By: Mateus Santolouco (story & art), Erik Burnham (story), João “Azeitona” Vieira (colors)

The Story: Shredder, I am your father—technically.

The Review: It’s always a little awkward when the second feature tops the main event, isn’t it?  While Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz, and Ben Bates have done great things for the Turtles in their ongoing series, Santolouco and Burnham’s mini has been the truly dazzling TMNT title.  I don’t mean to imply that there’s a huge difference between the two; I’m just saying that if you want to turn someone onto this franchise, you’ll be more inclined to hand them this mini.

Part of that comes from the accessibility of a mini.  Within a few issues, you get a fully-fleshed story with little to no distraction from other titles or plotlines, which nowadays is becoming increasingly rare.  You also usually get a neatly-wrapped introduction to all the characters and basic story elements, which makes for an excellent primer if you’re new to the property or simply curious.

But I think what makes Secret History in particular so satisfying a read is that it has the perfect balance of credible plot and pure fun.  While Eastman-Waltz haven’t been fooling around in their Neutrino arc over on their series, there’s an emotional depth in Santolouco-Burnham’s story that feels a bit lacking in the TMNT ongoing.  Bizarre as the circumstances may be, Oroku Maji encountering the spirit of his former lord in his own son has both a ring of genuine pathos and horror, enough to unsettle you a bit, which all good fiction should do.

Ultimately, the real mastermind behind the creation of the Foot Clan as a force for conquest and evil is Kitsune.  Here, she reveals a little more of her agenda and why she requires Saki to accomplish it, but where she fits into the bigger picture of the TMNT mythos is unclear.  If she’s the key to Saki’s reawakening, then where is she now?  What happened to her in the period between feudal Japan and the present, and what does it mean for Shredder’s ambitions now?

Against these interesting plot developments, Santolouco-Burnham fill the issue with front-to-back action, which is at bottom what you expect from the TMNT.  Not only do you have plenty of ninja-on-ninja craziness, you also have a fairly intense car-chase sequence, with Apolex using her own natural speed to burst into April’s van and Raphael beating her off from a motorcycle he punked from some traumatized passerby.  It all goes to show that while Shredder and his minions may have more polish and technique, the Turtle team has something more important: attitude.  Oh, yeah—and “honor,” as Splinter declares.

Santolouco may have been born to draw TMNT.  They have never looked better, period.  While they still have that trademark cartooniness which makes them such fun to read, Santolouco also puts quite a bit of realism in their anatomy and facial features, enough to give them a convincingly threatening edge.  Who knew Leo could pull off such a killer glare?  Every bit of martial artistry has proper form and weight behind it, so if Leo does a Ryu-kick or if Apolex punches through the rear window of April’s van (or if Raphael whips a helmet around as a makeshift bola), you can feel the strength and speed in their actions. Vieira’s glossy colors adds another layer of tone, texture, and depth to the characters, making them look even more true-to-life.  If TMNT could look like this forever, I’d ask for nothing more.

Conclusion: While the story itself is about as well-rendered and credible as you can hope from this franchise, Santolouco’s art goes way beyond that, giving you the TMNT issue of your dreams.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – I do find it disappointing that after going through all the trouble to suit and batter up, Casey ends up having to turn tail when confronted with a hallway full of Foot ninja and Apolex.  Understandable, of course, but disappointing.

– Donnie snaps at Mikey that Newton’s Second Law prevents him from smacking Apolex any harder, and he doesn’t have time to explain it.  Having spent nearly half an hour trying to understand the Second Law, I can safely say that Donnie was telling the truth.