-Hilariously, the character so integral to the origin of the TMNT was a guy they killed off in the first issue- they had him show up, challenge the boys, who got revenge for their master by killing him. Shredder had a backstory involving Hamato Yoshi- a kindly martial artist. Splinter, Yoshi’s pet rat, watched his master die at Oroku Saki’s hands, and when he mutated, trained his sons in the same skills that Yoshi used. Saki, now the Shredder, took control of the Foot Clan and was wrecking New York, and so the Turtles came a-calling and stopped him under Splinter’s orders. Leonardo ran Shredder through with his katana, offering him an honorable death, but Shredder instead threw a grenade, hoping to take the boys with him- Donatello knocked it back at him, and the Shredder exploded.
And from these humble origins come all the different Shredders, appearing in nearly every continuity so far as a recurring nemesis. Most of them simplify the story greatly- in the original comic, Shredder is the younger brother of a man who loved Yoshi’s beloved Tang Shen, and was killed in battle when he tried to kill Yoshi. Shredder thus killed Yoshi & Tang Shen, leaving Splinter alone, where he then mutated. Subsequent stories usually delete the older brother (Oroku Nagi) entirely. The ’80s cartoon didn’t even use Tang Shen, and Yoshi WAS Splinter.
Since the first Shredder was written for a one-off comic book that wasn’t, y’know, intended to create a 40-year franchise, he was easily discarded, but later writers were a bit more conservative, turning him into a recurring bad guy. In the 1980s Cartoon, he was a badass at first, but soon got written into being kind of a whiny, grudge-holding madman, constantly bickering with Krang. The Archie Comics version reflected the earlier version before they kinda left him aside, while the 1990s film series made him more like the darker Mirage version- a scary menace. The Mirage version sort of returned as a sentient mass of worms, as the Foot had attempted to resurrect Shredder- this mass eventually became a mutant shark before the Turtles finally killed him again. This seems very much like they were trying random weird stuff in order to capitalize on the character’s fame.
In the IDW Comics, Shredder was a feudal Japanese agent in the Foot Clan, and was meant to be a vessel for the resurrection of the goddess Kitsune’s father, The Dragon. This corrupted him, making him kill his friend Hamato Yoshi and his four sons- reincarnations of all these men would vex him in modern times. Splinter and the Turtles thus kill the Shredder, and Oroku Saki reconciles with his friend from the afterlife- Splinter ultimately sacrifices his own life to resurrect Saki and prevent the Dragon from using his corpse to reappear. Saki marries Kitsune and becomes a guardian to the Turtles.
The 2003 & 2012 cartoons made Shredder just as menacing, turning him into a fearsome recurring bad guy. The 2003 version was truly bizarre, eventually being revealed as an alien, and then at one point THREE different Shredders were around. Rise of the TMNT used Shredder as a hulking demon- 500 years ago, the Foot Clan leader Oroku Saki made a deal with an Oni for more power, but the magical armor swallowed his soul and corrupted him. The Hamato Clan used “Ninpo” spirit weapons to stop him, as no “mortal weapon” could harm the Shredder. He is reborn when Baron Draxum, the would-be “Big Bad” of the show, is consumed by the armor he wears- the Foot reveal they were using him to fuel the Shredder’s rebirth in the armor. Finally, Shredder is defeated by a combination of the Turtles, Karai (here an ancient warrior) and a returned Draxum.
Both movie franchises made use of him as well- the ’90s one made Shredder a master manipulator who led an army of teenage pickpockets on a crime spree across New York, and ultimately dies when drinking Mutagen to become the Super Shredder, while the 2014 version sought global control. This one used a guy named Eric Sacks as his subordinate- the movie was initially shot with Sacks’ actor as the Shredder, but they changed their minds in editing and re-shot the movie so that he was another character, and made him be part of the Turtles’ backstory. This Shredder piloted a mech suit once, and allies with Krang in the second movie before being betrayed and frozen.
“He serves no great purpose. He fights no great evil. He is great evil.”
-Splinter, on Shredder
TMNT 2003 SHREDDER (aka Ch’rell):
Oddly, the 2003 Shredder has a similar past to most on the surface, but eventually gets decapitated by Leonardo, and revealing himself to be an Utrom- the brain-shaped aliens! An unusual warlike Utrom, Ch’rell disguises himself as the Shredder using an exo-suit! But he’s hundreds of years old, as the Utroms crash-landed in Japan during the Sengoku period, and generally lived the life the established Shredders did- adopting Karai, fighting Hamato Yoshi, etc. After his decaptiation, Ch’rell reveals himself and returns, then appears to die in an explosion, carrying a huge grudge with the Turtles. Finally, he is arrested by the Utroms and exiled for the deaths of millions over the course of his life. His brain is used for the Cyber Shredder that is one of three active in the Back to the Sewers season.
Ch’rell’s final appearance is in the famous Turtles Forever Series Finale, as he is awakened by the 1987 Shredder, who finds himself way outclassed by this ancient madman. Ch’rell takes control of the Technodrome and converts himself into a goddamn KAIJU, assaulting New York and promising to execute every version of the Turtles across the multiverse. He manages to defeat a Giant-Sized Krang, but is undone by Rocksteady & Bebop of all people, who plug a disconnected cord back in, reactivating a laser than destroys Ch’rell.
The notion of a cybernetic version of the Shredder has existed since the 1990s video games, like in TMNT Tournament Fighters, but we get our first “official” version when the 2003 series does its strange “The Turtles spend a full season in the future, then return”- in the Back to the Sewers season, the boys come back to their own time and find THREE Shredders at war. This one is actually an android copy of Ch’rell, created when a sentient computer virus found an “engram” of Ch’rell’s mind in a Foot Clan data vault- it rewrote her and this guy took form. He eventually gained a physical body and lashed out repeatedly, and is finally destroyed for good in the Series Finale when he attacks Casey Jones & April O’Neil’s wedding- Donatello and “Turtle X” (a mech suit for Casey) team up to destroy him and remove his computer code.
DEMON SHREDDER (Oroku Saki):
When Ch’rell took the name of the Shredder, it was actually a legacy title- finally, we meet the original. He is a Tengu (Japanese folkloric flying trickster creature) who wreaked havoc and attempted to take over the world in the 4th Century. Five warriors, including Oroku Saki, united to oppose him- they were victorious, but Shredder convinced Saki to spare him in exchange for great power. The Shredder’s empty husk was destroyed and his soul thus possessed Saki. Saki thus took over Japan himself, and his four allies had to unite to stop him. Unable to kill him, they separated him from his gear and sealed them all away, forming the Ninja Tribunal to teach future generations their skills and prevent the Shredder from returning.
The Utron Ch’rell took advantage of the Shredder’s legend to gain respect. But when he was gone, some Foot Mystics gathered the artifacts together and “Demon Shredder” was reborn. He fought the Turtles to a standstill, along with the entirety of their enemies and allies (including the Purple Dragons and Justice Force- a band of superheroes), but the astral form of Hamato Yoshi returned and lethally-struck the Demon, which was finally able to destroy him.
The Demon Shredder was more of a Cosmic Being than a martial artist in many ways- in addition to Telekinesis, Magic Blasting and more, he could SUMMON ENTIRE ARMIES, transform himself into a dragon, teleport, and more. Essentially, he had every power ever. He was only weak against astral projections, and the fact that he had a spiritual link to everyone who took the name “Shredder”, which allowed Karai (the new acting Shredder) to siphon off some of his energy.
THE SHREDDER (Oroku Saki)- Nickelodeon Version:
In the 2012 series, Shredder is an epic, almost mythical threat- a badass warrior who tends to give commands from his throneroom while his minions do all the work. We’re left wondering a bit at what he can do… and then he shows us. “He was… so FAST” Leo shudders as he images the gigantic beatdown Shredder put on them (in a one-on-four battle, no less). Hell, Shredder once beat Leo so bad he changed voice actors! This guy was a malevolent, truly despicable monster.
Shredder’s backstory is kinda similar to the old days, but shifted around a bit- Oroku Saki was raised by Hamato Yoshi’s parents, but the two were great rivals. When Tang Shen fell for Yoshi, the jealous Saki vowed revenge. He attacked the couple, leading to a bloody brawl that accidentally killed Tang (something Saki blamed Yoshi for, because he’s a villain and all) and burned down the family home… where Saki found an infant he stole away and named Karai, raising her to hate Yoshi. And so we get a very long story arc in which Karai learns the truth about her father, turns on Shredder, and more. Finally, Shredder’s hatred becomes so all-consuming that he reneges on a temporary alliance with Splinter and the Turtles against the Triceratons, who have genocide on their mind- Shredder turns on Splinter at the last second, killing him and allowing the Earth to be destroyed, him with it, immediately thereafter. His last thoughts are how wonderful it is that the Hamato/Saki feud ends with his victory.
When things are set right after the Turtles go back in time to change history, Splinter attacks Shredder first and is victorious, beating Shredder so badly he requires a Mutagen “drip” to heal. He commands Baxter Stockman to up the dose… naturally turning him into the Super Shredder. Quickly going insane and delusional, Shredder attacks again, and this time, actually succeeds in killing Splinter (so… twice now he’s killed him). Vowing revenge, the Turtles attack, and Super Shredder defeats them all one by one until only a bruised Leonardo is left. The spirit of Splinter appears before a disarmed Leo to “fear nothing”, and he retrieves his katana and decapitates Super Shredder in one blow, finally avenging Splinter. I have to think “Seeking to kill your enemy” and then “actually doing it” are pretty hardcore and unusual for kids’ programming. Shredder briefly returns thanks to a magic spell and demonic dragon summoned by his chief minion Tiger Claw, but Saki appears to have found some kind of understanding or peace in the afterlife, and sacrifices himself to stop the dragon, claiming that neither of them belongs among the living anymore.
Shredder was an IMMENSE threat in this continuity, absolutely crushing all four Turtles at once, not looking even remotely in trouble. He even fought off the Turtles AND the Mutanimals simultaneously.
The upgraded “Super Shredder” is able to kill Hamato Yoshi, and also deal with the Turtles handily, until Leo is able to score a single critical strike to decapitate him.