Friday, December 6, 2013

Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #6


Publication date: November, 2004

Plot: Steve Murphy
Script: Dean Clarrain (Steve Murphy)
Art: Chris Allan
Letters: Eric Talbot
Frontispiece: Dan Berger

“Scars”

Summary:

Frontispiece: Sitting in a graveyard after dark, Cha Ocho peels an apple and thinks about how he’s tasted the fruit from the Tree of Forbidden Knowledge… and found the flavor to be bitter.  He decides to tell a story to all the fools out there who haven’t had a taste, yet…


1984.  Chinatown.  Heading home from karate practice, a 9 year-old Cha Ocho is excited to show his mom the moves he just learned.  He leads her into an alley so he can have room to show off, which of course gets them cornered by a street gang.  Before the four muggers can kill them, Leonardo drops down from the rooftops and takes them out in 5 seconds.  Cha tells Leo he wants to be just like him when he grows up.  Before vanishing, Leo tells Cha “No you don’t”.

1998.  St. Thomas Church.  Cha, now a police officer, weds the love of his life, Kate.  Sometime after that, they’re down in the Times Square subway station, waiting for their train.  A perp comes running by the platform being tailed by two transit officers.  Cha decides to let the officers handle it.  Suddenly, the perp pulls out a gun, fires at the officers, misses, hits Kate and the impact sends her reeling off the platform, onto the tracks, where she’s promptly run over by a train.  The perp escapes.

1999.  The 17th Precinct.  Cha is furious at the Police Chief for putting Kate’s murder in the cold case files.  The Chief tries to level with him, that there simply isn’t any forensic evidence or available suspects and that the force has to move on to other cases.  Cha demands to be put on the case to keep it going, but the Chief reminds him about conflict-of-interest rules; that he’s too close to the case to be involved in it.  Cha throws down his badge and quits the force in anger.

2000.  The Foot Clan training center in Brooklyn.  Cha passes his final exam and is initiated into the Clan by Karai.


2001.  The 17th Precinct.  Using his newly acquired Foot Soldier training, Cha sneaks into the file room and leaves with the info on his wife’s case.  He’s stopped on the roof by Leonardo, who had a feeling the Foot Clan hadn’t gone legit like they claimed.  Cha recognizes Leo and tells the Turtle how he inspired him.  He then explains the whole story about why he’s stealing the file and Leo agrees to assist him.

Down in the lair, Cha and Leo look over the clues and come to the conclusion that Lawrence McKinney is the likeliest suspect, as he “fell off the face of the Earth” shortly after the time of the murder and was never able to be found for questioning.  Cha wants to hunt McKinney down like an animal and Splinter reminds him that he should consider whether he is out for vengeance or justice.  With Don working on a project, Mikey reading comics and Raph with a broken arm, Leo is left to accompany Cha on his task alone.

They do some sleuthing and clues lead them to the Dockside Bar, where McKinney is reported to hang out.  Cha puts his katana to a patron’s neck and demands answers.  The patron says that McKinney has been homeless ever since an incident a few years ago and hasn’t been the same.  Cha storms out, figuring the “incident” was his wife’s murder.  Leo reminds Cha to cool it, as he nearly killed the patron back there in his anger.

The pair search every homeless shelter in the city and they eventually come to the last on the list: St. Thomas Church.  Climbing the stairs, they find McKinney sleeping in a box and Cha immediately places his blade on the homeless man’s neck.  Cha reminds him of the murder and McKinney confesses.  Before Cha can kill him, Leo holds him back, allowing McKinney to run and hide in the church.  Leo tells Cha that killing the man would be dishonorable; against the Bushido code he swore to when he joined the Foot.  Cha smashes Leo in the mouth with the hilt of his sword and runs into the church.

Cha confronts McKinney on the altar.  McKinney pulls out a pocket knife and swears it was an accident; that he’s been living with the guilt of what he did all these years.  Cha promptly chops off McKinney’s hand and holds his sword up to his neck.  McKinney stutters a plea for forgiveness which Cha denies, decapitating McKinney.


Witnessing this, Leo tells Cha that he went too far; that he committed a dishonorable act.  Leo tells him that there is no honor in killing for vengeance.  Cha reminds Leo that he and his clan killed the Shredder, TWICE, as an act of vengeance on their own master’s behalf.  Leo counters by saying that their acts of vengeance only created a cycle of violence that got many innocent people killed.  Leo then lays down his swords and picks up McKinney’s pocket knife.  He tells Cha that he’s going to “teach him a lesson”.  The two fight and Leo counters all of Cha’s sword attacks with the dinky knife.  He then breaks Cha’s blade with the knife and slices a huge gash across Cha’s face.  Leo tells him that he’ll have to wear that “mark of shame” for the rest of his life and vanishes.

Sometime later, Cha reflects.  He considers how he used to hate Leo for what he did, but now he only pities him.  He pities the Turtle for living a repressed, suffocated life.  Trapped in the sewers, Leo can never experience the beauty of the surface world.  And trapped within his own outmoded dogma and self-righteousness, he isn’t able to see the world in anything beyond simple black and white.  Cha feels that Leo’s life is even lonelier than his.

Sitting down at Kate’s grave, Cha begins peeling an apple and starts to tell her a story about heroes and villains and those who fall somewhere in between…


Turtle Tips:

*This story takes place during the Mirage “Volume 3” era, very close to the beginning of TMNT Volume 4, given the date of 2001.

*Cha Ocho will forge a friendship with Raphael in Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #28 and continue his rivalry with Leonardo in TMNT (Vol. 4) #6.

*The Turtles killed the Shredder in TMNT (Vol. 1) #1, again in TMNT (Vol. 1) #21, and their acts of vengeance eventually spiraled out of control into the “City at War”, beginning in TMNT (Vol. 1) #50.

*I don’t think we ever learn the circumstances behind Raphael’s broken arm.

*This issue also included a back-up story, “The Raisin'” by Muphy, Lawson and Talbot, and a bonus pin-up by Chris Herndon Dan Berger.


Review:

With the power of retrospect at our fingertips, just about everything involving Cha Ocho seems really, really embarrassing.

When Peter Laird introduced him in the pages of TMNT Volume 4, he seemed to think that he really had something with this character.  Cha Ocho was treated like he was sure to be the.  Next.  Big.  Thing.  He was going to be the breakout character of TMNT Volume 4 and Tales Volume 2 and become as famous an addition to the recurring stable of TMNT personalities as Baxter Stockman, Leatherhead and the Rat King.

Yeah, well, that didn’t happen.

Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) would introduce a lot of new characters, built up like they were a shoe-in for the.  Next.  Big.  Thing.  Characters like the Foot Mystic trio, the Mistress, Hamato Yoshi’s niece and so on.  But the reality is that introducing a character is the easy part.  Cultivating them into interesting personalities that readers would want to latch onto and care about for years to come?  That takes time and dedication.  Mirage’s staff had the time, but not so much the dedication.  At least, not to the new characters they were introducing in rapid succession with lots of trumpeting fanfare.  Cha Ocho is just another one of those discarded “next big thing” characters; excitedly introduced and then quickly forgotten.

So with that in mind, this issue here is an extended origin story for a character who will proceed to do absolutely, positively NOTHING in the future except glower in the background and sneer awkwardly at Leonardo.  I suppose what you’re better off doing is categorizing this story in the same vein as Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #46 and Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #65.  These are all stories that chronicle the lives of various members of the Foot Clan and how their antagonistic interactions with the Turtles have affected them.  These sorts of stories try to add a sense of humanity to the faceless villains by fleshing out their home lives and backgrounds.  So I would recommend reading “Scars” in that context and not as the overblown origin story to “The Sensational Character-Find of 2004”.

“Scars” is a better story than I remembered it being in the past, at least when it comes to the climax, as Cha and Leo trade lessons and morality nuggets back and forth.  From Leo’s point of view, he’s been there and done that and can say from experience that vengeance never solves anything, but that violence begets more violence.  Unfortunately, he’s a total dick about it, wrapping it up in monologues about honor and the Bushido (by the way, “Bushido” is not ancient scripture, but imperialist propaganda commissioned in the early 20th century by the Japanese military to better indoctrinate nationalism and the glory of dying for one’s country into the population) and then scarring Cha with a “mark of shame” so he could think about what he’s done.  

While Leo may have meant well, he’s still projecting his own personal experiences onto another individual and rarely are two people’s situations entirely comparable.  And Leo can talk all day and night about “what he’s learned” over the previous two decades, but that doesn’t take away the fact that he’s killed countless scores of people, himself.  It’s hard to take exposition about the evils of killing seriously from a murderer.  And ANYWAY, Leo’s own example about the cycle of violence caused by vengeance killings doesn’t even hold up if you’ve actually read “City at War”.  Do you know how Leo solved his cycle of violence problems and earned that sweet Foot Clan peace treaty?  By killing and killing and killing until eventually he killed everyone that could cause shit for him.

He is NO moral high ground to be looking up to and has no business applying “marks of shame” to anybody.

Then there’s Cha, who kills a man as he surrenders and begs for forgiveness and swears that the murder he committed has haunted him ever since.  Yeah, that’s not so cool.  BUT, if McKinney had REALLY felt just awful about killing Kate, why didn’t he turn himself in during the 3 years since?  Dude had his chance to make things right and pay his dues.  This was just the consequences catching up to him.

I think the idea was that this was supposed to be a crossroads for Cha; he could have walked the path of a “hero” if he spared McKinney’s life or he could have transformed into a “villain” by seeking bloody vengeance.  Or, at least, that’s the black and white view Leo seems to use.  In his inner monologue at the end, Cha expresses that things just aren’t so conveniently black and white and though he killed the man who murdered his wife, that doesn’t necessarily make him a villain, either.

Now, what BOTHERS me is that all this is like a bad “What If” issue of Spider-Man.  Murphy (under his “Clarrain” pseudonym) doesn’t even try to hide the source of inspiration, with Cha deciding not to stop McKinney when he had the chance because of a “not my job” excuse and that selfish choice backfiring tragically.  But when Peter Parker tracked down the burglar who shot Uncle Ben, he chose to spare his life and become a hero.  When Cha Ocho tracked down the perp who shot Kate, he chose to decapitate him and become, I dunno, a Foot Soldier with personality or something.

It’s all a bit labored and confused and I’ve had plenty of discussions with other fans who came away with totally different interpretations of this story.  I think just by virtue that fans can talk about the issue and make cases for their various readings, that “Scars” is successful in its endeavor.  There’re shades of grey in both sides of the conflict and neither Cha nor Leo are wholly vilified or righteous in their actions.  Of course, what this really means is that we’ve got two jerks yelling at each other and you may not care if either of them are right or wrong because they’re both such douches.

As for everything else, we have Chris Allan artwork and that’s always a plus.  He seemed to get saddled with a lot of the lousier scripts during his contributions to Tales Volume 2 and that was sort of a shame.  And speaking of “lousy scripts”, Murphy was really struggling with the dialogue, here.  Cha is obnoxious in his slang and trash talk, saying things like, “I got more juice than Minute Maid and Tropicana combined!” and “I’m chilling.  I’m a regular Mr. Frosty”.  Yeesh.

“Scars” is… eeehhhh.  I remembered it being a lot worse than it actually was and the morality struggle between two deeply flawed yet arrogantly self-righteous individuals is interesting to read, even if you may not come out thinking either of them was “right”.  Great art from Chris Allan, so it’s got that going for it regardless of any other setbacks you may or may not detect.


Grade: C (as in, “Cha Ocho is just such a silly name.  Not Sgt. Bananas or Mondo Gecko levels of silly, but still pretty silly”.)

4 comments:

Adam Winters said...

I'm glad you brought up that angle about how all the new characters seemed to be candidates for the N.B.T. status. Ah, well...

Did ANY of them actually pan out into something interesting that might warrant future appearances in TMNT media?

I bought this issue entirely for the reunion of the Clarrain-Allan Archie team... but mostly Allan's art, of course.

Anonymous said...

None of the new Mirage characters actually broke out and became popular. It was actually the 4kids characters, especially Hun, who became the breakout new TMNT character.

The fact that Hun started as a "Tatsu replacement" for 4kids, and then became a major character throughout all 7 seasons and Turtles Forever, actually broke into Mirage continuity, and is now in IDW says enough in itself. I wouldn't be surprised if Hun shows up on the Nick cartoon either at some point.

In a way Cha Ocho should have been the new Hun, but that didn't pan out. It's actually amazing when you think of how popular Hun became as a character.

Ian said...

Have to disagree on this one. This is one of the stand-out issues of Tales Vol. 2.

It was interesting to see you belabor the idea of it serving as an introduction for "the next big thing" in Turtledom, though, because that's something I hardly ever think about while reading it.

In that regard, I suppose it could be a bit obnoxious. But as a post-City at War, character-centric one-off, I think it's right on the money.

Anonymous said...

Same as Adam...I bought this solely for the art :-)