-Another of the oldest “Always Appearing” characters in the franchise is of course Leatherhead. One of comparatively few mutant animals in the Mirage Comics, he was actually a good guy. The Leatherhead character was actually created by Ryan Brown in 1988 for a TMNT comic- Eastman & Laird had already signed off on the TV show & toyline, and were letting others write the main continuity, too. The original character was an infant alligator who had escaped a pet store and been exposed to Mutagen by Utroms. The Turtles helped him against a big-game hunter, but he later appears antagonistic after blaming the Turtles for wrecking his attempts at getting to the Utrom homeworld. They finally make good in the end, however.
But the cartoon, needing “Mutant Villains” and wanting more toys of them to sell, ended up sticking Leatherhead in the early Rogues Gallery, debuting him against the Punk Frogs in the swamps of Louisiana. Curiously enough, the Archie version went the opposite route and kept the heroic original version, also turning him into an intergalactic pro wrestler! He later joins the Mighty Mutanimals for their spin-off book and that goes on for a while.
The character appears in the 2003 series, keeping his Mirage origins with the Utroms, but becoming a Donatello-like genius. He seemingly sacrificed himself to save the Turtles, but reappeared later, having been tortured and experimented on by Agent Bishop, leaving him with emotional scars and rage issues. He had to live apart from the Turtles, but would still aide them in occasional episodes. In the Nick Toon, he is an absolutely MASSIVE character, at least 10-12 feet tall, but sports a tiny Gharial-like snouth that actually makes him look even more sinister, but he’s actually on the side of the good guys. However, he is exceptionally violent and prone to berserker rages, same as the previous Leatherhead, again due to experiments- this time ones inflicted on him by the Kraang.
IDW Comics also uses Leatherhead, and is hundreds of years old, mutating after a pirate ship dropped some mutagen into the waters. He had been enslaved by Krang for decades, and got revenge by eating him alive. however, Krang began regrowing in his stomach, provoking Leatherhead into frequent rages.
While scum-skulking through the green, slimy depths of a rank Florida swamp, a garden-variety gator swam through a streak of orange mutagen. Faster than snap, crackle and crunch, this grinning gator mutated into Leatherhead, the biggest, meanest reptile ever to hit the amphibious circuit.
Rippling with supermutant strength and swimming ability, Leatherhead enjoys just a pinch of Turtle between his teeth and gum for true chewin’ satisfaction.
This garbage can gourmet fills his gullet by trapping Turtles, tenderizing them with a blast of his swamp gun and mixing in a bag of red-hot Cajun spices. Leatherhead is the undisputed king of the swamp and could be the next sultan of the sewer when Shredder drafts him into the dreaded Foot Clan.
THE 1980s CARTOON LEATHERHEAD:
Like the Rat King, Leatherhead is common to all TMNT versions, though usually in altered form. In the Mirage & Archie Comics, he was a heroic figure (he even joined the Mighty Mutanimals at Archie!). In the 1987 cartoon, however, Leatherhead was a vicious, Cajun-accented, slang-spoutin’ monster (I still remember the way he puncuated every sentence with “I GAH-RON-TEEEEE!”). He debuts in the Florida Everglades, having been mutated by the run-off of the Mutagen that created the Punk Frogs. An enormous Gator-Man, he waltzed in and soon beat the hell out of all four Frogs at once, and made them his personal servants! The Frogs quickly called the Turtles for assistance, at which point the heroes rapidly arrived in Florida (HOW??) and fought the villain. Shredder and his minions soon got involved, and teamed up against the heroes, but were eventually stomped. He would reappear a few other times, once being captured by the Rat King (who threw a Soda Pop Bomb that KO’d the Cajun Crocodilian), and another time allying with him, then teamed with all of the other Rogues.
-Leatherhead’s toy was remarkably-tiny, especially considering the character on TV was HUGE. A full head taller than almost any other character, and ridiculously-strong. They gave him a great “you should buy this toy IMMEDIATELY!” push, and I was a huge Leatherhead fan. Unfortunately, the toy was a shrunk-down guy with squat legs, short arms, and a head that was apparently quite notorious for falling off. Another personal TMNT-related story: My Leatherhead toy actually lost his head while on the school playground one day, and I didn’t notice until I got back to class. Despite a search (even showing up in the school’s “paper” sent to each class), the head was never uncovered- apparently a GREEN HEAD amidst an entire grassy portion of school property is rather difficult to locate. Oddly, I was never particularly-heartbroken about the loss, but like a lot of TMNT stuff, I actually remember it fairly well.
LEATHERHEAD (Jess Harley)- Archie Comics Version:
Leatherhead’s Archie Comics appearance was quite odd, because he copies the appearance of the toy & cartoon version, but his status as friendly ally is more akin to the Mirage original. Written by his original creator Ryan Brown, this Leatherhead was a poor human who was mutated when an evil witch named Mary Bones transformed him using magic. Shredder manipulates Leatherhead into joining him, but when he realizes that Shred-head is evil, he allies with the Turtles against him. He later appears on “Stump Asteroid”, wrestling for the Intergalactic Wrestling Federation, meeting the Turtles yet again and running off with their new friends, the Mighty Mutanimals.
With a penchant for saying “Ut!” at all times (expressions of pain, surprise, etc.) and a friendly demeanor, this Leatherhead was kind of a boisterous hero, despite looking pretty sinister. He appeared as a regular in The Mighty Mutanimals and even got a three-part Limited Series called Donatello and Leatherhead, but he was sadly killed off with the rest of the Mutanimals before the Archie series was cancelled.
Hungry for duck brain, Krang ordered Shredder to beam an Earthbound duck to Dimension X (there’s a shortage of ducks in Dimension X). While transmuting the duck, famous test pilot, Ace Conrad, accidentally flew into the energy beam. The emerging plane was suddenly piloted by Ace Duck, the aero-dynamic adventurer with a big bill. The plane plummeted into the inner city and slid nose-first into the sewer. Ace escaped without ruffling his feathers and found himself at the secret hideout of the Turtles. After realizing he wasn’t just some quack off of the streets, the Turtles decided to hire Ace to pilot their Turtle Blimp. Always looking for a good adventure, Ace isn’t afraid to scramble the Foot with his hard-boiled Egg Grenades… as long as he gets paid on time. Even though he’s employed by the Turtles, Ace is still their fearless, flying friend.
Ace Duck was one of the lamest toys released for the TMNT line: he’s ugly, plain and dresses all dumb. His “Pilot” look just lacks the detail of some of the nutbars in this line. His role is also incredibly-limited in most of the supporting materials- in his ONLY appearance in the entire cartoon (which, remember, had ten seasons) was when the Turtles were watching an Ace Duck Marathon on TV. Ace is seen in a close-up, cackling like Donald Duck. That’s it! His entire run! As a kid, I found the character almost offensively lame- like you had all these fantastic designs with ninja turtles, gun-toting rhinos, alien brains in giant robots, and then there’s this asshole in a bomber jacket and with generic “humanoid animal” features. It’s the most boring, hopeless design of all the early characters! And at least the later ugly toys were horrible in EPIC ways- Hot Spot, Scratch & Halfcourt were idiotic toys, but at least you could feel effort in their incompetence- not just “okay, so he’s a duck and here are his clothes”.
I found Ace Duck so stupid (I think we had his toy) that I actually laughed at his cameo appearance in the Archie Comics- he was a literal jobber! Like, the ORIGINAL kind! When the TMNT went to space, Leatherhead was seen as the dominant wrestler in the Intergalactic Wrestling Federation… and he’s beating on a big, muscular version of Ace, whose only cameo is him losing a match! An ACTUAL JOBBER! I was delighted- it meant the Archie creators hated him, too! He reappears losing to a guy named Bloodbath, dropping the fight in the same way- he talks too much shit and is clobbered!
Ace’s “Exists only as a background joke” concept continued on in the Nick Toon, where his image appears on a photograph as another random mutant created by Baxter Stockman for the Shredder- the art hilariously evokes that of Tom of Finland, an artist known for hyper-masculinized ultra-gay imagery. Look up Tom of Finland and realize what kind of joke this kids’ cartoon was making… and be thankful the picture stops at the shoulders. The character also shows up in the IDW Comics, this time as a space pilot on the side of the Neutrinos.
This begs the question as to which kind of Ace Duck is most memorable. The Cartoon apparently features him as a cartoon character, so that’s out. The toy gives him the bio of an ace pilot who was trapped in a transporter beam because Krang wanted some “duck brain” and was beaming a duck to Dimension X (it also mentions that he’s from Peking, naturally). In the Archie comic, he’s an alien muscle-man (er, muscle-duck) whose bragging is always his undoing- two opponents beat him while he’s boasting.