Jab’s Reviews: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Series Overview

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TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES:
-And now, owing to the big turnout in votes for the Ninja Turtles, I’ll be doing a big set of builds for the franchise! This will start off with the 1990s Movie series, then follow up with builds surrounding the trio of cartoons (leaving off Rise of the TMNT, which is too new and unknown to me)- a handful of characters will thus end up with multiple builds.

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The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are… well, this is one of the biggest smash hits of all time for media targetted towards children. Two nerds creating a black & white indie comic somehow spawned a media empire that extends to this very day, though nothing has matched the craze of the late 1980s/early 1990s, when it was the biggest cartoon on the air. We really lack a great number of things that were pure phenomenons like this was- at its peak, TMNT was as big as Pokemon (though didn’t have the longevity nor the wide reach) in the U.S., and its only real rivals are things like that, Harry Potter, the MCU, and other mega-franchises. Almost NOTHING crossed the divide like this- at one point, the Ninja Turtles owned the top movie, cartoon, toyline, video games, CEREAL, concert tours, and “just slap a label on it to sell more” franchise (bicycles, lunchboxes, etc.) in the world.

The origin story is that two friends, Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird, were taking the piss out of Marvel Comics, which had a ton of books featuring mutants and/or ninjas, and Eastman drew a turtle with nunchucks, making both laugh at the absurdity of a famously-slow animal using ninjitsu. So they made an indie comic (a do-it-yourself genre of black & white oddball books at this point) and suddenly it sold bajillions of copies and the pair cashed in. Occasionally taking control of their franchise and occasionally not (they had little influence over the cartoon & toyline), it EXPLODED into the kind of thing we only see once every 5-10 years or so. A true multimedia storm.

The story is usually the same at its core: A mutant rat trained four turtles- leaderly Leonardo, genius Donatello, grouchy Raphael and goofy Michaelangelo (the creators mispelled “Michelangelo” and it stuck for most of the early incarnations of the franchise)- to fight the villainous Shredder and his Foot Clan. Most of the other variants feature aliens (the Triceratons & Utroms, most typically), and go back and forth on how “kiddie” they are, with most modern comics being as dark as the original (which famously killed off Shredder in the first issue, since hey- they didn’t know there was going to be a second), and even the cartoons being a lot more violent and freaky, as the original ‘toon is now one of the definitive “Disneyfied” versions of a more-serious original story, to the point where it’s often mocked more than it should be. Each successive incarnation of the franchise is on a varied scale of how far up its own ass it is in response to the original “kiddie” cartoon and how edgelordy they want to come off as.

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There were multiple variations of the franchise, most of which were huge:

THE MIRAGE COMIC BOOK SERIES:
-The original. I read a Trade Paperback of the first issues a long time ago, and I found it rather mediocre, truth be told. Very weird, and full of ugly, ugly art. It gets props from the usual “the original is ALWAYS best” and the “it’s indie so it’s KEWLER than this Popular Pop Culture bollicks” crowds, and people completely lost that it was supposed to be SATIRICAL with the overly-grim and gritty stuff, and were instead taken in by the grimness and grittiness, to the point where they hated any future versions for toning these aspects down.

THE PALLADIUM RPG/AFTER THE BOMB:
-Palladium never met a franchise they didn’t like, and so they translated some Turtles stuff into RPG form. It was a mess, though (despite one of my best friends being OBSESSED WITH THIS GAME- he’s a Furry so this crap appeals to him naturally, and he’s always had a fetish for “Post-Apocalyptic” stuff)- the Character Creation system was abysmal (if you wanted to be a cool large animal turned into a human, you had to spend nearly ALL of your points getting stuff like hands, so you were almost always worse off than guys who took smaller animals), and it had the usual nonsensical Palladium rules (that system makes ZERO sense in retrospect- Rifts was my first RPG, and now I can barely make sense of the rules. I swear it made sense to me at the time). The RPG books first took stuff directly from Mirage, but they eventually shifted to a more “this is a post-apocalyptic world of radiation-mutated animal-people” concept with some TMNT trappings.

The main issue the RPG eventually ran into is this was the preferred TMNT for Edgelord neckbeards of the mid-1980s who wanted to be bad-ass, but when the cartoon came out in 1987, suddenly nothing in the world looked less cool to college kids than pretending to be in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles universe. Sales plummeted, and the book was restructured to be about Mutant Animals in a post-apocalyptic world. The line has long since disappeared- Palladium found more money in Rifts and folded some of the junk from this into that.

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Krang: “They’ll will FAIL, Shredder- they ALWAYS fail!”
Shredder: “But what CHOICE do I have? Only MUTANTS are immune to the Mesmerizer’s beam! Humans like myself can’t be near it when it goes off!”
Krang: “You don’t have to explain to to ME- *I* invented it, remember?!”
Shredder: “I wasn’t explaining it to you- I was explaining it to THEM!” *points at the audience*

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (1987 Cartoon Series):

-This went on FOREVER. I remember getting into it when it was new and totally gnarly, and every kid I knew was in love with it. That damn episode with the Dimension X Teenagers’ and their stupid Grybyx came on like 15,000 times, annoying me endlessly, but I remember it being pretty great. I tired on it over the years (research and common sense have shown that any given thing will only be REALLY huge for about three years before fading away- things like Pokemon are rare exceptions), and by the last few seasons, I didn’t know a single person watching. It lasted a FREAKISH amount of time (something like nine seasons, but most of them were short). I haven’t really gotten into it for retro-stuff like I did most of the ’80s cartoons, and oddly it doesn’t seem to get the props the others do in retrospect either. Their DVDs came out with little fanfare, they don’t have fansites out the yin-yang, and nobody ever seems to talk about it in comparison to G.I. Joe & Transformers. It’s really rather odd, when you consider this franchise was ****ING HUGE in it’s prime- easily larger than the either of those shows, truth be told. I never really got into it in recent years, as I’ve been wavering on spending money on something that could totally fail to hold up- the series was goofy at it’s best, and was usually poorly-animated and had the exact same plot told about 9,000 times. Part of me doubts that it’s anywhere near as good as the Joes, Autobots, and Disney Afternoon stuff was (it’s gotta be better than Thundercats, though- that show is the ULTIMATE “Fails to Hold Up” experience).

One thing I definitely remember is “Crappy Animation Syndrome” popping up all the time. And when a frickin’ CHILD notices that your animation blows… it blows. Among the most-frequent issues was the animation depicting one Turtle speaking, and ANOTHER guy’s voice being heard! Granted, the characters are identical save the color of their swank cloth bits, but that’s just LAZY and should have been caught in post. Granted, it can’t be worse than some of the bad Transformers & G.I. Joe episodes I’ve seen, nor the worst of Thundercats… but it could suck.

Some of the old episodes are FANTASTIC, however. Among the very best is the early one where they come across an old lady, who screams “AAAAH!! MONSTERS!” and before they can explain themselves, the old lady PULLS A TOMMY GUN OUT OF HER SHOPPING CART, boots it away, and threatens the “Scum!” (who is she, DDP?), and the entire team (plus April) has to rapidly backpedal with their hands in the air. Ah, New York before Giuliani cleaned up the joint…

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Casey Jones applying for a job. Undercover.

Another phenomenal one is Corporate Raiders From Dimension X, where Krang’s minions form an EVIL BUSINESS. The Turtles can’t infiltrate it, and so they bring in their pal CASEY JONES (who, I feel I should point out, is a violent psychopath). Now Casey takes a job in their offices, WITHOUT TAKING OFF HIS MASK, leaving him wearing a corporate ’80s suit along with a hockey mask and all of his sports equipment. He gets the job by threatening the recruiter with a baseball bat (“Hm, a RUTHLESS, VIOLENT attitude. I like that!”). Then Casey responds to a warning from his boss by COMMITTING AN ASSAULT. Another boss sees this, and is so impressed that he immediately gives Casey a promotion!

So the show could be goofy, but MAN, when the writers fully-admitted that the show was goofy as hell, it was awesome. Just as absurd and *wink wink* at the audiences as the much-beloved cartoons of today are, really.

The show uses the toys as a basis for most characters (or vice-versa)… but some are a bit off. Most-notably, the Turtles themselves are all the same color (the toys featured a dark green Raph, light green Mikey, olive green Leo, and poop-brown Donatello), and feature big cartoony eyes and grins- the toys have narrow eyes without pupils, and freaky grimaces to show how bad-ass they are. Shredder is portrayed as a shirtless, hunched-over guy in the toys. Krang was stuck in a big walker for four-to-five years until the toyline finally produced an Android Body Krang (which is very expensive).

THE ARCHIE COMIC BOOK SERIES (1988-1995):
-Basically replacing the Mirage series (which the cartoon barely resembled) as the pre-eminent TMNT book, this was an odd experience for me as a kid. The first issues were pretty bad (I have a few of them), and they tried to copy the cartoon pretty closely, but after a point they went WAAAAAYYY off on a tangent, and started dealing with new enemies and worlds, got rid of many of their old villains (Bebop & Rocksteady turned into nudists on an alien world full of transplanted Earth zoo animals), met up with the “Mighty Mutanimals” (a gang of popular supporting characters and a couple of newbies) who later GOT SHOT AND MURDERED (seriously- this is an ARCHIE SERIES), etc.

-It primarily turned into a Disney-esque Uncle Scrooge type of “wandering the Earth on adventures” type of story, usually with a hyper-environmentalist stance (think Captain Planet). It has a LOT of fans to this day, and people still whine about it getting cancelled before it could finish an epic plotline, but really, with the cartoon long-since cancelled, this book was probably selling like crap. The issues I have are readable, but still pretty kiddie, even though it’s remarkably adult for an Archie book. Parts of it kind of read like “hee-hee, let’s have NASTY DIALOGUE so that kids will think this is adult!” because April says stuff like “I’ll cut you – I SWEAR” and I’m pretty sure a blinded Turtle once copied Bart Simpson’s “I’m [blank]- who the hell are you?” line). It’s interesting, but not really phenomenal, likely getting over-rated because of the age group of the kids reading this “naughty” stuff.

One thought on “Jab’s Reviews: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Series Overview

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  1. How dare you impugn Palladium and their awful game system? I say that the red box D&D was my first rpg but it’s lies, it was TMNT and other Strangeness. We loved that game so much when we were ten. Was every “adventure” going to an island for a fighting tournament? Yes. But we liked it, we loved it, we couldn’t get enough of it!

    Liked by 1 person

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