Master Splinter’s Unexplored Backstory

Hollywood has an obsession with happy endings.  And here, I’ve posted about how the film industry often glosses over horrid consequences of the characters’ actions to achieve a happy ending.

This glossing over horrid consequences isn’t limited to endings.  And it isn’t limited to Hollywood.  As it turns out, the comic book industry employs it too.

My daughter loves the newly rebooted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon.  As a matter of nostalgia, I’ve picked up the original comic book run, now collected in graphic novel format.  Some elements are changed, because the comic book was intended for a much more mature audience than my 5-year old daughter.

Among the changes is that Splinter is Hamato Yoshi.  Yoshi is covered in the ooze and mutates into a rat.

In the comic book, the backstory is more complicated.  Yoshi was a member of an infamous band of ninja thieves and assassins know as The Foot.  Yoshi had a pet rat named Splinter, and the little rat would mimic his master’s movements and through that learned the secrets of ninjitsu.  Splinter tells us that Yoshi was known as The Foot’s finest warrior.

The comic never again mentions any of that, bringing to focus the next part.  Yoshi main rival was fellow Foot Clan member Oroku Nagi.  Nagi and Yoshi competed in everything, but their most bitter rivalry was over Tang Shin.  Shin only loved Yoshi, but Nagi kept trying to win her hand.  Eventually, Nagi threatened Shin with death if she didn’t love him, and Yoshi killed Nagi for it.

Rather than face an honorable death by his own hand for killing a fellow member of the Clan, Yoshi and Shin fled to America.  Nagi was survived by his younger brother, Oroku Saki.  Saki vowed vengeance and trained hard.  Eventually, he was selected to head the New York branch of The Foot, and there he sought out his brother’s killer.

Saki murdered Shin, and staged the scene to surprise Yoshi when he returned home.  Without a word, he cut Yoshi down.  During the fight, Splinter’s cage was broken and the rat ran free.

You know the rest… he found the turtles, got covered in ooze, they grew up… blah, blah, blah.

I want to seize on three facts:

  1. The Foot Clan is an evil band of assassins.
  2. Hamato Yoshi was a member of The Foot.
  3. Yoshi was the finest warrior of the Clan.

Do we understand what is left unexplored in every iteration of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

Either the sensei of the TMNT or the master of the TMNT’s sensei is a cold-blooded killer.

And that puts the first issue of TMNT in perspective.  After telling the tale of the turtles’ mutation, Splinter reveals that his only purpose in training them was vengeance.  He tasks the turtles with finding and killing Oroku Saki, who now calls himself the Shredder.

So, unlike most iterations, the comic book has the turtles on the offensive.  They seek out Shredder and kill him at the end of the issue, under Splinter’s orders.  Most iterations have the turtles stumble on to The Foot’s activities in New York City and gradually learn that the mysterious head of it, Shredder, is the old enemy of Splinter: Oroku Saki.

While most iterations have Splinter/Yoshi a member of The Foot and The Foot a gang of assassins and thieves, they gloss over the fact that as “the finest” warrior of The Foot Splinter/Yoshi would most certainly be involved in such activities.

That should keep TMNT fans awake at night…

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