Rogue Galleries (pt. 1): TMNT
23 April 2010 1 Comment
Author’s note: In the unlikely chance that you haven’t seen TMNT, note that this essay contains several important spoilers.
It’s become sort of a lost art (at least in comic books, where long-running franchises have found it increasingly hard to create new characters with lasting power*), but a good rogues gallery has always been an essential part of the super-hero story**. Batman and Spider-Man would not be where they are today were it not for recurring antagonists like The Joker, Green Goblin, Two-Face, Rocket Racer, etc… Thus, one of the things I can appreciate about both Gargoyles and TMNT is their success in creating an excellent collection of people for their heroes to fight.
Granted, TMNT already had an established rogues gallery to draw from; the Shredder, Baxter Stockman, the Rat King, etc. may not have had much lasting power in the original comic books, but time and subsquent adaptations turned them from two- or three-shot characters to Characters You Must Include If You’re Adapting The Turtles, so Lloyd Goldfine and Co. had a definitive starting point. Still, as their decision to not include equally recognizable characters like Bebop, Rocksteady, and Krang indicated, they were going to go their own way.
And they did. Take away the villains taken from the comic books, and you’re still left with a very respectable list of characters. Some of them may not have worked (The Garbageman was an early dud), and a lot of them were clearly not meant to be anything more than villains of the week (which is fine, since usually, that’s exactly how they were usually used), but they were, far an large, fun villains who served their purpose and managed to make the series stronger. Combined with the villains from the comic books, they form a formidable group that runs the gamut of villainy: unrepentant bastards, manipulative family members, hunters, conspiracy theorists, gangsters, aliens, species supremasists, Texans…there’s a lot of variety, and most of them work.
And then there’s The Foot.
In the original cartoon, The Foot (or rather, the crew of the Technodrome) was a disfunctional sitcom family; funny, but not the biggest of threats, and arguably not a group deserving to be the main antagonists for seven seasons. In the original comic books, without a strong central character to unite them, they’re mostly just there, to be used however the writer likes: hardly Big Bad material.
However, with the Shredder rewritten to be a total badass, the Foot likewise became a much stronger organization. You have a solid group of characters connected to it–Saki, Hun, Baxter, Karai, Chaplin…and Khan–each with their own viewpoints, capabilities, and goals, which helped make the stories featuring them shine.
However, the Shredder’s strenghts eventually turned out to be one of the show’s biggest liabilities. While the writers clearly had no intention of disposing him off after a couple of storylines like in the comics, they also knew that he had a definite expiration date: after three seasons, they attempted to give him a swan song, writing him off during the season finale. Usually, this tends to leave a hard-to-fill void in the character dynamics, but with secondary villains like Hun, Karai, Baxter and Bishop to take the spotlight in his stead; and plenty of minor villains to draw from as necessary, the show actually did very well without its primary villain; the Oroku Saki-less fourth season is arguably the series’ best.
However, it eventually became clear that a Shredder-less series was not going to be an option, and that no, having Karai take up the mantle wasn’t going to cut it. Creative insecurities? Economic concerns? Without information, impossible to tell. Eventually, however, wheels were set in motion that would bring back the Shredder twice, even if his story had already been told. To the writers’ credit, their first attempt at bringing back the character turned out something rather different; instead of bringing Oroku Saki back, they created another, drastically different one. The end product may not have worked as effectively as the original, but in the end, they managed to create a character that could stand on its own while still using the character’s trappings; if they had to bring the Shredder back, their approach wasn’t a bad one–unlike their second attempt. The third incarnation of the Shredder, like most things in the show’s seventh season, had no bite; he had a cool character design, but the writer’s minds–perhaps due to the astoundingly short amount of time they had to complete the season–were clearly not in it.
Fortunately, the original Shredder eventually got a chance to go out with a bang. In Turtles Forever, which put a cap on not only the series but the entire franchise as a whole, they bought the character back to prove just why he’s the Big Bad. And in the end, Lloyd Goldfine got a chance to do what he’d been itching to do for four seasons: kill the character off.
On the other hand, Gargoyles, as an original property, had no Shredder to use, and had to create its own awesome villains from scratch. But since there’s only a couple more hours left on the Friday, I’ll leave that for some other time.
* Thanks in no small part to Geoff Johns whose names I will not mention, who are intent to bring the DCU back to 1984, progress be damned.
**And yes, I know that I’ve previously said that neither series is a super-hero work. Sue me.