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The Potential of Venus De Milo

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation was not a very good show. It just wasn’t. The jokes were painfully juvenile, the Turtles were at their most stereotypical, and someone thought it would be a good idea to play stock cartoon sound effects with every movement the Turtles made. The most controversial decision, though, had to be the introduction of Mei Pieh Chi, better known as Venus De Milo. She was intended to be the fifth turtle, but ended up a character so unpopular that she’s basically been declared an unperson by Peter Laird. But why is she so unpopular? Aside from the apparent belief that girl turtles have cooties, I can think of two big reasons: her origin and how poorly written she was.

According to the show, Venus was with the Turtles when they were mutated, but ended up swept up by the sewers before Splinter could rescue her. She ended up in Chinatown and was found by a Chinese Shinobi master, Chung I. He took her with him to Shanghai and raised her as a martial artist for 18 years. Chung was the guardian of a magic mirror that contained the Dragonlord. Chung is killed , but before he died, he told Venus her origins. She returned to New York and met  with the rest of the Turtles.

Of the possible origins for a fifth turtle, this is probably one of the worst that they could have gone with. It’s incredibly contrived. Four turtles meeting the one rat in New York that knows ninjutsu are silly enough already. The fact that she was there from the beginning, but was separated, and just so happened to have also been trained as a ninja sounds like something out of a bad soap opera. In the hand of better writers, the origin might have worked, but only if they rebooted the universe completely. Instead, the show somehow takes place after the original cartoon but follows the films’ continuity. In the eighties cartoon, they tried Venus’s origin with Mondo Gecko, and it worked out just as well. Other writers quickly realized this, so they’ve changed it in later incarnations. There is potential in Venus’s though. Venus’s abilities are more mystical than the rest of the Turtles, and between her and Donnie, that could raise an interesting debate of mysticism versus science. The Dragonlord, if properly fleshed out, could make for a really cool villain. All powerful king of the dragons? Yes, please. Maybe, in order to differentiate him from the Shredder, he is a lot more noble. When he acts, it’s only in the best interest for his subjects. Unfortunately for humanity, that means that he would have to take over the world. On the other hand, he could become the most vile villain of the Turtles had ever faced by acting more ruthless than the Shredder.

As for Venus’s origin, I would do what they did with Mondo Gecko and have her be mutated after the Turtles, either by accident or created by Baxter Stockman as a mole intended to get close to the Turtles in order to betray them, but later joins their side. A lot of the plot and character interactions could be the Turtles learning to trust her again after her betrayal. If she was mutated by accident, she could be the chosen guardian of the mirror. Then, a lot of her character arc could be focused on her adjusting to being a mutant and how it could potentially clash with her duties as the guardian. Possibly, during the accident that mutates her, the mirror is broken, releasing the Dragonlord. Or the mirror exerts an influence similar to the one ring, and, because of her inexperience due to her mentor dying before she was ready for the responsibility, it subtly manipulates her into the accident that causes her mutation and frees him. Or…well, you get the picture. There are plenty of storytelling possibilities here.

Unfortunately, that  leads us to the second main problem. Venus is very poorly written. She is an unfortunate example the “Smurfette pirinciple”. The term, coined by Katha Politt of the New York Times, is defined as a show with “a group of male buddies [that are] accented by a lone female character, stereotypically defined.” While Ninja Turtles is no stranger to this trope–the article itself mentions April O’Neil– it’s shows up in full force with Venus. One major implication of the Smurfette principle is that “boys are the norm while girls are the variation”. If you want to see an example of that, just look at her mask. She’s the only Turtle without her own colored mask. It’s just a lighter shade of blue. The Smurfette principle is often combined with positive discrimination. Instead of giving her realistic flaws, the writers felt that they had to make up for her being the only female character. She’s the most skilled fighter along with the aforementioned magical abilities. Heck, she even defeated the Shredder singlehandedly. That’s a common problem with the Smurfette principle or really any token character. They have to represent the best of an entire social, ethnic, or racial group or gender. Writers are reluctant for them to have flaws because they don’t want to appear sexist/racist/homophobic/what have you, so they go the other direction and make them more competent than the rest of the team. While well-intentioned, going in this direction tends to have the implication that the token has to work much harder than the rest of the group to be seen as an equal.

There are two easy ways to fix this the problems of the Smurfette principle. One, add more female characters. Two: write the character as an actual character. Novel idea, I know. Giver him or her realistic flaws. In the case of Venus, I would have played up her lack of social skills. If she was always a mutated turtle, she would have had to live her life in isolation because she’d believe that she was the only one out there. As a mole or a former human that was appointed as a guardian of the mirror, she could still have been isolated by her teachers in an attempt to get rid of any possible distractions from the mission. She could put up a really intimidating front, but, in her off time, she’s incredibly socially awkward. I would also play up her inexperience as a fighter. Sure, she’s used to fighting in a controlled setting like a dojo or danger room, but there’s a huge difference between that and an actual battle. She could panic or at least make a few huge mistakes during her earliest battles. If she was a mutated human, she could also be resentful of the Turtles and how they represent her future as a mutant condemned to a life in the shadows.

That’s only half of it, though. The heart of the Ninja Turtles is the fact that they’re a family and one of the reasons it resonates so well with people is their interactions and sibling rivalries. The addition of Venus would add a new dynamic to it. Leo and Mikey, being the most idealistic of the Turtles, would probably welcome her with open arms, no matter the potential origin. Raph, as the most cynical member, wouldn’t trust her at first. He might correctly guess that she is the mole and would be the last to forgive her. While Raphael tends to act as a big brother figure almost as much as Leonardo, a character has to earn his trust before he acts friendly towards him or her. Donatello and Venus would probably get into plenty of arguments about mysticism versus science, but other than that, they’d probably get along relatively well. On the whole, though, I’d imagine a sort of frigidity between the Turtles and Venus that comes less from discomfort and more from the fact that the Turtles have known each other their whole lives, and while Venus is still family, they haven’t known her for very long at all. Ever been in the same room as a pair of really close siblings or friends that have been through a lot together? They always have inside jokes that you’ll never understand because it’s just something that you just had to be there for.

Because of the that sense of isolation and discomfort, Venus would probably gravitate towards April because, while April has known them for a longer time, she’s still in the same boat. Depending on the origins the writer went with for April and Venus, April could act as a connection to her old life or someone to commiserate with when she regrets working with the villains. Remember, in the original comic, second cartoon, and current comic’s continuity, April met the Turtles after discovering the Baxter Stockman was using his mousers to commit crimes, or, in the case of IDW, while working as an intern in one of the Shredder’s labs. While it’s usually glossed over, April did inadvertently contribute to the suffering of the Turtles and others. She’d see where Venus is coming from.

This is, of course, just the speculation of one geek with too much time on her hands. I think that Venus has gotten the short end of the stick. The show she was in was not very good to begin with and couldn’t possibly bring about her full potential. She doesn’t even necessarily have to be a regular member of the Turtles. She could be a member of the mutanimals, a free agent, or really anything the writers want to do with her. As a character, she’s a blank slate. If reintroduced into Ninja Turtles continuity, they could start from scratch and no one would complain if the personality they gave her went against the one established in the Next Mutation. Although it probably wont be soon, I hope that some day Venus gets a second chance.