Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Paradox of Chudnovsky

Publication date: 2007 (Spanish), 2016 (Russian)
Originally published in: Tortugas Ninja Vol. 2 (Spanish), Tales of the TMNT Vol. l (Russian)
Published by: Norma Editorial (Spanish), Illusion Studios (Russian)

Story: Steve Murphy
Script: Steve Murphy
Pencils: Jim Lawson
Inks: Eric Talbot
Frontispiece: Jim Lawson (pencils), Marina Prokopyeva (layout) and Arseniy Dubakov (layout)

“The Paradox of Chudnovsky”


Frontispiece (2016 edition only): Renet sits in the flooded ruins of future-Earth, contemplating the concept of nostalgia.  For Time Lords, there is no such thing, as they can travel back to earlier points in history anytime they want.  However, she finds this power to be of little comfort, especially when she finds herself encountering old friends before they're actually supposed to know her...

On the rooftops of Manhattan, the Turtles enjoy the beautiful view when suddenly Renet pops out of thin air, distressed, demanding the Turtles protect her. Unfortunately, it’s only 1985 and the Turtles haven’t had their first encounter with her yet, so they’re at a loss. But there isn’t any time to spare, as two Occam’s Razors come following her through time and space, leaving the Turtles to destroy the spinning blades (and Donatello annoyed that “Occam’s Razor” isn’t supposed to be an actual razor). The razors were just a distraction, however, as the true enemy soon arrives: Savanti Romero! Calling Renet “honey” (much to her irritation), he flings more Occam’s Razors at the Turtles, forcing Renet to call a retreat. Using her time scepter, she whisks herself and the Turtles to a plateau all the way back in the Cretaceous period.

Renet thinks they’ll be safe, only to have another hole in time and space open up behind her. Romero’s hand bursts through it and seizes the scepter, leaving the heroes trapped in the past. Climbing to the top of some ruins to get a better view, Don is immediately attacked by a flock of pteranodons. The Turtles fight off the dinosaurs, but the problem still remains: they’ve nowhere to go.

That night, sitting by a campfire, the Turtles demand an explanation from Renet. Renet explains that she and Romero were both students from the University of Time and Space of Lord Simultaneous in the 79th Level of Null-Time. They dated, but the academic competition between the two caused them to break up. Romero believed that he could prove Lord Simultaneous wrong by discovering the theoretical Dead-Time; the time and space of the dead. Renet believed that even if it were real, entering it was morally wrong, as it was the sacred realm of the dead. The pair then went their separate ways and Romero continued with his experiments. One night, Renet spotted a living shadow entering Romero’s room, but when she followed it, she found that the man she knew was gone. In his place was a demonic figure now going by "Savanti" Romero. Romero then defeated Lord Simultaneous and stole the time scepter, only to have it stolen from him by Renet. He then chased Renet through time and space and that brings us up to speed.

Knowing that Romero will eventually return for his “honey”, the Turtles spend the next three months building weapons and fortifying the plateau. As Renet and Leo stand guard, Don returns with firewood and Mike returns with “porkasaurus” for dinner. Raph, however, is still out in the jungle somewhere.

Later that night, Don and Renet have a talk. Don asks why Renet acted like she knew them when they first met. Renent explains that she already has met them before, but they haven’t met her yet. Time travel’s like that. Don asks if the fact that she’ll meet them in their future proves the Turtles will make it out alive and Renet explains the Paradox of Chudnovsky to him: that each time-jump rewrites the future, so there’s no guarantee that the adventure she previously had with them will still occur.

The next morning, Mikey wakes up to find four boxes sitting outside his tent. He opens two of them and discovers they contain dead cats. Don comes by and tries to explain the theory of Schrodinger’s Cat to him. Renet overhears them and comes running, warning them not to open the last two boxes. She’s too late and from them spring a pair of monstrous were-cats. As Leo and Don take on one of the cats, the other tackles Mikey and they both go tumbling off the cliff. Luckily the branches of the trees below break their fall, though the cat is still ready to fight. Suddenly, Raph comes swinging by on a jungle vine and lifts Mikey up off the ground just as a pack of raptors come stomping through. Raph and Mikey climb back up the cliff as the raptors devour the were-cat.

They arrive at the top just as Leo dispatches the other were-cat. Romero then appears and attacks. A bubble of time-space strikes Don, instantly transforming him into a withered old man. The other Turtles retaliate with stone-carved shuriken, leaving Romero to distract them with a sand-monster. Renet cures Don and then asks the Turtles to buy her some time while she casts a powerful spell. The Turtles fight their way through the sand-monster and then keep Romero busy with insults. Renet then sends a ball of energy called “big bang yolk” at Romero. Recognizing the spell, Romero only has time to counter by throwing one of his own: “novice again”. Both Renet and Romero recoil as they’re struck by the spells.

The “big bang yolk” transforms Romero into a very angry, demonic baby trapped inside a ball of energy. The “novice again” spell destroys Renet’s intelligence, reducing her to the valley girl she was before she graduated university. Renet realizes that Romero has succeeded in making her “honey” again. Barely able to remember how to use it, Renet picks up the time scepter and returns the Turtles to 1985.

1985, a few weeks later. Donatello is reading an issue of National Geographic focusing on the Gobi Desert. He sees pictures of the ruins where they fought Romero and feels like he remembers the place, but can't figure how or why.

Epilogue (2016 edition only): Drained of her intellect, Renet has been returned to the academy in the 79th Level of Null Time.  She finds her memories slowly returning as she doodles a picture of Donatello.  The professor admonishes her for drawing in class and the rest of her peers snicker at her.

Turtle Tips:

*Renet will have her first "real" encounter with the Turtles in TMNT (Vol. 1) #8.  Thanks to the events of this issue, however, none of the characters will remember any of this ever happened.

*Renet's real name, "Renet Tilley", and her home being in the 79th Level of Null Time, are references to her back story as described in the Transdimensional TMNT RPG sourcebook published by Palladium.

Publication Timeline:

*This story was commissioned by Peter Laird somewhere around 2003, when it was believed that Dave Sim would not grant reprint rights for TMNT (Vol. 1) #8, thus requiring a narrative substitute to be created.

*Dave Sim eventually granted reprint rights to TMNT #8 in the letters pages of Cerebus #300 (Sim's preferred method of discourse was through his letters page).  As a result, the need for “The Paradox of Chudnovsky” became obsolete and the story was shelved by Mirage.

*To date, it has never been published in its original English-language version.

*In 2007, the story saw print in the Spanish-language Tortugas Ninja Vol. 2 trade paperback collection published by Norma Editorial.  The epilogue featuring Renet in the classroom was mistakenly omitted from that edition.

*In 2011, Russian TMNT fan Arseniy Dubakov coordinated English and Russian translations of the Spanish-language version of the story and a limited print run of it as the unofficial "Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #71" (100 copies in English, 40 in Russian).  The initial translation for this edition was courtesy of the Optical Internet Translation Gang.

*The Tales of the TMNT #71 edition of this story featured lettering by Dubakov, a wraparound cover by Dubakov and Dmitry Bobrovnik, a frontispiece by Marina Prokopyeva and Dubakov, translations and script editing by Efrahn Ostos Garcha and Andrew Modeen, and Special Thanks to Benjamin Berry, Jarid Shallenberger and Julia Kutuzova.

*In January 2016, Illusion Studios published the story in Russian in their officially licensed Tales of the TMNT Vol. 1 collection.  This edition featured a new frontispiece by Jim Lawson (based on the unofficial frontispiece by Prokopyeva and Dubakov) and the original Renet epilogue (published for the first time).

*According to Arseniy Dubakov, the original English script for the issue is missing (Dan Berger was only able to provide him with unlettered artwork for the official Russian publication).  For the epilogue, a new script was written by Andrew Modeen (who helped oversee the English translation of the Spanish language publication that had omitted the epilogue by mistake).

Back and forth between Laird and Sim:

Okay, so the first news about this TMNT #8 "substitute" issue came from Peter Laird in the letters page of TMNT (Vol. 4) #9:

"You may be interested to know that we have in the works a 'reimagining' of TMNT #8, the issue of the original series in which Savanti Romero first appeared.  This book, which will likely see print sometime this year, will replace the original #8 in official Mirage continuity and tell an all-new tale of how the Turtles met Savanti Romero and the timestress Renet."

When Dave Sim got wind of this, he published his reply in the letters pages of Cerebus #300 (the final issue of that comic).  After a lengthy dissertation about the rights of creators to reprint shared work (and what to do with the photographic negatives), he granted Laird permission to reprint TMNT #8 under certain conditions.  Here is that portion of his response (it was a total 2-pages long and I don't want to transcribe the whole thing):

"Pete: If you want to excise Cerebus for spite or 'anti-Dave Sim-the-evil-misogynist purification,' that's fine -- no hard feelings on my part, either way.  If you want to excise Cerebus because of legal complications, I give you my word of honour as a gentleman that -- as long as you lay no legal claim to Cerebus as an intellectual property -- you are fully entitled to reprint the original issue 8 in whatever way you see fit and to compensate me or not compensate me as you see fit.  If you're the one publishing it and you're not publishing anything else on a work-made-for-hire basis, I will happily accept any payment personally.  If you have licensed it to be published by someone who does work-made-for-hire or if you are publishing anyone on a work-made-for-hire basis, then I would appreciate it if you and/or they would run a disclaimer saying that they/you lay no claim to Cerebus as an intellectual property and send any and all royalties to which I would otherwise be entitled to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.  And, if it's not too much trouble, send a cheque to Kevin as well, since he wrote and drew the damn thing.  It'll at least buy a few rounds for him and Simon Bisley the next time they're out of town."

A fan informed Laird of Sim's response in the letters page of TMNT (Vol. 4) #16.  Laird refused to back down from his vow to replace TMNT #8 in Mirage continuity and replied:

"I have not read Dave's comments.  I also have not changed my plans.  Nothing I do is going to eliminate the original TMNT #8 from existence -- it's just not going to be part of the Mirage TMNT continuity from now on, and we won't be reprinting it.  I don't believe I 'owe' the fans anything other than making as sure as I can that the comics I publish are worth the price on the cover... and I'm confident that they are -- otherwise I wouldn't bother doing them.  If someone really wants to see what that original issue of TMNT #8 was all about, I'm sure they can dig one up on the collectible comics market -- after all, we printed more than 100,000 copies of it.  Not exactly 'rare'.  And frankly, as fun as that story is, I don't see it as a key element in the ongoing story of the TMNT."

Despite Laird's absolute, positive assurance that he would not be reprinting TMNT #8 and that it was stricken from the record, he wound up reprinting it in the TMNT Collected Book Volume One trade paperback from 2009.  That's the one with this cover:

The interior pages contained the necessary legal mumbo jumbo that Sim requested in his open letter to Laird, so it looks like Laird's the one who blinked first.

On June 6, 2011, during an "Ask Peter" Q&A on Peter Laird's TMNT blog, user Andrew Modeen asked him how much involvement he had in the alternate TMNT #8 and whether or not Laird still considered it the "canon" version of the events.  Laird responded:

"As I recall, I consulted with Murph on that story, though I don't think I contributed all that much.  I have very little memory of it.  I actually prefer the original #8, and since I was able to come to a meeting of minds with Dave Sim about it, I would say that THAT is the 'canon' version."

So there you go.  It went from being the "canon" version to not being the "canon" version to being the "canon" version again, all over the course of never being published in English.

After reading all this, I hope what you take away is that "canon" should be what you want it to be as a reader and not what the editors or creators necessarily decree.  Because, as you've just witnessed, even they can't make up their fucking minds half the time.


This story has sort of gained a reputation among TMNT fans due to its overall unavailability and all-around mystery. When Laird first mentioned it in the letters pages of TMNT (Vol. 4), many were left with the impression that it was a straight-up duplicate of TMNT (Vol. 1) #8, just without Cerebus. Years and years went by and the thing never saw release, and you know fans. Tell us we can’t have something and that just makes us want it even more, regardless of what the actual quality of the product might be (marketing firms have been exploiting this weakness for decades).

Even after the fandom learned the story had been published in a Spanish-language trade paperback, it still remained unavailable for years. You’d think more Turtle fans would know Spanish and how to work a Photoshop program, but you’d be wrong. Eventually, Arseniy Dubakov, artist behind TMNT (Vol. 3) #24, coordinated a major effort among fans and, low and behold, “The Paradox of Chudnovsky” is now available in English and in some rather nicely printed copies, too!

At this point, though, I feel it necessary to make the disclaimer that what I read was an English translation of a Spanish translation of the original English script by Steve Murphy. I can’t say for certain what was lost in the translation process, but the story is extremely straight forward and there really isn’t much to catastrophically misinterpret. The translation team did a very impressive job on the book, leaving lots of the names of the theoretical physics (interpreted literally for the sake of humor) intact and several jokes between characters seem to have made it through the linguistic gauntlet marginally unscathed.

“The Paradox of Chudnovsky” is an interesting story in its application. It acts as a narrative substitute for TMNT (Vol. 1) #8 without actually replacing that story. The events still happened, at least in Renet’s timeline, but it merely acts as an alternate means to the same ends if one should so choose to prefer it. By the story’s conclusion, Romero is still left trapped in the Cretaceous period so that he can make his comeback in Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 1) #7, and Renet’s a blithering valley girl once more, keeping her personality consistent.

Unfortunately, it also ends up feeling redundant with Tales of the TMNT #7. Read those two stories back to back and the Turtles get taken to the Cretaceous period and abandoned there for exactly three months twice. It almost feels like “The Paradox of Chudnovsky” is trying to perform double-duty, superseding Tales of the TMNT #7 as well, but it doesn’t work out that way since it would then contradict TMNT (Vol. 1) #46.

This story is definitely an interesting experiment, but I think it causes more narrative problems than it fixes.

Case in point: the romantic relationship between Renet and Romero. I actually found this part of their back story to be very interesting, particularly because it finally gives us an origin for Romero (who was just a two-dimensional villain before). Renet being a graduate of Lord Simultaneous’s university reduced back to the IQ of a dull teenager adds some tragedy to her past, too. Unfortunately, this new angle to their dynamic comes at the cost of being completely out of the blue. In no story has such a relationship ever been implied between them, and considering how important such a connection is, there’s no excuse for them to have never brought it up in their subsequent crossovers (outside of the fact that those later encounters were written before this origin story).

On the other hand, one could argue that Romero being turned into a baby and Renet being brain-drained back to a teenager caused them both to “forget” that they were ever lovers. So there’s that.

In terms of chronology, “The Paradox of Chudnozsky” was conceived as a substitute but that doesn’t necessarily rule it out of coexisting with TMNT #8, either. Romero could very well have been banished to the Middle Ages by Lord Simultaneous sometime between the end of this story and TMNT #8. The version printed by Dubakov includes a single additional line not in the original script, where Renet asks Don to “act surprised when you ‘meet’ me in 1986”. I don’t mind the added line so much, though even with it in mind, I just can’t read TMNT #8 and imagine that the Turtles are “acting surprised” through the whole story.

“The Paradox of Chudnovsky” has some humor to it in the form of all those physics theories brought to life and a few snappy lines (particularly about Renet’s fashion), and I do dig that we finally have an origin for Savanti Romero. However, it is pretty superfluous to the narrative of the Turtles and Renet and even as a substitute it doesn’t work so well thanks to its contradictions. I’m very grateful to Dubakov for making the story available to English-speaking fans when Mirage wouldn’t and I don’t want any negativity in my review to be seen as a criticism of his efforts (Lord knows some of that TMNT manga I translate is God awful, but hey, that isn’t my fault).

Whether this thing ever officially sees print is anyone’s guess. Viacom owns the Turtles now and they’ve licensed the comics catalog to IDW for reprint purposes. If IDW wants to reprint TMNT #8 they’ll have to work out a new agreement with Dave Sim, and if that falls through, we may eventually see this substitute pop up somewhere in the future.

Grade: C- (as in, “Can’t go this issue without mentioning Raph’s sweet moustache… I mean, face paint”.)

UPDATE October, 2015:

Arseniy Dubakov was kind enough to share with me the updates that will be added to the story in the official Russian publication by Illusion Studios, coming in 2016.

I will say that the new frontispiece (based on the old unofficial one) and epilogue by Jim Lawson do a good job of stitching this story into the timeline of the Mirage TMNT universe.  The epilogue adds a new context to the final pages with Donatello.  While I had originally thought he was just pondering the ruins, it is more evident now that he's in the same boat as Renet, no longer able to fully remember his adventure but feeling a strange sense of deja vu.

In that regard, while I still think the story falters for most of the same reasons stated above in my old review, the extra context makes it feel slightly less superfluous.  The added references to the old Transdimensional TMNT RPG sourcebook were a nice touch of fanwank, too.