Most people in this world grow up with toys. Most of us love toys as kids, and some of us love them as adults. Even though they are material things, we tend to form bonds with them either because of where they came from, who they came form, or just how much joy they brought into our lives at such a formative age. Even though we’re able to forge such bonds with these material objects, pretty much no one can remember getting their first toy. That’s because many of us probably received our first toy while we were still in the womb. I know both of my kids had stuff waiting for them before birth. What we can often remember is how we got our favorite toy, assuming it wasn’t one handed over at birth, especially if we had a say in what that toy was.
For me, I can vividly remember being in the toy section of a store and having my mom shuffle through rows of the brand new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures. What I can’t recall is what store we were in, or even what time of year it was. If I had to guess, it was near my birthday because I apparently had money allocated to me for some reason and was able to pick out some toys. I don’t think I had really seen much of the cartoon that had begun airing on television, and I may have only seen promos for it. At the time, it was only five episodes, but the second season was fast-approaching. That day I selected for myself Leonardo and Donatello. I think my mom was searching for Raphael for me, because as a kid my favorite color was blue and after that was often red. When you’re 4, that’s how you select a favorite character.
Those first action figures from Playmates would end up being some of my favorite toys of all time. Maybe even my absolute favorite, all things considered. I played with them extensively and I still have them to this day. They’ve been beat up, even though I was largely careful with my toys. They were just played with a lot, enough so that I know I don’t have the original weapons (I loved having Leo pull the swords from the holsters on his back which really beat them up) and Donatello’s holster for his bow has completely broken off. I would eventually add Michelangelo and Raphael over the ensuing months, along with many villains and accessories, and the turtles basically dominated my life for the next few years.
When Super7 acquired the rights to create figures based on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, few knew just what direction that would take the franchise. Everyone basically could have guessed there would be TMNT product in the ReAction line, a very basic figure line inspired by the old Kenner Star Wars toys from the 70s. Many hoped there would be something from Super7’s Ultimates line, and we ended up getting our wish.
The Ultimates line from Super7 is a seven inch scale line of figures that are basically made-to-order. Super7 puts up figures for a month or so, and whatever is ordered gets made. It means it takes a while for consumers to actually receive their product, but it’s also a hassle-free way to build a collection. The method does mean the toys run a bit pricey, $45 for most, and that’s before shipping and taxes are figured into the equation. Fans of TMNT were certainly happy though when Super7 committed to doing figures based on the franchise in this format, and since Super7 tends to enjoy doing “retro” inspired releases, it should have come as no surprise that the main source of inspiration for this line would be the vintage Playmates toys.
Super7’s TMNT Ultimates is basically the old Playmates line at a bigger scale and with modern engineering. As a result, how much affection you have for Super7’s offering is going to largely depend on how much affection you have for those old toys. The original Playmates line was made in conjunction with the cartoon, but it wasn’t necessarily intended to represent the show. The figures were conceived of first, and the cartoon was fast-tracked as a vehicle for selling the product. There ended up being quite a bit of difference between the two, such as the turtles all having a unique skin-tone and Shredder sporting a blue and purple mask. Today, a lot of the fandom can be divided into two camps: those who associate TMNT most with the toyline, and those with the cartoon.
As a kid, I loved both the toys and the cartoon, but there was a part of me that longed for the toys to better sync-up with the show. I really wanted Shredder and Splinter, for example, to better reflect the show. For the most part though, I was happy with the turtles. They were clearly inspired by the comics from Mirage Studios, but also incorporated the colored masks, pads, etc that would come to define the cartoon. And those white eyes just made them look cool. I was so satisfied with what I had as a kid that initially Super7’s offering didn’t stir anything within me. The first wave was revealed as Raphael, Splinter, Baxter the Fly, and a Foot Soldier. For the most part, I felt they all just looked like bigger versions of the old toys. If anything, the only one I felt drawn to was Baxter because I never had his toy as a kid, but always wanted it. His design was just cool, but I also knew NECA was prepping a figure of the same for its cartoon line of figures and that was good enough for me.
As the months went by, I paid little mind to what Super7 was doing with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Then the first wave started showing up and reviews were popping up all over the web. It was at this point nostalgia started to grab at me. I thought about how much I loved those old toys, and I even retrieved what remained of my once massive collection from my childhood home and brought it into my own. It soon became apparent to me that I wanted to experience this line in at least a small way. And while it was a combination of the reviews of Wave 1 and the pull of my cherished Leonardo figure, it was enough to cause me to at least seek out a Raphael. Of course, this wasn’t easy since the pre-order window had long since passed and basically every retailer had sold out as well. The only places still offering the figure were based in the UK, which came with the cost of currency conversion and astronomical shipping to the US. I had to do what I often loathe to do as a result: I turned to the secondary market. I eventually found an acceptable price, made easier by a generous $25 coupon to eBay, and secured a Raphael of my very own.
If you hung with me through that long preamble, and I can tell you now we are onto the actual review portion of this blog post. Raphael arrived at my door in the same manner he would of had I ordered it form Super7. The box comes in a cardboard mailer with the vintage logo on the front. Remove that and you’re presented with a bold, green, box with the logo embossed on one side and a new logo on the other. The new logo is a manhole cover with an image of Raph in the middle and his sai alongside. Slide that bad boy up and you finally get to the window box with the figure inside. The image surrounding the figure appears to resemble a sewer tunnel and the window on the front is big and provides for a comprehensive look at the figure inside. This is a really nice package and mint-in-box collectors will surely appreciate that. The only difficulty there is even the slip-case looks nice, so how should one display this thing? I guess you need to buy two, three if you want to open one!
Raphael is based on the Playmates toy from 1988 and is sculpted by Four Horsemen Designs. That’s the same team that did NECA’s Mirage line of TMNT figures so it’s nice to see them return to the property. Even though they get the credit for sculpting this and all of the Wave 1 releases, it should be noted a huge amount of the credit goes to the sculptors who worked for Playmates in the 1980s. Raph largely looks like that old figure, just bigger. He’s about six inches tall and is in that light shade of green he sported back then. This time it appears to be slightly darker, but not by much. He has a lot of the same musculature, the same blank eyes, and the same teeth. His belt even features the holster on the back for that big knife all of the turtles came with. The main difference here, aside from the size, is in the detail and articulation. Raph’s belt, for example, has a lot of texture work on it that really brings it to life. It’s a far cry from that old rubber one that was prone to breaking in places, in particular the holsters for Raph’s sai. There’s also some nice, subtle, texture work on the front of the shell and the red pads on his elbows and knees. You can also see creases in the skin around the knees and neck that just really bring this guy to life. It very much is just a modern update of a vintage action figure.
Raphael comes packed with a fair amount of articulation for a turtle. The old toy only had 7 points of articulation: head, shoulders, wrists, and legs. It’s not surprising then that Super7 was able to improve upon that. Raph sports articulation at his head on a ball-joint. He can look side-to-side as well as up and down. His shoulders are ball-joints and he has articulation at the bicep, elbow, and wrist. His hands are on hinges and he has two sets of gripping hands with different hinges, some meant to move horizontally and some vertical. There’s some articulation at his waist underneath the shell that provides for some limited movement there, but the shell obviously prevents him from swiveling completely at the waist. The legs are on ball-joints with articulation at the knees and ankles. He can rotate his feet and he gets a lot of side-to-side “rocker” action down there as well.
Raphael moves pretty well, but there have been some criticisms in this area. For one, his elbows and knees are single-jointed as opposed to double-jointed. I don’t think, functionally, it’s a big deal, but there’s also part of me that expects all action figures in this day and age to feature double-joints in those areas. He also lacks swivels at the thigh and what would be called a boot-cut. This seems to be more of an aesthetic philosophy on the part of Super7 as cuts in those areas can take away from the sculpt. I agree with Super7 when it comes to true thigh cuts, and this figure doesn’t need one anyway since he can swivel at the ball-joint where the thigh meets the waist. The lack of a creative double-joint at the knee means no cut as well and while it would add something, it’s not a huge omission. He’s basically on par with what NECA has done with its TMNT figures and this one makes up for the shortcomings with more waist functionality than anything we’ve seen prior on a turtle. And the feet are really strong which further aids posing in more dynamic positions.
Raph comes with a slew of accessories. He has more hands than most will know what to do with. For starters, he comes packaged with gripping hands in which the hinge is on the side of the hand allowing for what I call up and down motion. He has another set with the hinge in the middle for side-to-side, or in-out motion. This helps in giving him more options when holding his weapons and it’s something I have wanted NECA to do with its turtles for awhile. He also has a set of gripping hands in which the gap between his fingers is wider so he can hold his sai with the center blade going in-between his fingers, a popular pose for Raph. He also has a pair of open hands for handling pizza and such and they’re kind of clawed as opposed to an open palm. No fist hands, but honestly, he doesn’t need fists. Maybe a pointing finger would have been cool in place of the tighter gripping hands, but all in all I can’t complain much.
Raphael comes sporting his default look, which is in-line with the old toy. He also has a second head that’s a bit more stylized. The teeth lack paint in-between them making him look much more modern. The bandanna tails look like they’re blowing in the wind and there’s a dark wash over his beak that gives him a real “print” quality. It’s a nice alternative and I’m honestly torn over which I prefer. He also has a pair of ninja stars and the old ninja weaponry all of the turtles used to come with. I don’t know what the proper names are, but there’s the big bladed weapon that can be stored on the rear of his belt, a small bladed weapon with three “teeth,” and a hook-bladed weapon as well. There’s also the old weapon rack in which all of the weapons are cast in that orange-brown plastic from the vintage line. One could conceivably snip the weapons off of it like they did back in 88, but I assume most will leave it as-is. It’s kind of neat to see it included, but also totally non-essential. Raph also has a turtle-com from the cartoon, two actually. One is open and one is closed. Super7 added some red paint to the shell portion of it that looks really cool too. Lastly, there’s a slice of pepperoni pizza. I have a feeling we’ll be getting more pizza as this line rolls on.
What is Raph without his sai? Not much, I’m afraid, and Super7 must agree because he comes with three pairs of sai! There’s the unpainted pair on the weapon rack that most are destined to leave alone, unless they REALLY want that vintage look. The figure also comes packaged with a pair of partially painted sai in his holsters. They’re cast in a gray plastic with painted, black, wraps on the handles. They look fine, but they lack some flair by just being colored plastic. Which is where the third pair comes in as they’re fully painted in a metallic, silver, finish. These are definitely the flashiest set, but they’re also the most flimsy. For whatever reason, the plastic used for the painted sai is very pliable and prone to warping in the package. The paint is also kind of sloppy at the tips which takes away from their pointy nature. The imperfections with this set makes it tough to settle on a preferred pair for display. I like the overall look of the fully-painted pair, but the integrity of the gray pair is far superior. It makes me wonder if Super7 should have packaged him with the painted pair holstered as maybe that would have helped to keep them from warping, or maybe it would have made it worse. Whatever the cause, hopefully it’s not an issue for the next turtle, Leonardo, since warped swords would be very disappointing.
Aside from my sai criticism, the quality-control on the figure seems pretty good. There’s not a ton of paint on this guy, but what’s there is clean and neat. He’s a pleasant shade of green that’s a near enough match for the old toy and the red is striking and bold. The paint on the teeth is where things could have gone off the rails, but it too is quite clean and really captures that toothy expression of the classic toy. The hands are on thin pegs, but they’re easy to remove and replace so I don’t have any real concerns about those pegs becoming an issue. The head is far more snug, but the peg it sits on is quite beefy so, again, no fears of breakage there. The only consistent criticism I see for this guy is in the hips which are fairly loose. Shake him around gently and those legs are likely going to flap back and forth at the hip. It’s not so loose that he can’t hold a pose, and overall I’d say this is an easy figure to stand. My only concern here is that over time the hips will continue to become even more loose at which point we will have a problem. It’s an area that could stand to see some improvement going forward, and since it’s expected the other turtles will basically all share the same body, Super7 will have ample opportunity to make some improvements. Some of the joints are also quite tight, mostly the hinge joints on the hands and the left knee on my Raph. When I tried to work the hinge at the knee the lower part of the leg popped right off. It’s on a short peg which likely helps in keeping it from breaking, but it’s annoying. I heated up the joint with water and finally got it to move after applying some pressure. It’s held up, though is still as easy to work with as the right knee.
Raphael is a great pick for the first turtle in this wave. He’s arguably the most popular turtle, owing in large part to his portrayal in the 1990 film, and a logical choice to lead the pack. Super7 is rather wisely choosing to have a turtle lead each wave of figure releases which is smart, as they probably pick-up a few sales here and there that may have otherwise not have been. It’s no secret that there are a lot of TMNT collectors out there just looking to grab the four turtles from a given line and leave the rest. And with this line, I’m one of those guys. I already mentioned who is joining Raph in this set, but folks who are looking to rebuild their TMNT collection of yesterday can look forward to the likes of Shredder, Mutagen Man, Bebop, Rocksteady, April, and Metalhead. Leonardo is the turtle chosen to head the second wave, with Michelangelo leading the charge for the third. We have yet to see Donatello and we don’t know who will be joining him in the fourth wave. It seems like Super7 is looking to replicate the original 10 figures from the Playmates line, plus fan favorites. Could we see Casey Jones? Maybe Krang in his bubble walker? Or how about Slash since many fans seem to prefer his toy look to his cartoon one? I suspect we’ll know fairly soon just what to expect.
As for Raph, he’s probably going to please a lot of folks who pick him up. I hesitate to call him a “home run” because so much of what we have here is taken from that original toy. Four Horsemen Designs had a pretty easy job here making this feel like the action figure equivalent to a cover song. It’s definitely relying heavily on nostalgia as a selling point, and given the name of this blog, I’m obviously no stranger to nostalgia. For those who do just desire a bigger version of the old toys with more articulation, this is basically what you want. I’m left wishing Super7 had taken more of an homage path than an almost straight recreation, but I also can’t argue this turtle isn’t a lot of fun. He looks great on a shelf and there’s only so much one can do with that old turtle design. I suppose if it had been me, I might have tried harder to make the figure look like the old card art, but those were pretty close to the look of the Mirage comics so maybe that wouldn’t have been necessary. I think the approach works well with the turtles, though I’m less sold on some of the other figures I’ve seen shots of. I’m certainly happy enough with Raph to feel good about my purchase and also eager to add Leo, Mikey, and Don when they become available.
If you’re interest in collecting this line of Ultimates from Super7, make sure you get your pre-orders in now for waves 2 and 3. Plenty of retailers are still taking orders even if Super7’s window has closed. And definitely jump on wave 4 whenever it goes up. My guess is that happens before the end of the year, but it’s mostly just a hunch. If you want any of the figures in wave 1, unfortunately your chance to acquire them easily has passed. You’ll likely have to chase them down on the secondary market and pay a mark-up. The prices have actually already started to come down a bit, but they’re still above the $45 MSRP. Super7’s Ultmates are basically one and done when it comes to production. Because they are a business, there’s always the chance these figures get made again if the demand is there, but I wouldn’t count on it. Better to pay a little more now, than a lot later, or risk having a set of incomplete turtles.