Was Venus DeMilo Such a Bad Idea?
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A long name, and also a long enduring franchise, current in its’ 26th year and 4th TV series. By now everyone from 5-year-old kids to 30-year-old nostalgia buffs can name the Ninja Turtles: Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael, but few nowadays remember or even know of the long-forgotten Fifth Turtle–and no, I’m not talking about that annoying little twerp Zach–I’m talking about Venus DeMilo, the lost Ninja Turtle with something extra, two X chromosomes!
Venus was a fifth turtle that was covered with the mutagen that had mutated the other Turtles, but swept away in the sewers to New York City’s Chinatown district. There, she was found by a Chinese Shinobi master known as Chung I. Chung I took her back to his hometown of Shanghai, China, and taught her the way of the Shinobi, raising her for 18 years. Chung I was in possession of a mystical mirror, which kept the dreaded Dragonlord and his minions entrapped within it. Chung I, the appointed guardian of this mirror, was attacked by the Dragons when they crossed over into the realm of dreams, mortally wounding him in his sleep and kidnapping the spirit of Chung I’s dream realm friend, Splinter. On his deathbed, Chung I revealed to Mei Pieh Chi her true origin in New York.
Mei Pieh Chi traveled to New York and met the other four Turtles. After using her Shinobi magic to dispatch the “Shredder” persona from Oroku Saki’s mind, she went to the dream realm to rescue Splinter’s spirit. In doing so, she inadvertently gave the Dragons a way to enter the physical world. The Dragon Lord and his minions first attacked when Venus was alone in Central Park. During combat, the head of a statue of a woman was broken off; 20 minutes later Raphael came to help her. The statue’s head was taken to the Turtles’ lair and served as inspiration of the male Turtles’ nickname for her.
Venus seemed to have lived a sheltered life in China. During the show, Venus was portrayed as blissfully ignorant of some parts of Western life and culture and at times, equally ignorant of life in general. While proficient in fighting techniques, Venus was not trained in Ninjutsu like her brothers; in battle, she would use mystical orbs to various different effects.
It was established early on in the series that while the four turtles were raised as brothers, none of them (including Venus) were biologically related. This was done by the writers so as not to eliminate the possibility of a romantic relationship between Venus and one of the four male turtles (with hints leading primarily to the rebellious, quick-tempered Raphael and/or the stalwart, even-keeled leader Leonardo).
After the cancellation of the show, Venus’ adventures with the TMNT continued for several years. On the official website a “second season” of sorts was formed in the letters section. Starting in 1996 the Turtles would keep journal entries about their adventures in a shared universe with characters from Mirage continuity, Archie Comics, and the cartoons all together. On October of 1997 “Venus’ Venerations” were added to the website, coupled with four tremendously excited Ninja Turtles each expressing their feelings on the new member of their team. Although she only wrote a little more than a dozen letters, she co-existed with Mirage, Archie, cartoon, and Next Mutation characters until the year 2000. In 2001, “Venus’ Venerations” was discontinued, and the current storyline continued without any explanation or acknowledgment to her prior existence.
After all the major villains were “defeated forever” for the moment, they decided to help their friends, the Mighty Mutanimals, defeat Murk Mariner. Venus planned to get captured and defeat the pirates from the inside, but Leo and Don especially hated the idea. It reopened just how important she was to them and their species, and caused great tension. However, they were eventually forced to carry the plan out and no one was hurt (with the exception of the pirates). In the last adventure she had with them, Rat King had broken their truce and his minions had eaten or destroyed nearly everything in their lair. After a grueling battle the TMNT were finding it hard to deal with their losses when suddenly the character retroactively ceased to exist; the Rat King had still destroyed their lair, but suddenly there were only four turtles again. No canonical explanation was ever given for her disappearance.
After Kevin Eastman sold his half of TMNT to Peter Laird, Venus’ letters were removed from the website. However, the rest of the Turtles’ letters from those dates remain and still mention her.
In a 2007 interview director Kevin Munroe elaborated on the instructions Peter Laird gave to him for TMNT. Munroe admitted that among those rules was, “There’s absolutely no mention of Venus de Milo, the female Turtle. You can’t even joke about that with Peter. It’s just one of those things that he hates with a passion.” It is currently unknown if Venus will make future appearances, but seems highly unlikely.
Phew. OK, now, onto my main thesis, finally. I know that Venus was one of the biggest controversies in TMNT’s history. I know that she wasn’t well-liked by most fans of the series, and to many, felt like a shoehorned Deus ex Machina, but here it is: I didn’t and still don’t think that Venus DeMilo was a bad idea.
No, I honestly don’t. Were there mistakes made and could she have been integrated into the franchise better? Absolutely. But was she inherently a bad idea? I don’t think so. My issue with Venus wasn’t that she existed, but how she existed. Here are the reasons why I personally feel that Venus didn’t click with fans:
- She arrived too late in the franchise’s history. By the time Next Mutation came around, the Turtles already had a previous TV series lasting 10 (!) seasons, 3 live-action movies, at least 6 video games, several comic stories published and not 1, but 2 live-action music stage concerts. (BTW, I didn’t even know there was a second concert after Comin’ Out of Their Shells until I saw Phelous’ review of the 2nd concert, Gettin’ Down in Your Town; if you haven’t already, I advise you to check out Phelous’ reviews of both concerts on Blip. They’re hysterical.) That was too late in the game to introduce a new major character into the franchise, especially to the titular team. Had Venus arrived on the scene around, say, late in the 1st season or early in the 2nd season of the 1987 TV show, she might have been gone over better.
- She altered the Turtles’ mythos too much. One reason why Peter Laird reportedly hated Venus so much was because she went against the idea that the 4 Ninja Turtles were the only mutant turtles in the world, although according to her backstory she was technically there from the start, only washed away (though according to the 80’s show, Mondo Gecko was there as well). This could’ve easily been fixed, however, in a way which I’ll get to later. To me, the REAL problem with Venus’ inclusion was this:
- The writers screwed with the series’ fundamentals in order to include her. Namely, this bit of BS mentioned above:
“It was established early on in the series that while the four turtles were raised as brothers, none of them (including Venus) were biologically related. This was done by the writers so as not to eliminate the possibility of a romantic relationship between Venus and one of the four male turtles (with hints leading primarily to the rebellious, quick-tempered Raphael and/or the stalwart, even-keeled leader Leonardo).”
THAT is what I took issue with. That was malarkey. The Ninja Turtles being brothers is one of the main building blocks the franchise was founded on. It’s key to the Turtles’ relationship with one another. They weren’t put together like many other crime fighting teams, they were raised and trained together. You don’t mess with that, especially just so you can open the door for shipper nonsense. Even if the Turtles weren’t actually biologically related to one another (we weren’t privy to them being born, we first see them sharing a bowl in a pet shop, so that’s anybody’s guess), they were still raised as brothers and would therefore feel related by bond if not by blood; you do not toss that essential element out the window just so the 1 female team member can possibly date one of the male Turtles. It goes back to a question that I’ve been asking for decades: why do female characters have to be girlfriends first and characters second? It’s good ol’ fashioned shipper pandering and sexism, and it stinks now matter how much perfume you try to spray on it. If Venus had just been used as the Turtles’ mutant sister, I think she would’ve gone over a lot better.
It’s because of possible shipping that some fans want to see another obscure TMNT character get revived for the new series, Mona Lisa, a former female college student turned mutant amphibian/reptilian.
Feh, I say. Mona Lisa only appeared in 1 freakin’ episode, “Raphael Meets His Match”, and she served no other purpose than to be a potential love interest for Raph. I say keep the show’s focus as far away from romance as possible. TMNT isn’t Degrassi, and I wouldn’t watch it if it were. (Plus, she has hair. I don’t like that she has hair. A reptile/amphibian with hair is just wrong.) Forget Mona Lisa.
It’ll probably never happen, but if someone did try to bring Venus back into the series, here’s how I would handle it: with the magic of retcon!
I would start a new series with Venus already there from episode 1. She gets mutated along with her brothers, but doesn’t get washed away, so she’s raised alongside the others as their sister. No romantic relationships. Splinter teaches her some ninjitsu, but she also learns the art of Shinobi after spotting some books and writings on the subject sitting around the lair left by Hamato Yoshi’s old friend from China, Chung I.
When I suggested this before, someone quipped that this idea would tick off the Turtles’ fanbase. I say the franchise has endured far, far stupider ideas over the years. (Again, Phelous already illuminated at least 50 of them in one of his reviews). If TMNT can survive Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 or Turtle Tunes or We Wish You a Turtle Christmas or Gettin’ Down in Your Town, it could survive a Venus retcon.