal Japan)
Colors: Ronda Pattison
Letters: Shawn Lee
Editor: Bobby Curnow

Summary:

Crawling through the cold alleys of New York with a backpack full of supplies, Splinter finds Old Hob’s goons lurking around every corner. As he takes the thugs out, he is reminded of a similar story from Feudal Japan, where a man bringing a satchel of supplies to his own children also fought hunters on the prowl for him.



Down in the lair, the Turtles are busy sparring. A month has passed since they were reunited with their brother, Raphael, and he has taken to martial arts like a duck to water; almost already at the same level as his bros. The other Turtles all know the feeling, as the fifteen months they spent “learning” ninjutsu from Master Splinter actually felt more like they were “remembering” it. Raph wonders, though, when Splinter will deem him ready to carry weapons like his siblings.

Back in the alleys, Splinter takes down more goons and recalls the tale of Hamato Yoshi…

In Feudal Japan, Hamato Yoshi was a member of the Foot Clan, a league of ninja assassins. His clan brother was the scar-faced Oroku Saki, who sought to lead the clan down the dishonorable path of conquest and genocide. During a clan meeting, Saki ordered the Foot to lay waste to an entire village of innocents as part of their mission to assassinate a castle lord, just to send a message to all who would oppose them. Yoshi spoke up during this meeting, calling out Saki on his ruthlessness. Yoshi walked out of the meeting in disgust. Vengefully, Saki declared Yoshi a traitor and called for the assassination of him and his whole family.

Later, a pair of Foot Soldiers invaded Yoshi’s home while he was away, killing his wife, Tang Shen. Before they could kill his four young sons, Yoshi came home and slew his enemies. As Shen lay dying, she made Yoshi promise not to seek vengeance on Saki, but to flee with their children and keep them safe. Yoshi vowed to honor her dying wish for now, but that one day, he and his sons would have vengeance.



Back in the present, at the New York Tech hockey arena, Casey has a sit down with Coach Bowman. Bowman is sympathetic toward Casey’s academic probation, but tells him that he can’t continue to play for their school if he doesn’t bring his grades up. Casey understands and leaves, hoping to find a tutor to help him out. At a lobby on campus, April O’Neil puts an ad up on the corkboard, offering tutoring on any subject in exchange for self defense lessons. As April leaves with her friend Trish for Christmas vacation, Casey walks past her, into the lobby.

In the alleys, Splinter subdues the last of Hob’s minions and proceeds into the sewers, remembering the end of the story…

For eleven seasons, Yoshi and his sons had kept ahead of the Foot Clan, until one day, after returning to his sons with a rare gift of sweets, Saki and his forces finally found them. Binding their hands and lining them up, Saki forced Yoshi to watch as the Foot Soldiers executed each of his sons. As they died, Yoshi prayed to Buddha that he would be reunited with his children some day and that they would get their revenge on Saki. As Saki raised his own sword, Yoshi vowed that they would meet again and he would kill him. Saki then killed Yoshi, but the story doesn't end there…



Down in the sewer lair, Splinter returns home with a backpack of gifts for his sons. He tells them that in their search for Raphael, they all wore red bandanas, Raphael’s favorite color, as a reminder of their mission. But now that they have been reunited, he felt that though they are a clan, they are also individuals, and should each wear their favorite colors. He then gives Michelangelo an orange bandana, Donatello a purple bandana and Leonardo a blue bandana. As for Raph, he has a different gift: a pair of sais which he feels his son has earned the right to wield.

The Turtles feel guilty, having no gift to give their father and Sensei, though Splinter assures them that being together again is a gift in itself. Donatello asks Splinter how he knew what their favorite colors were and Splinter asks them all to sit down next the Christmas tree while he tells them a story.

Elsewhere, Casey places a rose on his mother’s grave while April, arriving home, gives her mom a big hug.


Turtle Tips:

*This story is continued from TMNT (IDW) #4. The story continues in TMNT Microseries #1: Raphael.

*Though it was published after TMNT Microseries #1: Raphael, this issue takes place before it.

*Splinter's life as Hamato Yoshi will be further explored in TMNT Microseries #5: Splinter.

*This issue was originally published with three covers: Cover A by Mateus Santolouco, Cover B by Dan Duncan and Ronda Pattison and Cover RI by Kevin Eastman.


Review:

This is an issue that is going to create a lot of divide amongst fans. We have a major departure from the classic origin of the TMNT as well as the switch from their classic red Mirage bandanas to their animated multi-colored masks. If you thought fans were going at each other’s throats because of the introduction of Bebop and Rocksteady in the Raphael microseries, you haven’t seen anything yet.

Regarding the origin, it took me some time to ruminate on that. Because, wow, this was a pretty big change from the norm. Altering a classic origin is an easy way to upset readers. Just look at J. Michael Straczynski’s run on Amazing Spider-Man. Instead of being a teenager in the right place at the right time to get bitten by a radioactive arachnid, now it turns out that Spider-Man was a predestined mystical animal totem and all his powers are actually magical.

Fuck that.

But it also comes down to the execution, which can make or break any idea. And to Tom Waltz’s credit, he takes what may sound bizarre and unappealing in summary form and really makes it work on the page. Love or hate this new origin as you will, but TMNT #5 did a superb job of telling it to the audience by nicely paralleling it with a similar sequence of events occurring to Splinter in the present day and packaging it as a story within a story. Everything about the execution was good, so it’s more a discussion of the fundamentals of this new origin and whether such a radical departure from the 27 year-old story was warranted or not.

The fifteen month span of time between mutation and “ninjas with lots of personality who love each other as a family” has been a source of criticism from a lot of fans since the book started. Waltz finally reveals how such a short span of time could yield such unrealistic results by pressing the “reincarnation” button. In doing so, it’s a bit of give and take. We now have this rich back story rooted in Feudal era Japan that gives Splinter a genetic bond to his sons rather than an adoptive one. On the other side of the coin, now the Turtles never grew up as “outsiders” and so that entire concept at the core of their characters (being freaks who have had to hide themselves from humanity all their lives) is absent. In a way, they’re now “wolfmen”; by that I mean they were human all their lives and are only *now* monsters that have to hide from a world that fears them.

It’s a case of changing something that has been long established, but giving fans something completely new to digest at the same time.

Making the Turtles Splinter’s biological children is a case where I can weigh both the merits and the detractions. In the Mirage comics, the Turtles were turtles and Splinter was a rat but there was never, EVER any question between them that they were his sons and he loved them with all his heart. They never questioned whether he loved them less because they weren’t rats or whether he loved them less because they were adopted. At no point was it ever an issue in any story. There was an unspoken beauty to it, that such a thing never NEED be addressed because a father loves his sons whether they’re biological or not (and whether they’d mammalian or not, in this case). Making the Turtles his (reincarnated) biological offspring robs the dynamic of that unstated lesson, and while it doesn’t destroy anything on a foundational level, it does take that little bit away from it.

Going back to the idea that it’s all in the execution, though, the tragedy of Splinter losing his children is tremendous; their death scenes were very tastefully done and not “shock value”. There’s a great sadness in him because he’s a man who lost everything and, yeah, even if the answer as we have it now is “Buddhist magic”, there’s enough power in that sequence to make the whole thing work.

So like I said, “give and take”. We’re getting something new while losing something old. As for Splinter being Hamato Yoshi instead of his pet rat? I grew up with the Fred Wolf cartoon. I got over that shit a long time ago. Doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

In regards to the colored bandanas, I’m almost afraid to bring them up, as this discussion has resulted in untold eons of war and suffering. I’ll just say that I really don’t care either way; red or rainbow, it’s all the same to me. This story, though, wants to have it both ways and I think in acknowledging the two takes on the colors and trying to create an in-story explanation for the switch, they only invited more criticism than they needed. I get what they were going for, but it seemed kind of silly to even bother with it.

Art-wise, well, this was not Dan Duncan’s best work. His pencils look rushed and unfinished, particularly in regards to Hob’s goons, who at times sport an almost Picasso anatomy (look at that thug on page 5; it’s like he has a single humongous nostril in the center of his trunk-like nose). There’s also some problems with perspective, like when Splinter is going into the sewer, the manhole doesn’t look to be at the same angle that he’s entering it. He’s supposed to be gripping the edge, but it looks like he’s lifting the hole up; like there are two manhole covers or something. And Splinter’s tearful message on the second-to-last page suffers greatly because Duncan just drew one headshot and then flipped it in photoshop to cover two different panels. It’s very obvious and very lazy, considering it wasn’t even an elaborate panel, just a headshot and a completely blank background.

Santolouco’s pages, however, are fantastic and he really captures the period. There’s some silliness in design (the classic “footprint” Foot Clan logo is emblazoned on huge medallions worn by the characters and looks very incongruous with the “historic” garb of everyone else), but he really does a great job on everything, especially in giving Oroku Saki and Hamato Yoshi very unique appearances. Even in the Mirage series, I always felt they had kind of dull, bland designs. And I liked his designs for the Turtles as human kids, translating so much of their personalities into the human features; Leonardo is clearly the eldest sibling while infant Raph sports a traditional haircut making him look just like DaigorĊ from “Lone Wolf and Cub”, for example.

Anyhow, I’m willing to roll with this new direction even if I’m a bit apprehensive about some of it. I’ve complained in past reviews about the decompressed pacing of the series, but this was an excellent “done in one” story, proving Waltz has it in him when he feels like it. I hope to see some more stories in a similar vein, or at least as breaks between the longer arcs. Again, in summary form, it might sound very off-putting, but Waltz makes it work. Well, for now, at least. I can’t say I’m not intrigued to see where all this is going and things certainly do feel fresh and exciting. There’s really no predicting where this book is going to go and I find that thrilling.

Grade: B (as in, “But let’s just ignore the fact that Tang Shen was Chinese and in Feudal era Japan the Chinese were not… um… popular”.)

5 comments:

Kevin "Jester" McGill said...

There are things I like, and things I don't. I actually really like the backstory of Yoshi and Saki. The fact that Yoshi and Shen have kids is something that I really like. Makes them a family...even if she's only on a couple pages. Mark, you'd know better than I, did the Mirage universe ever go back to the Yoshi/Saki/Shen well? If not, it's a small tragedy, and I hope Tom and IDW will tell some wonderful stories about that "past life".

My main beefs are the somewhat forced pages with April and Casey...oh look, they're gonna become friends as she tutors him and he teaches her to defend herself. Very convenient. I'm also surprisingly annoyed by the switch to multi-colored bandanas. Thankfully it's not the "Raph can't tell them apart" theory I originally thought we'd get, but it's still goofy.

Mark Pellegrini said...

@Jester

Honestly, I cannot think of many Mirage stories going back and dealing with Yoshi, Shen, Nagi, etc.

The Mistress from Tales #22 was intended to be Shen's sister, but that story arc got cancelled. It's being covered in the current Image Conclusion project, but that's the only thing regarding Shen I can think of.

Oroku Nagi came back in one issue of Tales Vol. 2 as a ghost, but that was it.

And nothing on Yoshi that I can think of.

Like a lot of things in Mirage, there was so much untapped story potential in investigating Yoshi on a deeper level that we never got.

Arun said...

I picked this issue up yesterday, and I found it a great read. I'm glad they addressed the whole "this has all happened before" bit Splinter told the Turtles in the past issues (number 3?). I haven't been especially bothered by the decisions being made in this new incarnation, except when I first started reading and realized I had to throw away the knowledge I had of past TMNT stories. But once I got past that, it's been a fun ride so far.

The reincarnation angle was quite interesting. I wonder if it's a bit on the "convenient" side, but I do want to see how it plays out.

Adam Winters said...

I haven't gotten the opportunity to pick this one up yet, so I'm trying to avoid spoilers. I guess I'll just ask a random question anyway.

Mark, which cover variant is your favorite for this issue? :-)

Mark Pellegrini said...

@Adam

I actually preferred the Cover A by Santolouco, but the shop was all out and gave me Cover B by Duncan, instead. The Eastman's retailer incentive cover is cute, but like all of Eastman's incentive covers, not worth a $20 pricetag that I see polybagged on the shelf every month.