Tag Archives: TMNT

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.


NECA TMNT Bebop and Rocksteady Target Exclusive Series

img_0666I have been rather fortunate when it comes to toy collecting in recent years. When I was a kid, toy collecting meant going to Toys R Us or a similar store and seeing what was on the shelf. Catalogs, commercials, and card backs were my main source of information. I assume there were newsletters and other avenues for the older collectors, but for a kid that was basically it. Today though it’s way different. Kids who collected have turned into adults who collect and it’s become a large market that seems to keep on growing. As a result, there’s extensive coverage of new and upcoming toys at conventions and trade shows. The brick and mortar toy store is also basically dead in the US, and most people get their toys online. The “toy hunts” I used to go on as recently as the 2000s have mostly vanished for me, until recently that is.

When NECA was finally allowed to expand upon their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles offerings it meant I had a whole new line to dive into. The loosening of the master license by Playmates was still pretty restrictive though and it largely kept NECA to doing annual convention exclusives. That’s how I landed my set of 1987 Turtles two years ago in a gloriously massive set of 8 figures. This year though, NECA was finally allowed to seek distribution through conventional means that still kept the product somewhat separate from whatever Playmates was doing. This meant GameStop exclusive single-carded movie figures which had previously been a convention exclusive or restricted to quarter-scale. It also meant those toon Turtles were coming to retail and for that NECA partnered with Target.

Since Target also sells toys it meant there would be a conflict with Playmates. Even though Playmates is only producing Turtles based on the new cartoon Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, there’s still a sensitivity there. As a result, NECA was forced to make sure their product is differentiated even more than it already was in the form of two-packs that retail for around $52 each and they had to stock the product in the back of the store, usually behind electronics. Their distribution method is a bit tricky too as the product gets shipped to Target, but is then stocked by a NECA employee. As a means of keeping track, NECA even launched what it called an Ambassador program, which is essentially a Street Team which musical acts and record labels often utilized back in the 80s and 90s, and these ambassadors basically make sure the area looks tidy and sends a picture to NECA on a weekly basis.

I am a part of that program as I have a Target right in my town. I also work from home a few days a week so I have the flexibility to get there. When the Turtle sets started arriving though, I never saw one in my store. I would eventually see some months later at other stores when I thought to look, but they were definitely a bit hard to come by. No matter, as I already had them thanks to the convention set I had previously purchased. That all changed though with wave two. Back at Toy Fair, NECA unveiled the crown jewel of wave two:  a two-pack featuring the dim-witted duo of Bebop and Rocksteady. Based on their cartoon appearance, this was basically the first screen accurate version of the characters ever. Back in 89, Playmates released the duo in their inaugural wave of figures, but they were hardly cartoon-accurate. Bebop mostly looked the part, but Rocksteady had a black tanktop for some reason and his seldom worn helmet was part of his sculpt. As a kid, this bothered me because I was a bit of a pedant when it came to toys, but I still loved them for what they were.

Since this pair was not part of a con exclusive set, it meant I was going to have to hunt for them. The second wave of these figures was set for release on November 26, but due to the unique distribution of the figures it meant some started showing up the week before. They even went up on target.com briefly the prior Friday, though Bebop and Rocksteady either never did or sold out in a flash. The other figures in the wave are all repaints and re-releases:  a two-pack of Leo and Don, Raph and Mikey, and a two-pack of Foot Soldiers. The Turtles have been repainted in a bright green shade to more reflect the promotional art as opposed to the actual show, while the Foot Soldiers are basically army builders. All very cool, but I’m a bit limited by funds so I had to just focus on the new sculpts.

Because NECA basically stocks these figures themselves, Target employees are often unreliable. I found if I called a store the best they could tell me is if they were physically out or not. One employee was actually really helpful and knew that they were in the back, but they were waiting for the NECA rep to put them out. That was on the 22nd, and I made sure to check that Target the next morning. I got there about a half hour after opening and found the Turtles and Foot, but no Bebop and Rocksteady. Kicking myself for not being there right at opening, I proceeded to head to the next nearest Target where I found nothing. I would visit 8 other Targets that day driving over 100 miles in the process and found nothing at all of them. I kept an eye on Target’s website all weekend, and even asked my wife to check out our nearest Target on Monday while I was at work. Finally though, the day of this post, I found what I was looking for and at my store, no less.

What felt like a long and exhausting hunt was really only a few days and largely the result of my impatience. Had I just waited until the official release of yesterday, I would have saved myself a lot of time and money, but it’s all part of the experience. While it’s deflating to walk into store after store and find nothing, there’s also nothing like the rush of excitement when you finally do find what you’re looking for. I would and do trade that for the ease of an online preorder when possible, but it was nice to have that experience again.

All of the figures in NECA’s cartoon wave are packaged in window boxes with a color scheme that brings to mind the Turtle Van. NECA is unfortunately forced to use Nickelodeon’s licensing artwork on the packaging. This means the 2012 logo and character portraits of an unknown origin. The Turtles look fine in this loose style, but Bebop and Rocksteady look pretty terrible. Well, Rocksteady looks fine, I suppose, it’s mostly just Bebop that looks dumb. You don’t want to display these guys in box though, so I recommend just stashing that thing away.

So how are these guys? Well, in short, they’re a pair of beauts! Some might say these are faces only a mother could love, but they sure put a smile on mine. Bebop, largely by virtue of his glasses, has a bewildered expression on his face that I remember fondly. Meanwhile, Rocksteady has more of a disheveled look. There’s a craziness in his eyes that suggests he thinks he’s smarter than he really is, but anyone who watched the cartoon knows that’s not the case. His gut protrudes from under his yellow tank top and if you wish you can have his jaw hang open.

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They’ve got the guns, but make no mistake, the Turtles always have the advantage.

Prying these bad boys loose was a bit of a challenge as they’re big and they’re bulky. Once I had them in hand though I was in love. Bebop is the slightly more impressive of the two just because of what his look involves. He stands about 7″ tall so he towers over the Turtles and is just a bit taller than Shredder. NECA used actual metal chain links for his wrist bracelet and belt which is really neat. The front clasp on the belt is glues to the figure so you don’t have to worry about it sliding off completely while the forearm has a little hook on it to keep the bracelet in place. Every part of his outfit is a separate piece of soft plastic as opposed to just sculpted on, including the bandolier strapped across his chest and under his red jacket. He has a necklace of teeth and those big turtle shells on his shoulders. His hair is even colored correctly with the mohawk on top in purple and his pony tail in brown. His glasses flip up as well to reveal eyes that are almost entirely black, likely to make sure he looks best with the glasses down. His mouth can open into a yell, though I definitely prefer him with the mouth closed. My figure has no paint defects I could find, and NECA used a shading to similar to what it did with the other figures so the back of his arms and head are in a slightly darker brown. The line work and the paint app just makes this guy “pop” no matter what is displayed around him. A true sight to behold.

Rocksteady may be slightly less impressive than Bebop, but he’s no slouch either. This version of Rocksteady is from season two of the show onwards, basically the version most are familiar with. In the first mini series, he sported a helmet at times and also had camo pants. This version has brown pants and no helmet. I know some fans were hoping for an included helmet, but it might have required a different headsculpt to facilitate and this headsculpt is perfect as is. Would I have liked one? Sure, but I don’t know if I would have displayed him with it. Everything else though is pretty much perfect right down to the single grenade on his chest strap and the lone turtle shell on his hip. I love that his belt is slightly askew and also that he’s just a hair shorter than Bebop at 6.5″. He also looks pretty great with his mouth open or closed, and like Bebop I couldn’t find an imperfection on mine. The only disappointing thing about him is that his knife isn’t removable from its sheath, and since it’s a bit loose, don’t try to pull it out. The linework is just as well done as Bebop’s and it really gives the impression that this is a guy with a rather soft physique.

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“I’m surrounded by idiots!”

As these are big boys, one probably expected them to feature less articulation than the Turtles. And they probably do, but if so it’s not by much. A lot of the same joints are in place including ab crunches and ball joints at the hips and shoulders. There’s hinges in the wrists and cut biceps, double-jointed knees and elbows, waist articulation, and ankle pivots and hinges. The sculpt and added costume parts hide a lot of the articulation, but it does also hinder it. They may have a similar amount of points of articulation, but the functional articulation is certainly less. It’s a trade-off that makes sense though given these guys are brutes as opposed to nimble ninjas and the sculpts are really fantastic. The joints on mine were fairly tight when I opened them up. There’s a lot of paint here so that was expected. I was able to loosen things without the aid of hot water or a hair dryer, but just be gentle with your own set. Bebops legs are a touch loose and I do find him harder to stand than Rocksteady. That’s also partly due to his sweet high-tops limiting his range of motion at the ankle which is, again, a trade-off worth making. I can’t really get both feet on the ground and I might end up buying some NECA stands for these guys. Rocksteady is easier to stand, though his head is more forward. He’s limited in his poses as well, and again, a stand may be a wise investment as I’d hate for these guys to take a tumble and chip some paint.

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“Uh oh, looks we’re surrounded.”

Accessory wise, these two come with everything you would expect them to come with. Out of the box both sport fists, but they each have a set of open hands and hands for holding their weapons. These extra hands are the same between the two, just colored differently. Both apparently shoot right-handed as their trigger finger grippers are right-handed parts. There are two rifles and two pistols for the two to share and they’re the same as what was included with Shredder and the Foot Soldiers. They also have a communicator to share between the two of them and affixed to it is an image of the NECA Shredder, which is quite cute and pairs well with Shredder’s communicator that has an image of Krang on it. Maybe a future release will feature these two on communicators, if one doesn’t already exist. Some might lament the absence of Bebop’s drill-gun, but like Rocksteady’s helmet, it was one of those things rarely featured. Usually they just had the nondescript laser weapons you see here. Removing the stock hands is just a matter of twisting and pulling gently. Beware with Bebop though as his left hand is largely responsible for keeping that chain bracelet on and it could go flying off if you’re not careful. I wish the pegs on the hands were a little thicker as they appear a bit fragile to me, but they’ve held up well thus far so my concerns may be for naught. The hands are also painted plastic, and sadly paint is prone to chipping. I had a hard time getting the trigger hand to fit into the handle on the pistol blaster and chipped Bebop’s fingers a bit. I decided from then on to play it safe and just use the more generic gripping hand on the pistols and reserve the trigger finger for the rifle. As an added little touch that may or may not be intentional, there’s a tiny peg on the communicator that can be fit onto Rocksteady’s belt. Pretty cool!

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Rocksteady even has a place for that communicator.

Pairing these guys up with the other figures from NECA is a ton of fun. They look the part and they fit in scale-wise. In the show they might have been a little smaller, but that is largely due to inconsistencies within the show. They certainly look the part here and my bet is NECA was able to source the proportions from the style guide which hopefully dated back to 1987. These guys are in hot demand right now, but I encourage those of you on the hunt to remain patient. NECA knows it has a hit on its hands with these and I would expect they will make every effort to flood Targets around the country with them, and they’re also heading to the UK too. NECA even sent out an email to their ambassadors asking them to check with their local store to make sure these guys are either on the shelf or sold out, which is something they haven’t done for any other release. And if these guys don’t excite you enough, 2020 sure sounds like it’s going to be a blast! We’ve already seen finished, painted, prototypes for Slash, April, Casey, the Triceraton, Leatherhead, Roadkill Rodney, and Metalhead. Krang’s android body is also on the way and NECA hasn’t exactly been shy about confirming that Baxter Stockman should be expected at some point. And if video games are your thing, NECA’s latest in its TMNT video game series is expected to ship in February to specialty shops and includes renditions of Leo, Donnie, and the Foot Solider from the popular Turtles in Time game as well as a version of Slash from that game as well. 2020 is going to be a very exciting, and expensive, year for Turtle fans and we have NECA toys to thank for it. I can’t wait to see what the future holds, but I’m also not losing sight of the present as Bebop and Rocksteady rival anything the company has put out yet. Don’t sleep on these guys, Turtle fans!


Hot Wheels Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Party Wagon

 

img_4586I’ve mentioned on many occasions in my toy reviews that action figures were my first love. That’s not entirely true, as before those came into my life there were cars. My dad was always into cars, so when I came along he made sure I had a bunch of them. I had Hot Wheels, Matchbox, and plenty of Tonka. I liked them quite a bit. My favorite was some black car of unknown make. I liked it best because the rear of the car featured a molding that, to me, resembled the exhaust on the Batmobile from the Adam West show. I don’t know how close it came to actually resembling that, or if my little brain just wanted it to, but it was enough. I’d eventually get a proper Batmobile when merchandise from the 89 movie started arriving, which was probably around the time I ditched the cars for good.

Despite my dad’s best efforts, I never became a car person. It was all super heroes following that. He’s given it another try with my own son, and it’s not looking good. My nephew is still into cars, so maybe that will be his gear head. Who knows? I tried helping him out a bit myself as I’ve bought a lot of Hot Wheels for my son and daughter. When Toys R Us was still a thing, it was an easy task to leave the store with a new one since they’re so inexpensive. Prior to my son coming along, I have no idea when I last bought a Hot Wheels product. As for the last one bought for me? That’s almost impossible a task to figure out. It may have even been that Batmobile. At least until now.

 

Mattel has a history of doing exclusives for San Diego Comic Con, and this year was no exception. In addition to a brand new Batmobile, they did a first:  The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Party Wagon, or Turtle Van for short. This nifty little piece of diecast is based on the classic Turtle Van from the old cartoon with an obvious nod to the toy counterpart from Playmates. It comes in a standard box with some modern artwork on it, and within that box is a cylindrical “sewer pipe” box with the actual toy sits inside. When you remove the slipcase on that you’re met with this attractive window box display. Inside is the vehicle and around behind it is a city backdrop with villains Shredder, Krang, Bebop, and Rocksteady. Interestingly, Bebop and Rocksteady look to be based on concept art from Playmates, specifically the mutating figures toy line as Rocksteady has his helmet and green jacket and Bebop his red coat. They almost look to be celebrating the presence of the Turtle Van, which is a bit amusing, but it’s a nice touch to see them featured.

 

The underside of this display features these little plastic tabs that can easily be bent to allow the base to slide out. Once done you have access to the toy inside, which sits on a black pedestal with an ooze covered manhole beneath it. The van is screwed down to this base, and if you want to remove it you need to cut away at the label on the underside. Mattel almost made this packaging tamper-friendly, but this label is glued down so if you want to free your van you’ll have to mangle the packaging a bit. I was going to, but opted not to as I’m just going to display it in the box anyway and I don’t feel like I need to roll this thing around to get the full experience. If you do remove it from the packaging there is a disclaimer on the packaging that it’s not compatible with playsets, not that it would be a good idea to go drop this thing into your Criss-Cross-Crash set even if it were.

 

The Turtle Van itself is quite an attractive little piece. Like most Hot Wheels products, it’s done up in diecast metal. The only plastic parts are the fin on the roof, the canons, and the swinging door. There’s a transparent elastic on that door to keep it open for display, but if you were to remove it then you would find it closes pretty easily. It does look a touch off because of the colored plastic on that door piece, but from a distance you likely wouldn’t notice. The wheels appear to be rubber coated, or all rubber, which is pretty cool. The logo on the front of the van is obviously the modern logo and I do kind of wish it was the classic one, but it’s no big deal since they’re so similar. The fin is unpainted, which makes it toon accurate though I’m torn on if I wish there was another logo or something there as well for an added splash of color. The top does not open like the Playmates toy, in case you were wondering.

 

You’ve likely noticed one other cool addition to this vehicle, or rather four. Each of the four turtles is represented in plastic form. Mikey is seated on that swing out door behind a laser turret while Donatello looks on from inside the van. Behind the wheel is Raph, and beside him is Leo. These little guys look pretty great, though Mattel was apparently reluctant to paint them up in greater detail. If you look closely you’ll see they have sculpted belts and pads that were left unpainted. Perhaps a confident collector would add some additional paint to these guys, but I’m not such a collector.

 

As I mentioned earlier, I am not a Hot Wheels collector, but when I saw images for this thing I had to have it. My love for the Turtles combined with just how well this turned out made it hard to resist. Unfortunately, it was a San Diego 2019 Comic Con exclusive and was only available to those attending the show. Leftover stock sometimes goes up for sale after the event, but I never caught wind of anything like that happening with this set this year so I had to turn to eBay. The MSRP on this was about 20 bucks, but obviously I had to pay more. It’s definitely worth the $20 Mattel pegged it at, and depending on your level of fandom it may be worth more than that. I’m happy to have this one on my shelf as part of my TMNT collection. And if it seems like something that might interest you, then give it a look.

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“Umm, Donnie, how are we going to fit in there?”


NECA San Diego Comic Con The Capture of Splinter Action Figure Set (TMNT)

 

img_4504.jpgOver the years, various toy companies have given their take on the venerable Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And no company has done that more often than Playmates, holders of the master toy license from back in the late 1980s when the property made the leap from print to world-wide phenomenon. I have no idea how many iterations of Leonardo or Raphael that company has made over the years, but it wouldn’t shock me if the number is over 100. For whatever reason though, when it came to the biggest foe the Turtles faced Playmates often came up short.

The Shredder was the villain in the debut comic and naturally he was chosen as the main villain for the cartoon series. As a result, he was one of the four villains in the debuting toy line. That Shredder left something to be desired. Few of those toys resembled the cartoon, but Shredder was particularly off. He had a blue helmet with a purple mask that appeared to reference a cloth material in the sculpt. He had his various spiked pads and a piece of purple cloth that served more like a gi than an a cape (most of my friends ditched the belt and opted to display him as a shirtless, caped, villain). Worst of all, he had this weird crouching pose that made him so hard to stand. It used to drive five-year-old me crazy that I couldn’t get him to stand or get him to properly wield a sword or something.

The toy was bad, but surely a better one would follow. Right? Eh, not really. There was a Super Shredder toy that became my favorite Shredder toy, though he was comically out of scale when compared with the other figures. He also wasn’t exactly like the Shredder I wanted. There was a wacky-action Shredder and a Toon Shredder, who was just a cartoon-accurate repaint of the original figure. Arguably, a good Playmates Shredder didn’t arrive until the 2003 cartoon series, long past the point at which I cared about the old cartoon.

 

When Playmates decided to make figures based on the film version of the Turtles, it oddly chose to essentially skip the first film. Maybe the company was unsure of how successful the pivot to live-action would be, but there were no movie tie-in toys for that film, which is really surprising in retrospect. The sequel came quick though just a year later and for that Playmates did make figures. Shredder looks pretty neat in the first film, and while he was changed for the second, it wasn’t a drastic change. Basically, he wore purple instead of red and the edges of his helmet were now serrated like a sawblade. Playmates opted against doing a figure though and instead just made a Super Shredder. Opportunity wasted.

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I need more shelf space.

It took almost 30 years, but NECA has delivered where Playmates failed. Earlier this year, the company released a quarter-scale version of Shredder from the first movie. I want it, and it looks awesome, but I made the painful decision to take a pass. I was partly able to do so because I knew this set was on the way. For San Diego Comic Con, NECA delivered another set of action figures based on the 1990 film. Last year it was the Turtles, and this year it’s Shredder, Splinter, and a pair of Foot Ninja.

I’ve had really good luck with these NECA exclusives over the past couple of years, but I had to sweat this one out a bit. I landed my set on the last day of the presale, having failed the days prior. It arrived just at the end of July as it was shipped after San Diego Comic Con and I’m happy to finally have it in my possession. The box will probably strike people as being understated compared with the past two convention exclusives. Last year’s Turtles set came in a box resembling the original VHS of the film. This one settled for a simple black with the Foot bandana wrapping around it. The inner box has some photos of the set, as well as the actual figures in a window display. It’s a nice piece, it just happens to follow two spectacular looking ones between last year’s VHS box and the prior year’s Archie action figure collector case inspired look.

 

We’ll get to the big guy eventually, but lets not forget that before Shredder there was the Foot Ninja. NECA did a quarter-scale version of this character as well and released it early this year. Unlike Shredder, the Foot Ninja has a Playmates counterpart which was actually one of the better figures Playmates did during that era, save for the fact that he was made green for some reason. A quarter-scale version of this figure was a bold move, and hopefully one that has worked out financially for NECA as he’s what we would call an army-builder in the collector community. You can’t have just one, but at that size and price point few can justify acquiring more than one. In a seven inch scale though, the figure works just fine.

img_4514Just like the Turtles from last year, the Foot Ninja appears to be an almost exact scaled-down version of the larger figure. He looks great, and best of all there’s two! The texture of the costume is so realistic looking that I feel like I’m looking at a still from the film. There’s numerous weapons from the film and even a weapon rack to stack them on. Want to re-enact the nunchaku face-off with Mikey? You can. Maybe you just want to see them smash the floor of April’s apartment with those giant axes? Go for it. The only thing limiting you is your imagination. This figure is expected to get a single card release down the road at retail (Gamestop exclusive) and I imagine there will be lots of people interested in acquiring more and more Foot to pose with their heroes.

img_4515The Foot Ninja is dressed all in black and sculpted with a soft, plastic, material in many places. This helps make him have a really excellent range of motion even with those funny shaped shoulders and such on account of his costume. He’s all plastic, save for a strip of cloth around his waist just above his sculpted belt. At first, I didn’t understand why NECA would include that until I realized it functions as a great way to store weapons on him. And he has a lot of weapons. There are two nunchaku, one with a plastic strap similar to Mikey, and one with a chain linking the two handles. He’s also got a katana, a baton, and the aforementioned axe, plus a pair of sai and a bo staff for good measure. I do not recall any of the Foot wielding sai in the film, but I’m happy to have the extra weapons. The longer weapons can be stored on that included weapon rack, and the smaller ones in the fabric strip on the belt. He also has a pair of gripping hands and a pair of open palms. I have no complaints about this figure, but one obvious shortcoming is in the hand selections. The two Foot by default have punching hands which means they have to share the other two sets. Really, the default hands should have been gripping hands with the pair sharing the fists. If you want one of the ninja to hold a pair of sai, or nunchuks, or even the staff with two hands then that means the other one gets to hold nothing. They also share an extra knot for their bandana, but that doesn’t bother me.

 

Splinter is the lone all-new sculpt in this set. There is no accompanying quarter-scale version and as far as I know there is no planned one. 2020 will mark the film’s 30th anniversary and NECA will surely celebrate that in some fashion, so maybe a quarter-scale Splinter could be a part of that. Anyway, this is a depiction of Splinter from when he was captured by the Foot in the first film. He looks a little worse for ware, and even comes with shackles for you to hang him with. A separate to purchase diorama of that area he was held prisoner would have really made this set perfect, but beggar’s can’t be choosers. Splinter looks solid, with cloth accents used for his rags. He’s done-up all in plastic, in case you expected NECA to do something else with the fur. Because of that, he doesn’t look as picture-perfect as the other figures, but this is still a near spot-on likeness of the character. This battle-damaged version of the character is expected to remain exclusive to this set, so if you want your Splinter tenderized you’ll have to track one of these things down. Otherwise, a standard version is expected to be made available at some point in the future. Presumably his robe will be cleaner (though the guy lives in a sewer so it can’t be too clean) and maybe he’ll have a brighter paint deco. This one is fairly dark, and I do wish some red was added to his fur to warm him up a bit (since he was often under a harsh light in the film). Maybe he’ll also gain some swappable hands as this one just comes with shackles, which can be removed if you wish, but I’m a big baby so I haven’t tried.

 

As mentioned above, Splinter is light on accessories with the shackles being the main feature. They clip around his bicep area and are joined by a chain. He also has a crate to stand on that’s just a printed piece of cardstock. Plastic would have been better, but the figure appears to stand on it just fine without putting much force on it so I don’t think durability will be a major issue. His cloth robe looks great and even has a nice feel to it, almost grimy. There’s a fabric belt around it that’s really long. It kind of stands out too much and I’m tempted to remove it, though I probably won’t as I don’t really mess with the integrity of my toys. That robe hides a surprising amount of articulation as well, so if you want to remove the shackles and go nuts you can. My Splinter’s arms want to stay in that hanging position and I’m reluctant to force them, but I’m pretty sure they can be positioned more naturally (I might just need to remove the shackles). It’s a bit of a shame he can’t hold the nunchaku convincingly, but I’ll probably just display him in chains so it’s not really an issue for me. I don’t have a nice chain-link fence to hang him from, but that weapon rack seems to function as a decent stand-in.

Which brings us to the main event, Shredder himself. This is the figure I have wanted since I was a kid first seeing these characters I loved so much on the big screen. Even more so than the Foot Ninja, he looks like he was ripped from the screen. His magenta outfit has that slight sparkle to it and the helmet looks like it’s actually made out of metal. The faceguard pops off to reveal the scarred visage of Oroku Saki underneath and it’s a quite satisfying and fun accessory to play with. He comes with various extra hands and weapons, including his hidden dagger he tries to take out Splinter with. His weird, shiny, zebra-print, cape is also here and it’s a heavy cloth material that convincingly drapes over the character. It looks great and it really causes a dilemma as to how to pose him on a shelf since he rarely sported that look in the film. I’ve opted for the no-cape look for now, but I might change in my mind in a month or so when I get sick of looking at the current pose I have going on.

 

The body of Shredder appears to be the same as the Foot Ninja. I suppose that’s a bad thing if you wanted your Shredder to be taller than his minions, but otherwise it’s fine as the body sculpt looks excellent. There’s a lot of softer sections of plastic making posing free and easy. His extra parts are also snug against his limbs, but can be manipulated if necessary. Mine needed some adjusting out of the box and at no point did I fear breaking anything. Like the Foot Ninja, he has a strip of fabric across his waist for storing a weapon or two, an obvious necessity for Shredder given the events of the film. He also has his long spear weapon to combat his foes with. He has additional hands as well including a pair of gripping hands and two open palm hands. The material his helmet is made of is soft plastic so getting the faceguard on and off is pretty simple. His face looks amazing and it’s almost a shame to keep it hidden under that faceguard, but he just looks so cool with it on!

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Hang there, until you die!

That’s not to say that Shredder is perfect. He’s almost perfect, but there’s one shortcoming with him and it resides with that helmet. It looks awesome in promotional images, and the texture of it is also well-sculpted, but that soft plastic which makes it easy to slide the faceguard off and on can also bend. Most of the images I’ve seen from consumers all tend to have an issue where the left side (Shredder’s left) curls into the figure or bubbles out. I’ve tried messing with it a bit, and I don’t know if hot water or a hair dryer would help or hurt (the heat might make it curl more). It’s not something I feel like I need to contact NECA over, but it does bother me a bit. Since removing him from the packaging and messing around with him it has improved, so it may settle into the right position eventually. The only other nit I can think to pick with these figures is that the Foot and Shredder don’t have the necessary amount of movement in the shoulders to hold the axes over their head in a swinging motion. That’s minor though, and really the only solution would be additional joints in the front of the shoulders which would harm the aesthetics of the figure. Given the choice between the two, I think NECA got it right.

img_4517

Maybe all that hardware’s for making coleslaw?

Overall, this is a really satisfying set that should please Turtle fans out there. If you happened to get one of these and you’re not satisfied with it, I’ll just add that NECA has some of the best customer support you’ll find. I haven’t had to do it, but I’ve encountered people who felt there was a problem with a part of their figure and NECA either replaced the part or the entire figure at no charge, often with no questions asks. It might take a few weeks, but they always deliver and stand by their product. The only real fault I can find with this set is the lack of extra gripping hands for the Foot Ninja, but if I’m really bothered by that I could always try and buy more Foot Ninja when they hit retail. Otherwise, the rest is just nitpicking here and there. At the end of the day, these are some really finely sculpted action figures and it’s hard to imagine anyone being able to top what NECA has done here.

 

The only other major shortcoming many people might add is that this sucker is a convention exclusive and thus, if you don’t have it, you can’t get it unless you’re willing to pay a scalper. The good news is that there’s a high likelihood of these figures all hitting Gamestop either by the end of the year or early next year. NECA all but confirmed that and if I had to guess the only exclusives with this particular set might be the weapon rack and shackles on Splinter and possibly some of the weapons the Foot get to play with. The single-carded Foot Ninja will likely have a full assortment of hands and the extra bandana knot and I’d be surprised if Shredder was changed at all. So if you missed out and you’re real upset about it, just be patient and keep your eyes open as these guys will sell fast once they’re made available. Earlier this year, Gamestop had issues fulfilling all of the pre-orders online for the Turtles so a pro-tip for you is if you have a local Gamestop preorder in store. Everyone I know that did so got their set and it was only the online orders that were cancelled. I don’t go into Gamestop too often, but every time I have I’ve taken a peek to see if they have the Turtles and I’ve never seen them so they’re still selling extremely well.

img_4521

Now I will finish what I began with your ear!

As for the future of this line, expect more! Nothing is certain, but Randy Falk at NECA was quick to remind folks during his interview with Pixel Dan that next year marks the 30th anniversary of the first TMNT film. Expect something from the company to mark the occasion. As for what that could be, your guess is as good as mine. NECA also confirmed it will make figures based on the sequel, The Secret of the Ooze. Whether or not those include quarter scale versions is unknown, but I think it’s safe to say if you’re a fan of two prominent adversaries from that picture then you’ll probably be happy, eventually. And of course, NECA is continuing its line of TMNT with cartoon themed figures in two-packs at Target (Bebop and Rocksteady should be showing up this fall) and also video game themed figures at specialty shops. Expect Turtles in Time themed toys, including Slash, to start showing up at those places this fall. Right now may be the best time ever to be a TMNT fan, so start saving!


NECA 1990 TMNT Movie SDCC Set

neca TMNTFor the past several years, the folks over at NECA have been making San Diego Comic Con an annual event for fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I mean, it’s always an event, but it’s been especially fun for TMNT fans because NECA has been able to release limited action figure sets based on the property. These sets have been wildly popular and thus a bit hard to get ahold of for fans not attending the event. They often sell-out and command big mark-ups on the secondary market. As a result, while enthusiasm remains high, there can be some backlash for those who are unable to secure a copy at MSRP.

The reason for all of this is essentially Playmates. Playmates was a partner with Mirage Studios and Fred Wolf Productions in bringing the TMNT from print to the small-screen. In the 1980s, getting a show to air for boys often necessitated a pairing of show with toys in a symbiotic relationship. The franchise was viewed as risky, and creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird had a hard time finding a toy company to make their dream happen. Playmates eventually jumped-in, but got a pretty nice deal out of the whole thing thanks to the desperation of those trying to make money off of this thing. As a result, they still hold the master toy license for the franchise and can dictate who can and can’t make toys based on the franchise here in the United States.

About 10 years ago, NECA was able to release a set of TMNT based on their original Mirage look. They were specialty shop toys and were very well received. NECA would also release an April O’Neil and show-off a Shredder, but it never made it to retail. At this time, Playmates was still consumed with making toys based on the Fast Forward cartoon produced by 4Kids and likely didn’t feel threatened by another company releasing collector toys based on the comics. Eventually, maybe after seeing the success NECA was having or due to diminished interest in the cartoon, Playmates would engage the collector crowd with their own Mirage Turtles which may be why NECA’s line ended with April.

Ever since then, NECA has had to find a way to create product based on the franchise (a favorite of NECA Director of Product Development Randy Falk) that works for them as well as Playmates and Nickelodeon (the current owner of TMNT). As a sort-of compromise, NECA has been allowed to produce 6″ scale figures as convention exclusives only. In addition to being allowed to sell them at conventions, they’re also permitted to sell them online as a pre-sale in advance of the event, but not after or in perpetuity. The only exception has been the quarter-scale line which NECA has been allowed to produce and release to retail, presumably because Playmates has no interest in figures at that scale.

Via these convention exclusives, NECA has been able to finish off their old Mirage line by releasing a set containing Shredder and some Foot soldiers. They also did figures based on the original TMNT arcade game and just last year released a massive set of 8 figures based on the first season of the 1987 cartoon. For 2018, NECA may have felt pressure to out-do that 2017 set and once again turned to the 1990 film – which is perhaps the greatest version of these classic characters. For the past two years, NECA has been releasing these figures in its quarter-scale line, a line I loved and own each figure from. A lot of fans have been begging for a release of these same figures in a 6″ scale and now they finally have their wish.

I was one of the lucky few to score a set during the pre-sale on NECA’s website. Two versions were offered:  the set of four turtles and a set of four turtles with a diorama. The set ran for $125, and the diorama set was $250. The diorama is going to be released to retail in a slightly more generic format, but it captures the grit of NYC from the 1990 movie. It’s also huge, which is why I passed on it as I don’t really have room for it. I was content to just settle for the set of action figures, and I am quite pleased with the product delivered to me roughly two weeks after San Diego Comic Con commenced.

The four brothers come housed in packaging designed to mimic the original VHS release of the 1990 film. It’s obviously over-sized to properly house the figures and all of the images of the characters have been replaced with photos of the actual action figures and it’s pretty damn remarkable how close to the actual thing these look. If it weren’t for the fact that Donatello is smiling on the original release, you probably would be fooled by the cover. The reverse side has the film critic quotes replaced with quotes from folks in the toy (and wrestling) world praising the set. It’s not as durable or as resplendent as the case released with last year’s set, but my fondness for this movie means I probably prefer this one to last year’s Archie inspired case.

The outer case is a sleeve that slides right off once you get past some tape. Behind it are the figures in a window box setup. They’re not as easy to remove from the packaging as last year’s action figure case inspired design as the feet are actually through some holes, but you’re unlikely to destroy the packaging when removing these treasures. In addition to the four turtles and their weapons, NECA also included a second set of bandana tassels, four sets of interchangeable hands, an ooze canister with removable top, and an entire pizza broken out into individual slices housed in a paper box. The sets of hands should be familiar to those with the quarter-scale versions as they’re all from there: a set of slightly open hands, a set of completely open “high-five” hands, a set of thumb’s up hands, and a set of pointing hands. It’s slightly disappointing that we don’t have four open palm hands to recreate a cowabunga pose, but otherwise it’s more than adequate. The turtles themselves have tighter fist hands by default for holding their weapons.

The hands and bandana tassels are all easily swapped in and out. Action figures that take advantage of swappable parts are often tight and even a little scary, but these figures are pretty effortless. If anything, the pegs on the other hands are moved too freely as that’s the only challenge in pushing them in as they want to move around on you a bit, but it’s no big deal. The wrist bands on each turtles are now molded to the figure which also makes swapping the hands easier. The bandanas are just as easy. The quarter-scale version had fabric tassels, but these versions opted for plastic which is why there’s some options presented. You basically can just decide if you want your turtle’s tassel to flow left or right. It’s not as good as the quarter-scale ones, but it’s fine.

The real star of the accessories though has to be that pizza. It may sound ridiculous, but it might be my favorite part of the set. NECA earlier this year released a set of baby turtles for their quarter-scale line that contained a box for the pizza released with the main figures as well as the rest of the pizza. This is basically a down-scaled version of the same. The box is designed to resemble a Domino’s box as seen in the film only it’s from Tile Game Pizza instead due to obvious licensing issues. It looks remarkable and there’s tons of little detail including a coupon taped to the top and little grease smears. It’s so lovingly detailed that it borders on absurd and it makes me want to order some pizza every time I look at it.

IMG_2609

It slices, it dices…

The figures themselves, the real stars of the set, are down-scaled versions of their quarter-scale cousins. This means they possess basically all of the pros and cons of those figures, and in case you’re wondering, there were very few cons. Let’s get to the few differences first, shall we? I already mentioned the bandana and wrist band difference, but the only other main difference is the loss of Donatello’s straps for his bo staff. You can basically just jam his bo under his belt to achieve the same thing though. This also may be unique to my set, but my Raph is also a bit cross-eyed in comparison with the quarter-scale version with his right eye looking down instead of straight-ahead. He has really narrow eyes so it’s not that noticeable unless you’re holding the figure right in front of your face. A difference in a positive area though is these guys have slightly more articulation than the larger toys. And since they’re lighter, their joints don’t have to be as tight and they can be posed a lot easier as a result.

IMG_2625

Do you like penicillin on your pizza?

The figures are a nice, soft, plastic that reminds me of the old Playmates Movie Star Turtles I adored as a kid (and still have). The texture on the flesh is exquisite and perfectly captures the look of the film. Each figures uses the same base body with a different belt, head, and shell. The shell itself is actually the same, but each turtle has unique blemishes and such with Raph’s being significantly more battle-damaged. The only drawback to the figures using the same base is that they’re all the same height. It’s an issue the quarter-scale ones possess as well. They were all different heights in the film, though the only one that stood out is Mikey who was shorter than his brothers. He looks a little off as a result, but it’s obviously not a deal breaker.

If you were lucky enough to get ahold of this set then you will likely have a ton of fun trying to recreate poses from the film. Especially if you grabbed that diorama or have some fun custom ones of your own. These guys really look stripped from the film and it’s so rewarding to pair them up with the quarter-scale versions. NECA is prepping an already gave a peek at their quarter-scale Foot Soldier and a Shredder is expected as well. Naturally, this has fans hoping for 6″ versions of the same to pair with these to really complete the set.

If you were unable to score one of these sets then I have some good news for you. NECA recently reached a deal that will allow them release TMNT product at retail in a 6″ scale. Randy did say the movie figures will remain convention exclusives, but maybe that only refers to this specific set. Could single-packed figures make it to retail? Who knows? I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up, but maybe hold off on paying eBay prices for now and take a wait and see approach. These figures are so damn good that it’s kind of a shame if they remain exclusive to this one set, but at least we have them as-is and I can’t wait to see what NECA does next with the franchise. They have yet to disappoint.


Ranking the Many Versions of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Turtles in TimeWith Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hitting the airwaves, it felt like a good time to sit down and take a look at the various incarnations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As you are likely aware, the TMNT got started back in 1984 when writer/artists Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman created their debut comic. Since then the four have become international superstars and seen their likeness adapted for television, film, a stage tour, and other comics over the years. Across these many mediums we’ve seen the four brothers sport many different looks, display different personality traits, while mostly adhering to the core of being mutated turtles that practice ninjitsu taught to them by their surrogate father – a rat named Splinter.

Whenever a new show based on an old property is unveiled, there’s almost always an immediate backlash by a certain portion of the fan base. It doesn’t even matter if the fanbase is inconsequential or even non-existent, as was seen recently with the She-Ra images unveiled, there will always be those who hate the new and prefer the old. And who am I to say they’re wrong? Hate it all you want, but you’ll always have what came before. I draw the line when folks say “they’re ruining my childhood” because that’s preposterous. Your childhood came and went, it’s history, there’s nothing to ruin. I’d encourage everyone to be open-minded and don’t be a slave to nostalgia because you’ll ultimately find more things in life to enjoy with such a mindset, but to each their own.

For this ranking, I am weighing the general design heavily above all others. This ranking is subjective and largely about how appealing I find the design of the four turtles to be. I am also giving a little added weight to the quality of the medium as well – does it hold up? Is it entertaining for children? All ages? And so on. I’m also just sticking to the comics, television, film, and stage show and not video games or toys. Most of the video games were based on one of those other things or strongly resemble another and the same is true for the toys. I don’t want things to get too unmanageable, so some of this may feel a little condensed, but you’ll see what I mean when we get to each one as I’ll note if there are any deviations. With that said, most of these all have some aesthetic charm to them, with only the very back-end of this ranking being particularly poor. Let’s get to it then, shall we?

TMNT_rock_band

What have we unleashed upon the world?

13. Coming Out of Their Shells Turtles

I ended up with 13 distinct flavors of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and by far the most dreadful would be the stage show Turtles from the Coming Out of Their Shells Tour. If you weren’t alive in 1990, basically the brand was on fire. No one could really explain it, and still can’t since the premise is so preposterous, but everyone was pretty sure it wouldn’t last much longer. Anyone with a financial interest in the TMNT was rushing product to shelves to capitalize as quickly as possible and someone thought a live show was a worthwhile endeavor. Utilizing two sets of costumes, the Turtles would appear on stage in some radical threads and would sing, dance, and mime fights with the bad guys from the cartoon. There were also backstage segments that were pre-taped featuring more conventional play style sequences for plot points. These costumes weren’t really meant to be seen up close since they were for the stage, and it shows. There’s no nuance to their mechanical mouths which just flap around. They have these crazy wide-eyed expressions and the added clothing items just look dorky, to put it simply. What was crazy though, is that these costumes weren’t confined to a live show. They had them appear on Oprah and in home videos so you could see just how terrible they looked. The home video and Christmas Special probably came out after the money had been made on the actual tour, but the Oprah thing still blows my mind.

Bay TMNT

These guys smell.

12. The Michael Bay Turtles (2014 Film)

I know I look like some old curmudgeon for sticking one of the most recent incarnations in the 12th spot, but I can’t help it – I really hate these guys. It wasn’t a surprise to see the newest films opt for CG over costumes, even if it was still disappointing, nor was it a surprise to see a new look for the gang green. However, could they have made these guys look any uglier? They’re a monstrous mess, just a pile of weapons, belts, and clothing. They embody the same personalities we’ve known for years and yet feel so lifeless. Even only four years after the first film, and a mere two after its sequel, these guys already feel forgotten and that doesn’t bother me one bit. I really have nothing nice to say about them. I guess Bebop and Rocksteady were cool?

tmnt03e

Talk about a downgrade.

11. All Effects Turtles (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III)

The third film in four years for TMNT was the abysmal Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III. I liked it well enough as a kid I suppose, though it definitely was my least favorite of the trilogy. As an adult I find it mostly unwatchable. I suppose it can be laughed at in a manner befitting only bad movies, but my word do those costumes look awful. The first two films featured costumes designed by the Jim Henson Company and were remarkable for the time. For the third film, Golden Harvest and New Line Cinema contracted All Effects and the results were less than spectacular. The main bodies of each turtle looks fairly similar, but with less texture. They clearly looked like rubber suits. The heads though were awful. The dynamic expressions of the earlier costumes were gone replaced with something more static and soulless. I am not certain, but my guess is All Effects just went with one head design for its costumes as opposed to Henson’s multi-head approach. These ones are a bit more frog-like and just off-putting. Making these worse, the personalities of the Turtles were also less defined. Corey Feldman reprised his role as Donatello from the first film and apparently was considered the star as his character had way more lines. Everyone was kind of jokey and just along for the ride with only Mikey displaying much range. A very unsatisfying end to the trilogy. The feudal costumes at least looked kind of neat.

next mutation

They kind of look like they’re melting.

10. The Saban Turtles (The Next Mutation)

It feels like I’m picking on the live-action costumes in the early going, but I guess it’s to be expected with such outlandish characters that originated in print. And it also has to do with money. The third Turtles film was produced on the cheap, and the stage show certainly was as well relative to a film budget, and if you know much about TV cartoon development in the 90s then you know Saban is notorious for being cheap. Saban is most famous for bringing us Mighty Morphin Power Rangers which took film from the Japanese show Super Sentai and dubbed it for American audiences as something different. That’s about as cheap as it gets for show creation. It’s actually a surprise that the company even wanted to do a live-action series of TMNT in 1997 well after the franchise’s peak years. Titled Ninja Turtles:  The Next Mutation, it required all new costumes and sets and must have been rather expensive relative to other Saban entertainment. Even so, there was no way it was going to match the costumes from the film series, and while you could argue these are worse than what All Effects gave us, at least they tried to change things up. This show also famously added a fifth turtle, Venus de Milo, and it sort of followed the continuity of the other live-action heroes. It was pretty hokey and more than a bit cheesy, but I suppose it has its fans.

TMNT 2007

Passable, but also forgettable.

9. Imagi Turtles (TMNT 2007 film)

In what was a bit of a surprise, Warner Bros. tried bringing back the Turtles with a CG sequel to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III 14 years after that film had been released. In truth, audiences didn’t need to know much about those previous movies to see this, just a general knowledge of who the Turtles were since a lot of time had passed in universe as well. The movie was okay, not bad but not exactly good either, and the CG was befitting that of a major studio. The characters mostly embodied the archetypes established in the first film, but the visual style was very different. The Turtles were more rounded with squished faces. Their skin was smooth and mostly free of any texture. They looked slippery and ever more frog-like than what we saw in the third film. It animated well, but the stills are some-what lackluster. It’s not the design I would have picked, but it was fine and not really noteworthy as this film is easily the most forgettable of the first four.

Rise TMNT

I don’t hate this.

8. The Flying Bark Turtles (Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)

It seems premature to even include the newest version in these rankings, but here we are. I said a lot about them in my write-up for the first episode, but as designs go I don’t hate these. I appreciate the willingness of the producers and the animators at Flying Bark to try something pretty new. There are elements of the older designs in the new ones, but with this show the brothers are, for the first time, different subspecies of turtles. Even though I didn’t much care for the show, I can at least appreciate what it’s trying to do. And if we’re just going by looks, it’s definitely got more personality than what was ranked behind it.

4Kids TMNT

A lot more menacing than that old cartoon.

7. The 4Kids Turtles (2003 Cartoon)

We have arrived at what is perhaps our first controversial ranking. The 2003 series produced by 4Kids Entertainment is well-regarded. It came at a time when the kids who had grown up on the TMNT were willing to embrace something that had grown up with them while a new generation was also willing to dive into a show about mutated ninja turtles. The show was a back to basics, taking a lot of the material from the original Mirage Comics run and adapting it for television in a kid-friendly manner without pandering. The old chunky designs were replaced with sleek, muscular, frames and the skin tones of the old Playmates toy line was essentially made canon as each turtle was a slightly different shade of green. The personalities were a bit of an amalgamation of the old cartoon and comic, with Raph, Leo, and Donatello being pretty close to the source while Mikey was a bit more like the old cartoon character. Where this one sort of stumbles for me is with the decision to go with the blank eyed look from the comics and toys. It makes the characters look pretty cool in a still frame, but when they had to emote it looks awkward. A future series would integrate this better. Don’t mistake this ranking as an endorsement of the 87 cartoon over this one as I’d much prefer to watch this series over that one any day.

TMNT 1987

Regardless of your feelings on this show, you can’t deny this is still what most folks picture when you say Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

6. The Fred Wolf Turtles (1987 Cartoon Series)

Here is where we get to the big one, the most recognizable brand of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the one most responsible for the popularity of the franchise. These turtles actually had four some-what distinct looks, but we’ll get to that. In general though, the makers of the cartoon took the designs from Mirage and mostly added color and personality. The Mirage TMNT looked cool, but aside from Raph they didn’t offer much personality. They also looked the same and had those blank eyes which wouldn’t play well on television. To make up for that, the cartoon introduced the colored bandanas and pads unique to each turtle while also giving them actual eyes. Raph was toned down from a hot-tempered malcontent to a sarcastic prankster while Leo mostly retained his super serious persona. Donatello was made a genius, and Mikey a surfer dude. Oh, and they all loved pizza. Like, really loved pizza. It’s stuff you know all about now, and even though the cartoon basically existed to sell toys it at least looked pretty good. The first season, at least. In that one, the Turtles were a more muted shade of green with more musculature and a hint of a beak. Come the second season they were a bit brighter and more rounded. Weapons were de-emphasized and animators saw little need in actually showing their weapons holstered and so forth. By the final season though, they received a fairly radical redesign that introduced more blacks and a more angular shape. It was trying too hard to make the Turtles seem “dark” and “cool” and didn’t really play well. In Japan, a pair of OVAs were released that mostly featured the standard look of this serious, but gave the Turtles crazy transformation powers. You may remember seeing the toys for these on store shelves and wondered where they came from, well there’s your answer. I didn’t think either was really worth devoting a separate ranking to, but felt they were worth mentioning.

TMNT Archie

The storylines in the pages of Archie’s TMNT weren’t much better than the cartoon, but the artwork was a ton of fun.

5. The Archie Turtles (Archie Comics)

Alongside the original cartoon series was the Archie Comics series. This series basically captured the look and feel of the cartoon, but did at least experiment with making things a little more mature. I basically only decided to give the Archie Turtles their own entry because of what they did with Raph. Still keeping him mostly in-line with his cartoon counterpart, he was also made the loner or black sheep of the family and he wore all black for a while. It was confusing for me as a kid and I probably didn’t care for it, but now I look back and give Archie credit for not just adapting episodes of the cartoon into printed form.

Mirage TMNT

I’m guessing you’ve seen this image before, and probably not on the cover of a comic book.

4. Mirage Comics

All style, no substance. That’s pretty much the Mirage Turtles in a nut-shell, or should I say half-shell? While they did get better, initially the four characters were interchangeable. Chunky, but muscular, they were depicted in black and white and were only distinguishable by their weapons. Eventually, the personality of Raphael would be added and he was given a foil in Leonardo and a kindred spirit in Casey Jones. Leonardo would be made the stoic leader, while Donatello the introverted tech-nerd. Mikey never really morphed into the character we’ve seen elsewhere and he’s kind of hard to get a read on. Eastman and Laird’s artwork also improved along the way and their version of the Turtles from say issue 4 on is pretty damn good. Eventually, other artists were brought in to work on the books and you could do a separate listing on the various different takes they had on the characters, but for the purpose of this ranking I’m basically just going with the Eastman/Laird take. The peak of their art is probably best reflected, and most can recall it from the cover art to the first NES game. It confused the Hell out of me to see all four of the Turtles wearing red, but I sure thought it looked pretty bad ass.

Nick TMNT

The show that made April and Casey adolescents and made it work.

3. The Nick Turtles (2012 TV series)

It took some time, but the 2012 version of the characters seen in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did eventually grow on me. As far as personality and so forth was concerned, I was pretty much hooked from the start. The same archetypes were followed that we’re used to, but they felt more malleable and sincere. Leonardo wasn’t just some goody-two-shoes, he often struggled with being a surrogate Splinter when out on the town. Raph was a bit of a hot-head, but he didn’t strike me as being confrontational just for the sake of it. Donatello was a brain, but an insecure one. Mikey was still juvenile and mostly care free, but without being too over-exposed. This show pretty much nailed it as far as that goes. From a looks perspective, they basically went with the first movie, but with colored masks. The Turtles also featured three toes for the first time, an odd choice, but largely inconsequential. They wore wraps on their feet too which was different, but it made sense (those other turtles must have had some serious blisters) and added a little personality. About the only thing I didn’t like was the sometimes boxy-looking anatomy. Their shoulder muscles looked practically square, but it became less noticeable the more I was exposed to it. I loved that each turtle had his own body type and you could tell them apart by that alone. I also liked the little touch of making their eyes go blank when in combat. Definitely a move that’s all style and has no practical explanation in-universe, but it’s a cartoon so who cares? Have fun with it! This television series should be the new measuring stick for any future incarnation of the TMNT. That doesn’t mean they all should take the same approach, but strive for the same level of quality.

IDW TMNT

Maybe the coolest looking version of the TMNT yet.

2. The IDW Turtles (IDW Comics)

Alongside the 2012 reboot came a reboot in printed form. Kevin Eastman returned to the franchise alongside IDW Comics and presented a new version of the TMNT. It basically takes the tone of the original Mirage Comics, while also adding in the more developed personalities that would follow. The artwork is largely great, and the Turtles are back to wearing all red (they would eventually gain some color). If you’re an adult fan still mad about the new cartoon, well just head to a comic shop and read this series. This is the version of the TMNT made for those who out-grew the franchise, and from that perspective it’s pretty good. The Turtles will never be high art, and there’s tons of fan-service plots in this series, but in general it’s what most TMNT fans over 30 probably want.

Henson TMNT

I love these guys.

1.The Henson Turtles (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II:  The Secret of the Ooze)

Could there be anything else? The 1990 movie is still the best adaption of any kind of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Taking the Mirage look, adding in the colored masks from the cartoon, and also its own creative liberties resulted in a near perfect take on this green team. The four brothers all look different, all act different, and all go through their own ups and downs along the way. They have distinct personalities and challenges to face, and most of all the costumes created for these two movies are fantastic. I prefer the more realistic approach of the first film. That one was less intimidated by showing these characters for what they are, while the second one brightened things up and made them a little more appealing to look at from a practical sense. In other words, the Turtles of the first film looked like they lived in a sewer, while the ones in the second looked like they lived in an upscale apartment in Manhattan (which they did for a time). The first film is also very different in terms of style and tone, but the Jim Henson Company worked on both. The costumes received mostly minor tweaks between films, though Donatello looks almost completely different (he also had the biggest personality change as well, I guess because Feldman left the franchise). Both films entertained me a lot as a kid, but of the two, only the first one actually holds up. The second is basically a live-action version of the cartoon, though Raph still gets to inject a bit of conflict into the group dynamics. That first film is the best though. It hits the sweet spot between the gritty violence of the Mirage source material and the playful banter of the cartoon. It’s unlikely we’ll ever receive a better version of these characters, but maybe someone out there is just waiting to prove me wrong. I hope they’re successful.


Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – “Mystic Mayhem”

rise_of_the_tmntOn July 20th, Nickelodeon offered up a preview of its newest take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Dubbed Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the new show is the heir-apparent to the one Nick ran from 2012-2017. Simply titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that show was a modern re-telling of the story we’re all familiar with. It was presented in CG and featured the main characters from the comics and older television shows while mostly adhering to the personalities that had been long established throughout the various media. It was the fourth attempt at bringing the Turtles to television, and by all accounts it was pretty successful. Likely no future version of gang green will ever be as impactful as the 1987 series, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be a success.

The show was well-received and it was one that even I, a 30-something, mostly kept up with. It likely ended for business reasons, though possibly artistic ones as the show-runners may have felt they had told all of the stories they wished to tell. I think it’s more likely the network felt the toy franchise was mostly tapped out and there were probably new contracts that needed to be negotiated. Television shows for older kids are also transitioning away from CG and back to 2D as technological advances have made that medium a lot cheaper, and easier, to work with. Which is likely one of the many reasons we are here today talking about a new version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arriving just a year after the previous one ended.

riseofthetmnt-skylight-turtles-700x318Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is an entirely new show with a new cast of characters. In some ways, this is the most ambitious reboot we have ever seen for the franchise. The 1987 series took the most recognizable characters from the Mirage comics and adapted them for television while also stripping out the violence. Each turtle was given his own personality, something they kind of lacked in the comics, and Shredder was made the main villain and given an accomplice in Krang. Ever since that series found success, it would seem each successive iteration tried to incorporate more of the original comic. Starting with the 1990 movie, Raphael would see his prickly and combative nature made his default personality, the tone would be a touch more serious, and Shredder more deadly. The 2003 4Kids series practically adapted the early books, and even Michael Bay’s turtles tried to keep some of that spirit, while also bringing the turtles closer to their cartoon counterparts.

The 2012 series did the same while also making sure to make everything appear modern. It’s biggest change was making April O’Neil and Casey Jones adolescents, but it mostly took the comic and cartoons that arrived before it and melded them together. It was a show that really wanted to appeal to adults who grew up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and likely hoped these adults would get their kids hooked. Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is attempting to no such thing. For the first time since that 87 series debuted, this is a version of the Turtles made to appeal to kids first and foremost. It doesn’t care if you’re familiar with the property. It doesn’t even need to be a TMNT show, but the brand recognition is certainly easier to sell than a new IP.

april and splinter

April and Splinter are two of the more radical redesigns, but also two of the most effective.

Of course, some things will naturally never change. The Turtles are still Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello. They live in the sewer with their sensei Splinter, a mutated rat, and reside in New York City. Their only human friend is a girl named April. What’s different is both radical and superficial. For the first time, each turtle is actually a different sub-species of turtle. Most notably is the large and spiky Raphael who is a snapping turtle and kind of looks like the old Slash. Donatello is a soft-shell turtle, and as a result, he creates backpack-like shells to wear to protect himself. Leonardo is now a wise-cracking turtle and Raph is an ineffective leader, as the two have sort-of swapped personalities from the 87 show. When the episode opens they all have their signature weapons, but that will change by episode’s end. Splinter is not the stoic Ninja Master we’re used to, and instead is a chubby little rat who likes to fall asleep in front of the television. April is once again a kid, though just how young is hard to gauge. She’s also African American and sports a pair of oversized glasses. In some respects, she reminds me of Irma from the old cartoon.

The episode opens with some light crime taking place in New York and the Turtles on the prowl. We’re supposed to think they’re patrolling the city as usual, but they’re actually just looking to discreetly take a dip in a rooftop swimming pool. It will become clear soon enough that these turtles are not proper ninjas. They don’t really know what they’re doing or appear to have any designs on fighting crime or anything. April is kind of just there and we’re not sure what the relationship is, but at least they appear to be having fun. The palette of the show is incredibly bright and vibrant, but the animation is not smooth in the least bit. Everything feels loud as characters move suddenly and quickly as if frames of animation are skipped. I don’t think this is a cost-cutting decision, but an artistic one to make the show feel heightened and manic and strikes me as an example of the show going for kids.

john-cena-tmnt-villain

On the right, new villain Baron Draxum, and on the left a big, white, blank, space.

The Turtles will encounter a weird teleporting dog/cat creature that takes an instant shine to April. It’s being pursued by some sketchy looking individuals and the Turtles feel compelled to help. This will result in them taking a trip through an inter-dimensional portal where they’ll meet the big baddie of the series, Baron Draxum, and also acquire new weapons. All except Donatello that is, who prefers to stick with his techy-looking bo staff. From here on out, Raph will wield twin tonfa in battle while Leo downgrades to one sword. Michelangelo will wield a kusari-fundo and all of their weapons have some mystical property that they’ll likely need to learn more about as the series moves along. Baron Draxum is a large, some-what Shredder-like figure, who is apparently behind the mutation of the Turtles. He has scores of underlings presumably, and some odd mosquito things that carry mutagen. The episode is an establishing one, and it’s likely the Ninja Turtles will need to get a touch more serious following this episode if they want to challenge Draxum in the future, since their fighting prowess is severely lacking.

It bares repeating that Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a show very much aimed at today’s children. It’s not a show made for me, and that’s fine as the children of 2018 deserve their own TMNT. As a show, it feels very similar to Cartoon Networks Teen Titans Go! It shares a similar look and the show wants to make kids laugh and is less concerned with wowing them via action sequences. The characters take nothing seriously, and I suspect they’ll have some failures along the way. The structure of the show is also to be two 11 minute cartoons for each episode, so the scale of each plot is obviously small.

raph and mikey

I couldn’t get much of a read on Michelangelo in this debut episode, but he definitely doesn’t seem as goofy as other iterations.

The voice cast struck me as fine. Ben Schwartz is Leonardo and he’s essentially just playing Dewey Duck from DuckTales. I thought it would be odd seeing Leonardo act in such a manner, but it was fine. Omar Benson Miller is Raph and he’s obviously being tasked to play a very different Raphael. He’s a leader, which just feels off, and he’s a bad one too, but not because of the usual Raph traits. He’s more indecisive and uncertain as opposed to abrasive and headstrong. Donatello is played by Josh Brener and he’s more or less the same Donatello we’re used to, with maybe a touch of dryness. Michelangelo is played by Brandon Mychal Smith and is the character I felt the least impressed by. I just didn’t get much of a sense for his personality, though he did refer to himself as an artist. The press material labels him a prankster, but we didn’t really see that side of him in this episode. This episode was probably too concerned with establishing Leonardo as the new Mikey type at the expense of the other turtles.

albearto

Looks like there will be no shortage of interesting villain designs.

Splinter is voiced by Eric Bauza, who had previously voiced Tiger Claw for the last TMNT series, doing a stereotypical Japanese master voice. It almost feels out of place with so much of the other personalities mixed-up, though his personality is obviously different as well. He’s rather funny looking, and I presume he will have to actually train his sons eventually. We didn’t see much of the lair, but it appears to follow in the same mold as the other cartoons in that it’s lavishly outfitted with Donnie’s tech. April is voiced by Kat Graham, and she’s another character I didn’t get much of a read on. She seems more heroic than the actual turtles, and obviously felt an instant connection with the little dog/cat creature she acquires in the episode. WWE’s John Cena is Baron Draxum and I forgot he had been cast in this series. Draxum looks like a high resolution Xavier Renegade Angel, which isn’t a compliment, but his personality seems interesting. He doesn’t want to be a foe to the Turtles, though he obviously will be, and he came across as less cartoonish than the villains from the 87 show, which surprised me. He may prove to be a worthy foe after all.

rise toys

And don’t forget the toy-line! Meat Sweats is also an awesome name for a mutant pig.

I can see what Nickelodeon and executive producers Andy Suarino and Ant Ward are going for with this show. I also know that very little of it appeals to me. I welcome the change back to 2D, but I’m not crazy about the design of the characters. They’re a bit too similar to the Bay Turtles, which I found gross, but I concede they have a marketable look. I just feel it’s a bit too similar to other shows out there and it doesn’t strike me as unique. I did not enjoy the janky animation techniques and I hope they tone that down. The pivot to humor is fine, and it does feel like Teen Titains Go!, but it’s not naturally funny like that show. I didn’t watch it with any children present, so maybe they’ll disagree with me, which is what matters most. This isn’t a show I’ll seek out and watch as I did the 2012 show, but as a parent it won’t bother me if my kids start watching it. I like seeing the TMNT brand relevant, so for that reason I hope it’s a success.

“Mystic Mayhem” is just the debut for the show. Additional episodes are available right now online via Nickelodeon’s website and app. The actual series premier is scheduled for September 17, and the ever important toy line is expected to launch in October. Each episode will consist of two segments, but this first episode was one long segment. If you’re an adult fan of the brand I would still say give this one a peek just to check it out. Maybe you’ll like it, most likely you won’t. In a world where a lot of cartoons are hitting wider audiences (OK K.O.!, Gravity Falls, Craig of the Creek, etc.) it’s a little disappointing that this one does not, but not everything has to. Sometimes it’s fun for kids to have something that’s just for them.


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