A dozen years ago, toy company NECA dipped its toe into the world of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the first time, and shockingly it failed to stick around. That’s incredible to hear for collectors currently chasing down Bebop and Rocksteady at Target, but it’s the truth. There are a lot of folks at NECA who grew up with the TMNT and my guess is they wanted to do something with the brand right from the start, but always getting in the way was Playmates Toys. Playmates, as we’ve covered in various other places, held the master toy license for the brand and was reluctant to allow others into their space. NECA was able to by way of making adult collectibles based on the original Mirage Comics release, which was something Playmates had little interest in. NECA released its product in early 2008 to great reviews in the toy world, but apparently sales just weren’t there. It could be that the licensing cost just made it unworkable, or the license was only available for a short window that just couldn’t be properly taken advantage of. Whatever the reason, the line only included the four turtles plus April O’Neil as it was cancelled before it could get to Shredder, who was shown off at conventions and left to haunt the dreams of TMNT collectors every where.
Since 2008, these action figures have become highly sought after. Those who passed on them initially even had multiple chances to rectify that before NECA said “good bye” for good. The original release was each character in its own blister package with a bunch of accessories. Following that, there was a boxed set with all four turtles and a second single-figure release, this one coming in a tube style package (sewer pipe?) with just the figures and their weapons as the other extras were scrapped. Lastly, there was another four-pack release, this one a boxed set variant depicting the brothers in black and white.
I grew up on the cartoon, mostly, and it was my favorite show for many years. I also knew about the comic origins of the characters, but never really sought it out. I would see some images of the comic art, like the cover for the popular Nintendo game, and I’d think it looked awesome. I also saw some others though that I thought were terrible and ugly. The funny thing is, most of those images I didn’t like were just covers or one-off pieces of art and weren’t representative of what the characters actually looked like in print, but I wouldn’t realize that for many, many years. When I first saw these figures though I thought they looked incredible. I pre-ordered a full set and eagerly waited for their arrival. I may not have had much interaction with the comic, but I was at a point where things that reminded me of something I enjoyed as a kid, but were more adult, was really appealing. And hyper-violent, gritty, and grim TMNT certainly fit that bill.
As you’re likely well aware, the four turtles consist of Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael. The four brother are depicted here as they would have appeared on the cover of Mirage Comics, and they are based on the first appearance of the characters in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. They’re green-skinned with brownish wraps and pads and all four sport a red mask. Each turtle comes with the weapons you would expect: twin katana for Leo, a bo staff for Donnie, two sai for Raph, and a pair of nunchaku for Mikey. For the first time I’m aware of, Mikey’s ‘chuks were also linked by actual chain. It was perhaps the one detail most influential in me picking up this line. I thought it was so cool that basically every friend I had who had a birthday party in 2008 and had even a passing interest in TMNT received one of these Michelangelo figures as a gift from me. The weapons are well-detailed, and I love the gold accents on Leo’s katana. Donatello’s bo is articulated at the tape and I think it can come apart like the one that comes with other versions of the figure, though mine doesn’t seem to want to do that and I’m not interested in forcing the issue.
Since the turtles are all essentially the same, it should come as no surprise that each figure is essentially the same as well. That would be unfortunate if the sculpt was poor, but that’s not the case. These figures were sculpted by The Four Horsemen, whom action figure enthusiasts are more than familiar with in this day and age. Each turtle is articulated with a ball joint at the head, a hinge at the base of a very long neck (compared with the cartoon versions), ball-jointed shoulders and hips, bicep swivel, single-hinged elbow, wrist rotation and a hinge, thigh swivels, double-jointed knees, and an ankle hinge. At the time, this was probably the most articulation in any TMNT figure of one of the turtles, though over the years companies have found ways to sneak even more articulation into them, in particular with stuff under the shell. This level of articulation is fine though and I’ve never really desired more. NECA was smart to use a soft plastic for the chest which gives the legs greater range of motion than most would expect so you should be able to get some good posing going here.
These figures move well, but also look pretty damn fantastic too. NECA used a nice, deep, green for the skin-tone with a darker green for the shell. There appears to be a wash over the figures as well so there’s a slight gradient to the skin tone with some brighter spots that works really well to make these guys come alive. Since the comics were in black and white, it makes these figures pop even more (unless you’re used to seeing the colorized versions of the comics that came later). There’s some nice, black, linework all over the figures and I especially love the little marks on the shell and chest. It really gives these figures a comic-book feel. The elbow pads and wrist straps are part of the sculpt, while the belt and kneepads are glued in place. The belt and the tassels on the masks are a soft plastic with a lot of give, though my Don’s belt was glued a bit askew. The green paint of the skin has a nice texture to it that is slightly rough and feels appropriate for the characters. The only difference separating each figure is the head sculpt, with each character sporting a different expression. Leonardo also has scabbards for his swords on his back while the other turtles do not have holsters of any kind for their weapons. Raph has unique hands which feature a wider gap between his fingers likely to support holding his sai with the center blade between them (I’ve never been comfortable doing this though as there’s little give in the sai and I fear breaking it). The oversized feet of these designs makes them quite easy to stand and I love the chunky legs they possess. And they have tails! If there’s room for criticism, it’s that NECA could have randomized some of the little details on the chests and shell for each turtle, but it’s not a big deal. There’s also some paint chipping on my figures, but I honestly can’t remember what was present out of the box and what may have been acquired through multiple moves since I bought these. As these were my favorite figures through those various moves, I took great care when storing and moving them though.
In terms of short-comings, there are few. I mentioned the paint chips and there’s some slight slop in spots, but nothing noticeable when these guys are on a shelf. The black lines on the mask of my Mikey figure are a bit light and not as pronounced as I would like them to be. He also has a blob of paint on the center of his shell. His hips are a bit loose, but he still stands well enough. The left hand of my Leo is super loose and has always been that way. It’s at least strong enough to hold his weapon, but move it at all and it will pop out. The only criticism I could levy at the sculpt concerns the shell, which sits a bit higher on their shoulders than it did in the comic. I only really notice it because it’s hollow and it looks a bit weird up close as you can see inside of it to the peg holding it on. It’s also a place dust loves to collect. Raph’s special hands also are a nice thought, but as I mentioned a few paragraphs ago the sai do not fit cleanly in them and I worry about them snapping. The added drawback is his wider fingers mean holding the said traditionally ends up quite loose. They won’t fall out, but you’ll want to position them after you place him somewhere and may have to fiddle a bit with his grip. Donnie’s bo staff also sits rather loose in his hands. If you want to do a one-handed pose he either needs the base resting on a surface or he has to hold it near an end where it’s a bit thicker, though if you play around you can get it to balance right (as seen in some of my pics).
Each single-packed figure came with extra accessories in addition to their weapons. All four turtles came with a second set of climbing hands from that first issue of the comic as well as a baby turtle. The hands come off and on easily, though in reality I can’t imagine anyone displaying these guys with those climbing hands. Each turtle also came with a base: two sidewalks and two streets between the four. These bases connect to form one mini diorama that was a really nice touch. The same line work that’s on the figures is in play here as well and it looks awesome. Raph also came with a lamp post for his base while Leo came with a fire hydrant. Donatello comes with a can of ooze or mutagen while Mikey comes with three mini buzz saws. Raph also came with three little blades and those, as well as the buzz saws, aren’t in any of my pictures because they’re floating around in some crates. These weapons do appear in TMNT #1, but they still feel like kind of pointless accessories, and like the climbing hands, aren’t something you’re like going to want to display your figures holding. It probably would have been more fun to have additional hands instead, but the standard gripping hands each turtle has is plenty good. These guys were tools of vengeance in the comic, they didn’t hang out in the sewer playing video games and scarfing pizza, so you’re going to display them with weapons in hand.
Twelve years later, these four figures are still among the best TMNT action figures ever produced. I love the look, and going for that Mirage likeness was a great choice because it’s something that hadn’t been done before and has seldom been done since. Playmates did follow with their own version, but they’re nothing special and intended for more of a mass market appeal. There isn’t really anything I’d change about these guys even today. Could they have more articulation? Sure, but it’s also not like they’re starving for it. Plus I’d hate to disrupt the sculpt. Could they have more accessories? I guess, but there really wasn’t much else to take from in that first issue. And even so, they did deep cuts as-is with the additional weapons and climbing claws. Maybe fists for actual punches would have been neat, or open hands and finger-pointing hands for the sake of variety. If NECA were to re-release these though I don’t think they would need to do anything additional with them. If anything, a full Mirage-inspired street diorama would be pretty awesome.
Unfortunately, a re-release is not in the cards at this time. When asked about the possibility, NECA has indicated that the Mirage stuff just doesn’t sell nearly as well as the cartoon and movie inspired toys, so while there is some demand, it’s apparently not enough to warrant looking at re-releasing them. It’s possible NECA is playing coy, but I’ll take them at their word for now. It seems TMNT is just plain hot at the moment, so I imagine there’s room for more Mirage product perhaps when NECA is done with the Turtles in Time figures. And thankfully, roughly 8 years after the release of these figures a Mirage Shredder was finally released as a New York Comic Con exclusive(the box for which is prominently displayed in my images) along with some Foot Soldiers. Perhaps I’ll take a look at that next. And if you’re hoping for more Mirage stuff, a Mirage variant of Shredder is coming via Loot Crate in a couple of months so maybe that’s a potential avenue for more from this line. Otherwise, if you want these figures you’ll have to turn to eBay and you’re not going to like the prices. Happy hunting!