I didn’t think too much of Old Hob when he appeared in the first few issues of TMNT. I thought he was boring, uninspired, exceedingly one dimensional, and from an artistic standpoint, just plain bland – He’s a cat man with an eyepatch. But writer Jason Ciaramella and artist David Wachter have simply shattered everything I thought I knew about the turtles’ feral feline foe. In one superb issue the duo has transformed Old Hob from a boring, underdeveloped thug into a legitimate player. He’s moved beyond the 90’s cartoon cliché and become a foil for the terrapin family, embodying the emptiness of power and the tragedy of an existence without love.
TMNT Villains Micro-Series is doing for the bad guys of the turtle-verse what the original micro-series did for the heroes: exploring, expanding, and enriching the world one character at a time. Each issue is self-contained, meaning you don’t necessarily need to be reading the series to appreciate the book, but if you haven’t read at least a little of the phenomenal IDW run (and really, what are you waiting for?) you’re going to undoubtedly feel a little lost. Old Hob is nothing like the Bebop and Rocksteady you used to know. However, if you’ve been looking forward to more backstory on this cool cat look no further, this issue has you covered.
Ciamarella knocked this issue out of the park. I haven’t read much of his other work (Godzilla, The Cape, Thumbprint) but I just might have to now. The writing is tight, and instead of just a couple of panels of Old Hob getting whupped by Leo and the gang, we get a sustained narrative told exclusively from Hob’s point of view. We learn that he was once a house cat with a great life until he was thrown onto the street and into the snow. In the concrete jungle he learned that you can only ever rely on yourself, and that you can have anything as long as you’re strong enough to take it. We discover the origins of his deep-seeded hatred of Splinter and his sons, the remarkable circumstances behind his transformation, the harsh reality of laboratory life, and witness his meteoric rise as one of the biggest gang leaders in NYC.
The most impressive thing Ciaramella’s done in this issue is make us feel for Hob. He’s no longer the bungling skull cracker who can’t get the job done. Here he’s a sympathetic loner, set apart from the world of man and the world of mutants, a guerilla warrior searching for somewhere to belong. He hates Splinter and the turtles for what they represent: family, togetherness, belonging. No matter how many gangs he took over or how many followers he had, he never had their respect. He ruled by virtue of an unlimited check book and a health helping of fear, and his legions of ne’er do wells were a pale imitation the turtles’ family. Suddenly, by the end of the issue, you find yourself rooting for Old Hob, something that I never expected. It’s a real indicator of the superb storytelling Ciaramella’s packed into this issue.
Wachter’s art perfectly compliments the dark, harsh, unforgiving yarn. The colors are all done in gray hues, as though Hob can’t remember a time when he was happy, when his life was bright. Instead we’re left with a relentless twilight, where the blackness of night perpetually looms over the horizon, where dawn is forever out of reach. The issue features a host of violent creatures, something that Wachter does well. Feral dogs, mangy cats, and ferocious fight scenes highlight the brutality of Hob’s existence. The presentation is fantastically readable and the page composition is simple but effective, with some brilliant panels to help move the reader along.
You wouldn’t expect a story about a mutated cat to teach us all a lesson about the empty trappings of power, the gift of family, and the need to belong, but that’s exactly what Old Hob does. Not only that, but it provides a fantastic origin for one of the most underdeveloped characters in the current TMNT mythos, transforming him from a leg breaker into someone much more sympathetic. He’s been dealt a bum hand, but there’s no way he’s going to let anyone keep him down ever again. If you’re at all interested in IDW’s TMNT series you should pick this book up. Ciaramella and Wachter will make you glad you did.