The Story: How such a cute kid grew up to be a steel-masked tyrant, we’ll never know.
The Review: By all rights, I should have reviewed this mini a couple weeks ago, when the first issue came out. The fact that I didn’t is a testament to my own tunnel vision. Between law school and all the other demands of life, I’m always in such a hurry that I don’t have time to browse in my comic book shop on Wednesdays anymore. I fly in, snatch everything on my list, then fly out. Sometimes certain titles do fly under my radar under such circumstances.
Which is rather unfortunate, since this mini is a very strong companion to the ongoing title. What has really impressed me about the TMNT series thus far has been its ability to bring the fun and action that made us love the series as kids, but also offer a credible amount of plot and character work for our grown-up tastes. Secret History of the Foot Clan, if anything, achieves that balance even more effortlessly. While the mini’s title promises to look even more deeply into the ancient history of the Foot Clan, what Santolouco is really accomplishing in this story is breaking down the Clan’s most notorious warrior. In many ways, this modern-day Shredder seems like a merely toned-down version of the cartoon villain I remember. His hatred for Splinter and the Turtles has grown less shrill and more condescending, and he carries himself a lot more convincingly than before (you’d never imagine the TV Shredder bitch-slapping his own granddaughter). But overall, his dictatorial attitude and ambitions seem as flat and generic as they used to be.
I’m not actually sure the revelations in this story changes any of that, but they do give Shredder a much more interesting backstory. Reincarnation seems to be a recurring device in the new TMNT mythos. For Splinter and his sons, their rebirth has the flavor of redemption, of second chances and setting past wrongs right. In contrast, Oroku Saki’s return to the world was premised on a curse, which might explain why all of his father’s attempts to turn him away from his dark path ultimately fails.
On the other hand, Saki might have managed to avoid evil but for the meddling of one shapeshifting fox-spirit-witch. Kitsune, we know, are devious creatures with uncertain agendas (if the Rapunzel arc on Fairest has taught us nothing else), though this one has shown her allegiance is to forces beyond this world (in a scientific, not spiritual, way—see #1). It’s pretty clear she has masterminded most of the strife in this story, so at some point, I hope our heroes get to confront and defeat her.
Besides a surprisingly impressive bit of writing, Santolouco also impresses by delivering even better art than the already respectable work he did on Dial H. Now, it’s true that Viera’s smooth colors give a much richer and more vibrant finish to Santolouco’s figures than the Hories’ slightly rougher hues. But Santolouco has also taken his own art to a new level, coming close to achieving the impossible: giving each turtle his own distinctive features, not only in the shape of their masks but the details in their faces as well. The action sequences are top-notch, far above and beyond anything we ever saw on Dial H; his choice of POV and perspective lends each panel a ton of energy, along with the intense fight choreography.
Conclusion: As we delve deeper into the Foot Clan’s history, the TMNT mythos grows that much more intriguing, beyond its entertainment value.