Tag Archives: peter laird

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The Last Ronin #4

“Blood in Snow”

The wait was a bit longer than originally anticipated, but the fourth issue of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles flash-forward story The Last Ronin has arrived. If you are not familiar with this story, The Last Ronin was a concept first kicked around by TMNT co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird back in the late 80s/early 90s about a final story for the turtles. One, last, ronin, makes a final stand against the Foot with the memory of his family burning in his heart. It’s in some ways a parallel to the original story where the turtles set out to kill the Shredder to avenge their master, only their master was still alive. With the success of films like Logan and their comic counterparts, it made sense for the creative team to adapt this story now especially after Waltz and Eastman concluded their run on the main comic.

The first issue of The Last Ronin told the story of the last ninja turtle. The unnamed ronin infiltrated New York City, now under the control of the Foot Clan, on a suicide mission to avenge his family. The final panel reveals who the identity of this character is, and in my reviews of each so far I’ve not revealed that spoiler so I don’t plan to now. We’ll just call him Ronin. It almost doesn’t matter anyway as this turtle is like an amalgamation of all four as he wields all of their weapons (and then some) and has become consumed by his quest for vengeance. All trace of his normal personality is basically gone. Since that issue though, the following two took place in both the present (which is the future) and the past and showed how one of the turtles met his end. As a result, not a whole lot of plot has moved forward in the present timeline.

Issue #4, subtitled titled “Blood in Snow,” has what feels like a shorter flashback to reveal the fate of the final turtle and moves things forward in the present timeline far more than the others. When I read issue #2, I actually found it a bit challenging because it basically bothered me to see one of my childhood heroes fall. Issue #3 surprised me in that I didn’t get the same feeling, and as a result, it disappointed me a bit. Issue #4 is more of the same. It’s not that I expect these to be gratuitous in their depiction of death and violence, it just doesn’t do much to tug on the heart strings. There was a lot of room especially in this issue for some tragic drama, but the writers and artists chose not to lean into it giving the flashback more of a procedural feeling than an emotional arc.

Let’s not do this.

The plot that takes place in the present is, unfortunately, no better. It’s very cliché with its plotting. One moment had me rolling my eyes as our Ronin has taken on a protégé. In this issue, the characters are assaulting a fortress that is a key to breaking into the main Foot headquarters and Ronin goes ahead telling his pupil not to follow. Of course, he gets into some trouble and his protégé does indeed make the save leading to this exchange:

Ronin: I thought I told you to stay put!

Protégé: You did. I didn’t.

Ronin: Terrible discipline, excellent initiative. DON’T do it again!

How many times has such an exchange taken place in movies and comics? The characters also just march along with not much of a climax. There’s a villain from the past at the end, but the villain receives no development and is entirely dependent on the reader just being familiar with them. And the showdown really doesn’t land. I get the sense that more energy has been put into telling the story of how the turtles were defeated with little regard for this current timeline. We don’t even know how New York ended up in such a state, you would think the US government would have some issues with it, but I can at least understand the creative team not wanting to tell that story. What is unfortunate is that their main story just lacks drama and excitement. I fully expect the next issue will just feature Ronin leading a last ditch attack on the tower where the leader of the Foot waits. All or most of his allies will fall, but it will end with the two facing off at the top of the tower with likely both falling. And I’m not saying that can’t work as an outline, but they really need to land on some of the bigger moments to make it work.

The future stuff looks good, but I found myself really enjoying the setting of the flashback portion.

What hasn’t been a letdown though is the artwork. The Escorza brothers handle the majority of the work and they continue to do a good job. There’s plenty of good action panels and they really do a terrific job with the flashback sequence which features some characters in rather resplendent armor. Eastman does contribute 4 pages as well and continues to handle the portions where the Ronin character narrates his own flashback. His pages are done in black and white and feature his own, unique, artwork. For fans of the original Mirage line, these panels are a delightful throwback. A novelty, but a fun one. Newer readers might see them as weaker since Eastman’s art is not and has never been as polished as many of his professional peers, but that was part of the TMNT charm back in the day. And it was good enough to make him quite wealthy.

I’m guessing we’re not quite done with flashbacks as we need some Eastman art in Issue #5.

The trajectory for The Last Ronin appears clear with issue #4 concluded. With only one issue left in the mini series, and the flashbacks seemingly complete, we’re ready to see this revenge story come to its conclusion. I do feel like The Last Ronin began with tremendous momentum and spark, but each issue to follow has been weaker than the one preceding it. I’m hopeful they’ll rebound and stick the landing. It’s possible the story just wasn’t necessarily big enough for five issues and maybe that’s the problem, but we’ll see. I don’t expect Alan Moore writing or anything from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but it could definitely be better. As such, I began this series giving it a strong recommend, but at this point I might suggest to newcomers to wait for the trade paperback edition at this point. We’re also in for a bit of a wait, it would seem. Issue #4 was delayed about a month and the fifth and final issue has yet to be solicited by the publisher. That means it’s probably slipped to 2022 at this point. This year has been one of delays so I’m not surprised by any at this point. Hopefully the extra time allows the team to do something special. I want this story to succeed, and I am eager to see how it concludes.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The Last Ronin #3

IDW recently dropped the third issue in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mini series The Last Ronin; the flash-forward, what if, story about the last of the turtles and his quest for revenge. I have so far enjoyed this series and have shared my thoughts here. The first issue was like a big introduction as it was largely about the hero infiltrating a future New York controlled by the Foot on a suicide mission that wasn’t successful, in more ways than one. In that issue, we saw that our hero is haunted by the ghosts of his brothers, possibly literally, but likely not as he interacts with them like they’re still alive. Issue number 2 was the first issue where the story is only partially in the present, and largely took place in the past as the writers and artists on the book started to peel back the layers of what happened to get us to this point.

In that second issue, we saw the death of one of the ninja turtles, as well as the death of a major villain. When that happened, I hypothesized that this would be the format for the next few issues. Plot developments in the present would be kept to a minimum, while much of the books would be devoted to showing us the death of a turtle. Sure enough, issue three is more of the same as we see a little bit more of what happened following the death of the first turtle and how we ended up where we are.

Seeing one of my childhood favorites killed off was actually a lot harder than expected. Even though the story begins with three of the four turtles deceased (and other allies unaccounted for), I didn’t really consider how I felt about these characters being dead. Nor did I really think about what it would be like to see their last moments, and it turns out, it’s hard! As such, I had a slight feeling of dread walking into this one as I pretty much knew what was coming. In some ways, I guess I’m happy to say it wasn’t that tough a read after all, but that’s also disappointing as well.

Our hero has a new problem he needs to deal with: teenagers.

The confrontation we see this time around concerns a character’s rise to power in the Foot and how that individual orchestrated this whole thing. Much of the book is spent in the past showing what happened, but when it gets to the “hard” part, the story takes an easy way out. I was left holding the book and saying to myself, “That’s it?!” as I flipped back and forth to see if I missed something. Everything leading up to the moment was fine and compelling, but the payoff just wasn’t really there. I don’t expect to see any of the turtles brutally murdered on the page, but this death was a bit confounding and the presentation almost Saturday morning cartoon-like. Some additional mileage is spent on the present time, and the story there moves a bit further than it did in issue #2. Things are moving, but the end game isn’t in sight yet, which is fine as I like the pace this story is setting.

As was the case with the first two issues, the artwork here is great. Esau and Isaac Escorza do a fantastic job bringing this world to life. The colors are muted and dingy befitting the subterranean setting throughout. I like the look of the turtles as they’re uniquely designed for this story. The human characters are a bit ho-hum by comparison, but it all looks fine so I’m not complaining. As was the case with the previous issue, there is a layout done by Kevin Eastman. It’s another flashback presented in black and white which is just a fun throwback to the original Mirage issues. I suspect that will continue at least into the next issue when we should see how the third turtle was dispatched.

We get to check-in with another villain from the past in this issue.

The Last Ronin #3 is a minor stumble for the series. I am enjoying the overall story, I was just less satisfied with this entry and less moved by what transpired within the pages. I still have high hopes and great expectations for the fourth issue, and I’m genuinely curious to see how this is all wrapped up. That conclusion is still many months away as I’m not even sure if the goal is to finish it before 2021 ends. The fourth issue is scheduled to ship in August, and I’ve got it on my pull list at the local comic book store. With the world coming back to life, I heartily recommend you not only check this series out, but support your local comic book stores in the process!


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The Last Ronin #2

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.

Much of this book is devoted to showing how we got to where we are.

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.

Pictured: not Elektra.

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.

A familiar art style for those who read the early stuff.

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.

Something about them seems familiar…

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.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The Last Ronin

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.

Things get pretty heavy for our nameless friend.

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.

And things get bloody too.

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!


TMNT Loot Crate – First Appearance Shredder

It was back during the winter that Loot Crate announced a series of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle crates for 2020. At the time, Loot Crate had done one previous crate that was apparently intended to test the waters to see what the appetite was for this sort of thing among the TMNT fanbase. It didn’t hurt that NECA was a part of the crate as it contributed a limited edition action figure of Splinter from the 1990 film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The figure was the same as the retail version except he was now colored blue to mimic the color of the character during the “spirit scene” in the woods where Splinter appears as a ghost and encourages his pupils.

Because that crate was well received, it wasn’t a surprise to see Loot Crate come back to the property for another round. This time, however, Loot Crate had three distinct crates to sell. Each would be themed after a different aspect of the brand and each would include a NECA action figure. Fans who bought all three in advance would also get a bonus fourth figure presumably shipping with the final crate. At the time, Loot Crate was aiming for a June, September, November release for the three crates respectively. As spring turned to summer though, it started to become apparent that something had gone wrong.

Say it with me now, “What’s in the box?!”

Be it COVID, supply, or something else entirely, the first crate was delayed from June to July, and then ultimately started shipping in August. I received mine this past weekend after it was delayed further during the shipping process. I came home on a Sunday to find the crate sitting on my stoop in the rain getting nice and soggy. Loot Crate evidently literally just sends the crate and doesn’t put it in another box. Thankfully, there are apparently no porch thieves after TMNT products in my neighborhood.

We got “stuff” here!

This is my first experience with Loot Crate. The subscription box of what largely looks like junk has never really appealed to me. I just have a lot of “geek” stuff in my house as it is, so a box of “stuff” isn’t something I really want to find room for. Plus, I always roll my eyes at services like this that advertise something along the lines of “you pay $50 for a box of mystery products guaranteed to be worth twice that!” If businesses were in the business of underselling its wares it wouldn’t remain in business very long. Then again, Loot Crate did file for bankruptcy almost a year to the day so maybe it wasn’t boasting a falsehood. The buyer ended up being NECA, which is how the action figure side of the business was worked into the Loot Crate model. The two operate as separate entities, which is why when fans were asking Randy Falk of NECA what was up with the first crate he referred fans directly to Loot Crate as NECA had delivered its product presumably on-time.

The inclusion of the NECA action figure is the only reason why I decided to give Loot Crate a chance. I still largely don’t care about the stuff in the box, but I do like getting new TMNT figures! Since this is a subscription box, NECA isn’t aiming to include essential figures for the TMNT collector in these things. Instead, they’re variants or repaints intended to be a bit off-beat so fans who passed on them don’t feel entirely left out. When the service was announced, only the identity of the first figure was revealed – First Appearance Shredder. Since then, it’s been revealed that the next figure is an electrified turtle from the arcade game and Rocksteady in an Easter Bunny costume for the third crate. The bonus figure is Bebop in the same costume. It’s the pair of bunny guys that really got me excited, so it will be awhile before I know if I made the right move or not by signing up. For now, we’ve got a Shredder to talk about.

First of all, the Mirage Studios Loot Crate does indeed come packed with a bunch of stuff. The crate itself is black with the Mirage TMNT logo on the front along with the required Nickelodeon and Loot Crate logos. My box did sit in a gentle rain on Sunday and was a little beat up, but the interior seemed dry so no harm no foul, I guess.

Inside the crate is the stuff you would probably expect to find in such a product. There’s a keychain with Michelangelo and Kunk on one side and “Chet’s Toys” on the reverse. I assume that’s the toy store from the Michelangelo one-shot, but I didn’t confirm that. There’s also a weird looking credit card with a rubber TCRI slipcase to fit into. This is apparently supposed to be an Utrom TCRI ID card and possibly the one belonging to Baxter Stockman. The reverse of the slipcase is adhesive if you want to stick it to something, maybe for cos-play? There’s an enamel pin featuring Fugitoid which looks similar to a Figpin brand pin, but not quite as impressive looking. There’s a black TCRI tote bag and under the logo it says “Company Picnic North Hampton ’84.” There’s also a white t-shirt with the same logo. Lastly, there’s a white travel mug that too shares the same TCRI Company Picnic logo. It’s rather official looking which makes it a shame that it says right below the logo copy-write 2020 Viacom.

Most of that stuff is just “stuff” to me. I might use the keychain, but I don’t know how well it will hold up on an actual keyring. It doesn’t look very durable, so I may just leave it as-is. I have a million tote bags at this point as it’s been the go-to free gift of many retailers for close to ten years now. Interesting, it kind of replaced the free travel mugs I used to see getting passed out often as part of promotions in the city. I’ve purged a lot of them, so I actually do intend to use this TCRI one. It looks sharp, and the quality seems decent. I’ll wear the shirt, though I honestly have no need for more t-shirts and the ID card is just junk. The pin is fine though, if you like pins.

Obviously, what’s going to make this crate is the included action figure. The First Appearance Shredder is based on his appearance in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 from Mirage Studios. It’s a repaint of the previously released Mirage Shredder which was part of a San Diego Comic Con exclusive set a few years ago alongside three Foot Clan members. Those figures, along with the Mirage turtles released over ten years ago, are great figures sorely in need of a re-release. Because of that, any of them make for suitable exclusives in a Loot Crate such as this since the secondary market demands a premium for them. Conceivably, 50 bucks for a Mirage Shredder alone is almost worth it for anyone looking to add him to their collection since that would be a good price on eBay.

Shredder was originally sculpted by The Four Horsemen and is a well-constructed action figure. Because this is a repaint, it shares all of the same points of articulation as the previous figure. He’s got a ball-joint at the head which allows for all of the usual range of motion. There’s ball-joints at the shoulders, bicep swivels, double-jointed elbows, wrist swivels, and a wrist hinge. He can rotate at the waist and his legs are connected via ball-joints. The legs rotate at the upper thigh and feature double-jointed knees, calf swivels, ankle rotation, ankle rockers, and a toe hinge. About the only thing really missing is an ab crunch or some kind of articulation in the torso, but this is par for the course with NECA as they don’t like to break-up the torso of their figures.

Obviously, the main difference here is the paint application. This Shredder is intended to simulate his shadowy first appearance so he’s colored almost entirely in black and dark blue. The helmet and various armor pieces are all painted a steel gray with some generous black shading applied. He’s a pretty striking looking figure and I prefer this look to a straight black and white variant, though collectors that have a black and white set of turtles might disagree. The only other difference is this is a figure from 2020 so it feels different from the old one. My older Mirage Shredder is a bit heavier and the plastic doesn’t feel quite so pliable. The new Shredder isn’t rubbery feeling like some of the newer figures this summer (i.e. – Casey Jones and Turtles in Time Shredder), but there is a noticeable difference. I prefer the weightier feel of the older version, but this one feels fine too. The joints mostly moved well right out of the package (which is a nice window box with a black and silver design) with only a few feeling a bit stubborn. None required heat though and I soon had him moving around all right.

Shredder comes with some accessories as well and they’re new for this release. He does come with fist hands and has the same optional gripping hands as well. I’m happy to report that the blades on each hand did not warp in the packaging this time, as they had with my SDCC set. Shredder doesn’t wield any weapons in that first issue, so my guess is the weapons included here are meant to liven up the Foot from the prior release. There’s a new sickle on a chain weapon that looks pretty rad. It’s similar to the chained weapon from the Mirage set and I do like those chains. The other weapon is a bow and arrow that does indeed function. The arrow can be knocked like an arrow would on a regular bow and there’s enough tension on the string to shoot it roughly 8 to 10 feet.

The weapons looks pretty cool, but they do have one drawback. And that is Shredder can barely hold them. His gripping hands are just too loose so he can’t get a good hold on any of them. Placing the sickle in his hand means it’s going to slide all the way down the blade. The bow is even trickier and I never really got him to hold it. I did bust out the older set, but the problem there is they are all basically the same figure with different embellishments, so their grip wasn’t really any better. I did get one of the Foot Clan members to hold the bow by basically getting him to pinch it. I even managed to do the same with the arrow and got him back onto my shelf in this position. I’m just waiting for it to eventually pop out. Hopefully that arrow doesn’t sail too far when that day comes. The thing is pretty hard and pointy so it’s also not something you want to get hit with.

Overall, I do like this depiction of Shredder. I’ve always liked the color combo of black and blue and basically every comic has used that as a cheat for when a character is shadowed. The steel color of the helmet mixes really well with it and I’m torn on which version of Shredder I actually prefer. When side by side, the prior model almost looks boring with it’s mostly flat, gray, helmet. It’s disappointing the weapons didn’t work out better, but I did get that bow to work with one figure so that’s cool. The real question is would I have spent 50 bucks on this figure if it was just available to buy? Probably not, but that’s only because I have the existing one. If I had missed out then it would be a different story, as I definitely wanted a Shredder to pair with my set of turtles. I don’t feel like I was taken advantage of or anything like that as if I didn’t want this figure I probably could flip it for 50 bucks. Basically, what I’m saying is this version of Shredder is nice, but he’s just the appetizer.

Yeah, my Mirage display has two Shredders now. I’m cool with it.

The next Loot Crate in this series is still scheduled for a September release, though I’m skeptical considering this one was two months late. Whenever it does show up though, I’ll be here with a look at the next figure so long as it doesn’t interrupt my Christmas posts. Yeah, it could take that long.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #5 (1987)

This summer has been a very TMNT kind of summer around here. It’s getting to the point where I might have as many posts about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as I do Glenn Danzig music. Well, this is the rare post to feature both.

When Mirage Studios started to gain recognition thanks to the success of the TMNT comic book, founders Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman needed to hire more staff in order to churn out material in a reasonable amount of time. One of those hired was artist Eric Talbot, a former classmate of Eastman’s and apparently a fan of rock, metal, and punk music. One of Talbot’s earliest assignments was composing short stories for supplemental books and reprints of the original run of comics, which is how we ended up with the story “Ghouls Night Out.”

“Ghouls Night Out” was included in the reprint of issue #5 of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles printed in November of 1987. This is actually a pretty noteworthy issue of TMNT as it contains a special announcement in the middle of the story which officially blows the lid on the licensing deal Laird and Eastman had made with Mark Freedman. Included in the announcement are details about Playmates toys and its first wave of TMNT action figures due out in 1988 as well as the announcement of the animated mini series which was set to premiere the following month. This was the first time fans of the property were introduced to Bebop and Rocksteady and read the name Krang. There’s even a double page ad that follows with the inaugural lineup of turtle toys. Pretty cool!

“Ghouls Night Out” follows the main story and is eight pages of mostly art. In it, a turtle (most fans seem to assume it’s Donatello because he carries a spear at one point, but it could be any of the four) is patrolling a grave yard at night when monsters soon descend upon him. He’s forced to run for his life from the zombies, Frankenstein’s monster, a wolfman, Nosferatu, and others. Most of the Universal Monsters basically get to make an appearance. The story ends when the turtle wakes up in April’s apartment having fallen asleep watching a monster movie marathon on television.

Might be hard to make out, but some familiar names are on those tombstones across the top.

The story is pretty simple, but what drives it is the artwork. The cloaked turtle, wicked monsters, and ghoulish scenery are what sells Talbot’s story. What attracted me to it though was the obvious connection to The Misfits, one of my all-time favorite bands. The title is a reference to the song of the same name, and the very first page features a message on a tombstone thanking The Misfits with the year of the band’s demise also present. Above the title is a row of tombstones which feature arguably the most popular lineup for the band: Jerry Only, Robo, Doyle, and Danzig.

The following pages contain other references as well. The band Metallica can be found on some headstones on page 2 as well as the entire staff of Mirage Studios. And for good measure, some other artists that likely influenced Talbot, such as Frank Frazetta, are tossed in as well. It’s a story that’s supposed to be spooky, but it’s almost cute due to all of the shout-outs Talbot included. I also really dig his turtle design and if anyone at NECA is reading how about an action figure of this cloaked, spear-wielding, mutant? NECA even has a licensing agreement with The Misfits so might as well work in that tombstone too!

I don’t know where this one came from, but it swaps out The Misfits for just Danzig. The colored reprints of this story kept The Misfits.

This is an interesting little nugget of TMNT history and a fun find for a Misfits/Danzig fan such as myself. I’ve seen other versions of the headstone image online with The Misfits removed and replaced by Glenn Danzig. I don’t know if Talbot redid the art at some point or if a fan did that. It’s pretty cool that this thing exists and it’s another piece of my Misfits/Danzig/TMNT collection.


NECA Mirage Shredder and Foot Clan NYCC Exclusive Set

img_1522The Shredder had a rough go at things for awhile when it came to plastic. He was featured rather prominently in the old Playmates line, though perhaps not as prominently as one would expect. Playmates never did do a movie version of him, aside from Super Shredder, and his figure was arguably the worst from the inaugural line. All crouched over and such, he was a nightmare to stand and there was little that was intimidating about him. When the Turtles started making a comeback with the collector community, he received further humiliation. NECA released its Mirage Comics TMNT in 2008 and showed off the sculpt for a potential Shredder. That line either didn’t sell well or Playmates interfered because that Shredder was cancelled before release ending the Mirage inspired line of TMNT product. Playmates would go on to do its own retro line dubbed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Classics. They released the Turtles followed by Bebop and Rocksteady. Results were mixed, but at least it was new product. Playmates shocked the toy world when it unveiled a prototype for Shredder and Krang that looked pretty damn amazing. Had it been released it probably would be the best action figure Playmates ever put out. Sadly, it was not to be and that line was also cancelled. When Playmates did a Mirage inspired line of its own, it too overlooked Shredder. Bandai and SH Figuarts were the most recent to disappoint TMNT collectors. After releasing a wonderful set of turtles inspired by the old cartoon, a Shredder was unveiled. The figure didn’t look as good as the Turtles, but it would have still likely been the best Shredder released up until that point had it been released. As you could have guessed based on where this paragraph had started, it too was cancelled before release.

At least with that most recent disappointment, NECA was there to lift us up! Shortly after that Shredder was unveiled, NECA revealed its own Shredder sculpt based on the classic cartoon that was superior to the Bandai one and bundled him in a massive set containing all four turtles, Krang, and a pair of Foot Soldiers for good measure. It was a set made exclusively for San Diego Comic Con, but all of those figures have since been released to retail. Before that set came along though, there was the 2016 set from New York Comic Con. This one rectified that first disappointing cancellation as it contained NECA’s Mirage inspired Shredder, and to top it off, he was now joined by three of his minions. Better late than never, fans were happy to finally pair those figures from 2008 with some enemies almost a decade later. It was actually the second Shredder released by NECA, as earlier that year the arcade box sets were released with figures designed to resemble how they looked in the classic arcade game from 1989. It’s a set that has proven to be quite profitable for NECA ever since.

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Assemble the Foot!

Shredder and his gang of Foot Ninja come packaged in an extremely attractive window box. It’s adorned all around with images from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 where Shredder and the Foot debuted alongside their nemesis. On the back is a photo of the figures with a few extra and Shredder has word bubbles commanding them to attack which are directly lifted from the source material. Flip up the front flap and you’re treated to more images from the comics as well as a look at the figures themselves. Behind them is a nicely done street scene which also makes for a solid photo backdrop!

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I guess Donnie is the only one unhappy these guys got let out of their box.

I’ve had this set since it was released, but never opened it until now. When I saw it was being released, I bought it out of a sense of obligation. It was much easier to secure a NECA exclusive back then as I just saw it was available and went ahead and placed my order. My attention though was on the cartoon property and the figures coming out in support of that and when this set arrived I just wasn’t feeling it for some reason. Rather than make room on my Mirage shelf (which is admittedly small), I decided to just position the box behind my set of turtles and leave it at that. It’s an unusual move for me as I am not a mint-in-box collector, and even if I was, the design of this box makes it easy to remove the figures without damaging anything. These guys are designed to be played around with, and finally I was smart enough to do just that.

By now, these Shredder and Foot figures should look and feel rather familiar. Much of the parts utilized here have been recycled from (or will be recycled for) the other Foot and Shredder releases from NECA, excepting the movie line which is its own animal. Shredder is virtually identical to the video game figure, and he also shares arms, hips, and legs with the cartoon one as well. The Foot also share the same parts as their video game counterpart, and the legs, arms, and waist are shared with Shredder as well. The only thing sculpt-wise separating Shredder from his minions is his head and torso. I don’t point this out as criticism or anything, because the main base for these four figures is quite good. They feature ball-jointed heads, shoulders, and leg sockets with double-jointed knees and elbows. There are swivels at the bicep, thighs, and shins and the waist rotates as well. The hands have rotational articulation as well as a hinge joint in each. The feet can pivot at the ankle and rock side-to-side as well. And there’s also articulation at the toe. These guys are rather loaded and capable of quite a few dynamic poses. About the only thing missing is an ab crunch, but that would have taken away from the sculpt. The joints are all nice and tight and should be worked a bit out of the package. The only joints that felt dangerously tight were the shoulders, but I was able to work them loose without the need for hot water or direct heat.

The two Foot Soldiers in this set are basically the same figure. The only thing separating the two is the headband on one, which is actually a bit of an artistic touch as none of the Foot sported this movie-styled headband in the first issue. I’m not super familiar with the colorized version of the old books, so it’s quite a bit of fun for me to see these guys in color. Like the Turtles, there’s a lot of black linework to really bring out that comic feel. NECA could have taken it further with some of that dot work that was on the Turtles and present in the book, but perhaps that would have looked a touch too messy. I really like the soft gray color of the mask and pants as it really gives this version of the iconic Foot Soldier his own flavor. The burnt red tunic is complemented by soft plastic on the skirt portion so the figures have a great range of motion. All of the figures in this set come packaged with fists for hands, but also have a second set of gripping hands. And since they have so many fun accessories, you’re likely to pull those fists off pretty quickly to get those gripping hands in. A nice, firm, tug will lift them out easily enough and the other hands insert without much fuss.

The Foot Elite is a surprising addition to the set as he wasn’t featured in the first issue. These guys came later as they basically took over for Shredder after the Turtles kill him in the first issue (sorry….spoilers!). He’s the same figure as the standard Foot save for his head and cape. The head features a large straw hat that’s non-removable. Beneath that is a flowing piece of red fabric and a metal faceguard concealing an all black face beneath. The faceguard is different from Shredder’s as it has a more pronounced edge down the center and it looks really cool. The red fabric surrounding the head is a hard plastic, but he still has a pretty good range of motion at the head. The cape is made of a soft, rubbery, plastic and has a tattered appearance. The right edge is folded back a little to make the figure look a touch more dramatic than if it just hung there. I love the line detail on the hat and the distress effects on the cape are a nice tough. This guy also has some forearm guards with a square design on them that continues onto his hands. It just makes him a bit more special to look at than the generic Foot. He’s definitely one bad ass looking dude.

And that brings us to Shredder, the figure most probably desired more than any other in this set. Shredder does not disappoint as he looks like he was yanked from the pages of Mirage Comics. The Mirage Shredder is a bit unique when compared with other forms of the character as he featured a more bucket-like helmet. The faceguard has a rounded appearance to it and it covers far more of his face than it did in the cartoon, for example. The rest of the helmet is more or less the same though and it looks great. There’s some nice linework on it and the other metallic portions of Shredder’s costume to give it that comic appearance. I also like that the raised portion of the top of the helmet is a separate piece and those tines that wrap around it like a claw even come off the back of it which looks really cool. Shredder also has a little extra material on his tunic that hangs in the front and back and it too is done with a soft plastic so as not to hinder movement. The shoulder pads and spikes are actually quite firm with the forearm, shin, and hand ones noticeably softer. NECA decided to color Shredder’s face entirely black and go with white eyes. The actual comic switches between this look and a more natural one with pupils in the eyes so this was NECA basically choosing what it felt looked best and I won’t argue with the results.

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It’s time for a rumble!

There’s very little to nitpick when it comes to this set of figures. Most of the nitpicks I do have unfortunately rest with Shredder. The fisted hands he comes packaged with pretty much all got warped in the package from what I’ve seen making his blades look sad and pathetic. Thankfully, the alternate gripping hands came out fine and look great on the figure, I just wish NECA had packaged him handless so it could have protected both sets of hands as well as it did the gripping hands. It’s possible some heat could get them back into shape, but I haven’t tried. My Shredder’s left shin guard is also a bit funky. It doesn’t appear to be seated all the way in the peg hole, though since it’s glued in there it doesn’t wobble or anything. It’s mostly only noticeable from the side or rear. The hands on all of the figures are also a touch too stiff and inserting any weapon that can’t be slid in (like the knife with the spiked hilt) is tough. I think I nearly broke the thumb off of one figure trying to get that thing in there. Otherwise though, I really have no further complaints with the sculpt and general look of these guys. NECA did a great job bringing these comic characters to life, so much so that it’s a shame they haven’t really touched the Mirage stuff since.

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Check out all of that loot!

If you weren’t sold on the figures themselves, then maybe you will be once you get a load of these accessories. This quartet comes with a bunch of weapons and they’re all pretty damn awesome. Initially, I was a little disappointed there wasn’t one of those three-handled-nunchaku included (as depicted in the comic art on the box), but when I saw what we had I quickly forgot about it. In this box you get two katana, a dagger, a curved dagger with spiked-ball hilt, a ninja star, a large ninja glaive weapon, a large bladed weapon similar to the old Playmates one that fit on the back of Raphael’s shell, and the coolest of all, a mace and some other nasty looking bladed thing joined by a chain. That chained weapon is a thing to behold and I absolutely love it. All of these weapons were utilized by the Foot in the comic so it’s all authentic. The only challenge is choosing what to display and what not to. I do wish NECA was better at giving its TMNT figures a means of storing weapons on their person so I could get them all in, but this is a pretty good problem to have. And to top things off, there’s an Utrom included as well. For those unfamiliar with the comic, the Utrom is an alien race that was the inspiration for Krang in the animated series. They were also faithfully depicted in the 2003 series and the Kraang from the 2012 cartoon are essentially Utrom. He’s an ugly little dude and NECA even slipped in some articulation on two of his tentacles.

If you have a set of the Mirage turtles, then this set is basically a must have as well. The only true negative is scarcity. Though in fairness, this set is not nearly as pricey on the secondary market as some of NECA’s other TMNT product. I guess the company was right when it said the Mirage stuff just isn’t nearly as popular as the rest. That doesn’t mean it’s cheap, but expect to pay around $150 if this is something you desire which really isn’t all that bad for something that’s been out of print for four years. NECA is returning to the world of Mirage for the Loot Crate due out in a couple of months that features a new take on Shredder. Perhaps if people keep letting the company know it wants more Mirage stuff it will eventually happen, but for now this is all we have. What we have though is pretty sweet and these figures look dynamite alongside the Turtles. It may have taken longer than expected, but we have our Mirage Shredder and he was improbably worth the wait.

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Now they take their rightful place on my Mirage shelf, right below the Glenn Danzig album.


NECA Mirage Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

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These guys don’t need no stinkin’ “turtle power.”

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.

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Each turtle comes with an alternate set of hands featuring their climbing spikes as seen in the first issue.

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).

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How it all started…

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.

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Mikey just hanging out.

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.

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My attempt at the group shot from page one of TMNT #1.

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!

 


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989 Arcade)

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Faithful to the cartoon in every way except the cabinet art. It has since become charming on its own.

What began as a joke between aspiring comic book creators, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, eventually morphed into a multi-media juggernaut bestowing wealth and status upon the two. Along the way though, few predicted such big things out of a property titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The books sold well, but they were independently produced and in small numbers limiting how much money could be earned. Plus they were pretty violent and would never be considered suitable for a general audience. Eastman and Laird believed in it though, they just needed to convince those with the means to catapult their franchise to believe in it. Toy companies passed though, but eventually doll maker Playmates, needing to add a “boy’s toy” to its portfolio decided to take a chance. In order to help market the toys though, they needed something more suitable than the black and white, ultra-violent, comics that existed and a cartoon was born.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon was conceived basically as a means of promotion. A direct-to-syndication order was out of the question, and even a full season was apparently deemed too extravagant. Instead, a five episode mini-series was produced for air in 1987. The confidence in the property was still too low to even warrant a more traditional half-season order of 13 episodes. Five episodes was all it took though, and kids were hooked pretty quickly causing them to flock to stores and leave bare the TMNT section of the action figures aisle. A second season would be ordered, and apparently confidence was still a bit tepid as that was only 13 episodes. It wasn’t until the third season, which premiered in 1989, that the property received a direct-to-syndication massive order of episodes.

Because of the wavering, Turtle-mania basically had to wait until 1989 to really flourish. That’s when all of the merchandise started to arrive now that it was a proven hit. The first movie would arrive the following year, with the second close behind in 1991. 1989 was also the first year when video games started to arrive, and the no doubt biggest video game release of the year for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the arcade game of the same name.

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The Turtles made their arcade debut in 1989.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game gave fans a chance to basically play through an episode of the show. It was as true to the cartoon as any game would get and even featured voice talent from the show. The very first stage has Splinter sending the Turtles into a burning building to rescue April O’Neil and culminates in a showdown with Rocksteady and ends with Shredder making an appearance. The game throws a seemingly endless supply of Foot Soldiers at the Turtles and brings in more characters from the show such as Baxter Stockman (in human form), Bebop, Krang, among others and ends with a showdown against Shredder himself.

The game was created by Konami, who was awarded the license for all of the video games for this era. At this stage, Double Dragon had taken arcades by storm ushering in the era of the Beat-Em-Up genre of games. This genre, in which one or more players controlled a character who fended off wave after wave of enemies, became the preferred dumping ground for licensed software. Konami was arguably the leader in this development as it looked to the genre to support not just the Turtles, but also The Simpsons and X-Men. Konami’s take on the genre was far simpler when compared with rival Capcom or Sega. Rather than introduce complicated maneuvers to the action, Konami focused mostly on performance and presentation making sure their game resembled the source material while remaining accessible.

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Battling Bebop and Rocksteady with all four Turtles at the same time was something few thought was possible at the time.

Even by Konami standards, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a fairly simple gameplay experience. Players control one of the four Turtles with each one being mapped to a specific joystick on the four-player version of the arcade cabinet (the less popular two-player edition allowed players to select a character). Michelangelo was oddly assigned the color yellow instead of orange, a mistake Konami would double-down on with the sequel, Turtles in Time. Each Turtle could perform just two actions:  jump and attack. Players could combine them for a jump attack, but special super moves were years away. Players simply walked right for the most part and took down whatever came their way. A skateboarding level was tossed in to mix things up, though that just made the level auto-scroll instead of the usual deliberate pace. Still, little tricks like that work wonders on kids and most cited the skateboarding level as the highlight of the gameplay experience. Stages also introduced multi-level layouts and there were some interactive elements in the stages too. The only power-up was a pizza to restore health, a logical decision.

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The skateboarding level was just as mindless as the others, if not more so, but damn was it cool!

The music and visuals were where Konami really distinguished itself. The gameplay may be shallow, but there was enough glitz to sort of hide that. The Turtles looked and moved great and the boss characters were often bigger and a touch more elaborate. It felt like a real technological marvel to battle Rocksteady at the end of stage 1 followed by Bebop in the next stage, only to later take on both of them at the same time! The game was also murder on quarters as it was primarily designed to extract as much money as possible out of kids (or more appropriately, parents) and the game was pretty long to boot. Enemies are not staggered easily, or at all, forcing the players to either be deliberate or just charge in. The game is noticeably easier with 4 players, especially for the final boss who splits into three enemies. My most vivid memory of the game is playing it at a cousin’s birthday party at a roller-skating rink (yeah, dated). We made it to the Technodrome and were in the midst of battling Krang, the penultimate confrontation before Shredder arrives, when a kid who had been hanging around watching the whole time accidentally stepped on the power chord ending the game. My cousin, the birthday boy, was apoplectic while my aunt was probably relieved that she no longer had to feed us quarters. I was disappointed as I think it was the first time I even saw that much of the game, but I couldn’t help but feel bad for the kid who accidentally stepped on the thing.

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The NES port was woefully inferior, but it gave us Tora!

As was the case with any popular arcade game, Konami moved to release the title to home consoles. Since it arrived after Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES), it had to be re-titled as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II:  The Arcade Game. It was a severe downgrade as the sprites all had to be redone with less detail and fewer colors. The Turtles were just green and whatever color their mask was, while the boss characters often were limited to two or three colors as well. Konami tried to make up for this by adding additional stages, but you can’t put lipstick on a pig. It was also a lot easier so the game was actually beatable without a ton of quarters, but it was an immensely inferior experience.

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The Arcade1Up release bundles the game with its sequel, but it’ll cost ya. Plus the smaller scale makes playing as Leo and Raph more than a little awkward.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a huge thrill for arcade-goers and fans of the cartoon in 1989. It had the look, the sounds, and the swagger to get attention and mostly satisfy. In 2020, the nostalgia does make up for the diminished returns, but only so much. This is a simple and depth-free gameplay experience so it’s really only worth playing for the experience of seeing everything, before it runs out of steam. It makes it hard to recommend as an arcade cabinet for one’s home, whether you’re talking about buying an old cabinet or investing in Arcade1Up’s emulation machine as you’re not only devoting a considerable sum of money towards such a thing, but also the space it will occupy in your home or place of business. The NES port holds up even worse, and while I considered it a passable experience as a kid, I think I’d rather play any of the other TMNT NES games over it. The time to get one has mostly passed on it as in the late 90s one could have acquired a cabinet in decent shape for a reasonable sum as the nostalgia wasn’t quite there yet to drive up the price. Still, there are other ways to experience it and those might be worth a look for individuals wanting to take a stroll down memory lane or introduce a kid to the game. If you’re in the right headspace, you can have a bit of fun with this one, just don’t expect the fun to last very long.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The Ultimate Collection Vol. 5

tmnt vol5It’s been a long break in between posts about this subject. So long that I’d rather not point it out any further! At long last though I have finally finished reading fifth volume of The Ultimate Collection, a line of hardbound, oversized, compendiums of comic books spanning the Eastman and Laird era of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Mirage Comics. The volumes are published by current TMNT comic publisher IDW and are presented in their original black and white appearance with new artwork by Kevin Eastman used for the back and front cover. Both Eastman and TMNT co-creator Peter Laird provide thoughts and reactions following each issue as they provide insight into their thought process and elaborate on where an idea may have come from.

This fifth volume is essentially the finale to this series, though two additional volumes follow. This one wraps up the City at War arc (issues #56-62) which was basically the grand finale for Eastman and Laird. At this point, they already had stopped drawing and inking the books and had moved onto managing the brand more than anything. These seven issues were originally published in 1993 when TMNT was past its peak, but still very much a money-maker. Artist Jim Lawson had basically taken over all of the pencil duties and was even contributing to the story at this point. Keith Aiken and Jason Temujin Minor handled the inking while Eric Talbot did the tones and Mary Kelleher the lettering.

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Karai has arrived and is ready to make her move.

In case you haven’t read my write-up on Volume 4, City at War tells the tale of the Turtles returning to New York to find that the Foot Clan has split into various competing factions with the loss of Shredder. Karai, leader of the Foot Clan in Japan, has arrived to clean things up and she’s targeting the heroes in a half shell who are currently holed up in an abandoned water tower. Splinter is injured and trapped by the Rat King, making his mainline debut. Meanwhile, April is off living in LA with her sister Robyn while Casey is engaged to a pregnant woman named Gabe and trying to start a new life himself after giving up on chasing April.

I found many of the issues in Volume 4 of this collection to be long and slow. It didn’t help that I wasn’t enamored with Jim Lawson’s take on the Turtles and I was badly missing the art of Eastman and Laird. Even though their art was often rough and had an amateurish quality at times, it was a good fit for the property and it was also improving. It was rewarding to see that maturation take place right before my eyes.

For this round of issues, my enthusiasm is much higher. It gets right to the point with the revelation of who is holding Splinter captive and also has Karai spring her Foot ninja on the Turtles early. This sets up the main conflict which is Karai’s wish to take out Shredder’s remaining Foot Elite, and she wants the Turtles to help. There’s a good scene of the brothers debating the merits of jumping back into the fray. They acknowledge, for the first time, that a lot of the violence is the result of their lost master’s quest for revenge. They were born to avenge Splinter, and they were successful, but their actions have not lead to a better New York for anyone. It’s a really introspective look at the Turtles and not something I was expecting. My only disappointment is that it didn’t eventually lead to a conversation on the subject with Splinter himself.

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Splinter goes through some real shit in these books.

For April, these issues also bring her back to New York. Her father passes away suddenly forcing her and her sister to come to New York for the services. Once there, she decides to stay, and it’s only a matter of time until her path crosses with her old friends. For Casey, tragedy brings him back as well in a rather bold way. The writing for him isn’t as strong as it is for the Turtles, but it still covers subject matter I wasn’t really expecting. For Splinter, he spends much of his time in a delirium and his sequences are pretty visceral. I am not sure what the overall message is supposed to be with Splinter, I guess they wanted him to embrace his primal side at the expense of his learned humanity. It was interesting though and it was nice to finally care about Splinter.

As would be expected from a title with the word “war” in it, there’s a lot of action across these pages. This is where Lawson gets to shine as an artist. His style seems to improve throughout and by the time I made it to the end I was onboard with his Turtles. He is able to convey movement so well and some of the detail work is gorgeous. This is easily a much nicer book to look at than the previous one, and Lawson is the main force behind that.

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I was way more into the artwork this time around and a lot had to do with the brilliant sequencing by Jim Lawson.

The story is a pretty satisfying one, though the ending is a bit unexpected. This is possibly the best arc Mirage ever tackled and much of the good stuff is contained in these issues. I am definitely glad I finally got around to going through it, even if I’ve had it since it was released. Eastman and Laird don’t provide too much in their comments. Eastman is at least good at setting the mood and placing the reader back in 1993. After that, he mostly just gushes about the talent involved in this project. Laird is a bit more critical and willing to point out things that didn’t work, though ultimately he just plain has very little to say.

A sixth volume in this set was released following this one, but it’s just one-shots and short stories not done by Eastman and Laird. A seventh volume is supposedly on the way as well which is basically going to be an art book. If you’re like me and just wanted to experience the original creators’ interpretation of these characters, then the five volumes are the only ones you need to concern yourself with. I’m not sure if any are still in print, but they have yet to become expensive to acquire. This is a good gift for any Turtle-loving person in your life. Though I feel obligated to point out that these stories are intended for mature audiences as these aren’t the pizza-loving dudes from the cartoons, but chances are if you’re even interested in these works you’re well aware of that fact.


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