Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Review: Tales of The TMNT #6

As previously mentioned when discussing the Peter Laird-led fourth volume of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turltes, the characters' co-creator decided to jump some 15 years worth of story time between the end of the second volume of the series and the launch of the fourth volume, having allowed the characters to age in more-or-less real time, and, incidentally, creating a decade and a half worth of "lost years" in which stories could eventually be filled in via flashback.

When the second volume of Tales was launched, filling in the blanks of those lost years became one of the title's main functions. This particular issue does just that, providing the back story of the enmity between Leonardo and Foot Clan ninja Cha Ocho, who appeared early in—and then off and on throughout—the pages of Laird and Lawson's TMNT. At that point, the Foot had honored their post-"City At War" vow to end their feud with the Turtles and had gone more-or-less straight. The Utroms had hired Karai's New York Foot Clan to provide security for them, which brought the Foot and the Turtles into close orbit once again.

For the most part they were cool, save this Cha Ocho person with the diagonal scar across his face; he was still pretty pissed at Leonardo. And this issue of Tales is the story of who he is, and how he came to be so pissed at Leonardo.

Based on editor Steve Murphy's introduction to this issue, the big news of Tales of The TMNT #6 wasn't which characters were featured and what story was being told, but rather who was telling it: Writer Dean Clarrain and artist Chris Allan, the pair responsible for the later, better issues of the Mirage Studios-produced, Archie Comics-published Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures series, which started out as an adaptation of the cartoon show before going off into weird, wild directions all its own.

Murphy wrote that he was always hearing fans asking for the pair to return, almost as often as he was hearing fans asking for their return on the Archie Comics version of the title and/or characters, and that this issue marked a compromise that should please a lot of fans: The pair returned, but to the Mirage version of the Turtles, rather than the Archie version.

(An aside: A few weeks ago, Joe McCulloch discussed the apparently imminent return of Puma Blues in the course of his weekly column at TCJ.com, and, in the course of the piece, mentioned that writer Steve Murphy "subsequently wrote a huge number of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics...under the pseudonym 'Dean Clarrain.'" That struck me as tremendously odd, as it was just a few days before I read that particular column of McCulloch's that I read this issue of Tales, in which Murphy wrote about Clarrain. Five to ten minutes of Internet research assured me that McCulloch was right, and that Clarrain and Murphy were one and the same. I've never really understood the use of pseudonyms or pen names myself, probably because I'm so vain—despite the fact that I now kinda sorta wish a great deal of what I wrote in my twenties could now be hidden under a fake byline—but I find it particularly baffling here. Not only does Murphy write about Clarrain as if he were an entirely different person in his introduction, but the credits for this issue credit Murphy with the plot and Clarrain with the script; did Steve Murphy collaborate with himself on this comic...?)

The move to the Mirage Universe allows the creators best-known for their Archie comics to work in a more adult venue. There's a scene where Ocho, as a young boy, and his mother are being mugged in an alley. One of the gang of muggers pulls her purse strap away from her body with his knife, Allan drawing her breasts prominently in the image. "Hmm, nice..." the thug says, "Hey, kid, you're mom's pretty hot."
Later, a man has first his hand and then his head cut off on the altar of a church, blood spray landing on the face of Jesus on the crucifix hanging near by.

And, later, when Leondardo does battle with Cha Ocho, he defeats him with a pocket knife, and then carves a scar into his face, "a mark of shame."

Not exactly the sort of thing you'd expect to see in an Archie comic, or an early '90s TMNT cartoon show, you know?

This issue is basically the life's story of Cha Ocho, beginning with Dan Berger's fronstpiece image, of Cha Ocho peeling an apple with a knife in a grave yard, and then flashing back to his childhood.

As a kid, he and his mom are attacked by the aforementioned muggers after she picks him up from karate practice. Before they can come to any harm, a shadowy figure appears and renders all three armed, would-be muggers unconscious in less than five seconds, without even having to draw one of the two swords he's wearing on his back. This is, of course, Leonardo.
Ocho does not become a ninja turtle when he grows up, but he does become a cop. And, later, when his wife is killed and he's eventually kicked off the cold case for being too emotionally involved, he quits and joins The Foot Clan, during their post-Shredder, Karai-led existence.

It's as a Foot ninja—wearing the later, lamer version of their uniform—that he next encounters Leonardo, who finds him breaking into a police station to retrieve a file. After he explains himself, Leonardo takes Ocho back to the Turtles' sewer lair, and together they begin an investigation to find the murderer of Ocho's wife.

They do, and despite warnings from Splinter and Leonardo, Ocho cuts the more-or-less helpless and remorseful man down, chopping him into a couple of pieces. Leonardo is none too happy about this, and lectures Ocho on the difference between justice and vengeance, and the importance of honor and of the code of bushido.

Ocho calls bullshit on Leo. He doesn't point out that Leo's a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and not a Teenage Mutant Samurai Turtle, but he does bring up that Leo and his brothers spent most of their lives training to kill Oroku Saki in order to avenge a murder (as we discussed a bit last time).

Leonardo argues that he's learned since then that "vengeance sows the seeds of future sorrow," which sounds about right given the cycle of revenge killings that have caused the Turtles and friends so much grief over the years, and, when Ocho accuses him of acting like he's "God," Leonardo counters that he's "never given much thought to God," which is interesting to me, if only because I wonder about things like the religious beliefs of various comic book heroes I read about (Although, on the previous page, Leo says to Ocho, "I can't believe you killed him, and in a church, no less").

To teach Ocho a lesson, Leo picks up the pocket knife the one-time, accidental murderer of Ocho's wife was using to futilely defend himself, and uses it in a fight against Ocho and his katana. After he defeats Ocho, he marks him with the scar and then disappears, in the same dramatic way he did when Ocho first saw him as a child.

Now I agree with Leonardo that cutting a dude's head off isn't the best way to go about punishing people, even those you hold responsible for something as heinous as killing the love of your life, but hell, I've never been in Ocho's situation, so what do I know? I like that Murphy and/or "Clarrain" make the conflict a good one, with more gray than the black-and-white art its rendered in—Ocho's argument about Leo's hypocrisy is a good one, and jeez, where does Leonardo get off fucking mutilating him just because? (There are additionally a few interesting digs taken at Leonardo regarding his inability to understand how Ocho feels—presumably because as an essentially gender-less member of a tiny, evolutionary dead-end mutant "species," Leonardo will never have a wife to lose).

Allan's art is a particular treat, and it's a kick to see his familiar style from the Archie comic applied to more sophisticated storytelling, complete with better Ninja Turtle character designs (although, much more than in the previous five issues, these Turtles look more like the cartoon/Archie Turtles...with pupils and everything!) and freedom from bad coloring and cheap paper stock.
The black-and-white of this issue is of the purest form, with little shading, no toning and no real grays, all the better to appreciate Allen's linework.

This issue also contains a 10-page back-up by Murphy and artist Jim Lawson called (sigh) "The Raisin," a sequel of sorts to their previous back-up story in #4, "The Grape."

The Utrom who died in a police raid in that story is briefly resurrected by a weird, alien monster that feeds on dead Utroms called a "Morto Mullocos." It is in the process of resurrecting the dead Utrom in order to feed on it, when the same police from the drug raid storm the morgue to capture the beast. And then a group of vigilante Utroms appear on what look like hovering Roombas with laser guns mounted on them to also capture the beast.
During the course of the fight, the female police sergeant gets the front of her shirt completely blasted off...
...which might make for a sorta sexy scene, did it not lead directly to this weird revelation...
I suppose it was only a matter of time before the Utroms made female body suits to walk around in, huh? A squishy, tentacled brain-alien in the abdominal cavity of a lady body, her breasts framing it like curtains, is one weird image, so kudos for that.

Finally, rounding out this pretty full 35 story-page issue, is a pin-up by Chris Herndon and Berger, of the Turtles fighting classic Foot Clan ninja on a speeding garbage truck:
All that, a prose introduction and a two-page letter column for just $2.95. Man, they just don't make Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics like they used to, do they...?

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