As covered here about a month ago, The Last Ronin is a lost Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles story from the late 80s/early 90s that has just now been finally realized in the pages of IDW’s ongoing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic. Conceived originally by TMNT co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, The Last Ronin tells the story of the last ninja turtle and, as a bit of a callback to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1, his quest for revenge. The fully realized story is not shaping up to be some sort of Kill Bill clone, but as a referendum on vengeance and its fleeting nature. The story is one I compared with the classic X-Men plot Days of Future Past as it does contain a dystopian future where hope is either lost or nearly gone and most of the characters we know and love are either dead or in a position to envy the dead.
It should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway, that if you have any interest in the The Last Ronin then you should definitely read the first issue before even sniffing the second. I will not spoil anything in this mini review, but it would be easy to be spoiled even with just glancing at this book or by reading other reviews as I’m sure many are only concerned with spoiling the contents of this book, and not the preceding one.
And the main thing that can be spoiled is what was revealed on the final page of issue #1: the identity of the last turtle. In that first issue, we saw our hero infiltrate New York and have a tough go of it. Along the way we realized he’s possibly just clinging to sanity as he constantly talks with the spirits of his dead brothers. In this issue, he’ll even argue with them and debate strategy going forward. He is aware that this behavior may be off-putting to others, as he tries to hide it from his allies. And who might those allies be? Well, that’s kind of a spoiler too, but let’s just say some are familiar, and some are not.
The main purpose for this book is to advance the story of our hero ahead just a little, while also fleshing out what brought him here. In what is likely to be a theme going forward, this issue primarily tells the story of the death of one of the ninja turtles via flashback. In doing so, we learn the catalyst for what created this current reality while also seeing what the hero has been doing ever since. As someone who grew up watching the cartoon and movies, seeing the death of one of my childhood heroes is definitely upsetting. It’s not gratuitous, but it is visceral. When I was a kid, I so much as never even saw the turtles bleed and thus I never could comprehend them befalling a gruesome injury or death. I’ve been exposed to the more violent side of the Mirage books since, but it’s still quite a thing to bare witness to.
As I said before, the main plot for the last turtle does not advance much in this book. The time spent with him is more quiet. It’s a time to reflect, recuperate, and ultimately regroup. I’m curious how the next book balances the flashbacks with the current period arc. The flashback is so full that nothing feels like padding. Even though the story doesn’t advance much, I don’t get a sense that the writers and artists are stalling because they want this to hit a specific amount of issues. It’s just a story that has taken 30 years to tell so it’s not going to rush anything.
As was the case with issue #1, the artwork in this book is fantastic. The Escorza brothers are on top of their game and the fight scenes are drawn really well. They don’t hold back, but they also do not do a disservice to the quiet scenes or the more distressing scenes. Kevin Eastman breaks out his pencil to illustrate the flashback sequence of the last ronin character and his original escape from New York. It’s a fun touch to see Eastman’s rougher art juxtaposed with the super slick work of the Escorzas and it’s an appropriate part of the story for Eastman to add a personal touch. I’m curious if we’ll see more from him in issue #3.
The third issue should be arriving around the end of the month, and based on the cover, it looks like we’re going to learn the fates of a few more important characters. I think that is going to be the formula for at leas the next pair of issues before we get a big blow-off in issue #5. It’s been an interesting, if a bit uncomfortable, ride through these first two issues so I am looking forward to the next, and yet dreading it at the same time. I also appreciate though that I’ve been made to care about these characters enough over the decades that a story like this both entertains and upsets me. If you’ve ever loved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, you owe it to yourself to hop aboard this runaway train.
When NECA started on this journey into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon it first began with a video game. An adaptation of a video game, to be more precise. The 2016 San Diego Comic Con exclusive contained a four pack of the famous, green, pizza destroyers in a pixel deco. They were the first figures based on the turtles since the 2008 Mirage Studios figures which felt like the start of something special, then quickly came the end. Convention exclusives were the name of the game the following year when those same arcade inspired figures were re-painted in the colors from the now classic cartoon series and released as part of an 8 pack with Shredder, Krang, and some Foot Soldiers. By then, the craze had begun and collectors were paying crazy sums on the after market just to get these limited release figures. Relief finally came in 2019 when NECA was granted the license by Viacom to sell its TMNT products at retail. It’s an odd relationship, and the popularity has not really subsided one bit, but TMNT figures are definitely a lot easier to come by now than they were just a few years ago.
I was one of the lucky ones to get ahold of that 2017 convention exclusive set. I very much liked what I received, but there was no denying that the figures had begun life as something else. Now, it’s possible when NECA sculpted these turtles for release in that arcade pack they always intended on them being cartoon iterations as well, but for me, the sculpt definitely looked more game inspired than show inspired from the start. The colors and weapons and all of the extra stuff was there, but the head-sculpts just never screamed “80s cartoon” to me. Those figures have also aged and since NECA has made strides in the articulation department and as more new figures are added to the toon line the actual turtles start to look more and more average. I still like those initial figures, but I don’t get the same “ripped from the source material” impression from them as I do with Rat King, Splinter, or Casey.
It was a little over a year ago now that NECA’s director and main public face, Randy Falk, made it know that the company was planning on re-releasing the green machine as a four-pack. It was being promoted as a way to get the turtles into the hands of those who were late to the party or just plain couldn’t find the four at retail. The original plan was to have the set out for Christmas, but the shipping industry being what it is, things changed. We did get a tease though when NECA sent out some retro inspired checklists for their TMNT product designed to resemble the Playmates card-backs of old. They were just digital files, but they contained images for the four new turtles and all were sporting soft goods trench coats and cartoon-inspired face sculpts. It wasn’t long before more images were unveiled and information was passed on to collectors that these turtles would indeed feature the new head-swapping tech being unveiled in the quarter scale line. There was also some new articulation and the set would feature a whole bunch of other stuff. When I initially thought it was just going to be a four-pack with some extra stuff, I wasn’t too interested, but once I saw those images I had to have it!
The Turtles in Disguise four pack finally hit Target stores in April. Retailing for $125, the set is expensive, but not so expensive that it causes any kind of sticker shock, apparently. Sets have been flying off the shelves as quickly as they show up and the auction sites are loaded with listings of people seeking as much as $300 for a set. The initial shipment appears to be just concluded and it was a modest one that appeared to contain just 2 to 3 units and didn’t hit every Target in the country. This has set off a bit of a frenzy, but NECA has assured collectors this is just wave one of three with the third wave expected to include more units than the first two combined. NECA knows people want this set, it is the actual turtles after all, and it appears to be doing everything it can to get as many to retail as possible (which probably had something to do with the delayed release, as well).
In my area, I had zero luck tracking down a set, but then a fellow collector came to my aid on Twitter. A special shout out is reserved for Robert (@drcipherpeaks) who sent this set across the country to me and wouldn’t even accept full payment for the very expensive shipping. A great guy and a true asset to the collector community whom I hope to be able to repay in kind some day. I probably could have held out and scored a set from a later shipment or even via a Target web drop or eventual NECA pre-order, but it’s always nice to have the hunt concluded as soon as possible, so many thanks again to Robert!
Like NECA’s deluxe releases in this line, the Turtles in Disguise four pack comes in a box adorned with some delightful f.h.e. inspired artwork. It’s a window box with a flap that conceals the figures inside who are presented in their disguises and with their accessories laid bare. There’s a street theme going on with the interior artwork and there are loads of Easter eggs to find which I won’t spoil. I will say that some of the characters hinted at in this artwork have already been revealed since this was released so it’s fair to assume any other character present in this artwork is sure to follow. It’s also quite big, measuring approximately 19″x 9 1/4″x 3″ so if you’re planning on shipping any of these to some buddies you may have some trouble tracking down an appropriate box. The turtles themselves sit in a tray alongside some of their accessories with a second tray underneath securing the rest of the accessories and many hands included with this set.
Since it’s the Turtles in Disguise set, it’s probably not surprising to see that the turtles arrives already in their disguises. Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael are all sporting blue pants and beige trench coats and happy expressions. Freeing them from their plastic prisons is actually quite painless as they’re each held in place by a single, plastic, strap that’s easily snipped away. Once out, they stand about 5 and a 1/2″ tall, just like their predecessors, and they should feel quite familiar to anyone who has those wave 1 turtles. The soft goods are done pretty well. The coat is tailored (by Nicole Falk), though not as extravagantly as the Raphael one from the movie line, and contains pockets and a belt to fasten around the waist if you prefer a closed look. Want them to go full flasher, simply pull the strip of fabric out of the buckle and let it all hang out. The collars are very stiff as the turtles usually wore them “popped” to better conceal their appearance in the show. You can push them down though if you prefer, and if you really want them to lay flat you could always get out an iron and go to town. The pants are far more simpler and include an elastic waistband to keep them up. They come with the pants tucked under the rear and front portion of the shell, though if you wanted to you could slide them over the front too. They’re very easy to work with.
When you do take these figures out of the box for the first time you will probably want to remove the coats. Even if you intend to display these guys in disguise, removing the coat is still a good idea as you have no idea how the arms are positioned out of the box. Some of mine had the elbow turned all the way around so if I had tried to bend the arm with the coat on it wouldn’t have worked and could have possibly broke. Removing the coat is far trickier than getting the pants on and off. I recommend popping the hands off first to make it a little easier as the coat is tailored to be just big enough to get these on. The only drawback to this strategy is you may cause a wristband to pop off, which happened to my Donatello. They’re just glued on, so it’s not a difficult repair or I could just let whatever hand is in place hold it on. At any rate, I haven’t ripped a jacket yet and I’ve put these things on and taken them off a few times now. Just be patient and try not to force anything and you should be okay.
Once the disguises have been removed you’re left with four glorious, naked, turtles! Seriously, the disguises draw attention to how naked the turtles are by default. These figures though are almost identical to the previously released figures, but with at least one obvious change. And that’s the head sculpt, which I’ll get into in more detail soon, but let’s just say these sculpts are far more toon accurate than what was released before. The other visual difference rests in the finish as these figures are noticeably glossier than the others. It’s a little bit disappointing because the rest of the line has a very matte look, but it’s not as bad in person as it looks in pictures. The chest and rear of the shell are still quite matte, it’s basically just the green skin that has a shine to it.
The visual distinctions are not the only differences though as these boys do sport some new articulation. Of the stuff that’s the same, we have a double ball, or barbell, joint at the head and base of the neck. It’s much smoother this time around and the figures have good rotation, tilt, and are capable of looking up and down. At the shoulders are ball-hinges and they were consistently the tightest joints on my set. There is a biceps swivel and another swivel at the elbow with a single hinge. The wrists are on pegs with hinges. All of the figures come with gripping hands by default with Leo and Raph having vertical hinges and Mikey and Donnie horizontal. Inside the shell, there’s a lot going on. There’s a ball joint in the abdomen that affords slight crunch and a little tilt. It also allows for a waist twist and you can turn their legs all the way around if you wish. This articulation is not new, but it’s far more loose than before causing some to think this is actually new articulation, but if you really want to, you can spin the legs on those old turtles too. What is new is below the waist we have the new style of legs. These are on ball pegs and they’re far more stable than before and allow for greater range. They can split, kick forward, and kick back. There is a thigh swivel, though it’s a bit limited. Below that we have double-jointed knees and new ankle articulation. The previous turtles just had ball pegs and weren’t the greatest. Now we have hinges and rocker articulation.
These turtles are definitely better articulated than before. It’s a bit subtle, but it’s certainly noticed and appreciated by anyone who likes to open and pose their toys. These guys are all painted, including the joints, so you’ll likely have a breaking in period when first opening them. My set was mostly fine, but every turtle had tight shoulders and elbows. Mikey’s right elbow also has some orange paint slop on it that’s hidden when the arm is straight, but visible when bent. I might try to get that off with a Magic Eraser or just some careful scraping. The only turtle that needed some help was Raph. His right elbow and left shoulder were quite stuck. I submerged him in hot water for a bit and it only helped a little. I was actually able to get the right arm separated at the biceps peg and just let the elbow and forearm sit a little longer submerged in the hot water. At that point I was finally able to get it to move, and having it removed from the shoulder meant I didn’t have to worry about snapping the peg. The left shoulder was more stubborn, and perilous, as it’s hard to put pressure on the shoulder hinge without stressing the biceps, but I got it to go with only some minor terror. Aside from that, my set is pretty free of quality control issues. There’s a few paint imperfections here and there, but nothing out of the ordinary so I certainly feel fortunate in that regard. The only disappointment with the articulation is we’re still waiting for proper double-elbows. It can be done, NECA just apparently hasn’t found a way to do it that it likes.
All right, lets talk about those new heads! Each turtle has two different “skull tops:” angry eyes and wide open eyes. Each also features the last new piece of articulation at the knot in the bandanna. It’s a simple peg and hinge so you can reposition the “tails” as you wish. It’s a nice addition, and each skull piece has it unlike the quarter scale Raph who needs to swap the knot from each top, though the knot was molded in green and then painted to match each turtle. Like some of the ankle and wrist hinges we saw last year, the paint flakes off almost immediately leaving behind an eyesore. On a knot that’s always behind the figure’s head it’s at least not as big of an issue as an ankle or wrist hinge. The heads though separate below the mask and we have eight mouths which include two of each of the following shapes: neutral, smile, yell, open mouth smile. It’s a great load-out of expressions as they all work really well with each of the eyes. Take the smile and combine it with the wide open eyes and you get yourself a happy, gentle, turtle. Swap in the angry eyes and now you have a cocky smile like the turtles just pulled a fast one on Shredder. It’s a fantastic concept because it opens the door for NECA to do accessory packs down the road to give collectors either more of what’s already here or new mouths and eyes all together. Maybe they do a sewer lair set one day that includes bunk beds? They could offer closed eyes, snoring mouths, or even mask-less heads! A few people may be a little disappointed they can’t replicate the same expression across all four turtles at the same time, but I prefer what NECA did here as I want my guys to have some variety anyway. And these expressions are just so much more toon accurate than what we had before. Just take the open eyes and yell combo which results in a frightened turtle. How many act breaks did we see as kids where the turtles are making a face like that because some new danger was just introduced? When I look at that face I can hear that foreboding music that would always kick in at those moments. And unlike my quarter-scale Raph, I’ve had really no issues with the heads staying together so that’s also a huge plus.
And we don’t just have the eight turtle heads to talk about, we also have those creepy masks! Early in the show, April felt the disguise needed to be more convincing so she got the turtles these weird looking rubber masks. They look like a cross between Alfred Hitchcock and Rodney Dangerfield. NECA included four of them in this set and they function as separate heads since getting a mask over those turtle heads would have resulted in something horrible. There are two each of a surprised face and a smiling face. The included hats fit on them really well, even better than they do on the turtle heads, and they’re a smart inclusion. Should NECA ever visit the idea of an accessory pack for the toon line it wouldn’t surprise me to see a few more of these with different expressions. They look great, but I do wonder how many collectors out there will actually display their set this way, unless they buy multiples. Photographers or those who just like to change their display frequently will certainly enjoy them though.
Beyond the disguises, NECA also included a ton of extra stuff. We have a total of eight extra sets of hands included in this thing. The turtles all come with gripping hands, and the extras include four sets of open palms, two sets of thumbs up hands, a set of gripping hands with a wider gap in the fingers for Raph, and a set of pointing fingers which also work well with Raph as a stylized sai grip. It’s a solid assortment, though I might have preferred to swap out two sets of the open hands for two more sets of vertical hinged gripping hands, but it’s a minor quibble. This set is also loaded with pizza as we have two full pies, one of which appears to be sardine and ice cream, and a slice that looks nice and gooey. There’s a skateboard with a nice turtle shell logo in the center, though it’s strangely missing any kind of peg to securely fasten a figure to. There’s a “The Hare and the Tortoise” book which is from the first season and it’s well painted. We also have a massive 80’s boom box which was also featured in the first season (when the turtles wear a more ridiculous disguise that will undoubtedly be immortalized in plastic by NECA eventually) that’s neatly painted. There’s a Weird Pizza hat for Mikey from his short-lived stint as a delivery driver and we’ve also got a Pigeon Pete. He’s just a little lump of plastic, like gerbil Mike and fly Shredder, but he looks cute and he’s a fun inclusion. Lastly, there’s also the weapons of the Ninja Turtles. They’re the same as the original release except that none of Mikey’s ‘chuks can separate from the chain as this set does not include the whirling effect piece. I was kind of hoping NECA would opt to include the sai that came with the Turtles in Time Raph, as I just think they look better, but it’s not a big deal. And if you’re wondering, Raph and Mikey still don’t have holsters for their weapons. You can kind of slip them under the arms, which works better for Raph than Mike, but it’s not show accurate. I wish NECA would just rip-off Bandai and include a swappable belt piece for Mikey so we could have holsters for his nunchuks when we want them.
There’s a lot in this oversized box and a lot of it is good. What’s most important though is we have some new turtles that really capture how they appeared in the vintage cartoon. There are so many different variations of those turtles between the actual show, licensing art, toys, comics, and other sources of artwork so everyone’s concept of that 80s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle aesthetic can vary a bit. This figure line though is based on the show so I want them to look like they came right off of my TV. These new head-sculpts capture the look of the show from Season Two through the show’s main run up until the redesign in Season 7. My preferred look will always be that original opening title turtle with the beak line and saturated colors, but this is great as a general cartoon look. Those NECA originals were fine, but the head-sculpts came from an unknown source. Maybe it was simply a case of them being video game turtles first, maybe it was a bit of homage to the Playmates expressions, or maybe it was just the best attempt at the time. All I know is this is an improvement and if you collect this line then this set is a must have, regardless of whether or not you bought the originals or not.
NECA’s Turtles in Disguise four-pack is currently exclusive to Target in the United States. I do not know if there are any international plans in the works. I have to assume this set of figures will be made available outside of the US eventually. It will either be this exact set, or maybe special two-packs or something. I think what is happening right now is that NECA knows this is a hot item and it’s prioritizing the retail release in the US because that’s where TMNT is most popular and demand is highest. The second wave of releases for this set should either be underway or soon to be so if you haven’t found one yet, keep checking. And should all three waves come and go, plus the online drop, and you find yourself still without a set of poorly disguised reptiles then worry not, as NECA indicated they will eventually do pre-orders so long as demand is there (and it will assuredly be). I get it though, if you don’t have one now and you’re after it then it can get disheartening, and even infuriating, to see others have better luck or see the many listings on auction sites. The only cure for scalpers is to not feed them so I encourage all collectors to avoid doing so, but at the end of the day, it’s your money and your decision. And if you need help, turn to social media. Find collector groups, hashtags, and trends and see if you can even find some local collectors. With a line this popular, a little help goes a long way. Good luck!
During Season Two of the classic cartoon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the world was introduced to the Punk Frogs. Despite their name, there was nothing particularly punk about these mutated amphibians as they all dressed like they were going to a Jimmy Buffett concert. They make a few return appearances in the show, and given that they’re four identical characters save for some color changes, it’s no surprise the characters made the leap to plastic. Oh, actually, only two of them did. Genghis Frog was a 1989 release in the Playmates line of toys and he, more or less, looked like the cartoon version. His skin tone was a deeper green and his shirt blue instead of purple, but he looked the part about as much as any character in the toyline did when compared with the toon version. He did come with a cool tongue gun that never appeared in the show where he instead would wield a rather ordinary axe, but that was par for the course with that line in which the toy designs were often far more imaginative than what would appear in the show. The only other frog to get the toy treatment though was Napolean Bonafrog, who looked nothing like his toon counterpart. The toy turned him into a horny toad or something similar, an odd change, but at least it was a new sculpt.
The Playmates line actually wasn’t big on repaints and parts reuse with the most notable being Slash and Tokka or the toon Shredder which was just a repaint of the original figure. NECA on the other hand? They love it! That’s not intended as a criticism of the company’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figure line as the cartoon had a bunch of these style of characters. All four frogs in the show look the same. Their skin is just a different shade of green (like the Playmates turtles, which oddly all shared the same skin tone in the show) and their clothing was colored differently as well to distinguish the four. With the cost of making toys rising across the industry, figures like the frogs become even more desirable as it’s a way to get new characters to market at a smaller cost than some other two-packs in the line. And now, thanks to NECA, the Punk Frogs who never made it to plastic get a new lease on life.
Initially, I had no plans to purchase this set at retail. I had pre-ordered it through a foreign retailer at only a slight markup so I was content to wait on the frogs. Plus, I’ve been incredibly busy with work this month so I haven’t even had time to hit the stores in search of them. I was only passing through a mall location Target over the weekend to get to a jewelry store for a Mother’s Day gift and there just happened to be one Rasputin and Genghis set hanging out on the shelf. I didn’t hesitate to grab it as I know other collectors in my area are in search of these, so I knew I was going to find a happy home for these guys with no problem. Then I got home and started looking them over. Probably contributing to my interest is the fact that the last NECA two-pack I got was back in January, and eventually my curiosity got the best of me. Worry not, local collectors, for I will have an extra set available at some point this summer, and at least it gives me something to talk about here in May on this blog.
As I alluded to earlier, Genghis and Rasputin are essentially the same figure. With the turtles, NECA used the same body for all four, but gave each a unique head-sculpt. With the frogs, NECA just gave each one the same two head-sculpts to alternate. At least I think that’s what is going to happen as I’m not certain the next two-pack of frogs will feature the same two head-sculpts, but I want to say they do. The frogs stand at about 5 1/4 inches making them just a tick shorter than the original release of the turtles. Since they’re frogs, they’re designed to stand with their knees bent which will make them appear noticeably shorter than their reptilian allies. Genghis is a pale green with a purple shirt that features orange polka dots while Rasputin’s shirt is basically the inverse. Genghis has some fashionable light purple shorts while Rasputin goes with red. Both have the same sculpted necklace and bracelets and bisected paint scheme that this line is known for. Aside from the color differences, the only other physical distinction between the two is the pattern of the freckles on their snout. The paint is used liberally and you’ll probably fine some flaking when you move the joints for the first time. It’s all quite clean though, especially around the eyes, and NECA is once again utilizing soft plastic for the clothing which provides for flexibility when working the articulation. As is the norm for this line, these frogs look pulled right from the cartoon.
NECA always seems to prioritize the look of the figures in this line when it comes to articulation, and these boys are no different. Their head sits below the shoulders as they have that hunched over look in the show which really limits the articulation at the head. It’s on a double ball-joint, but the head sits so low in the chest that it basically can just rotate. At the shoulders, we have ball hinges and the elbows are single-hinged, but do swivel. The hands rotate and have a horizontal hinge. In the chest, there’s a diaphragm joint that provides plenty of twist and a little bit of forward and back, though no tilt really. There’s also a waist joint that provides a swivel. At the hips, we have the new style of joints, but they’re pretty loose on Genghis and super loose on Rasputin. Rasputin can be a challenge to stand as a result as his legs will gradually slide apart. They kick forward and out to the side, but the crotch piece keeps them from going back. The thighs swivel below the shorts and the knees are double-jointed. At the feet, we’ve got the usual hinge and rocker combo.
The frogs check most of the boxes when it comes to articulation, about the only obvious missing piece is double-jointed elbows. Even with out them, they can achieve a 90 degree bend at the elbow so it’s not a huge loss. Where they feel limited is in the shoulders and hands. The shirt would have seemed to provide cover for a butterfly joint, though that’s something NECA rarely, if ever, utilizes. It’s only worth pointing out because they just feel stiff and Rasputin is an archer who really can’t wield a bow. The other missing item is properly hinged hands. Genghis sports an axe and could really use some vertically hinged hands, but NECA declined to include them. More annoying is that the same hinge would have been more useful for Rasputin, who comes with two sets of gripping hands, neither of which features the proper hinge. The default gripping hands for these figures really should have featured the vertical hinge, which honestly should be the default for most figures, but rarely is. They all wield melee weapons, so it’s a bizarre oversight. NECA seems to always get it right when it comes to Leonardo, but rarely seems to with everyone else. And since we’re talking NECA, stuck joints seem to always be a popular conversation topic. With the frogs, the joints were definitely stiff, in particular the knees and elbows, but nothing too bad. I didn’t need heat for anything and was able to break them in without much fuss.
NECA included in the box basically everything these figures required, and some of which it did not. Each frog features three sets of hands, and since the characters sport different skin-tones, they’re not interchangeable. Genghis has gripping hands, pointing hands, and fists while Rasputin has the same gripping hands, loose gripping hands for using his bow, and a pair of peace sign hands. They also have two heads: one smiling and one that looks concerned or scared. The hands pop in and out pretty easily, but the heads are far more stubborn. Genghis has his battle axe which looks fine and features some sculpted distress marks on the axe head. Rasputin has his bow with quiver and four arrows. Three of the arrows are traditional looking while the fourth has a bomb or something at the end of it that looks like a Bullet Bill from Super Mario Bros. His bow features real string, like the same we saw in the Mirage line, and while it features a spot to knock an arrow it’s quite difficult to find a natural pose with the arrow in position. Plus the string doesn’t seem too durable so it’s probably not wise to actually use it, though if you’re wondering, it does work!
The rest of the accessories include a pair of turtle communicators and pre-mutated frogs. The Turtle-Coms are the same as what we’ve seen released with the other turtles as they’re in the open position and feature blank screens. The little frogs are non-articulated lumps of plastic and most have noticed these boys are quite thick. The final two accessories are a futuristic, laser, bear trap that I think was used by Dirk Savage in the show. You can slide a froggy foot into it or drape it over the non-mutant frogs. It looks cool and might be fun to mess around with. There’s also a disguise which fits over either head-sculpt that’s a hat with novelty glasses and is from the episode where Genghis takes a trip to New York. It’s quite fun and I like how NECA was able to engineer it to just rest on the frog heads without having to click into place. It stays on just fine too and there’s a good chance I’ll display at least one frog with it on at all times.
The Rasputin and Genghis two-pack from NECA’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line is another solid effort from the company. I feel like this is turning into the toyline of B+ releases. They’re remarkably consistent at delivering characters that look the part, but at the same time, there seems to always be something holding each release back just a touch. And often, that something is more of an oversight than anything like the missing vertical hinges on the hands. I would also consider the hips a drawback with my set too, though I don’t know if most are as loose as mine. It’s still a fun set though, despite the few shortcomings, and the base, frog, sculpt is quite charming and certainly looks the part. This set is exclusive to Target and appears to be arriving in solid quantities, about 6 per store, and given that they’re not hugely popular characters they may not be as hard to find as some of the other sets from this line. I found mine in a busy Target on a Saturday, basically a time of day I’d expect to find nothing, so maybe that’s a positive indicator for those hunting this set, or maybe I just happened to walk in 10 minutes after they were put out. There will probably be an online release through Target as well, and NECA has become quite dependable when it comes to making second runs available through its website as a pre-order. Basically, the only figures to not be placed on pre-order so far include the turtles, Casey Jones, and April as I think everything else has been. It’s likely the frogs will be offered there as well eventually, but that’s likely a long ways off from happening meaning delivery is even further away. Collectors can at least be comforted in knowing these are attainable, it just might take some longer than others to get their hands on them.
When I first came across the Kickstarter drive for a series of action figures called Plunderlings I was almost instantly smitten. The little impish creatures reminded me of some characters I used to doodle as a kid. In my mind, they look a lot like what I used to draw, but given I was much younger and definitely an amateur artist they probably looked far more crude. A similar aesthetic was in place though: short, big ears, big smiles, a bit devilish in disposition. I definitely never envisioned my goblin-like creatures as pirates though, and I was tempted to back the project.
I did not. I basically convinced myself I didn’t need anything like that. I also let my kid see them and I was curious if he would have a reaction to them, thinking it might be fun for the two of us to collect something together, but if it isn’t a Pokémon he doesn’t care much. The Plunderlings were funded, and eventually released early this year to quite a bit of praise in the toy community. The little devils were a tad pricey though, and I used that as justification for passing. Only when they sold out and became expensive on the secondary market did I change my mind, because I’m an idiot. Well, it was that and I found out a particular figure named Fwush was inspired by the toy community over at http://www.thefwoosh.com which I thought was really neat. I’ve been a member there since 2006 and was probably a lurker for a good while beforehand and it was just kind of cool to see a shout out like that. I wanted to at least grab that character, and I came close on a few occasions via Big Bad Toy Store, but it always sold out too quickly. Eventually, I gave in to eBay to erase my FOMO, but hopefully I didn’t just replace it with buyer’s remorse over paying above MSRP.
Lone Coconut is new to the toy making community and Plunderlings is apparently the brand they’re going to sink or swim with. The little creatures are smartly designed from a manufacturer’s perspective as the company is basically selling the same figure over and over. Each Plunderling shares almost an identical body with one another. About the only different appears to be in the shorts or pants each features and some minor differences with the ears. Otherwise, the heads, hands, arms, etc. are largely the same. How the company distinguishes each character from one another is with accessories and paint. They come in a variety of colors that basically span the entire color spectrum and they have a bunch of optional parts to enhance their look. Some are dressed like pirates, others are more feral, and some are just plain different like the golden idol. A lot of the parts, like belts and shirts, fit over the main body and are theoretically interchangeable if you’re not afraid to pop some limbs off while the masks and hats are held in place by magnets on each figure’s head. It gives the line a customizable quality, though based on what I’ve seen it looks like most collectors largely leave them as-is as opposed to mixing and matching. They’re packaged in cute little crates with the figure positioned inside its own mouth. The package is a perfect cube, 5x5x5″, with a second window on top showing off the extra heads and hands. Once the product is removed, there are paper ears inside the box that can be slipped into the sides of the crate to really make an interesting statement on your shelf. Great, another box I can’t bring myself to toss!
Fwush, being inspired by The Fwoosh, is a bright blue. He’s one of the raider Plunderlings and has some tattered, canary yellow shorts with a rope belt tied around his waist. First off, if you don’t immediately fall in love with the Plunderling design then this line probably isn’t for you. I, as explained in the first paragraph, very much like the aesthetic of these guys and the blue tone only enhances that. Without the hat, he’s about 3 and 3/4 inches tall with ears that stretch out to next week. The head on these guys is pretty large relative to the torso, while the legs and arms are a bit long too. The forearms on these guys are chunky as they basically lack wrists and they have some serious cankles going on. The paint is pretty clean and there’s some darker blue, or purple, used to shade the inside of the ears and some of the musculature. These guys are little, but they’re pretty shredded everywhere except the abs because a little belly just adds to the cuteness. They also seem to have a really droopy butt, which is kind of funny. The figure does have peg holes on its feet, though it really doesn’t need them as he stands very easily given the size of those feet. I may have bought this off of eBay, but it was a brand new and sealed figure that even came with some bonus, Kickstarter, stretch goals. Out of the box, I did have some paint flaking as I worked him out, but nothing that left behind an ugly white spot or anything. There is a message printed inside the box from Lone Coconut recommending these be heated gently to break them in so they obviously expected some stuck joints.
Lone Coconut was able to pack a fair amount of articulation into each Plunderling, even with them being small in stature. Fwush features a ball-hinge at the head that sits well and provides terrific range. It’s definitely the most expressive part of the figure as he can look up, down, rotate, and tilt like mad. The shoulders are ball-hinged and the elbows are just single-hinged. They swivel, but I can’t get them to bend as far as 90 degrees. The hands peg in and are on hinges with the open hands being horizontally hinged and the gripping hands vertically hinged, a nice little attention to detail I actually wasn’t expecting. There is a diaphragm joint that feels like a ball joint. The figure can bend back pretty far, but doesn’t come forward much. There is a little tilt and swivel there, but he doesn’t seem to want to twist very far and I’m not going to push it since I don’t have a major retailer backing this purchase. The legs connect on simple ball joints and they’re pretty limited. The figure can kick forward fine, but the legs don’t lift out very far to side or kick back far because of the butt mold. The knees are double-jointed, though I can only get one hinge on each leg to work. On the left leg the bottom hinge will move and on the right it’s the top hinge. Both are pretty tight, but he can achieve a 90 degree bend and I suspect if I applied some heat and got both hinges to work in tandem he’d bend even further. As it is, it’s fine. The feet are on hinges, but they’re shape doesn’t afford much movement there. They do have ankle rockers though, and they work just fine.
For a figure that’s less than 4″, I think the amount of articulation is fine. The only area I wish there was more range rests with the hips as I wish I could get him into a really, low, crouch. I’m still pretty satisfied with the poses I can achieve though, and it’s definitely helped by the fact that I only have one figure and not a whole army so I don’t have to seek out variety. I will say a lot of the joints were pretty stuck out of the box, but this does feel like a pretty sturdy figure. I wasn’t too concerned about any breaks as I worked him out, and I didn’t have to resort to heat for anything (though if I want those knees to work properly I’ll definitely have to do something there) to get him going so I’d say it wasn’t too bad. It’s certainly something to be mindful of so don’t go snapping your little imp right out of the box.
Little Fwush comes with a decent assortment of extra parts and accessories. Every Plunderling seems to come with three heads: smiling, grinning, and open mouth grin. They pop off and back on rather easily, and the same can be said for the hands. The retail version of Fwush comes with a pair of open hands and a pair of gripping hands. This one also came with the Kickstarter bonus pair of fists. It’s always nice to have fists, but I don’t know if I’ll ever display him with them on. As far as accessories go, Fwush has a bandolier around his chest that could probably be removed if you popped an arm off. In addition to that, he has a tri-corner hat that’s nicely painted and affixes to his dome via a magnet and stays in place well. Fwush also has a pair of weapons to make use of, a stylish scimitar and some sort of slingshot/gun hybrid. It’s basically a crossbow, only with a slingshot instead of a bow. He doesn’t have trigger fingers though, but even if he did the trigger mechanism is too far forward for him to reach, but it looks fine. Both weapons are painted well and I really like the distressed markings on the sword. They’re also easy to get in and out of his hands, though he can’t holster either weapon by default. Included in the box is a little plastic bag with two hooks in it. I initially thought they were earrings, but they actually can peg into one of the two holes on the bandolier to serve as a holster. The problem is, the bandolier is so tight to the figure’s body that it’s tough to get the leverage needed to fit the peg through the hole. And when I did finally get one of the hooks in place, it popped out the second I tried to holster the sword. In the end, they make for better earrings.
Fwush, and the Plunderlings in general, are cute little action figures that pack just enough articulation and accessories to make them a worthwhile purchase. How much you enjoy a Plunderling is dependent on what you think of the base aesthetic the line provides which actually makes these an easy purchasing decision: you either like what you see, or you do not. In hand, the figure has a nice feel and it checks all of the boxes. It doesn’t necessarily “wow” in any one area, but there’s also few shortcomings. I definitely wanted this particular one because of his look (I love blue) and its connection to The Fwoosh and I wouldn’t mind a few more eventually, but this is definitely not the sort of line I’d be all in on. Of course, if you want this figure you’re kind of out of luck at this point as he’s only available on the secondary market. Lone Coconut, realizing it has a hit on its hand, has opened pre-orders to both Big Bad Toy Store and Entertainment Earth on six designs, but Fwush is not among them. They’re still available though if you’re interested. The only other downside to these figures is they are expensive for what you’re getting. The retailers charge $40 a Plunderling after they initially launched for $30 so the price is not a strong point. You are supporting a new, and small, company by purchasing them though and it’s a company that probably can’t get factory rates like Hasbro or NECA can. The pricing is similar to other small shops though like Boss Fight Studio which charges the same price for its Max figure that’s even smaller in stature than a Plunderling. It is what it is and if you don’t like the price then don’t buy it. I think these guys are pretty fun and Lone Coconut has a hit on its hands. Hopefully they continue to have success and maybe they can get the prices down with larger orders eventually which would really open this line up to kids as well as adults.
If you’re a repeat visitor here at The Nostalgia Spot, then you’ve probably noticed that around here there is a high opinion of the television show Batman – The Animated Series. I did a re-watch of the series that spanned more than two years and also checked out the various films based on the property. What I have never touched upon are the toys. Back in the 90s, there was a toyline from Kenner that was sold wherever toys were sold. It was fine, from what I remember, though I was too into X-Men to spare many resources when it came to that one. Of more interest to people my age now, is the line of action figures released by DC Collectibles. Over the past several years, I’ve seen this line sold at various comic shops and at online retailers, but I’ve never been able to pull the trigger. The figures do an okay job of matching the television show’s aesthetics, but at the cost of articulation. The figures never looked particularly imaginative, and since they usually featured a rather high price point I was never able to convince myself this was a line worth investing in.
2020 marked the end of DC Collectibles. As that part of DC’s business was winding down, a final line of figures based mostly on BTAS was making its way to retail. Dubbed Batman – The Adventures Continue, many of these figures were re-releases of past figures that may have been limited releases, or were changed-up in some way. Some also never made it out and were cancelled, like the new Catwoman featuring an unmasked head. And some were also separate from BTAS, but appeared to emulate the show’s style like the Knightfall Azrael as Batman figure. I don’t know what the numbers ended up being like for this apparently final wave of figures, but I had a hard time tracking any down. Though I also was not frequenting any comic shops and was mostly limited to online shopping. They appeared to sell out rather quickly though, which was unfortunate as I held off on pre-ordering any because the promotional shots left a lot of unanswered questions for me. They were basically limited to just the figure, and it wasn’t clear if any accessories were even being included. It had me thinking these were just leftovers that DC was trying to make a quick buck off of, which was really driven home by the fact that the images for the actual Batman figure matched the aesthetics of a previously released figure that came with the Batcycle. That Batman had a rather ugly ab crunch so he could fit properly on the bike. It’s a necessary evil for a figure with that kind of need, but as a stand-alone figure it made little sense.
When the Batman figure was finally released though, it ended up being in the style of the original Batman figure from the BTAS line. Only this figure had re-tooled and improved articulation and a new paint job. When it came to BTAS, many figures cheated and just gave Batman a black cape and cowl even though it’s clearly blue in the show. They just go with black because Batman is often only shown at night so much of his cape and cowl are painted black with blue highlights. For the DC Collectibles figure, they did him all in black, but made the underside of the cape blue which looked okay. For this new one, someone finally had the bright idea to just paint the damn figure like the animators painted the character – what a concept! That means he’s still mostly black, but with blue accents and shading. It looked terrific in promotional images, and even though I was still unsold on the actual figure, this Batman at least looked enough like the character from the show that I wanted it, even if it would be my lone figure based on the classic series.
Of course, by the time all of that was determined the figure was sold out. There is one retailer still, to this day, taking pre-orders on the figure at MSRP, but every month they push the release out another month leaving me to believe it will eventually just get cancelled. As far as I know, DC Collectibles is all done and product is out the door, but I could be wrong. At any rate, being unable to track this figure down at brick and mortar or finding it sold out everywhere online, I was left to turn to the dreaded secondary market. A lot of the figures form this final wave have been marked up by a few sellers considerably, as they know numbers were low. How much did I want this figure? Enough to pay essentially double the MSRP on it? As the weeks and months dragged on it became evident to me that I was just too curious about this figure to not give in. And the longer I waited, the higher the price would likely climb, so give-in I did.
The Adventures Continue line all come packaged on a standard, non-resealable, blister. There’s a shadowy Batman on the back of the card with a yellow (interesting choice) backdrop. There are no product shots or cross-sells on the package, but there is a little booklet inside the box showcasing the other figures in the line. The figure is easy to get a look at and the accessories are in plain view as well. The actual Batman figure is held in place by one plastic tie at the waist and the cape is fed through the back of the blister, which is quite tight. When removing him, definitely be careful with that cape as you don’t want to scratch it.
Once removed, Batman stands about 6.5″ tall and I believe that’s roughly the same height as the prior BTAS figures. The paint job on him is pretty damn flawless. I am very impressed with what is before me. The gray of his costume is a matte finish with some shading on his muscles. The black and blue is also nice and saturated and the added blue on the cape just makes this guy pop. From what I can tell, the entire cape is cast in blue plastic and it’s the black that’s been added. All of the other pieces are likely the reverse including the hands and head. He’s got a nice, square, jaw and his eyes are narrowed as some hoodlum must have just pissed him off. The proportions look great and if I have any issues there it’s with the hands, which seem a bit small. The bat logo on his chest is all molded and painted and I am in awe of how clean it turned out. I really wasn’t expecting that considering even Medicom had some issues with a much simpler logo on their figure. The only area where the paint could have been improved is around the trunks, where the line work on the thighs isn’t as sharp. The belt is also just a bright yellow and I feel like it would have benefitted from a little shading, at least around the center buckle. Overall though, I’m quite pleased with how this figure looks and this is definitely the best representation of this version of Batman that I’ve seen.
The aesthetics of this guy weren’t a tremendous concern for me going in, what gave me pause was the engineering and articulation. Even keeping my expectations low, I can’t say this figure is well articulated. I’m not sure he’s even fair in that regard. If you add up all of the points of articulation, he sounds fine, but it’s just not particularly functional. For starters, the cape is just soft plastic that hangs off of his back. It looks fine and I wasn’t expecting anything extravagant, but no posing is present there. At the head, we have just a single ball joint. He can turn his head to the side a bit, but his massive chin will prevent him from looking too far off to the side. If set looking straight ahead, he can look up and down a little, but once you turn it you basically loose any up-down articulation which sucks for grapple gun poses. At the shoulders we have ball-hinges and they’re pretty tight. I handled this guy with kid gloves since he was a secondary market purchase and should he break I am screwed. His arms will raise out to the side, and rotate forward and back until they hit the cape. When rotating forward, watch his pecs as you don’t want the arms to rub on the edges. At the elbow, we have single joints and a swivel with no biceps swivel. He can’t achieve a 90 degree angle at the elbow, and once bent he ends up with this weird elbow point that sticks out. It’s not a great setup. At the wrist, we have rotation and in-out hinges with no vertical hinges. There’s a waist twist, but he can only go so far before it looks weird. At the thigh, this is the area most improved over past releases as he has a more standard ball-joint where the leg meets the torso. He can do splits and kick forward and back. There is no thigh swivel, which stinks, but now he does have double-jointed knees which work just fine. He does swivel at the boot, and at the ankle we have hinges and rockers. The ankles are easily the best part of the figure, which is a good thing because he has small feet and you really need good rockers to get him to stand well.
What holds this figure back is the lack of any thigh twist and the subpar arm articulation. You really don’t know how much you’ll miss something as simple as a thigh cut or twist until it’s gone, but it’s the legs that really add that dynamic quality to any pose. Some probably miss that ab crunch he was advertised as having, but I find that whole chest area too important to the sculpt of this particular version of Batman to want it broken up. I normally am not a fan of ab crunches, but I do like diaphragm joints, but the square-ness of Batman’s chest doesn’t lend itself well to such a joint so I’m not sad it isn’t present. I’ll make that sacrifice, but the arms and thighs could have easily been better. On the plus side, nothing is loose so this guy will hold a pose on your shelf. I am a little concerned about shelf dives out of him though since his feet are so small and he has a lot of added weight on his back due to the cape. He does have a peg hole on his right foot, but the feet are so small and thin resulting in a rather shallow peg hole that doesn’t fit any stands I have.
As far as accessories go, this Batman is pretty limited. He comes with fists out of the package and five additional hands: a set of gripping hands, a set of “batarang hands,” and a right hand with a grapple gun molded into it. He also has a batarang which also features the two-tone black/blue shading which looks pretty cool. It basically just rests in the included batarang hands so that you can position the figure as if he’s about to wind-up and throw it. If you want a tighter grip, it will fit in the gripping hands as well, but looks less elegant. Otherwise, those gripping hands serve no purpose on their own with this release. I don’t know if other figures come with something that would make sense for Batman to hold or not. I would have preferred something more dynamic like open hands or an alternate head in their place. The hands at least look fine and all have that blue shading on them. The paint on the grapple gun hand isn’t as clean. It will look fine from the shelf, but close inspection reveals they didn’t fill the space between his index and middle fingers where the grapple gun is exposed with gray paint. They also painted the area his thumb rests on the gun all black when it should probably be gray. The hands are easily removed from the figure and swapped, so that’s a plus.
When all is said and done, this figure either met my expectations in some areas or exceeded them. I expected limited articulation, and I definitely found that. I expected the accessories to be a lon the slim side with nothing truly exciting, and that’s true as well. Where the figure exceeded expectations is with the paint-job. This is a very clean figure with some nice shading and little touches that really help it make a statement. I wish the articulation allowed him to show off a little more, but he looks sharp. It does feel like a missed opportunity that DC Collectibles couldn’t give us a second cape that draped around the arms for Batman’s more casual stance. The figure is so static that such an accessory would have made a lot of sense. And those gripping hands stand out as another missed opportunity since we could have had something else, like an effects piece for the grapple gun, which would have really been cool.
I had to pay over retail for this guy, but I’m not really bothered by that now that I have him. He really does get the job done and better than any of the other DC Collectibles versions of this character. I had considered going all out and springing for the expressions edition of the figure, but I’m glad I didn’t. That one has worse articulation and doesn’t have the paint touches this one has. Sure, extra heads are cool and all, but if the figure doesn’t really look the way I want it to then they won’t help much. Now I’m just left wondering if I want to add any other characters. Some are still easy to come by, most are not. The Joker from this line looks bad so he’s not something I want, but what about Mr. Freeze? He’s an awesome villain, though his figure looks even more static than Batman. I do wish I had grabbed Gray Ghost, and the H.A.R.D.A.C. Batman looks to have a really neat sculpt. We’ll see. If this ends up being the only figure I get from this line, at least I picked a good one and the most essential one, at that.
I don’t read a lot of comics these days. Actually, I suppose I never truly read a lot of comics even when I was very much into X-Men and Spider-Man. Back in the 90s, I received most of my comic lore from trading cards. They were cheaper and fun to collect. When it came to actual books, I was rarely allowed to get one though I certainly would try to get my mom or dad to buy me one when at the grocery store. The most comics I read probably came when I was in college and I had the money to buy trades of all of the famous stories I had heard about growing up: The Dark Phoenix Saga, Watchmen, Death in the Family, etc. I also got into modern stories and for awhile I kept up with Marvel’s Ultimate Universe until I either ran out of money or grew bored with the hobby.
One of the last comic storylines I really dove into was the inaugural Mirage Studios Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. IDW Publishing started handling the property following the sale of the franchise to Viacom and the company put out these massive, hardcover, collections of the original Eastman and Laird run on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I blogged about all five volumes here, if you want to search for them, and I mostly jumped into them because I grew up a big TMNT fan and I had never really checked out the original books. I certainly knew of them, and I think I had read the inaugural issue on more than one occasion, but I had never gone deep. It was pretty fun, though when I was finished checking those out I found I had little curiosity in the other TMNT stories, be they more older ones like the Archie comics or the new ones published by IDW.
Late last year though, a lot of TMNT fans started singing the praises of a new TMNT story titled The Last Ronin. It’s basically a future “what-if?” styled story that could best be described as the TMNT version of the classic X-Men story “Days of Future Past.” I really didn’t know much about it, only that there was some really cool artwork based on the story being circulated online. I decided it was something worth checking out, though by the time I had done so the first issue had sold out. Thankfully, it was still attainable via online shops with only minimal markup. I eventually ordered a copy, and I also subscribed to the rest and even grabbed the Director’s Cut reprint of the first issue recently and I’m glad I did.
The Last Ronin tells the tale of a lone turtle in the future. He’s bundled from head to toe in robes and armor and is outfitted with the weapons longtime turtle fans know and love: katana, sai, nunchaku, bo. He sports a black mask and he’s a bit paunchy compared with other versions of the TMNT I’m used to, but that wasn’t something I read much into beforehand. Once I had the first issue in hand though, it was obvious this was an older turtle and when we meet him he’s sneaking into New York City which is now a Hell hole because this is a dystopian future story. High walls surround the city and massive skyscrapers have created a dual class system where the wealthy live above the city and the poor are left to fend for themselves at ground level, and below. The Foot run the show, though we don’t know who leads them, while our protagonist narrates to himself (and the reader) what’s about to go down.
It would seem this is a turtle on a suicide mission. He wants to sneak in and cause trouble in hopes of taking down whoever leads the Foot now. And as he talks to himself, he talks to the dead. It becomes obvious that this turtle is one of the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the rest are dead. We don’t know which one (that’s saved for the end of the first issue), but it almost doesn’t matter as whoever this is he’s undergone a lot of trauma and has changed considerably.
I really don’t want to say anything more about the first issue as I don’t want to spoil anything. It’s a very action-packed issue as our turtle friend encounters trouble pretty much from the onset. It’s in-line too with the Mirage comics of old as there’s a considerable amount of violence and this turtle clearly plays for keeps. He also gives as good as he receives as this isn’t a superhero type of character capable of being a true one-man army. He’s plenty capable, for sure, of causing a ruckus and fending off multiple enemies, but he’s no Superman. It’s a bit of an uncomfortable read for someone who grew up adoring TMNT as it’s really not fun to think of them as dead, but here we are.
The Director’s Cut of issue #1 shows off a lot of the original treatment for this story. This plot originates from the 1980s when TMNT co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird dreamt up a finale of sorts to what they started. It never got made until now, and a lot was changed in the interim, but it’s pretty cool to see the original vision. Some of the writing can be hard to read, as it’s just scanned notes from 30 years ago, but it’s definitely worth a look. There’s also a look at the concept art for the series with annotations from Eastman that are pretty informative. I wouldn’t call the Director’s Cut essential for those who want to experience The Last Ronin, but if you’re interested in getting a copy of issue #1 I’d recommend it over the standard release.
The story for this one is shared amongst Eastman, Laird, and Tom Waltz with Eastman and Waltz handling the actual script (Laird’s credit appears to stem from the original story and I didn’t get the impression he had much involvement with it beyond that). Layouts were done by Eastman and pencils and inks were done by Esau and Isaac Escorza and the art in general looks terrific with colors by Luis Antonio Delgado. The team does a great job of evoking some of that rough Mirage art from the 80s but with a more refined touch. The colors are mostly muted which suits the grim atmosphere of the story with some of the flashbacks featuring a soft, glow, to them. There are several variant editions out there if that’s your fancy all with different covers. The main cover is by the book artists and the Director’s Cut cover features art by Eastman. The book is printed on thick paper as this is a special release. The cover is also thick and durable and it comes with a slightly higher retail cost of $8.99 per issue with the Director’s Cut coming in at $10.99.
The Last Ronin is off to a great start. It definitely seems to hit the tone it’s going for as this is a downer of a story. There’s a lot to uncover as this five part series moves along and issue #2 is already out with #3 expected in May. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in reading, I definitely recommend checking it out as I think it’s going to be an interesting ride. Of course, you could always wait for the inevitable TPB edition but that may not come until 2022 so why wait? And if there are any action figure makers reading, we need a Last Ronin figure!
Written by: Paul Dini, Stan Berkowitz, Alan Burnett, Rich Fogel, Steve Gerber
Animation: TMS – Kyuokoichi Corporation
Running Time: 61 minutes
Also Known As: Superman: The Animated Series episodes 39, 40, 41 “World’s Finest: Parts 1, 2, and 3”
When Warner Bros. launched its own network, The WB, in 1995 it had a bit of a conundrum on its hands. Warner had been in the business of producing hours upon hours of content, but it was all aired somewhere else and would be tied down by licensing agreements for yet a while longer. And in the 90s, most of those properties were airing as part of the Fox Kids Network and included the likes of Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, and Batman: The Animated Series. Warner needed to focus on parts of its portfolio that hadn’t already been licensed to Fox and it sure is nice to have a character like Superman to utilize as a fallback. While Fox held the broadcast rights to Batman, Warner essentially ceased taking episode orders for that show and instead tasked the team of Bruce Timm and Paul Dini that had done so well with Batman to do the same for Superman. Superman: The Animated Series was born, and unlike Batman, it was a brightly lit, modern styled, depiction of the classic hero. It was not quite as successful as Batman, but for a generation of comic book fans, this depiction of the man of steel is about as definitive as it gets replacing for many the character we saw on the big screen played by Christopher Reeve.
Following the successful first season of Superman, Warner once again had the broadcast rights to Batman and commissioned a new season. Re-titled, The New Batman Adventures, the caped crusader and his comrades would receive a makeover to bring it in-line with Superman while also accomplishing the goal of simplifying the models for overseas animation. The WB, which had launched its own children’s programming block called Kids’ WB, would air these new episodes of Batman alongside Superman creating The New Batman/Superman Adventures, an hour and a half block typically consisting of one Superman, one classic BTAS, and one New Adventures of Batman. To commemorate the union of these two titans of comics, a three-part episode was created for Superman called “World’s Finest” that would take-up the whole Batman/Superman block on October 4, 1997. These episodes would then be collected and released on VHS and DVD as The Batman/Superman Movie.
Given how long these two heroes have been around and in Warner’s portfolio, it’s actually rather incredible the two weren’t paired-up for a movie until 1997. This one is a bit of a cheat since it’s three episodes of an animated series, and Batman and Superman have shared space on the small screen for decades. They have since shared time on the big screen as well in one of the most love it or hate it film universes imaginable. In 1997, and even today, there is still a neat “geek” factor to the two teaming up, though I personally wish it could have happened sooner as come 97 I wasn’t watching much network television. I can recall catching bits and pieces of this story, but I don’t think I ever sat down and actually digested it. Since concluding the years long look-back at Batman: The Animated Series, the cross-overs with Superman were basically the few remaining missing links I had yet to look at, so I figured I would rectify that with a look at this pseudo movie.
“World’s Finest” is anchored by a pretty simple premise: How would Batman and Superman work together when their arch enemies team-up? It’s the type of thing any young, comic book, fan probably would have dreamed up as a starting point for a team-up as we have Joker (Mark Hamill) offering his services to Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown) to kill Superman (Tim Daly) for the not unreasonable sum of one billion dollars and it’s Batman (Kevin Conroy) who first sniffs out the scheme. It’s an interesting premise to see Joker turn himself into a hitman-for-hire, and especially interesting that he would be so arrogant that he would think he can take out Superman when he’s failed to do the same with Batman for years. Perhaps it owes to him not viewing Superman as his great rival as many have wondered if Joker really ever aimed to kill Batman, instead preferring to play with him like a cat and a ball of yarn, only in this case the ball of yarn always comes out definitively on top. There’s also a bit of shock factor to see Joker so nakedly offering to kill someone for money, but it is a nice callback, intentional or not, to Joker’s roots in this universe as a mob hitman as seen in Mask of the Phantasm.
Why is Joker offering to kill Superman for Luthor? For the simple fact that he needs money on account of Batman always foiling his plans and because he’s come across a rather large sum of kryptonite. Early in the film, Joker pulls off a heist in which he and Harley (Arleen Sorkin) snatch a dragon idol thought to be made of jade, but Batman knows otherwise and makes the move to Metropolis. It’s there he masquarades as Bruce Wayne, who has a business venture underway with Luthor, and makes acquaintances with both Lois Lane (Dana Delany) and Clark Kent. Lane is quite smitten with Wayne right out of the gate and the two start seeing quite a lot of each other, much to Clark’s disappointment.
The film wastes little time in establishing that Batman and Superman are going to be uneasy allies. Batman is setup to be Superman’s opposite. When we first see Batman inspecting the crime scene following Joker’s theft, Detective Bullock (Robert Costanzo) puts up a minor protest when Batman takes a piece of kryptonite left behind as tampering with a crime scene, but Commissioner Gordon (Bob Hastings) somewhat jokingly laughs it off suggesting to Bullock he be the one to stop Batman from doing what he wants. It’s played for laughs, but it’s kind of scary that Gordon essentially revealed he feels helpless when it comes to telling Batman what to do. Of course, we know he welcomes Batman’s aid in an unofficial capacity, but this scene seems to exist to remind the viewer that Batman operates outside the law. When he eventually crosses paths with Superman for the first time, Superman refers to him as a vigilante and that there’s no place for such in his town. Superman is our goody-two-shoes, the one who operates within the confines of the law, while Batman happily exists outside it. He’s also played as a jerk, as Batman introduces himself to Superman by arm-tossing him over his shoulder. It’s definitely beyond what we’re used to seeing out of the character previously in BTAS, that very patient detective working alongside Ra’s al Ghul and tolerating his subordinates slights is long gone. It’s somewhat in-line with the character we’ll see more of in The New Batman Adventures, but it’s definitely a change.
The Batman/Superman dynamic is the main anchor of the feature, but also entering the fray is the Lois Lane situation in which it’s clearly spelled out she’s attracted to Superman and Bruce Wayne, but turned off by Clark Kent and Batman. There’s also multiple scenes in which Joker and Luthor are pitted against each other, mostly via tense negotiations or dealing with the fallout of a Batman or Superman encounter. They’re actually quite entertaining and this is the best Joker we’ve seen in awhile. It would seem the time off between the end of the second season of BTAS and this feature did Dini and his crew well as this Joker feels fresh and exciting. As does his main squeeze Harley and the two actually work quite well together in this one with less signs of abuse on the part of Mr. J. It does mean the story basically ignores how we left off with the pair and we’re just left to assume that Harley eventually came crawling back. It’s a pretty entertaining story, albeit one that only runs a mere 61 minutes. It does follow a predictable arc, and I dislike that the ending basically has zero consequences long-term, but I definitely had a good time following along. There were some segments that were a bit too liberal with the notion that every bad guy in these shows is a terrible shot. Batman should have probably died ten times in this thing, but it’s just accepted that our hero is never going to get shot no matter how improbable the situation.
Being that this movie exists within the Superman show, it follows the same visual style as that show and The New Batman Adventures. There are no additional effects applied like we saw with a true feature in Mask of the Phantasm, but that doesn’t mean this one doesn’t look nice. Warner at least opened up its wallet for TMS to handle the animation. TMS was once upon a time a semi-regular in Warner animation, but come the mid-90s the studio’s reputation was beyond reproach and their services were essentially beyond Warner’s television budget. The studio wasn’t even called upon to handle the second BTAS feature, SubZero, so it was a bit surprising to see them utilized here. It certainly pays off as “World’s Finest” looks terrific. The animation is so smooth and so consistent frame by frame and it pays off as there’s plenty of action. There’s even a classic “Superman saves an airplane” segment probably just so they could have TMS animate such a sequence, because it’s otherwise a scene that’s completely unneeded for the plot. It’s certainly fun though, so I’m not complaining! The only drawback the film possesses from a visual perspective rests with the character designs. I really don’t like the redesign on Joker, and it’s so apparent in the scenes he shares with Luthor. Luthor looks like a person, while Joker looks like he belongs in a different series, something far more toony. That’s a problem I have with The New Batman Adventures as a whole though, not one unique or born from this arc.
The Batman/Superman Movie is probably not the spectacle the pairing deserves, but if I’m being honest, I’d rather watch this than the live-action one that would follow years later. Despite the short duration, it doesn’t cry out for additional material. If it had been a true feature we probably would have just been treated to more of Wayne and Lane’s romance which does move quite fast in this one (she appears poised to move to Gotham at one point) so that’s probably not realistic, but billionaires certainly have a knack for getting their own way despite logic and reason. I suspect some might not like the portrayal of Batman in this one as he really is just an asshole towards Superman. One has to wonder if he’s only interested in Lois to stick it to Superman. And given that their relationship progressed far enough for Lois to talk about moving, I’m going to make the assumption that she and Bruce slept together and if Bruce slept with her just to make Superman jealous or angry then that’s some pretty lowlife behavior on his part. Even without that piece of head-canon on my part, I felt pretty bad for Lane at times in this one as she’s just being used left and right. Bruce uses her to get info on Superman, Joker uses her as Superman bait, and all the while she thinks she’s met someone she’s ready to run away with. It’s quite a ride for Lois, and I wonder if Dini contemplated tossing Barbara Gordon into this whole mess, but thought better of it.
“World’s Finest” was just the first cross-over event between Superman and The New Batman Adventures, and not the last. There were two more in Superman, “Knight Time” and “The Demon Reborn.” There was only one in Batman, “Girl’s Night Out,” which I covered some time ago. Since I’ve covered so much of Batman: The Animated Series here, I would like to some day talk about those additional crossovers, but I also have no plans to at this time since I don’t own Superman: The Animated Series. Perhaps that will change one day, but the availability of this movie is what made this possible. If you want to check it out for yourself, you can do so either via Superman which is available on DVD and streaming on HBO Max, or you could buy the stand-alone movie which is quite affordable. I picked up a copy at a secondhand media store for a mere $2.97. For less than 3 bucks, this is a rather nice piece of entertainment.
It was announced one week ago in a post timed for midnight on the east coat that toy maker NECA had acquired the licensing rights to produce action figures based on the Disney Afternoon classic Gargoyles! NECA had begun teasing a new intellectual property had been acquired back in January and the only clues provided were that it was a 90s property enjoyed by kids that had yet to experience a revival of any kind. This had heads spinning, including my own, and I nearly made a blog post on the subject itself. The reason I did not is because it started to become apparent that it was indeed Gargoyles. That wasn’t due to anything NECA said, but what it didn’t say as fans tossed ideas at the company’s official Twitter account and the Gargoyles suggestions were left untouched. Gargoyles just also made sense for NECA, who originally made a name for itself in the collector space with its horror themed releases. While not horror, Gargoyles is certainly horror adjacent with its gothic imagery and fright-inducing main cast. It also fit the description provided by NECA perfectly as no one has attempted a modern toyline, even though there’s an obvious fanbase hungry for more, and because there just weren’t a lot of other options. The best non-Gargoyles thing I could come up with was Captain Planet, a certainly remembered franchise, but one I’m not sure has a rabid fanbase. Though with NECA’s recent Defenders of the Earth toyline selling out I suppose it’s hard to figure out just what doesn’t have a fanbase eager for modern toys these days?
The Twitter announcement came with some delightful images of the line’s first figure: Goliath. For Goliath, and likely the line as a whole, NECA took the basic cartoon aesthetic and applied some artistic licensing in bringing the figure to life. He is far more detailed than the character model from the show with realistic (though exaggerated) musculature and textures to his skin and claws. He looks really cool, but it’s understandable that some fans were left wishing he better matched-up with the animated version, since that’s the look most remember. NECA’s approach does remind me of classic toy lines which were often more detailed than the cartoon source for the simple reason that cartoons have to dial down the details in order to keep costs down. This figure, which I’m judging based off pre-release images, looks like Goliath to me so I’m fine with the approach. Should the line find success it wouldn’t shock me to see NECA double-dip and add a toony line, especially as it pumps out Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures at a tremendous pace potentially hastening the end of that line.
Meant to be modernized w more detail and anatomy not a direct copy of the cartoon. Toys have come along way since 1994. Stylized realism if you will like Defenders of the Earth & our DC vs Dark Horse line https://t.co/O9iNSiEwVd— NECA (@NECA_TOYS) March 31, 2021
And the early returns suggest the line is off to a fantastic start. Preorders opened up the day of the announcement at all of the usual online spaces. They sold well enough that NECA sent out a press release to its retail partners saying it needed to cut-off preorders earlier than expected and set a date for that to take place of April 2nd. It’s possible fans will be able to order Goliath figures past that date as that is the date for retailers to get their orders in. If a retailer like Big Bad Toy Store sees Goliath selling well, it might submit a higher order on that day than what it’s sold, especially since large retailers rarely submit an exact order. It does mean that once places start closing orders following April 2nd, Goliath will be unobtainable until the figure’s official release expected sometime in July. NECA has stated the figure will be sold, and I quote, everywhere so there should be no shortages of places to go toy hunting, but I for one definitely prefer to secure an order early rather than later.
And Goliath will not be the only figure from Gargoyles the company releases. NECA has yet to show off any other figures, but has stated there are five finished and more in development. The company hopes to reveal a new one each month and stagger the release in the same fashion. That means if Goliath is coming our way in July, then figure number two should follow in August, and so on until all five are out. And that certainly has fans speculating who will be among the five to follow in Goliath’s footsteps. The Manhattan Clan from the show included fellow gargoyles Brooklyn, Hudson, Lexington, Broadway, and Bronx. That’s five right there, but I’d be quite shocked if rogue Demona is not part of the initial launch. I’ll even go so far as to say I’ll be surprised if she isn’t number two behind Goliath. There are certainly plenty of other characters for NECA to turn to such as ally Elisa Maza and villains like Xanatos, MacBeth, and The Pack. It’s possible NECA will try to offset the development costs of the tooling intensive gargoyles with humanoid characters that might lend themselves well to parts reuse, either with each other or from other NECA lines.
All that is to say this line could have serious legs. There are a lot of characters from Gargoyles to mine and I suspect NECA will be eager to do some of the clone characters, like Thailog, since they’re just redecos. The tooling in this line looks like it could be costly, but Goliath is being solicited for the extremely reasonable price of $33 in most places. That price gets you an 8″ tall gargoyle with a 16″ wingspan. He has multiple face portraits and extra hands to go along with a book accessory and the ever important jalapeno. The part where NECA will save some money does rest with the accessories as most of these characters require little to none. Hudson brandished a sword while Demona often had some heavy artillery, but the rest were just gargoyles armed with tooth and claw. I am supremely excited for this line though and I just wanted to share that with the world before the preorders close. Fans of Gargoyles have been waiting for something like this for a long time and hopefully it’s the start of a revival of sorts. If it only leads to an extensive toyline though, I’ll be plenty satisfied.
If you want a Goliath figure of your very own, here is a non-exhaustive list of some places where you can do just that (I receive no compensation from these websites if you do choose to order from one of them):
My first NECA Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles product was the original release of the Mirage Studios quartet released in 2008. Nearly a decade went by before I bought another TMNT product from NECA, and that item ended up being the quarter scale movie Donatello. It was love at first sight for me and Donnie, and I eagerly awaited the following three turtles to complete my display. Following those, I’ve stayed away from the quarter scale largely because it’s expensive and takes up a lot of space. Those figures are over a foot tall and are quite beefy and it’s just more convenient to collect at a smaller scale. When NECA first announced it was going to bring the cartoon turtles to the quarter scale, I initially wasn’t interested. What would I would do with more giant turtles? The first one on the release schedule was Raphael, and I kept my eye on it, but wasn’t really feeling the pull to go for it. Then the figure was delayed from the jam-packed Fall 2020 to Q1 2021 finally arriving when there’s little action in the toy world. Maybe that was the reason for my renewed interest as once I go several weeks to a month without a new toy I get anxious. Seeing reviews online was enough to do me in, and here I am with a quarter scale Raph.
When I say I had little interest in the figure when announced initially, I am mostly referring to Raphael. I did plan to get at least one quarter scale turtle because one of my favorite Christmas presents ever was the Playmates Giant Sized Leonardo. I loved that big-ass turtle and I marveled at the changes made in going from 4″ to 14″. The “pleather” belt, pupils in the eyes, ankle articulation – it all seemed awesome to me at the time, even if by today’s standards that’s still a pretty basic figure. The only negative with that toy was Playmates was too cheap to include two swords. I no longer have that guy, but he was immortalized in a clock my grandfather made for me that he based on that toy and I still have that to this very day. It’s in my son’s room now and if he ever breaks it he’s in some major trouble.
I caved though, and now I have a big, beefy, toon, Raphael on my shelf. I was able to order him from Big Bad Toy Store, which has since sold out, so apparently there are a lot of folks out there who slept on this thing for awhile, only to change their mind once released. I did try to find him locally first, but no comic shops around me seemed to carry him which was a bummer. Even though this is a big figure, I was still taken aback by the sheer size of the box he arrived in. This figure is actually smaller than the movie figures, so I kind of had it in my head to expect small, but there’s just no making a quarter scale figure small.
Raphael comes in a window box done up in the same style as the Target releases. NECA originally wanted to do retro packaging, but couldn’t get permission from Playmates to make that happen (which possibly accounted for the delay). There’s some nice photography on the box though demonstrating the product. Hidden on the bottom of the box is the cross-sell with the other three turtles set for release (Donnie is next and should arrive over the summer) and a demonstration of the features of the figure. The main selling point, aside from the aesthetics of a giant turtle, resides in the head. These figures come with two heads, but each head can separate at the bandana to create up to four, distinct, expressions. Not all of the turtles will come with the same pair of mouths, so once all four are collected you should have quite a bit of variety for mixing and matching. It’s a great idea, and it’s one that is also being brought to the 6″ line next month with a deluxe four pack being sold exclusively at Target.
Extricating Raph from his box requires some work. This is not collector friendly packaging, which is actually liberating to a degree as I didn’t mind destroying it and trashing it when done. Once removed, Raph stands roughly 14″ tall. If you have the series one Raph from the toon line sold at Target, then he should look fairly familiar. The color scheme is basically the same with that olive green skin-tone. NECA uses an even darker green on the backside of the figure and the same is done with the red of the bandana and various pads as you have a bright red on the front and a dark red on the back. There’s some black line work at play to really bring out that cell-shaded look and the shell is a soft brown, as it was in the show, and not deep green like some of the licensing art. The obvious major change is just in the expression on the head. Raph’s default look is that big, happy, open-mouthed, grin. The other head features angry eyes and a yelling mouth while the smaller version of the character has a more neutral expression with gritting teeth. I’ve always felt the headsculpts on the standard turtles from NECA were the weakest aspect of the figures as they’re just not very representative of the cartoon and this is a major improvement.
The figure may look like a larger version of the standard release, but it’s actually a little different. This turtle is actually packing more articulation than the old one, which was a bit of a surprise. The head is on a double barbell styled joint so it moves inside the head and inside the neck. The neck is also articulated so you get a pretty good range of motion out of the old noggin. The shoulders are still standard ball-hinges and there’s a biceps swivel past that. The elbows though are now double-jointed like his movie counterpart. Also like the movie figures though, the elbow pads limit just how useful those elbow joints are and you’re basically only going to get 90 degrees out of the joints, but it looks better than the smaller one which placed the elbow pad above the joint. And that pad doesn’t just float in the joint either, there’s actually a little ball-peg that it clips onto. I don’t think it’s something you have to necessarily worry about breaking, but maybe just be mindful of it. The wrists still swivel and possess horizontal hinges and the inner shell has some articulation points, but they don’t really function at all because of the shell. At the legs, we have ratchets to help this figure hold his pose since he is quite heavy. The legs can go out to a full split and kick forward pretty far. The front part of the shell is pretty soft so it doesn’t hinder the kick too much, but the rear shell will keep him from kicking back. The knees are double-jointed, but like the elbows, the kneepads will get in the way a bit. I could get past 90 though, so all in all it’s pretty good. There’s a slight swivel at the knee and the ankles have been redone. The smaller figures just had their feet on ball pegs, but now we have true hinges and rockers which is really needed for posing because this guy actually doesn’t have a thigh swivel. I’m pretty surprised by this omission, but I’m guessing it’s for stability reasons. He moves better than he has any right to, and best of all no stuck joints! The only tough ones were the knee joints, but I assume they’re tight for a reason as loose legs would kill this figure. His bandana knot is also now articulated with a hinge, which is cool.
This guy comes with quite a slew of accessories for mixing and matching. Some of these accessories are definitely going to be repeated with the other turtles, like the pair of pizza slices which actually snap together. I suspect once all four are out we’ll have a full pie. The hands are familiar to anyone with the smaller figure: two gripping hands, two pointing hands, and two thumb’s up hands. The gripping hands feature the wider gap between the fingers so Raph can hold his sai with the center blade between them. The pointing hands also function as stylized sai-holding hands, though they don’t fit as neatly as the movie sai and hands. Best of all, the hands are actually quite soft so it’s easy to put accessories in his hands and there’s little risk of paint rub. To go along with these hands, are Raph’s trusty sai which don’t look quite so huge in this scale as they do with the smaller figure. Raph still can’t holster them in a toon-accurate manner, but they fit under his arms when not in use. He also has a Turtlecom that actually opens and closes now. Getting it all the way opened requires a little tug that may seem scary the first time you do it. Once opened, the shell ends are very loose and floppy making it hard for it to hold its shape when actually placed in the figure’s hand. I still think the added gimmick of it actually opening and closing is worth having over the previous method of one static closed Turtlecom and one static open Turtlecom. Lastly, there’s the dripping slice of pizza with the hole through it for placing on Raph’s sai as he does in the original cartoon intro.
Of course, we need to talk about that big selling point: the face swapping. Raph’s head comes off very easily, possibly too easily, which is needed to change-up those portraits. The bandana knot just pegs into the back of the head. It’s quite snug, so go easy with it. Separating the top of the head from the bottom isn’t too bad as you can hold it in one hand and push from the bottom inside the head to pop it apart. Once you do that with both heads, you can swap to create expressions. He basically has four: happy, angry, scared, and a sort of wicked expression that is easily my favorite (angry eyes plus the smile). Unfortunately, mixing and matching doesn’t work as well as I had hoped. The two default heads snap together fine, but trying to combine happy eyes and yell or angry eyes and smile does not work as well. The happy and yell combination, which creates a scared Raph, is super tight. It took a lot of effort and repeated attempts to finally get it to snap together. I probably should have got out the head gun, but I did eventually get the thing in place with pure muscle without damaging it. It might seem like an odd choice, but in some respects, this scared face feels the most authentic to me since the turtles do react in a surprised, concerned, and even frightened manner to all kinds of dangers in the show. I might have to go with this look for at least one turtle when all is said and done. The look I was most interested in for Raph, that wicked smile, has a worse issue. It’s too loose! The two pieces will click together, but just the slightest breeze will cause them to come apart. I’d get them together okay, but then once I put the head back on they’d fall apart. It’s frustrating, because the only remedy I can think of is to just glue the pieces together, but that defeats the purpose of the gimmick. Very carefully, I did manage to get the head on and even posed Raph on my shelf with this expression. It’s held, for now, but this doesn’t seem like the type of thing that’s going to get better with time, only worse. Right now, my hope is that one of the other brothers comes with a smiling mouth that works better with Raph’s eyes. It looks like I’ll have to wait awhile though as Donnie appears to come with the yell and a closed mouth, but Leo and Mikey are both shown with big smiles. And maybe once I have a bunch of these guys I’ll be more open to gluing one head together. I’ve seen other reviews that did not have the same complaint, so this could be unique to my set, but I really hope the other figures work better than this one as this is the main selling point of the line, as far as I’m concerned.
The issues I ran into with the expressions definitely put a damper on my enthusiasm for this figure. I do enjoy that he has this big, nice, weighty feel to him and the quality seems to be there as well. As it should be since this figure retails for around $125. He’s shorter than the movie version, but actually feels more substantial. And this is an eye-catching piece with enough posing options that it should be pretty fun to assemble a squad of four. NECA is aiming to release one per quarter and get them all out in 2021. Donnie is next, and we don’t know who will follow him, but eventually I will have my Leonardo! I am also very much looking forward to that four pack and I hope it won’t be a huge chore to acquire it when it’s finally released because these new portraits just work so much better for the source material than the grim ones we got a few years ago.
This bad boy appears to be selling quite well, so if you think this is something you’re going to want then you probably won’t want to wait too long. There will be no restocks, according to NECA, until all four brothers are released and I’m pretty sure they’re looking to do more movie quarter scale figures in 2022 so it could be awhile before Raph is readily available once again. And if you’ve been collecting NECA TMNT, you know how hot it is right now and how crazy the after market can get. The good news is that hot after market means if you buy this guy and decide you don’t have the room or just plain don’t like him you can probably get your money back without too much trouble by flipping him. I do like the look of Raph, and I think I’ll appreciate him even more when I get my toon setup all situated once NECA releases the cartoon diorama it solicited last year. There’s going to be a lot of turtle power added to my house this year.
The 1970s was a transition period for the world of feature length animation. Walt Disney’s death had left a leadership void at Disney which was exacerbated by the passing of Roy Disney in 1971. With the Disney brothers no longer at the head of operations, the company turned to Donn Tatum, the first non-Disney family member to head the company. It was during this era that the animators on staff started to feel like the company no longer prioritized the art of animation the way it had under the Disney brothers. It probably didn’t help that the decade began with the release of The Aristocats, one of the least celebrated Disney animated features to date. Because of a sense of stifled creativity, a group of animators staged a walk out lead by Don Bluth. He along with animators Gary Goldman, John Pomeroy, and several others left the company during production on The Fox and the Hound and Don Bluth Productions was born. Seeking to emulate the classic style of early Disney works, Bluth and his associates set out to making features as quickly as possible. They found a partner in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and a story in Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien. They knew what they wanted to do, but the hard part would be making it all happen.
The tale of Mrs. Frisby had been brought to Bluth’s attention by fellow animator Ken Anderson while working at Disney. Try as he might though, he just couldn’t get Disney to bite on it. And there was some solid reasoning behind that as animation director Wolfgang Reitherman cited the recent release of The Rescuers as being too similar to the tale of Mrs. Frisby and her fantastic rat friends. When Bluth left Disney, the story went with him and it was the book he turned to first when it came time to prove that feature length animation could flourish outside the House of Mouse. Working outside of Disney though meant a lower budget and a shorter schedule which necessitated Bluth and staff to work ungodly hours on the feature. And a certain company that popularized a flying disc necessitated a name change of the titular character of Mrs. Frisby to Mrs. Brisby.
I was in the fifth grade when the story of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH was introduced to me. I was a kid who liked to take shortcuts when it came to academics. I was fortunate that most subjects came easily to me, but it did stifle my intellectual curiosity as a result. When it came to independent reading, I just recycled junk I had been reading for years that my new teachers wouldn’t necessarily be aware of. Eventually, my teacher, Mrs. Roy (who remains my favorite teacher ever), wrote a note in my report card that I needed to read more challenging books. I really had no desire to honor the request, but also had little choice in the matter so I simply asked one of my friends if he got the same edict. When he confirmed he did not, I asked what he had been reading that she seemed to approve of and he directed me to the book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. I read it and thought it was good enough to read the sequel when I was finished. Better yet, my teacher left me alone when it came to my independent reading assignments. At the time I read it, it was the early 90s and I had no idea a film had been made out of the story a decade earlier. I think I just happened upon it one night at the local video rental store and asked my mom if we could rent it, so we did!
Ever since seeing The Secret of NIMH I have thought of it very little. I think I liked it, but it clearly didn’t leave a mark. The book really didn’t leave a lasting impression either, though I can say it did stick in my head far better than the sequel of which I remember nothing but the title. In my house though, Saturday is movie night and we alternate who picks the movie each week among the members of my family and when the choice falls to me I like to find things that my kids haven’t seen and will hopefully enjoy. That’s how this film popped up on my radar recently, so out I went (safely) to a nearby media store and found a used DVD release of the film for a mere five dollars. It’s certainly not a great DVD release as it only has a full screen option, but it was an opportunity to see this film again and show it to my kids for the first time and I’m still not willing to digitally rent things. I’m just weird like that.
The Secret of NIMH tells the tale of the widow Mrs. Brisby (Elizabeth Hartman), a field mouse, and her quest to save her ailing son Timothy (Ian Fried) from a bout of pneumonia. The illness itself isn’t necessarily the threat, it’s the fact that the harvest season has arrived and Mrs. Brisby and her family need to vacate their current home for the farmer’s tractor will soon level it. Unfortunately, Timothy is too sick to be moved so Mrs. Brisby is forced to turn to the Rats of NIMH for help. The rats are a colony that lives in a nearby rose bush and they possess intelligence seemingly beyond that of man. It’s all the result of once being lab rats. Throughout the film viewers are introduced to a small portion of their various members and their wonderous home while also learning about their past and their relationship with Brisby’s deceased husband. Internal strife also exists within the ranks of the rats which will pose a problem for Mrs. Brisby and her family.
The story is quite brisk and uncomplex as it moves along during its 82 minute runtime. Mrs. Brisby basically has a problem and receives advice from one source to go to another, who then sends her to another, and so on. It’s easy for a child to follow and Brisby is a likeable and empathetic lead. She is joined, at times, by the crow Jeremy (Dom Deluise) who provides comic relief, while the seemingly ancient leader of the rats, Nicodemus (Derek Jacobi), adds a little wonder to her supporting cast. The danger of the situation is illustrated clearly, and other dangers arise throughout the film. Since we’re largely dealing with a cast of mice and rats, expect a cat to play a role.
The story is cohesive, but what isn’t is the world created by O’Brien and added to by Bluth. The rats are said to possess human level intelligence, and perhaps more as their home is quite elaborate for something that exists in a bush. However, seemingly all of the animals (except the cat) possess incredible intelligence anyway making the rats seem less remarkable. Mrs. Brisby and her children all wear clothes and live in a home full of human comforts. They even use utensils and boil water for tea and such. A Bluth addition is the inclusion of magic. Bluth seems to think animated tales should contain elements of the fantastic like magic, so Nicodemus is now a wizard of some kind. He’s the first character we meet as he views Brisby through a magic looking glass and remarks how he has a talisman for her. No explanation is provided by the film for this magic or how Nicodemus and the Rats of NIMH came to possess it, but the talisman does at least serve a practical purpose of putting the power to save her family in Mrs. Brisby’s hands, quite literally. Movies don’t have to explain everything, of course. People seem willing to happily accept that Cinderella can communicate with animals and such in her Disney film, but this is also the type of film that does try to provide explanations for everything else, and hand-waving the concept of magic feels off as a result. It also forces a lot into the final five to ten minutes of the film. Animation is expensive and hard, so it’s no surprise to see this one clock in under 90 minutes, but it’s a film that would have benefited from more time. We barely get to know the rats and their inner conflict so the climax that conflict leads to doesn’t land like it should. Everything just sort of happens and as a viewer I was left feeling, “That was it? Huh.” My kids, on the other hand, fell asleep.
The Secret of NIMH isn’t as captivating or as enchanting as it probably would like to be, but what can’t be denied is the visual fidelity. The Secret of NIMH looked terrific in 1982, and by any standard it still does. I wish I had tracked down a Blu Ray version, but beggars can’t be choosers. Bluth and his fellow animators set out to emulate the early Disney style and they absolutely nailed it. Show this to someone who is just a casual animation viewer and they’ll probably mistake it as a forgotten Disney feature. The designs of the mice and rats are very reminiscent of The Rescuers and Cinderella, but absent those tell-tale Xerox lines from the Disney films of the 1970s. It’s gorgeous, and the more fantastic elements are captured with simple, effective, animation techniques. I may not have been fully engaged with the film’s plot, but the visuals definitely held my attention for the duration of the film.
Less celebrated is the soundtrack of Jerry Goldsmith. It is certainly capable, but not quite memorable. The same can be said for most of the Disney features from that era, so in that respect this one feels quite similar to what Bluth’s old place of work was outputting. The voice cast is plenty capable though and I very much enjoyed the late Elizabeth Hartman in her role as Mrs. Brisby. She brings a gentle confidence to the character and I imagine it’s quite similar to the voice I heard in my head when reading the book back in fifth grade. Dom DeLuise is good in his role as Jeremy, though I think the film thinks he’s funnier than he really is making him more of a distraction than true comic foil. The Rats of NIMH are all given rather regal and distinguished voices while Nicodemus is treated as an elderly wizard, a departure from the source material. It’s a cast that doesn’t contain many big names from the era, but it’s a professional cast more than capable of bringing these characters to life.
The Secret of NIMH is a triumph of animation with a somewhat forgettable story. That adds up to a solid viewing experience that provided movie-goers in 1982 with a glimpse of where Don Bluth was heading. He and his team of animators would go on to make better films, and worse ones, leaving The Secret of NIMH to serve as the appetizer of the Don Bluth feast. The film did eventually receive a sequel, but without any contribution from Bluth, which makes it similar to the book sequel which was not written by Robert O’Brien. I have never seen it, but it received a near universal negative reception upon release in 1998 as a direct-to-video feature. Which is fine, as this isn’t a film that cries out for a sequel. It’s quick, fairly tidy, and mostly beautiful and a perfect way to kill an hour and a half on a Saturday night.