When NECA launched its line of action figures based on the 80s-90s cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I had no idea how deep I’d want it to go. I’m pretty sure I even made an offhand comment regarding the Crooked Ninja Turtle Gang as a jumping off point, because who has been sitting here for the past 30+ years yearning for action figures based on those guys? Well, here we are. I long ago lost count of how many figures I have in this line and my list of wants is pretty damn small at this point so it’s time for me to tell you all about the Crooked Ninja Turtle Gang. Oh, and we have some rock soldiers too.
The Crooked Ninja Turtle Gang debuted in the first episode of the second season, “Return of the Shredder.” In the episode, a gym leader named Smash is hired by Shredder and trained in the ways of the Foot and then sent out in the city to commit crimes. While doing so, Smash and his goons were to dress-up as the Ninja Turtles which meant green t-shirts and red elbow and knee pads. Smash wore a red bandana mask and positioned himself as the leader, while his various lackeys wore green paper bags over their heads. The imagery was ridiculous, but it worked, and the citizens of New York City actually confused this gang of ninja thieves with the Ninja Turtles. As a kid, it was not a favorite episode of mine. Season 2 was repeated a lot so I got to see it a lot and to me they just looked like lame villains. Of course, they were supposed to and the absurdity of the situation should have been read as comedy, but I was a kid and I took my turtles seriously. Now I look at these guys and they make me laugh. They’re ridiculous, so of course I want them on my shelf!
Last spring, NECA made the Crooked Ninja Turtle Gang and the Rock Soldier two-pack available on their website for pre-order along with another two-pack (don’t worry, I’ll get to it). They have now started shipping out while also showing up at Target as part of that store’s Fall Geek Out event. Previously, all of the preorders NECA sold on their website were basically guaranteed to arrive in the hands of collectors well before showing up at Target. These ones technically hit Target first, but for most the difference is about a week. I literally found them last Friday, and my order arrived Saturday. That’s fine, but I know some were a little irritated that the orders they prepaid for weren’t given more priority and I’m not going to tell people how they should feel about that: you’re either bothered by it or not. We can talk more about that when the Secret of the Ooze turtles start shipping.
This two-pack is the line’s third “army builder” set. Army builder sets feature figures that were just generic fodder for the turtles to beat on. Collectors can be happy to have just one figure to represent the design from the show, while others are able to buy multiple sets to create an army just like on television. As such, I ended up buying three of these so I could have a full Crooked Ninja Turtle Gang of four once paired with Smash. It’s definitely cool to be able to do so, but like the Deluxe Foot Soldier, it also means ending up with a ton of accessories. It makes me wish they did different SKUs where you could buy a set of just figures and hands because there are enough weapons in one two-pack to outfit the whole gang. I guess it’s better to have too much than too little, so I’m not complaining, but if I could shave off 5 bucks or something I’d have been interested.
Since this write-up has been so Crooked Ninja Turtle Gang focused we might as well start there. The CNT goon, or just goon from here on out, stands at around 5.875″ and is a mix of old and new parts, but appears to largely be new. The head is obviously new as he has the sculpted paper bag with the bandana sculpted on as well. He has a classic TMNT gritted teeth look painted on and the green is done with a more saturated green on the front and a paler green on the back. I love how these two shades of green play off of each other and it makes me wish the turtles followed this scheme. The bag is his actual head so there’s no portrait underneath it or anything and I think that’s fine as the proportions look terrific. His shirt is an overlay and the plastron on the front and shell on the back is sculpted in and it looks so good. I love the depth it adds and this costume basically looks better than what was worn on the show. The shirt is in two pieces with the bottom being like a skirt piece. The belt is sculpted onto that and this guy has his own unique feet as he’s basically wearing turtle slippers. He probably shares parts with Vernon, such as the neck and whatever is under the shirt. The thighs could be the same too, but I’m not positive. Either way, it doesn’t matter as what’s present is appropriate and what’s new looks excellent. The paint on all three of my figures is also very well done with the only blemish being a paint chip on the rear of the right elbow pad of one of the figures.
It feels like the figures we’ve looked at of late haven’t had to do much as far as articulation goes. This guy is a ninja, be it a poorly trained one, but a ninja nonetheless so he needs to move. Thankfully, the articulation here is solid and for this line even good. The head is on a double-ball peg and the neck is on a ball peg as well so you get lots of range up there. He’s a little limited looking up and down, but that’s due to his head being a literal box shape. There’s a ton of nuance up there though and I think most will be pleased. The shoulders are ball-hinged and not restricted by the shirt as his arms can come up to a horizontal position and rotate around. The elbows are single-hinged with a swivel, but thankfully NECA sculpted and painted the point of the elbow above the joint, which was an issue with the SDCC four-pack reviewed recently. He can bend slightly past 90 and it’s acceptable. The hands swivel, and my one main complaint with the articulation is that all of the hands have a horizontal hinge when the gripping hands, at least, should feature a vertical one. That is an area NECA could stand to improve upon. At the waist there’s a ball joint that really just allows for rotation. The hips go out to the side quite far and there’s a thigh twist there as well. The knees are double-jointed and bend past 90 degrees. There’s a twist in the shin where the pants end and the feet have a hinge and ankle rocker. The rocker doesn’t work as well here as it does on some other figures due to the shape of the foot, but it provides for some nuance. Overall, probably adequate by the standards of modern action figures, but for this line it’s better than average.
All right, now we move onto accessories and this guy comes loaded. For starters, we have fist hands, gripping hands, chop hands, and splayed hands. There is a sword that appears to be a new sculpt which has a nice, wide, blade. There’s a spear weapon that looks like a longer version of those pokers some use to pick up trash. It’s just gray with a white tip, but it’s new so that’s cool. There’s one set of nunchaku and another flail type weapon that has a gray ball on one end. The handles of the nunchaku and flail are new pieces and not reused from Michelangelo, which is a surprise. There are also two shuriken weapons, one that is seven-pointed with a hole in the middle and another that has four points and has the silhouette of a fireball or something. As I said before, you basically get enough weapons in just one box for an entire display, but having multiples does allow you to display someone dual-wielding the swords or nunchaku. I’m quite happy with the selection here, I just wish there was a way to store weapons on the goons since there’s just so much.
Ok, time to talk about rocks. The rock soldiers were Krang’s army of bad guys from Dimension X. Mostly, we just saw General Traag from time-to-time, but there were a few episodes where Krang had a full-on army. Sometimes those armies just looked like Traag, but gray, and other times they were unique. They were more slender, possibly taller, and had an “X” on their chest. There was a red version and a gray one, and I honestly can’t remember if the turtles ever had to fight them or if they were just shown as some threat about to enter a portal that was ultimately closed. For me, they’re definitely not as memorable as the Crooked Ninja Turtle Gang and I did not even recall the specifics of their design until re-watching the show as an adult. I remembered there being generic rock soldiers, but I couldn’t have drawn one from memory.
The rock soldier included in this set is the red/brown version. It stands at about 7″, maybe a tick over, and certainly looks the part. The sculpt and paint scheme is very similar to Traag with the dominant color being the pale red-brown that was used for shading with Traag. The figure doesn’t follow that bisected approach of most figures in the line instead relying on patches of different colors to simulate the cel-shading which honestly is the better approach. There’s a dark brown and a more red/brown in use with a lot of black linework to help really give this one some pop. Curiously, there are parts where the black linework just seems to stop, but it appears to be deliberate given that it’s present on all three figures I own. The “X” on the chest is raised and the whole body has a nice texture to it. The paint application being more complex than usual does mean there are more blemishes here and there, but nothing egregious. About the only thing I wish NECA did differently is put some shading on the head and helmet as there’s none. Even Traag and Granitor have some on their helmets. To my surprise, there’s almost no parts reuse from that set. Just the lower torso and maybe the elbows, otherwise this is an all new sculpt.
Given that we have a big, chunky, guy here this is definitely a figure that doesn’t call for as much articulation as the goon, but what we have is again pretty solid. The head is on a double-ball peg with a ball-peg at the base of the neck. Since he’s basically a pinhead, he gets fantastic range. The shoulders are just ball-hinges and the boxy nature of them means he can’t raise his arms out to the side completely, but probably enough for most poses. The elbows are the weird NECA double-joints, so you get a swivel and a hinge above and below the elbow. Since it’s sculpted for the rock aesthetic, it looks just fine and provides for great range, he just lacks a true biceps swivel. The hands rotate and hinge horizontally. The diaphragm features a ball joint which mostly allows for rotation as there’s very little tilt in any direction. The waist does swivel and it was stuck on all three of my figures, but a firm twist is all it took to loosen it up. At the hips, we have the ball joints with a swivel point. The legs don’t go out to the side very far, but he can kick forward all the way and go back a touch. The knees are surprisingly single-jointed and can’t quite hit 90 while the ankles feature a hinge and rocker combo that gets the job done. There is a swivel point at the knee to make up for that, but it barely moves given the sculpt. To my surprise, one of my figures has a stuck, left, hip. I have never encountered a stuck joint there since NECA switched to the ball and socket hips, but that sucker does not want to move.
Excluding the hip issue with one figure, I would say the rock soldier articulates well enough. He can hold a rifle with two hands, assume walking poses, and there’s enough adjustment areas to create some variety. His proportions are also much nicer than Traag and Granitor who are a bit too short for my liking. I’m definitely glad they did not reuse those legs. There is one instance of a painted joint on this figure that doesn’t match the base color, but it’s on the rear of the knees so it’s not much of an eyesore. The paint will flake off there though, so be wary if that’s an issue for you.
The rock soldier also has some accessories for us to talk about, but not as many as the goon. This guy has just four hands at his disposal: a set of fists, a trigger right hand, and a half open left hand. The partly open left hands is almost like a loose, two-finger, trigger pose and I think it’s primarily in this shape so that the figure can handle the included weather bomb accessory. That’s the accessory I wanted Traag to come with way back when and it’s from the show’s fourth episode. It’s just a little, black, ball with gray indentations on it. There’s a sculpted button and what would be the screen. I wish we had an effect to make it look like it was active, or that it could split in half, but oh well. It can be held in that left hand though and is fairly sturdy. For the right hand, we have a pistol that’s the exact same mold as what came with Traag and Granitor only now it’s painted gray and black. Unfortunately, the rock soldier does not have a holster for it and the trigger finger is extended too far to actually rest on the trigger. We also have two rifles. It’s painted gray with dark gray parts. The eyepiece on the scope is painted purple while the muzzle has some red in it. It’s fine and it fits snugly into the rock soldier’s trigger hand. I’m guessing we get two in case you want to give one to Traag or Granitor. Lastly, we have a blue mutagen canister. It’s the updated two-piece version and the contents are painted green. This one is only painted in one shade of blue with black linework and doesn’t feature the shading of past versions, but it’s cool to get a blue version of the two-piece one.
All in all, this isn’t a two-pack of characters people have been begging for nor is it the type that’s going to knock anyone’s socks off. It is, however, very good for what it is and it’s hard to imagine NECA doing a better job with either character. What complaints I have are pretty minor, and I’m quite impressed by the amount of new sculpting in place here and the amount of paint is typical NECA, which is to say it’s a lot and it’s impressive. This line continues to be a tremendous value and anyone looking to amass a small army of rock soldiers and get the gang together should be plenty satisfied with this one. The one stuck hip in my set is slightly concerning, but it is one of three figures and it’s not an issue I’ve seen with that style of joint so I feel pretty confident that I just got a bad one and it’s not giving me much pause for concern. I would say buy with confidence. This set is presently being shipped out to Target stores and should be on shelves now. As of this writing it’s also available online at Target’s website and retails for $55 making this one of the easiest sets to acquire yet.