2012: The year of the Turtle
I’ve got a long history of being a TMNT fan, and one thing is for sure: ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Fans’ — this is our year.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and I go way back. We’re the same age, born in the “Orwellian” year of 1984 — I, to a pair of musicians in Chicago; the Turtles, to a pair of aspiring comic book artists in Northampton, Massachusetts. I cannot pretend to have grown up with Eastman and Laird’s Mirage Turtles. They were a little too mature for my age group. The Mirage Turtles drank beer, said “Damn!” instead of some variation of “Shell!” and they eviscerated their foes instead of clocking them with trashcans. They were badass. Dark. Gritty. Monochromatic.
Like most ’80s babies, I met Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo through the Fred Wolf-produced Saturday-morning cartoon that ran for ten seasons between 1987 and 1996.
The 1987 Turtles helped define cool for my generation. They introduced surfer slang into the average American kid’s lexicon and exalted pizza to the status of Most Excellent Food in Existence (not that it wasn’t already deserving of this title).
We adopted Mikey’s breezy surfer attitude and Raph’s smart-alec wit. High on Turtle Power, we destroyed countless gift-wrap cardboard tubes, attempting to approximate Don and Leo’s moves with the bo and katana. We embraced all things TMNT, begging our parents to buy us baby red-eared sliders and send us to karate lessons (karate, only because “ninja school” wasn’t a real thing). Just think, today you can teach yourself ninjutsu via YouTube clips. Now, that’s not actually true, but you can learn how to throw a wicked shuriken and you can witness the deadly skills of a fat guy with a katana. Woosh. Tremble in fear, all you liters of Mountain Dew.
How cool were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles “back in day?” I don’t know exactly. I was exposed to the ooze too early to be objective about it. But I can imagine all the poor parents watching their kids dance to Vanilla Ice’s “Ninja Rap.” They must have thought we were certifiable. That reminds me of my brother, who used to do the lop-sided Turtle grin during family photos; my mom actually consulted her sister (who works with handicapped children) to find out if there was something wrong with him. “Why does he keep making that face?!” We explained it to her a couple decades later, and she was like, “… Oh.”
Ever heard the saying, “When I became a (wo)man, I put away childish things?” So not true of me. But I have grown up enough to appreciate genuine improvements upon my favorite childish things. Take the 2003 TMNT series for instance. For a while I used to feel guilty about liking the 2003 series more than the 1987 cartoon, but now I accept that it’s a natural progression, not a betrayal. As we Turtle fans grew up, we needed a more sophisticated version of our heroes in a half shell, and the 4Kids series gave us that, paying suitable homage to the Fred Wolf cartoon while creating a darker world and more nuanced characters to inhabit it.
Many of the story lines were lifted straight from the Mirage comics; for example, the fantastic Season 1 two-parter, “The Shredder Strikes Back” — in which Leo is pursued by hordes of Foot Ninja across the rooftops of New York and gets the shell kicked out of him — is based on the thrilling micro series Leonardo issue #1. The 2003 series certainly took some strange turns, such as — SPOILER ALERT — the Shredder turning out to be an Utrom. If you don’t know what an Utrom is, think Krang, but more sinister and less belchy. I imagine fans of the Mirage comics were able to forgive that particular twist, given this series (specifically seasons 1-4) came as close as a kids’ cartoon could to depicting Eastman and Laird’s original work. Stellar action sequences, tightly woven storytelling and continuity, frequent humor, lots of familial interaction between the Turtles and Splinter, awesome versions of April and Casey, even the occasional “Cowabunga!” — this series had it going on. Season 5 took a bizarre turn toward the mystical, but it was cool in its own way. Season 6 (“Fast Forward”) brought the Turtles to the future; it has some good episodes, but I hated it for a while. Season 7 (“Back to the Sewer”) is the weakest season, in terms of the animation, character design, and story, but again there were a couple gems.
For fans who feel guilty about “cheating on” the original Turtles with their 2003 counterparts, I suggest watching Turtles Forever, the animated movie that wraps up the 4Kids series by uniting both versions of the Turtles (2003 and 1987), as well as their respective villains, in one crazy fun adventure. Around the latter part of the movie, there is an amazing surprise that just may make your day. Possibly, your life. I’m telling you. Best. TMNT. Movie. Ever. Watch the uncut version. You know where to go (see: YouTube).
2012 really is a good year to be a TMNT fan. Our beloved ninja bros are returning to the small screen on September 29, and Playmates recently released some flippin’ awesome action figures to rev up the fanboys and fangirls. The Turtle Classics, which are currently sitting on my bookcase, feature a zillion points of articulation and beautiful weapons — they’re collectors’ items, ideal for endless playing … er, posing. The new Nickelodeon toys are also super posable (and they are also on my bookcase). Each Nickelodeon figure is unique in terms of musculature, color, size, and details like the nicks and battle damage on the Turtles’ plastrons (Raph’s got a big chunk ripped out of his — no surprise there, what a hothead!). My old-school Michaelangelo action figure, with his brown plastic accessories, looks positively primitive next to these bad boys.
As if new toys and a new TV series were not enough to keep us happy, the 1987 series is being released in November as a complete set, packaged in a Party Wagon. Think about that for a moment. Your own Party Wagon.
I don’t know about you dudes, but my Christmas wish list just got totally radical.
Man, I love bein’ a Turtle (fan).