Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: just the basics
Back in 1988, a toy company called Playmates released the greatest action figure line in toys history. I know that may sound trite or just plain wrong to many of you that read this, but in my opinion, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first action figure line has stood the test of time better than TMNT figure line to come since the 80’s. Not only does this include action figures released later on by Playmates (whether they be based on animated series or feature films), but by other toy manufacturers like Herocross, Dreamex, ThreeZero and a host of others. While it may seem ridiculous to some to mention Playmates Toys in the same sentence as other, more respected companies, I believe it to be essential. Sure, the first line of figures in the storied history of TMNT toys may seem much more like kid stuff or Technicolor byproducts from the decade that birthed them, but there is a lot to be said of a company that isn’t afraid to put personality first, than people that bank on nostalgia and looking to internet message boards to find out what’s popular enough to sell. While the ’88 Playmates line may have been developed from a cartoon series designed to sell a product to children, so were Transformers, G.I. Joe, He-Man and Thundercats. Our childhood was manufactured by people who knew how to sell us a product. But it is also remembered fondly by us, the fans. Fans that may have grown up to be a collector who wants to keep a piece of their childhood alive. Some of us may have children of our own now. Maybe they love the Turtles as much as we do. Some of us are protective of our memories. Some of us prefer to share them with friends and family of a younger generation, which is the point of these writings.
Believe it or not, I’m not trying to force my opinion upon you. I want you to like what you like and to collect what you want. But I want you to know where it started, or at least, where it started for me. What will follow in my current ramblings is more than a series of reviews of figures from another time, for me it’s something of a time capsule. That may sound overdramatic, but it seems to me that some people forget where their figures came from. For every one-sixth scale figure of the cool, but rude Raphael, there was one figure that perfectly captured who that character was released back in 1988; a toy that combined the elements of its comic book origins and the modern characteristics of its day. A toy, an honest to god action figure that is responsible for so much more today. For without the TMNT series released in 1987, we wouldn’t be talking about a new animated series coming in 2018. I understand that nothing would be here without the comic from a couple of guys from Maine, but without what came in 1988 from a California-based toy manufacturer, it can be argued that the Turtles would’ve been nothing more than an indie comic flash in the pan. Gone before many of us knew it even existed.
So, without further ado , I hope you enjoy what is the first part of many insights into what figures were released in the greatest action figure line in toys history (in my opinion). While the figure line from Playmates became infamous for the amount of action figure variants released between 1988 and 1997, it’s my goal to highlight the incredible personality and creativity that the line should be known for. All I ask from you, the reader, is that you can separate yourself from your cynicisms. Yes, we all know that the TMNT were and are a merchandising juggernaut that has had its three-fingered hands in everything from action figures to cereal bowls, but so did Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Batman and Catholicism. I ask that you go back in your own memory as you read this, to a time when the Turtles were all you needed.
To the reader: This writing is merely a guide to the basic series of the Playmates line of TMNT figures release in 1988 through 1997. I won’t be focusing much on variants and vehicles, but they will be highlighted to some degree. For fans of the old school line of TMNT figures, this is for you. When I started writing this, I had only intended this to be reviews of the action figures, but somewhere along the way, my reviews became more retrospective pieces of the characters. I hope you enjoy what I have to say.
Before we begin, it should be noted that despite the whimsical nature of this attitude-ridden figure line, these toys came with some serious standards before ever hitting the toy shelves. Almost every figure came with seven points of articulation; Two at the hips, shoulders, wrists and one at the neck. Very few figures strayed from this, so much so that, to me, it’s considered a luxury (if not a bit odd) when a figure came equipped with hinge joints at the knees or shoulders; but, as we’ll find out later, this change up in joints completely fit in with the characters own mutation (say, Ace Duck or Walkabout).
You’ll find that I’m going to mention sculpt and character a lot in these reviews because the figures sculpts positively oozed (pun intended) personality. Mostly with the bad guys in the line, they came covered in details that were actually part of the figures mold. Rat King is possibly the best/creepiest example as he practically leaps out of his blister packaging covered head to toe in rats and spiders. And it doesn’t stop there. Pretty much all of the figures have dynamic poses based around the knees and feet. Almost every figure has one foot or the other arched as if they’re about to spring into action. Some people that try to detract from this series often talk about how these figures are too difficult to stand properly for display. But, be honest, when you were five r six years old, playing with these figures, display was the furthest thing from you mind. Just because you’re tastes are different as an adult, doesn’t mean that the quality of these figures has taken a nosedive.
Finally, these figures came with a plethora of accessories and weapons that perfectly complimented the individual character of the figure in question, and, in most cases, came with weapons and gear that became a part of that characters identity in regards to pop culture. The Turtles had their signature weapons, Bebop had his drill bit machine gun, Scratch came with a bag of money from his latest bank robbery, and April came packaged with a video camera…that housed a handgun. It’s these examples of attention to detail that is sorely lacking in some figures that came after this first line.
With all of that being said, let’s start at the very beginning with the world’s most fearsome fighting team…
(They’re really hip!)
The Battle Commander for the Turtles
Released in 1988
The leader of the crew, Leonardo is known for his loyalty to his family as well as his unyielding bravery in battle. Leonardo’s sculpt looks almost every as bit brave and powerful as his portrait and reputation describes him. He’s in a somewhat crouched position that, while it does look like he’s preparing to leap into battle, Leo seems oddly relaxed. Almost as if to say that he’s ready for anything, because he can handle everything. Also, thanks to his deep, almost, hunter’s green coloring, you can easily see that this ninja turtle can melt into the shadows regardless of the time of day.
But his amazing sculpt leads to my one and only issue with any of the fab four, Leonardo’s facial expression is a little mystifying. Maybe it’s just me, but as an adult, I look at Leo’s face and I see a slightly worried expression on him. It usually isn’t a problem for me, but when you have him lined up on the shelf with the rest of his brothers, Leonardo kind of stands out as the one that’s a little off. Almost as if he’s questioning his life choices as he prepares for a dual with old Shred-head.
With that being said, once he stands equipped with his dual katana blades, this hero turtle is ready for whatever battle may lay ahead.
But Leonardo is also a criminally underrated hero amongst his brothers. He’s often overlooked when it comes to being the “favorite”, and it’s easy to understand why. He’s the caretaker of the team, not a party dude, or a genius inventor or even a red-masked rage monster; he’s the guy that keeps everyone in line. The guy that isn’t afraid to be the responsible one. He is the guy you call when you need a hero.
Leo may seem boring because he’s never had to really take a look at himself and figure out who he is. Leo was appointed leader by their father Splinter and that’s all the recognition he’s ever needed. He knows who he is, he’s knows what he’s doing, and above all else, he knows he’s going to win.
Turtle Trivia: In the original comics from Mirage, Leonardo never once referred to himself as the leader.
The Turtles Creative Genius
Released in 1988
Every team has a gadget guy, and Donatello is the best in the business. Despite what sales figures and advertising may lead you to believe, Donatello is a series favorite character, and seemingly, everyone’s first TMNT figure. Looking at this figure as an adult, I am slightly taken aback (in a good way) as to how aggressive Donatello’s head sculpt is. With barred teeth, Donnie is leaning forward slightly, thanks to his sculpt, and suggesting that not only is he ready to fight, but he’s looking forward to it.
Now while we all know that Donatello is more of a tinkerer than a fighter who would rather think his way out of a conflict, I believe that his slightly aggressive posture is one of the many ways that the first series of Playmates figures paid homage to the original comics these figures were based on. Also, reading through his portrait, you’ll find a clever example of subliminal marketing with the mention that Donatello designs and builds all of the Turtles vehicles (Party Wagon!). Finally, I wanted to mention that Donatello has to be the most dynamic looking Turtle figure, thanks to his brown sculpt clashing well with his brother’s various shades of green.
Anybody else want to talk about the freaky coincidence that Donatello was somehow everyone’s first Ninja Turtle figure? Ask any fan of a certain age, and they’ll all swear up, down and backwards that Donnie was the first figure they acquired in their collection, even me.
This may sound cheesy, but to me, Donatello represents a great link within the fan community (at least fans of a certain age) because Donnie was the guy that we all loved. In a funny way, he was the guy that “made” some of our favorite toys as a kid, and he proved to us that it was okay to strive for intelligence and to tinker around with junk in our closet to make something new from it. Remember, this was the same Turtle that created the “first” cell phone and an interdimensional transporter out of trash cans, proving that being smart is a sometimes better that being brawny.
Turtle Trivia: Donatello is (at least) partially inspired by TMNT co-creator, Peter Laird.
The Witty Voice of the Turtles
Released in 1988
The muscle of the group, Raphael’s sculpt looks like the absolute definition of strength and ‘tude. While he has the same standard seven points of articulation, his figure was given flat feet and seemingly easier bend at the knees giving him (to me, at least) a slightly taller appearance. Add to that his broader shoulders and you’ve got yourself a one turtle wrecking crew. On top of that, Raphael has the lightest color green to his mold making the bulging veins on his arms that much more impressive.
Just like in the cartoon, Raphael does not mess around. This figure, more than any one of his brothers perfectly strikes the look of the original comics published back in 1984, thanks in no small part to his red mask and pads. Back in the day, the Turtles of the comics were depicted as wearing red masks and I can’t help but wonder if co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird fought to keep at least one of their turtles in a red mask. I mean, what other color could you imagine Raph wearing? Personally speaking, Raphael is my favorite turtle and I am so happy to have seen him in this form first. After all these years, this is the best Raphael figure.
Raphael has somehow proven to be the one “tough guy” action hero that hasn’t instantly made me roll my eyes. Raph is a tough guy who doesn’t like taking orders, not because he feels that he’s better than his brothers (in most cases) but because he can’t stand to see them get hurt. In recent years, Raphael has actually moved on slightly from being the guy that’s mad all the time, to the guy who’s mildly irritated all the time as he’s learned to care for others and realize that not everyone is look at him like he’s a freak.
Although, I feel that would be remiss if I didn’t mention actor Rob Paulsen in being the real creative force behind Raphael. He took a simple, acerbic character and made it so much more that what came before. His Raphael wasn’t angry or sensitive, he was snappy and bright. Ever since the original animated series ended in 1996, every actor that has stood in his shoes has just tried to be a hardcore meathead that solves his problems with his fists. While Raphael may have started that way, Rob Paulsen was brave enough to go a different direction, or at least his voice directors were.
While this figure looks like he leapt straight out of the black and white pages of the comics, this guy always reminds me of the old cartoon that I still cherish to this day. Yes, I’m biased, but as I’ve stated before, this figure is the best there is, and it was inspired by some of the most talented people working in both comic books and animation.
Turtle Trivia: Voice actor Rob Paulsen not only leant his voice to Raphael, but your entire childhood, in shows like Animaniacs, Tiny Toon Adventures, Snorks and Mighty Max.
The Wild and Crazy Turtle
Released in 1988
Everyone loves the funny one, and Michelangelo has proven time and again that he has earned the right to be known as a fan-favorite. While this figure is a bit darker than I think some remember, Michelangelo’s personality shines through with his head sculpt; flashing just the slightest of half smiles. While his sculpt is very similar to his brothers, it’s his belt that I have actually taken issue with. The initialized belts that the Turtles wear into battle are iconic, but I will admit to having a few problems holstering his trademark nunchucks.
Honestly, it is great on Playmates part that they wanted to ensure that the weapon holsters on the Turtle’s belts could maintain a firm grip around their weapons, but while holstering Mikey’s trademarked chucks I honestly wondered what would break first, the handles or the belt.
I know I’m supposed to be talking about toys here, but I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the comics, if not briefly. The first TMNT comic book I ever saw was the Michelangelo one-shot that was released in December of 1985. This issue, in my opinion, is where the creators figured out who Michelangelo is. He is much more lighthearted than his brothers. More open and willing to show his emotions. In the issue, Mikey wants nothing more than to buy Christmas presents for his family (including April) with his last ten dollars, a small fortune in 1985. I remember being a kid, reading this issue with nothing but the cartoon and the 1990 film to use as a reference. And as different as it looked to me, those characters were very similar to what I knew of the Turtles. The issue really showed that Michelangelo was much more than yelling “Cowabunga” and throwing pizza parties. He was a guy that loved his family and held them in the highest regard. No matter how dire the situation may be, Mikey only ever thought about his family and how he has to protect them. I know that I’m not talking about the figure that much, but this issue kind of informed how I played with my figures at the time. It was a while before I was able to find the original Michelangelo figure (more on that later) and my other Turtles were always on the lookout for their lost brother, despite the variants I had.
Michelangelo proved to me that the four Turtles were about more than bright colors and karate chops, they were a family that would do anything to keep each other safe; and that is a great life coach for an five year old to have.
Turtle Trivia: Michelangelo was the first Ninja Turtle created by co-creator Kevin Eastman, which inspired Peter Laird to create his own.
The four Turtles were a massive part of my childhood, and, like a lot of us, the cartoon, figures and comics meant more to me than I could express. I remember finding a Michelangelo figure on a shelf at an antique mall when I was twelve. I wasn’t collecting action figures anymore (thanks SEGA), but I remember seeing Mikey and knowing that I had to have it. See, Michelangelo was the one turtle that I never found when I was a little kid in the heyday of all the TMNT craziness. But I remember standing Michelangelo on my desk next to his brothers, Leonardo, Raphael and Donatello, and I remembered feeling so much smaller. I remembered a cold night when I was five, and my mother handing me a blister packaged card holding Donatello inside; Everyone’s first Turtles figure. That feeling is something that has stuck with me for almost thirty years. That’s why I can say with a straight face that the Playmates line of figures is the best line of action figures ever created. In the years since, with all the technological advances in entertainment, no quarter scale figure, VR headset, epic comic book crossover, or cinematic universe can ever replace the feelings and memories these figures gave me. This may sound dramatic as hell, but there is a part of me that is who he is because of these figures. I mean, what can I say about these characters that hasn’t been said already? These four Turtles are true icons within the realms of science fiction and fantasy; at least they are to me. Sure, it’s all in the name; the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sounds like a bunch of words that have nothing to do with each other, and that is the beauty of it. The TMNT, from an unbiased perspective, shouldn’t have worked. Four mutated Turtles, wielding ninja gear and weapons that were named after Italian artists sounds like a fever dream that not even Hunter S. Thompson was capable of, but somehow, against all odds, it worked gangbusters, and it has lasted for decades now. One thing that I love about the Turtles, one lesson that I have taken away from them, is the fact that they truly are a testamate to what imagination, hard work and luck can bring you. While these four figures may not be everyone’s favorite, everything that we have now, in terms of collectibles and toys, came from the success and ambition of what Playmates was doing in 1988.
The Good Guy Leader
Released in 1988
Splinter is the reason the turtles are the heroes they are. Had the Turtles never been recovered by Hamato Yoshi, they would have never been trained in the mystic and ancient arts of Ninjitsu, and thus would have never gone on to save April O’Neil in a time of need. (let it be known that I am going by the continuity of the ’87 cartoon series). The actual character of Splinter may be a bit of a cliché. We all know by now that we should never judge a book by its cover, but taking a look at Splinter’s actual sculpt and design, you would be forgiven if you thought there was nothing special about him.
Splinters figure might be the same height as the turtles themselves, but he is decidedly less aggressive looking and much more laid-back in his stance. While Splinter may be a giant rat, you have to give Playmates some credit by leaning on the side of restraint while designing this figure. Splinter’s head sculpt is certainly more realistic than some of the figures that came later in the line. His calm and peaceful expression shows off some of his graying fur near his nose showing you that he has some miles to him.
A stroke of genius to this figure is the fact that Splinters karate gi is made of an actual piece of cloth instead of being a part of the plastic mold. Add to that a posable tail (giving you a whopping eight points of articulation!), and the fact that he comes equipped with a bow and arrow, and you have a figure that rises above his small stature and proves why he’s an unrivaled master
Turtle Trivia: During the (current as of 2017) run of TMNT comics from IDW Publishing, Splinter became the leader of the Foot clan after defeating the Shredder in combat…spoilers.
TV News Reporter & the Turtles #1 Fan
Released in 1988
Everyone needs a friend, and despite a rocky first encounter, April is always there when the Turtles need a hand. What’s great about April is that, in every iteration of her character, she has openly accepted the Turtles for who they are and not judged them by how they look. Say what you will, but that is a great message to send to kids while they watch cartoons. Getting to the actual figure…actually, I’m going to be honest; her figure has a single glaring flaw that just looks odd. While she does have the standard seven points of articulation, her left arm hangs straight down at her side, stiff as a board. It wouldn’t be very noticeable had the rest of her sculpt followed suit, but her knees and right arm are all slightly bent, suggesting action. Who knows, maybe she’s supposed to be holding her microphone, but she probably shouldn’t be so tense on camera.
Speaking of her figure, April has had several makeovers over the course of the toy line. While she kept relatively the same sculpt, her clothes were often accented with different colored stripes (often orange or blue or orange and blue) and even a green jumpsuit for an April figure that accompanied the Channel 6 News van vehicle. All this talk about paint may seem like a trivial way to pad out the number of figures, but if you’re a collector, the color scheme to April’s jumpsuit is an indication of her rarity. With the rarest being a yellow jumpsuit with no stripes or colored accents at all. Or maybe it was the green-suited April that came with the news van…I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t think anyone knows.
Turtle Trivia: During the fourth volume of the Mirage comics, April was revealed to be a drawing come to life instead of a human being. Reactions were…mixed, to say the least.
The Bad Guy Leader
Released in 1988
The old saying goes that a hero is only as good as their villain. Well, the Shredder is a pop culture icon with few equals. There are very few villains whose identity is so intertwined with the hero of a story, but the Shredder is so much a part of the TMNT history, that he does not appear in any other media franchise without the presence of the Turtles themselves.
Now while the ’88 figure line might be known more for their variants of previously released figures, even I’ll agree that the Shredder getting a couple of variants here and there were a blessing in disguise, as the figure that came out in the first run of figures is a little…odd. While the Shredder’s figure is very imposing (his portrait states that he’s six feet tall), you wouldn’t know it to look at him, as he is crouched down so far forward that you may think he’s stretching for his morning yoga class; the reason behind this being that Playmates toys didn’t want the bad guy figures being taller than the Turtles themselves. While this is understandable, it makes standing Shredder up on display an absolute nightmare. On top of that, his actual frame is a bit weird. While the Shredder is a very well-muscled individual, he’s so lean that he almost looks like he just got over a bout of pneumonia. Plus his hands don’t really seem to operate the way they’re supposed to. For the most part, they’re almost completely open, making holding a sword or a dagger next to impossible. But the Shredder isn’t exactly known for his swordsmanship, it’s all about his blades. And while his armor is incredibly accurate to both the ’87 animated series, and the Mirage comic books, his helmet and blades are colored a thick looking navy blue that just makes this figure look like a knock off of the real figure that didn’t exist…until 1993.
In ’93 we got a Shredder from the “Toon Turtles” variants that gave us a figure that, while using the exact same sculpt of the ’88 figure, was one hundred percent accurate from the animated series. While he’s still a pain to stand up, his clothing and blades/armor is what makes this figure look like he just jumped out of your television set; even if his helmet has a hint of blue to it. Also, it should be noted that both the ’88 and ’93 Shredder wear a purple colored cloth caped bound to him by a black belt. Just like Splinter, this is a welcome addition to the figure and it’s great to see that Playmates didn’t just give the Shredder a cape made of soft plastic, like so many other caped figures have had in the years since.
For all its faults, the Shredder was given an amazing action figure that no set of TMNT figures would be complete without.
Turtle Trivia: Yes, the rumors are true, co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird were inspired by a cheese grater when creating the Shredder.
If the ’87 animated series did nothing else, it gave us Bebop and Rocksteady; quite possibly the best henchmen duo ever created in pop culture history (fight me). Created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in an attempt to fill out the character roster with more mutants, Bebop and Rocksteady rose above their stereotypes thanks to a bit of muscle and a whole lot of personality. I always felt bad for this awesome duo as I thought that they weren’t meant for being relegated to basically being servants for hire. I always thought of them as being nine year olds stuck in the frame of a thirty year old. Obviously they could easily overpower the turtles whenever they wanted to, but they were just outclassed when it came to the mental faculties. Take one look at these guys and you can see why they’re, arguably, the best villains in the TMNT rogue’s gallery. I mean, seriously, if you saw a giant warthog and rhinoceros charging towards you, you’d just crap your pants in the middle of the street.
Now, onto the figures themselves;
Powerhouse Punk Enforcer of the Foot Clan
Released in 1988
Before I go into the sculpt, I have to mention the size of these guys, as both Bebop and Rocksteady stand (almost) head and shoulders above the turtles themselves. Both standing just under five inches, they truly are a physical threat to the turtles where as some villains in the line, merely have threatening accessories or are just creepy looking. The best part about the figures, as with most in the early years of the toy line, was the fact that it was really easy to spot the humanity in the mutants. You could tell that these were once people, whereas I can’t really see if a figure like Scumbug was originally a man or a roach.
Mutant GI Mauler and Shredder’s #1 Thug
Released in 1988
Bebop is decked out, head to toe, in 80’s punk iconography. From chains on his wrists to his purple Mohawk, this guy looks like he should be running security at a Black Flag concert. On the other hand, Rocksteady looks like an Army surplus store threw up on him. From his Kevlar helmet to his Army-issued BDU pants, Rocksteady’s figure looks even more dangerous than Bebop. Even though Bebop is a bit beefier than his horned counterpart, Rocksteady is actually taller and he actually looks like he can dish out more of a beating, while Bebop looks like more of a brawler. If I had to choose between these two, I would say that Rocksteady has the better sculpt/ paint job combo. While Bebop has more personality displayed on his sculpt, Rocksteady just has more detail. Rock’s Army inspired clothing is pitch perfect with military standards at the time, plus you can almost see the individual armor “plates” that is natural to actual rhinoceros hide peppered throughout the figure, suggesting more detail than is actually shown. Plus his muscle definition is just a bit sharper, where Bebop is just BIG, Rocksteady does a bit more cardio, or at least drinks lite beer.
So my only real complaint is with the sculpt on Bebop. He has a couple of paint issues that were standard for figures released in the 80’s , but considering the quality of Bebop’s figure overall, this just stands out. Bebop has a couple of turtle shells for shoulder pads, and hanging from both shells are what has to be finger bones and a couple of shrunken skulls. But you’d be forgiven if you didn’t notice them seeing as how they’re the same color as Bebop’s brown hide, instead of an off-white color. Also, he’s wearing a pretty rad looking red vest that is adorned with a massive skull on the back…that is the same color red as the vest, making it a struggle to notice. Now I know that these types of paint jobs is a common cost-cutting solution for manufacturers, even today (more so, in fact); and I can accept this. But it is kind of a bummer considering the quality of sculpt and paint on both of these figures.
With those little inconsistencies aside, I think these are some of the best figures in this line. While the ’88 series of figures may be known for the sheer complexity of the sculpt and paint on their figures, seeing the “less is more” approach taken here set a standard for figures that came later. Even today, I think these are the best representation of Bebop and Rocksteady in action figure form.
Turtle Trivia: Bebop and Rocksteady are actually named after some pretty niche genres of music. With Bebop being more Jazz influenced, while Rocksteady is more of a sub-genre in Reggae music.
Shredder’s Right Hand Mummy
Released in 1988
Every world-conquering bad guy needs a massive group of expendables, and no one gets expended better than the Foot Soldiers. Not exactly known for their tact and grace, the Foot Soldier figure follows suit…almost to a detriment.
In the original animated series, the purple-clad punks are robots that function for nothing more than to carry out the Shredders orders. They lumber around, gorilla-like in their movements, with maybe half the intelligence of said animal comparison. As I stated before, the figure follows suit. When I reviewed the Shredder’s action figure, I wasn’t too happy with how far forward the figure was crouched down. But with the Foot Soldier, it actually works. These guys boast nine points of articulation, thanks to some armor plates on their forearms that can swivel from side to side, a knuckle-dragging pose with arms that seem longer than the legs that carry them; and a vacant, yellow stare that shows off just how much emotion these drones are supposed to lack.
The TMNT action figure line is known for personality with their figures. More often than not, each character in the line shows off a colorful palate that can seem like overkill to some, but with the early figures in the line, Playmates showed incredible restraint with not covering the figures in gunk or bugs. It works for a character like Rat King or Wyrm, but for a figure like the Foot Soldier (characters that were little more than cannon fodder), a streamlined design was the best way to go.
Later in the line there was a “robotic” variant to the Foot Soldier released in 1994, but I’m not going to review that figure because it was the same figure with a shiny coat of paint. Actually, I know that I’m only reviewing the figures from the basic series, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the variants to the Foot Soldiers, there is a variant in the “Mutation” which proudly shows off the actual robotic features that lie under the “hood” of the figure much more than just a generic metallic paint job. Also, if you’re a fan of the Movie Star variant line of figures, you’ll be happy to see that there is a “Foot Clan” ninja figure.
The only reason I bring up the variants is because I feel that Playmates missed a huge opportunity to give us a genuine army of Foot Soldiers that we all wanted as kids. I mean, why didn’t Playmates sell a literal bucket of Foot Soldiers? Just a giant bin with about ten to fifteen Foot Soldiers in it and give it the same price a vehicle like the Technodrome or the Sewer Lair.
Variants aside, the Foot Soldier is an essential figure(s) to add to your collection, because if nothing else, you have to have fluff before your boss fight.
Turtle Trivia: In issue #47 of the Mirage TMNT comics, the Turtles accidently created the Foot Clan through a combination of time travel and bad judgment.
The Battering Vigilante Sportsman
Released in 1989
If you’re a fan of the Turtles, then this figure needs no introduction. Casey Jones has been a part of TMNT lore since the beginning. Making his first appearance in the Raphael one-shot comic back in ’85, Casey Jones was introduced as a bit of an extreme example of where a hothead like Raphael could go if left unchecked. Casey is a young man driven towards vigilantism, not out of revenge or loss like so many others, but because he grew up watching way too many cop dramas and vigilante films.
Eventually, this fan favorite character made his debut in the first animated series with the season three episode “Casey Jones: Outlaw Hero”. While he was that big of a character in the ’87 animated series (having only appeared in five episodes), he was given a figure in 1989, just in time for his TV debut.
Unlike some figures in the toy line, his sculpt is pretty spot-on when compared to his small screen counterpart. He wears ripped sweats and a shoulder pad, green sneakers and his iconic hockey mask. As with most figures in this line, it all comes down to the details. His wild hair is streaked with blue highlights; his right hand is taped up while he wears a brown glove on his left. The only real complaint about this figure is just the fact that his design is incredibly simple. At the end of the day, Casey Jones is not a mutant. He’s a pumped up man who is obviously on a budget. While his musculature is fairly accurate, he does seem to lose a bit of the personality that is just plain obvious with virtually any other figure in this line. But to all clouds, there is a silver lining, and the supposed weaknesses of this figure are its greatest strengths. While Casey’s design is simple, you only really need to get two elements right; the hockey mask and his golf bag full of weapons. Casey’s mask is a pitch perfect rendering of the one he is seen wearing in the Mirage comic books. It is better represented here (arguably) than in any other figure released since. Apparently, this figure was supposed to come with an alternate head with no hockey mask, and while I would’ve appreciated it, I know that I just would’ve lost it when I was a kid. And it makes sense as to why he doesn’t come with an unmasked alternate head, seeing as how the character never took his mask off in the animated series.
I haven’t spent much time talking about accessories yet (I’ll get to them later), but it should be known that a Casey Jones figure that doesn’t have a golf bag and at least one hockey stick is not worth getting. While he does come with said bag and stick it is a shame to not that the two baseball bats that he comes with a molded as broken bats. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, I just would’ve liked to have seen a couple of proper baseball bats come with the figure.
Seeing as how there were so few human characters in the first TMNT toy line, Playmates could have easily skipped this figure all together given his small role in the animated series. But instead, possibly thanks to Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, we were given a figure that is instantly recognizable to any fan of this series. The simplicity of this characters design works to its benefit; a fact that we’ll see less and less of as we move further and further into the line. While there are some characters that boast more streamlined designs, we’ll soon see that Playmates Toys may have gone a bit overboard with the amount of…stuff on the majority of their figures.
Turtle Trivia: Casey Jones’ character and design was based on Kurt Russell’s Jack Burton from the film “Big Trouble in Little China”.
The Aero-Dynamic Adventurer
Released in 1989
So finally we have come to possibly the best figure in the Playmates TMNT toy line; ladies and gentlemen, Ace Duck.
I can’t tell you exactly why Ace Duck is such a favorite of mine. He certainly doesn’t have the most visually interesting design, like say, King Lionheart or Mutagen Man. And his accessories are somewhat bland, compared to most figures, with his semi-realistic military grade hardware. And it’s not like he’s a fan favorite character from any series of TMNT cartoons. He was only in one scene (in the background) of the ’87 series, and he was treated like a bad joke in the 2012 series (really guys?). Aside from being in the Archie Adventures series of comics (in name only), and the fact that his backstory in the ’87 series didn’t seem to line up with the portrait on his packaging, you would be forgiven if you had never heard of this figure, much less his character at all.
But if you’re willing to pay attention to the lineup of figures, you’ll find a character worthy of his place next to the heroes in a half shell. Ace’s sculpt accomplishes the daunting task of simulating the natural texture of a bird’s feathers. While he is wearing a jacket and jeans, his exposed chest, hands and head all very nicely display ruffled and windswept feathers that show off the balance of clothing to an organic material.
Speaking of his sculpt, Ace’s webbed feet are a godsend to a collector like myself, as their wide design make standing the figure a breeze, as opposed to someone like Shredder or Scale Tail.
I know I said that his accessories were bland, but that is only in comparison to the rest of the line. I really appreciate the eye for realism seen with Ace’s .45 service pistol and pilot’s cap. Heck, even his bomber jacket is reminiscent of a Flying Ace in World War two…wait a minute…Flying “Ace”…OH MY GOD!!!!
In addition to his accessories, Ace comes equipped with “Egg Grenades”, just to prove that the spirit of the TMNT shines through, and most importantly, he comes with adjustable wings that plug into the figures back. The wingspan of this figure is huge as well, spanning almost twice as long as the figure stands. The fact that the wings are removable is a stroke of genius seeing as how if the wings were in place on Ace’s back, he would be impossible to seat on a vehicle of any kind. And seeing as he is the resident pilot of the Turtle Blimp, it would be a crime if he didn’t fit. Finally, his articulation is cause for some serious conversation. Now to me, articulation in an action figure isn’t much of a selling point. If I like the design of a figure, you’ve got my money more often than not. But this guy’s articulation fits his accessories, and his character, perfectly. On top of standard seven points of articulation, he has ball joints at his shoulders that allow his arms to run parallel to his wings, making for more dynamic flying poses than your average figure of the time (Google the Superman figure from the Super Powers toy line).
The only real down side to this figure is his pilot’s cap. It has a peg on the inside that plugs into Ace’s head, which is nice, but the cap is just right of center on the figures face, making it look lopsided. Maybe it’s just my figure that this happened with, but it’s a small enough detail that, while I noticed it, doesn’t take anything away from the overall appeal to the figure. But I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this. At the end of the day, Ace Duck is a figure that is sleek and simple, while being dynamic and instantly recognizable. Sure, the word duck is in his name, but if you never saw a Walkabout figure, would you be able to pick him out in a crowd if you only knew his name?
Now (stands on soapbox), can we please get an Ace Duck miniseries? I’m talking to you IDW Publishing. This guy, somehow, is truly one of the great figures that has yet to live up to his potential. If Wyrm can make a comeback, so can Ace Duck.
Turtle Trivia: In his one, and only, appearance in the ’87 animated series episode “Attack of the Big MACC”, Ace Duck is an action movie star worthy of his own movie marathon.
*author’s note: Ace Duck made his comic book debut in the pages of IDW’s TMNT comic during the “Dimension X” storyline that ran through late 2017*
The Samurai Hare with a Knife
Released in 1989
I’ll be honest; I don’t know much about Usagi Yojimbo outside of the TMNT franchise. Seeing his debut in season three of the first animated series was an awesome, if not slightly heartbreaking, affair. Seeing as how Usagi was from an alternate reality where animals evolved instead of humans who became trapped in our world was something that I had never seen before. Add to that the fact that Usagi was not a mutant, and you have a character within the Turtles universe that is somewhat familiar to us, but at the same time, something completely unique from everyone else.
Considering how much of a standout character Usagi Yojimbo is, his figure stands out even more so considering his less-is-more design, which seems to be the theme of these early TMNT figures, and his samurai motif. Usagi looks very different from his comic book and animated counterparts with his clothing and head sculpt. In every form of media that has featured Usagi, he is always dressed in a blue gi, and baggy pants. His simple design from the comics is in keeping with the comics, which take place during the Edo period in Japan. While his figure from ’89 is dressed in somewhat tradition samurai armor, it should be noted that he does keep the same color scheme as he does in the comics.
But enough about comics, we’re here to talk about figures. Usagi stands slightly taller than most of the figures in the line, thanks in no small part to his ears that have been tied into a top knot. His lean, fur-covered frame is protected at the chest, shoulders and thighs by blue armor with yellow accents. The armor plates at the shoulders and thighs are attached to the figure thanks to a peg system. So, while it can be tempting to adjust the armors pieces while posing/playing around with the rabbit bodyguard, I would highly suggest that you leave those alone. I messed mine up when I was a kid. I believe that I mentioned way back in my reviews of the four turtles that most figures have some dynamic poses applied to their feet. More often than not, these figures have a single foot arched as if they’re about to leap into battle. While Usagi has this feature as well, he plays his “unique action figure” card once again by having a dynamic pose with his feet, while wearing a pair of sandals. I know this sounds like high praise for such a small detail, but given the struggle I’ve had standing some of these figures, it’s a relief seeing a flat footed character.
Speaking of praise, it should be noted that the head sculpt on this figure is probably the best we’ve seen on a Usagi figure since ’89, while being somewhat inaccurate to the source material. The appeal for me with the comics is the simplicity of the character designs. But, in an odd move on Playmates part, Usagi face sports almost humanlike features. Maybe it’s just me (it’s definitely just me), but I can see a real person in this piece of plastic. Given Usagi’s stoic and calm nature, this figure, with its barred teeth and aggressive brow, he’s expressing a rage-like quality that, while not uncommon to the character, he’s not exactly known for. But at the same time, the figure does sport Usagi’s defining scar above his left eyebrow that look less defined with this figure, more natural and well-healed.
The Retro-Rocketing Rabbit
Released in 1991
Now, I know that I said I was going to write these reviews in chronological order but, considering the ties that bind these two figures, I thought that, just this once, I would leap forward in the line and talk about Space Usagi.
Now at first glance, you would be forgiven if you thought that Space Usagi was little more than a cash grabbing variant to pad out the figure line (or maybe you thought he was a rip off of Bucky O’Hare). But this intergalactic rabbit Ronin is actually a descendent of Usagi Yojimbo himself, from far, far into the future.
While the two figures share the same design and articulation, Space Usagi’s armor is 90’s, Technicolor sci-fi personified. His armor is a vibrant green with purple, gold and blue accents, and his armor pads at the shoulders and thighs are thankfully part of his mold, as opposed to being on a peg system. He also sports a grandiose, blue cape that is actually made out of cloth. While I do think that the cape fans out a bit too much for my liking, it is a nice way of distinguishing him from, not only his ancient ancestor, but the other figures in the line…for now (meow).
While the face sculpt is essentially the same between the two figures, Space Usagi changes things up by adding a red cybernetic eye implant that wraps around almost his entire head, adding that much more flair, personality, and potential lore implications as to how rough Space Usagi has had it in the far flung future.
Speaking of the sci-fi nature of Space Usagi, he actually has an interesting history, in terms of his action figure. I have no knowledge of the Space Usagi comic (and a limited knowledge of the Usagi Yojimbo comics, for that matter). But in terms of the figure for Space Usagi, from what I can tell, the figure was released to promote a potential Space Usagi animated series that was given a kind of proof of concept extended trailer. You can view it online, and it is nice look at what could have been. Plus, Jim Cummings voices Space Usagi, which is awesome. From what I understand, the reason the animated series never went forward was because of the animated series, and subsequent toy line, for Bucky O’Hare wasn’t popular with kids at the time.
On a final note, I know I don’t mention accessories much, but it is worth noting here because the accessories for both figures, really shows off the differences between each character, despite the similarities in the figures. While Usagi Yojimbo comes equipped with sword, spears and several bladed weapons, Space Usagi is brandishing a (laser) pistol and a rifle. It’s a nice character detail that shows off the major difference in the time, setting and possible beliefs of either character, with Usagi Yojimbo being a swordsman, and Space Usagi being a marksman.
Both of these figures are a great example of creative synergy at its best, given that Usagi Yojimbo was a creation of artist and writer Stan Sakai, and not Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. And while we would see this type of collaboration from the Playmates line later with Panda Khan, Usagi is definitely the most popular, non-turtles, character to be involved with the TMNT. Every time there is a new animated or comic series, fans are always waiting for Usagi Yojimbo to show up, and I believe that this is because, despite the inherent differences between the Turtles and Usagi, they complement each other so well that you’re honestly waiting/hoping for a crossover. Even after more than thirty years with each series, there is just something special about this pairing. And it shows with these figures.
Turtle Trivia: The Usagi Yojimbo comics are loosely based on the life of Miyamoto Musashi, a real life Ronin that was famous for his two sword fighting style, and the fact that he was never undefeated in sixty duels. Also, Usagi Yojimbo’s name in the comics is Miyamoto Usagi.
Manic Leader of the Rat Pack
Released in 1989
Everybody knows that the Turtles have possibly the craziest rogues’ gallery in virtually any medium. From Krang to Agent Bishop, from the Creep to the Shredder, the Turtles have fought both lowly criminal to intergalactic generals, but there is one villain that, in my opinion, stands head and shoulders above the rest: the Rat King.
Created by artist and writer Jim Lawson, Rat King made his debut in January of 1988 in the anthology comic book series Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #4. Within those pages, the Rat King is presented as a lost man, trapped within a body that he doesn’t recognize as his own. He believes, given his own ghastly image, that he is supposed to be a monster of sorts. Whether he is delusional or not isn’t important. Because you find a man turned creature that is taken over by his own misguided attempts to become a monster.
Rat King has always been a favorite villain of mine during the ’87 animated series’ heyday. While he wasn’t the same character as he was in the comics, caring little for world domination, his visual design was taken straight from the Mirage comics that inspired him, and his figure followed suit. If anything, the action figure released in 1989 ignores the family friendly aesthetic of the cartoon, and goes straight up monster that the comics were going for. While Rat King may just look like a homeless man, dressed in rags and puzzlingly packed with muscle, upon closer examination of the sculpt, you have to wonder how this figure got the okay for mass production.
Rat King’s head sculpt is wrapped up in green rags, with red eyes peering though. Clumps of red hair have fallen out while pale, white scalp peeks through. His nose is split down the middle; abrasions and what looks like road rash have overtaken the right side of his face, both ears appear to have been chewed on, teeth are missing, he has a hole punched through his left cheek and there is a large spider crawling across his forehead; if you don’t think this guy is anything short of pure nightmare fuel, than you’re lying to yourself. While the rest of Rat King’s sculpt may just be painted various shades of brown, green and orange, the devil is in the details my friends. This guy is covered head to toe in centipedes, spiders, bones and, of course, rats. To top it all off, Rat King comes equipped with a belt that is nothing more than a snake tied around his waist that is adorned with a long dead cat that is bearing tire treads.
Holy crap, this guy is every bit the monster he claimed to be. Looking at this figure now, I can’t tell you how this guy didn’t scare children back in the 80’s. But I can tell you that this figure wouldn’t be made today, at least the way he is presented here. Sure, there were other Rat King figures released in 2006 and 2013. Both figures do look nice, but neither of them had the comic book essence that is the Rat King. Both of them tried doing their own thing, which is commendable, but there was just something lost in translation from page to screen to plastic. Personally, I think Playmates toys just couldn’t rely on the horror aspect where the 1989 original did. If you think I’m wrong, just look at the Creep from the 2012, Nickelodeon animated series. This lumbering Jason Voorhees reference was deemed too scary to sell to children. Want proof; a representative of Playmates Toys, Pat Linden (sorry, I couldn’t find his official position), literally said that the Creep was “pretty creepy looking” during an interview with toy collector and youtube personality, “Pixel Dan” Eardley.
But I’m not here to compare 1989 to 2017, because I honestly don’t think one is better than the other. It’s just that the things work differently now, and one day, I think they’ll cycle back to good ideas over sales figures; going with your gut over test audiences and statistics. So with Rat King, I think that this figure represents more than just a great figure in an awesome toy line. It’s bigger than being a character in a cartoon or a comic book. This figure represents, to me, how much you can do with hard work and a desire and willingness to be creative. This guy just started out as an idea in the mind of a great artist who gave the Turtles an added identity and roundness that has reverberated throughout the past (almost) three decades. And to me, with this figure, it doesn’t matter that there is less articulation than some of the other figures (only five points). It doesn’t matter that his characterization differed from his comic book roots. All that matters to me is that, with this figure, it shows off just how far you can take an idea. It may sound overdramatic, but that is why the Rat King is my favorite villain within the realm of TMNT. It shows how powerful an idea can be.
Turtle Trivia: The Rat King was based on the very real case of the Leather Man, who would travel between the Connecticut and Hudson rivers from 1857 to 1889.
The Bodiless, Burbling Brain
Released in 1989
There’s something about Krang that I find very relatable as I get older. Really think about the old cartoon, what did Krang want? He wanted a body, to return to Dimension X, and complete and total control over the planet Earth. Really, is that too much to ask? No.
Krang’s figure does a great job of capturing his animated counterpart’s likeness. Not that that is much of a challenge for Playmates toys. Krang is basically a one-inch, pink plastic ball with arms. Personally, I have no problem with this because, according to Krang’s portrait, he’s just over a foot tall, and a pile of brain matter. What else would you expect?
Where this figure truly shines is his mechanical walker, complete with a domed top to house the brainy villain. While not entirely accurate to the animated series due to some color swaps, there’s just something about this walker that makes Krang look a bit unnerving. Kind of like those robot dogs that the military keeps developing. You ever see one of those run, it just doesn’t look right. That’s the eerie vibe that Krang gives off; you take a look at him, and you just don’t know what to expect. Add to that his rifle that is designed to remove the brains of anyone stuck in his path (via suction cup!), and you have a villain that cements his place within the Turtle’s Rogue’s Gallery.
I just wish the same could be said about his android body.
Krang’s Android Body
The Bad Brain with Body Armor
Released in 1994
Now let it be known that I understand that Krang is an iconic character, and his android body is a big reason why. But honestly, this figure works better on paper than he does in plastic. If you’ve ever seen the first season of the ‘87animated series, you’ll remember that Krang is begging Shredder to build him a new body, as his own was taken from him when he was banished to Earth for his crimes. While it’s never explained what his crimes were, and his original body was never seen, it was a great hook to make you invested in his character. When you finally see Krang’s new exoskeleton-like armor, it’s actually kinda cool. Sure, it looks like he’s cosplaying as King Kong Bundy, but he towers over the Turtles, his strength is unparalleled, and he is even able to morph his hands into various types of bladed weapons, AND he can fly! Thanks to his armor, Krang is transformed from a wannabe world conqueror, to a veritable war machine.
While the figure sports the standard seven points of articulation, thanks to the figure’s sculpt, his range of motion is severely limited. While this is a side-effect of this series that I can easily overlook, with this figure, it just stands out more where it doesn’t on virtually every other figure in the line. With that being said, this figure perfectly recreates almost every detail found in the 1991 release of a Krang’s Android Body figure that measured up to just over eleven inches tall. Seeing as how I don’t have the 11-inch figure anymore, I can only compare the 1994 figure to it’s much bigger brother released in ’91. But I don’t think that’s very fair, so I won’t. What I will say is that the Android body figure released in 1994 towers over every character in the toy line at five inches tall, which perfectly captures the look of Krang’s armor from the cartoon, a detail that I appreciate very much. At the end of the day, however, Krang’s Android Body was always kind of a joke in the animated series (both in 1987 and 2012), and this figure perfectly captures the gonzo sci-fi elements found littered all over TMNT lore. So it’s great to see that his figure follows suit.
Krang is awesome. From his banter with Shredder, making them look like less of a dynamic duo, and more of an old married couple, to his design that looks right at home in a 50’s-era, sci-fi B-movie. There is something seeing this ball of brains putting his co-workers in their place that is just satisfying, and these figures, in their own strange way, kind of emulate that perfectly. The Krang figure released in 1989 has this smile on his face that tells you that he is in control. Sure, he’s only a foot tall, but that all the taller that he needs to be. Recently, the 2012 animated series seemingly tried to improve upon these formulas with characters like Krang Prime and Krang Subprime, but to me, it has come across as forced and over the top. While I may be biased, I don’t think I’m wrong when I say that Krang, and his various figures, made an impact that is still being felt today.
Turtle Trivia: In the 2016 TMNT: Out of the Shadows film, voice actor Pat Fraley, who voiced Krang in the ’87 animated series, was originally supposed return to voicing the character for the film. But he had to bow out due to scheduling conflicts. But he did suggest actor Brad Garrett to producers to voice the character in his place.
The Original Party Robot
Released in 1989
You know you’ve made when your enemies decide to build a robot in your image, with your personality downloaded to its CPU. This is the epic origin to Metalhead, the robotic, heroic turtle; and that’s not even the condensed version.
There is very little difference between the Metalhead figure we got in 1989 and his animated counterpart that debuted in season three of the ’88 animated series. While there was a character called “Metalhead” in the comics from Mirage, they are similar in name only. While the comic book Metalhead, from 1988, was also a robot, he was modeled after a human, and had long hair that could harden to steel and be used for self-defense or going mobile. The Metalhead from the cartoon however, he was trouble from the word go. Metalhead could easily brush off any physical attack that the Turtles could throw at him. Even Splinter was unable to defend himself from Metalhead’s wrath.
But how does his figure stack up? Well, surprisingly well, actually. While he is modeled after the Turtles themselves (complete with a yellow “bandana”), there’s no way of you ever confusing him with one of the green teens. He’s obviously a robot, and his sculpt and paint job follow suit. The core of the figure is painted a shiny, metallic gold which, while on its surface might sound ostentatious, really helps convey the fact that this guy is made out of metal. I just hope that the character is actually made of gold; otherwise, he’ll fold like a cheap suit under his own weight or a quarter of a ton. The rest of the figure is molded with a gray plastic with green and yellow accents. All over the figure are exposed wiring, rivets, display panels, air vents and hydraulics at the joints. This figure is sports probably one of the most visually comprehensive/dense designs this early in the line. Metalhead is not just a robotic turtle, but a metallic hodgepodge of thrown together parts that somehow works to create “living” being bent on protecting the turtles from his creator, Krang, and the villainous Shredder.
Spoilers: Donatello reprograms Metalhead.
One thing that I can’t help but think about this figure is that he is somewhat wasted potential. For an action figure line that is arguably most known for its multiple lines of variant figures, why didn’t we get another Metalhead figure? I mean how many different Shredders did we get between 1988 and 1996? Even Bebop and Rocksteady had multiple variant figures. How many April O’Neil figures were just an added blue stripe on top of her yellow jumpsuit, not to mention the various versions of the four turtles; all of this and not one “Heavy Weapons Metalhead”?
Actually, now that I say that, not only do I sound kind of whiney, but it really hit me that, thanks to Metalhead’s design, we probably would’ve just gotten a palate swap of colors, some added accessories, which isn’t much different to what we would see later in the line.
When comparing this figure to the one released in 2012, which is unfair, you really see the difference in the two figures, outside of the obvious differences in sculpt, there seems to be a difference in style as well that is felt in both animated series. The Metalhead from the ’87 series had a more thrown together look that reflected the scattershot style of the old series that somehow worked. With the newer Metalhead figure from 2012, while I do prefer the streamlined design of this newer figure, it looks more manufactured where the Metalhead of ’89 looked constructed by hand. And that is the big difference between the two series. In the ’88 action figure line, it seems to be that Playmates tried what they thought might work, while in 2012, they tried what, according to statistics, would work. One is not better than the other, and I’m not hating on either, but I just think that it’s a great baseline for showing what both of the best lines of TMNT figures are going for. But like so many other characters in the history of the Turtles, there’s no telling what we would have today, if we didn’t have Metalhead.
Turtle Trivia: Metalhead shows up as a boss character in the Turtles in Time video game for the Super Nintendo. However, instead of reprograming him for good, the Turtles defeat the robotic menace, resulting in a massive explosion.
The Tubular Surfin’ Dude
Released in 1989
So it wasn’t long before the Shredder and Krang decided to beat the Turtles at their own game. Tired of the constant failures of Bebop and Rocksteady, they decided to create a larger army of mutants to take out the hero teens. Long story short, a canister of Mutagen is sent into the swamps of the Florida Everglades where four unwitting frogs are mutated in to humanoid amphibians. This is the story of the season two episode titled “Invasion of the Punk Frogs”. It’s actually a pretty fun episode that sees the Shredder take the frogs under his wing as he trains them to take out the Turtles, as they think that the Turtles are the villains and Shredder is a hero. It all culminates with an epic battle in an abandoned prison between the Turtles, the Frogs, the cops and Shredder and his idiots. The episode makes you feel bad for the Frogs as they were manipulated the entire time by Shredder to be his anti-turtles. So much so, that he actually named them after historic world conquerors. There was Genghis Frog, Attila the Frog, Rasputin the mad Frog and Napoleon Bonafrog.
The Punk Frogs went on to co-star in several more episodes in the ’87 animated series, and of course, there were figures released in line with their various appearances. While the show boasted four Punk Frogs in total, for whatever reason, there were only Genghis Frog and Napoleon Bonafrog made the cut to become action figures. I haven’t been able to find out a reason why, and while we are fortunate to have gotten even two of these guys, it would’ve been pretty cool to have the four Frogs side by side with the four Turtles.
The Swamp Surfin’ Sewer Toad
Released in 1990
Both figures are wearing brightly colored swimming trunks and Hawaiian shirts, plus they have possibly the funniest weapons like grenades made from pop cans and swords made from snake skin. Seeing how different these characters are from the Turtles is kind of a breath of fresh air. These guys are seriously fashionable, despite being either wart covered or loaded with spikes. From what I remember, these guys rarely ever went looking for trouble. Mostly they just wanted to be left alone to enjoy the tides in the isolated glades of southern Florida. I have to say, of the two Punk Frog figures that we got back in the day, Genghis Frog is my favorite. He just seems to be a happier figure all together, with a warm smile and an open appearance. Napoleon Bonafrog on the other hand, he seems ready for a fight with his barred teeth and hunched posture. However, Napoleon Bonafrog did come with a second “figure” named Flyboy, the mutant fly friend. He’s what a lot of fans refer to as the little buddy characters; small, one-inch figures that accompanied the figure you bought. There were several of the guys released throughout the line. Oftentimes, they were never seen in the animated series, and were just considered a bonus for the buyer/kid/collector. True, they were only one-color, solid pieces of plastic, but their sculpts were so detailed, that you never noticed the lack of articulation. At least, I never noticed.
Sadly, the Punk Frog haven’t received much love since the days of the ’87 animated series. They did show up during the 2012 animated series run, but I was not a fan of their design. Not one bit. With that being said, I do love the design of these punks. It’s cool how identifiable they are from the rest of the line. It had to get harder the longer the line went on the figure out different ways of presenting new characters.
These guys may be punks, but they seem to be all about relaxing and having a good time. I think it’s great that they’re so distinct from the Turtles. They seem to be the types of friends that we all have that, while you may not have too much in common with, you just like them. While I am sad that we didn’t get all four of the Punk Frogs as figures, that’s just me being selfish. I’m glad for the figures we got and I hope to see more from these guys in the future.
Turtle Trivia: Napoleon Bonafrog is actually a toad…yeah, that fact is lame.
The Insidious and Irritable Insect-Man
Released in 1989
You know, the more I think about it, the more I’m thinking that Shredder isn’t the only iconic villain to battle the Turtles. There’s Krang, Rat King, and, of course, Bebop and Rocksteady. But very few villains rival Shredder’s longevity within Turtle canon. Debuting in the second issue of the TMNT comics published by Mirage Studios, scientist Baxter Stockman was hell-bent on ransoming portions of the city under the threat of him walking death machines of cuteness, the Mousers. Baxter has made many appearances throughout the Turtles storied history. Oftentimes finding himself working for, or at least around, the Shredder.
And that brings us to the animated series in the season one episode “A Thing About Rats”, which finds the lowly scientist/engineer being manipulated by Shredder into working for him. Fast forward a season or two, and Baxter has been accidently mutated into a fly. Blaming the Turtles for his misfortune, instead of Shredder or himself, he works to take down our heroes by any means necessary.
The figure in question, released as a part of the second series of figures, is actually more than a little creepy. While I can’t help be notice that this character is a walking Jeff Goldblum reference, he does have a more cartoony appeal to him (that actually makes him a walking Vincent Price reference) thanks to the color palate which is getting brighter and brighter the further we go into the line. But the cartoony aspect of this figure ends with its brightness. This Baxter is actually a pretty intimidating figure, thanks to his broad shoulders and thick trunk. It seems obvious to me that this guy is enjoying his new sense of strength found within his mutation. But perhaps the selling point of this figure, is the insect aspects of Baxter’s design and sculpt.
First and foremost, it needs to said that if points of articulation is a selling point for you, Baxter deserves you money. Since Baxter has a second pair of arms, albeit fly arms, and a pair of wings that attach to the characters back, that elevates this guy to an incredible eleven points of articulation. I don’t know for sure, but that had to have been unheard of for 1989. However the good doctor’s extra set of appendages is a bit of a stick in the mud if you happen to lose them, which can be an easy thing to do. See, Baxter’s arms actually slide into a “groove” that’s been cut into the figure’s back, instead of using the tried and true peg system or even having the arms clamp around the figure’s waist. While the arms being set into the figure’s back might seem odd, compared to other figures with similar gimmick (see X-Men’s Spiral figure), it does make the extra arms and wings appear much more natural, as if they are really growing out of the figure’s back.
This figure is a surprisingly creepy addition to the toy line. Sure, there are other figures that are humanoid bugs of some kind, but there just isn’t the same appeal as Baxter Stockman. Either the other bug figures are too cartoony, or they rely a bit too much on kid friendly gore and gross out presentation. Somehow, Baxter, a man manipulated into doing the wrong things, a man that would rather run from danger than cause it, has one of the most intimidating and unnerving sculpts in the entire line. While he isn’t scary, like say a Rat King is scary, Stockman’s figure is so creepy and unnerving, while also resembling something that everyone recognizes, that you have to wonder if this figure would be made today if it were presented the same way. I don’t think it would.
Actually, to be fair, the Baxter figure released in 2015…pretty damn creepy.
Oh, by the way…
Robotic Rat Trap with an Appetite for Turtles
Released in 1989
You can’t talk about Baxter Stockman and not mention is greatest achievement, the crown jewel of his laboratory, the Mouser. Again debuting in the second issue of the original comics in 1985, the Mouser was given a figure in 1989 as a part of the very first wave of variant figures from Playmates known as the “Wacky Action” Turtles. I’ll be honest, this figure…well, it doesn’t suck. In terms of his sculpt, it’s a fairly accurate representation of what a Mouser robot should look like, but it’s way too big, standing almost as large as Baxter himself. In terms of his
“Wacky Action” feature, there’s a key on the back that you push a bunch of times to make the figure walk. Unfortunately, mine doesn’t work anymore, so my Mouser figure rests comfortably on its shelf.
Honestly, if you want the best version of the a Mouser figure, buy the figures released in 2013. They’re just as accurate to the source material as the Mouser from ’89, plus, they scale well with the original Baxter Stockman figure. And if that wasn’t enough, the 2013 release of the Mousers was a seven-pack of figures that were roughly an inch in height. But two packs and you’re set.
Turtle Trivia: Baxter Stockman actually had a cameo in the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, where he was portrayed by actor K. Todd Freeman, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role. To this day I haven’t spotted him in the film.
Swamp-Stompin’, Ragin’ Cajun Gator
Released in 1989
Okay, let me just say this right up front, I love this figure, but he’s a victim of himself here. The portrait on his figure’s card states his height at over twelve feet tall. But thanks to his sculpt; he somehow seems smaller than the other figures in this line, even though, technically speaking, he’s taller than most of the other figures.
Now that that’s out of the way…
Leatherhead as a character has been there since the beginning, but funnily enough, he’s portrayed differently in almost every medium and appearance he makes. What we have here is something of a massive, bounty hunter-type character that is a gumbo enthusiast and his figure, for the most part, fits this description. I’m going to be honest here, this review is going to be a little unfair, but I can’t help myself. The major problem with this figure is that his body type is much more in line with the body type of an actual alligator, where as in the ’87 animated series Leatherhead is a massive, humanoid alligator-man. Sure, he has the facial structure of an alligator resting on the body of a scale-ridden hulk of a man.
Again, now that that’s out of the way…
This figure may not be an upright alligator, what we do have is a pretty cool figure that is easily identifiable from the rest of the line; not an easy feat for late 80’s Playmates Toys. With every character being so…out there, Leatherheads sculpt leaning more on the side of the natural side of the supernatural that is mutation, is a stroke of genius. With so many bipedal versions of animals that aren’t bipedal in the real world, seeing something that just looks like an alligator with a hat on is both shocking and familiar all at the same time.
Speaking towards the actual function of the figure, while there may be no articulation at the wrists like most other figures in the line, Leatherhead makes up for this with articulation at his tail, which helps balance the figure nicely, and at his jawline, letting you open and close his mouth; letting you bite the Turtles at their legs or arms…oh my god, this figure is brutal.
Where this figure truly shines is the details found in his sculpt. Every pebble-sized scale is present with incredible accuracy. It could’ve been so easy and cost effective to have just manufactured a smooth, green colored piece of plastic for kids to play with. But if that had happened, there would have been little difference between this Leatherhead figure, and an alligator bath toy. On top of the numerous scales, you have a animal fur, patched up blue jeans and I swear to god, Leatherhead is running around in Timberland boots. One thing that I do want to mention is Leatherhead’s weaponry. Holy crap, this guy means business. While there is a long carving knife strapped to his arm, it’s actually part of his mold and thus, doesn’t count as an accessory. However, I wanted to mention it because it does look menacing, which is in keeping with his character. While he doesn’t come with a lot, Leatherhead does come packaged with a bear trap and a pretty realistic looking shotgun. Much like Ace Duck’s service .45 pistol, Leatherhead’s “Swamp Gun”, looks t be a twelve gauge, pump-action shotgun with an illegally sawed off barrel. This small addition to the figure adds a sense of threat and urgency that is specific to this character alone. You know that Leatherhead is no joke.
And that’s what’s great about this guy; his presence is second to none in my opinion. There are plenty of “big guy” characters in this line, but there is something about Leatherhead that makes you a bit weary around him. Perhaps it’s his red eyes, or crooked smile, but you just know he’s a threat and not just to the Turtles either. Just looking at this figure, you get the sense that he could and would take on anybody. Don’t let his (apparently) slight stature fool you; Leatherhead is always looking for the next flavor to add to his gumbo. And if you’re not careful, you could be next on the menu.
Turtle Trivia: Leatherhead was originally intended to die after his first appearance in the Mirage TMNT comics back in 1988. But TMNT co-creator Peter Laird liked him so much, that he brought him back later in the comics run.
The Rock’em Sock’em Rock Soldier
Released in 1989
I’m going to be honest, I don’t know squat about General Traag; which is a shame when you take his position into consideration. He is the leader of Krang’s vast military leader who cares for little else but what Krang has planned for both Dimension X and planet Earth. I mean, I know that he’s a stone warrior, he’s a moron and his best friend (if he actually has any friends) is Sergeant Granitor. But taking away all of that, I know next to nothing about the biggest, toughest lug around.
Considering how little impact Traag made in the TV show back in the eighties, looking back, I’m surprised they actually made a figure out of him; even though I shouldn’t be surprised at all, considering they made a figure out of almost every recurring character from the original animated series. But, just because I don’t know much about this guy, doesn’t mean that he didn’t make an impact with someone. I’m sure that somewhere out there is a TMNT fan that is wondering why Bebop and Rocksteady get all the glory and Traag and Granitor get table scraps.
The figure for Traag is a crazy sight to behold. I do not envy the concept artist that had to figure out how to make an action figure out of a rock. I couldn’t have done it. I’d be sitting at my table with a rock in my hand, crying and question why I started drawing for a living. But the figure in question is full of the same type of hilarious personality that this figure line has become known for. Traag’s brown and gray body looks like a piece of sediment come to life; and were it not for the natural shine that comes with being molded from plastic, I could see how someone would mistake this for a pet rock that got ticked off at its owner.
Traag’s sculpt is covered in little extras that make you wonder just what the hell this guy has been through. He’s covered in lobsters, a snake, tarantulas and lizards. The fact that this guy doesn’t darn about being covered in stuff that would make me have a seizure shows just how tough, or at least fearless, this guy is. One thing that sets him apart from the rest is his articulation, which is ironic since he was a bit of a moron in the show. While General Traag sports the same seven points of articulation, he has a hinge joint at his right elbow to help him comfortably hold his laser rifle. This may not sound like that big of a deal nowadays, but considering that he’s one of only two figures in the entire line to sport these types of joints is something to consider when speaking of the line as a whole, and it makes me feel kind of bad for not being the biggest fan of this character. I do love the added effects on his mold, while he’s not the only one to be covered in…stuff, he’s the one that seems to notice it the least, making him seem like even more of a legit BA, and the extra bit of articulation with this guy lends to just a bit more dynamic possibilities when it comes to posing your figures.
There is one detail that helps separate General Traag from the rest of the bad guys in the line. Take a look under his right boot and you’ll find the crushed remains of a…baby turtle!
I immediately hate this guy now. He’s willing to smoke a defenseless animal? He has to die! It’s details like this that really separate this toy line from all the rest; the willingness to go the extra mile in making a character pop and have an identity all their own. Taking this figure into account, regardless of your knowledge of his roots, you know, at first glance, that he’s a bad guy. Despite the fact that he looks like Dick Miller from Gremlins (you know, the only guy that helped in that movie), this character looks dangerous and impossible to throw down against. If only his source material were as intimidating.
Turtle Trivia: In the ’87 animated series, General Traag was voiced by Peter Renaday, who also provided the voice for Master Splinter.
Wingnut and Screwloose
Dingbat Buddies Who Bite the Baddies
Released in 1990
With the release of the Wingnut figure, we finally start to get into the more eccentric and crazy-looking figure that the ’88 Playmates toy line was known for. Wingnut and Screwloose are two characters that have had a huge impact on the Turtles overall history, despite the fact that he is not as well-known as many of the other allies of the TMNT. In the early nineties, Wingnut and Screwloose we involved in almost every bit of Turtles media. But here’s the thing, despite being in video games, cartoons, comics and having his own action figure, he never really made an impact the same was someone like Casey Jones or Usagi Yojimbo did, and I think the problem lied in his origin story. Or, should I say, his multiple origin stories.
Making his debut in the animated series in 1991, Wingnut and Screwloose were actually a pair of villains who brainwashed children in a military academy.
But in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures comics, from Archie Comics, they were a pair of refugees that were shanghaied on Earth after Krang destroyed their home planet in an act of mass genocide.
And his figure is a funny mixture of both backstories. While Wingnut and Screwloose retain the look of their animated counterparts, they have a back story that closely resembles that of his comic book cousin. Wingnut wants to take out Krang, but in a humorous/cruel twist of fate, he’s just a clumsy oaf of a vampire bat that honestly wouldn’t hurt a fly; and his figure reflects this.
Wingnut is a towering, yet chubby, bat that is so rotund that his tiny wings can’t lift him off the ground. Fortunately, he’s befriended the Turtles, and Donatello hooks him up with a pair of metal wings that enable him to fly (just go with it). While he technically does have the standard seven points of articulation, it needs to be mentioned that two of them are his wings that actually plug into his back. So while is figure may be the “same” as the others in the line, there is a bit of a limit to the mobility of the figure when compared to the others. With that out of the way, I can’t help but love the amount of detail in the figure’s wings. It’s obvious from the sculpt of the wings that these are made from scrap parts that were cut and welded to form a wing design, and that several pieces were then pieced together with rivets. It’s incredible that you can actually count the individual rivets in either wing and even see where Wingnuts actual wings fit into his metal ones, thanks to his natural wings being painted brown to separate them from his metal wings. I will say that his wings, while great, are only great half the time; as they are painted brown on one side, and the same dull gray as the metal wings on the backside. This was common practice for action figures back in he day, especially from Playmates, and it is still employed the same way today. If not more so, considering that paint is nerfed on some figures to keep the prices down. With that being said, the wings are still loaded with detail and personality, like grenades and bullet holes, and they have a great action feature allowing you to attach Wingnuts accessories to his wings, which is worth the price of admission for me.
I kind of think the rest of the sculpt is a crazy homage to Batman, seeing as how Wingnut is wearing gray spandex with dark blue armor, reminiscent of the blue and gray duds that Batman was sporting in the comics at the time. While it may just be a coincidence, it’s a little too on the nose for it to be anything more than a “oops” moment. He even comes packaged with a utility belt. How Playmates didn’t get sued over this, I’ll never know. Wingnut’s head sculpt is an incredibly accurate take on the face of a vampire bat. While it retains the Turtle tongue-in-cheek nature, it still leans a bit harder on the side of realism than some of the other heroes and allies within the TMNT ranks. That being said, it may be somewhat the point of this figure with this backstory. He’s a lovable loser who can’t fight; why wouldn’t he look like a beast when he means no harm to anyone?
And that leads us to Screwloose, the alien mosquito that hitches a ride on Wingnut’s back whenever they head into battle. Screwloose is one of the little buddy figures that is the same one-color piece of unarticulated plastic that we’ve seen before and we’ll see again soon. But this guy, like another “eye-catching” little buddy, is a mainstay of the series that is never far behind his winged friend when push comes to shove. This little guy fits nicely on Wingnut’s back thanks to his four arms. If nothing else, Screwloose helps cement the Batman homage even further for me, as Batman is rarely ever seen without a Robin of some sort.
While Wingnut’s character may suffer from a bit of identity crisis, seeing as he was handled by several different creators, this figures shows of the kind of creativity and forward thinking that the Playmates line would become known for. People always want to talk about the sheer number of variants that this toy line provided, but what no one ever wants to talk about, is the fact that the variants were only so many because we wanted them. Playmates were supplying a demand that was set by us…or more realistically, our parents. We just received these toys as gifts, very few of us had jobs back then and went out on our own and purchased these. Our parents saw a Turtle logo and picked it up for us, regardless of what was in the box. But, right under our noses, was a creative center that was creating whimsical heroes and over-the-top villains; and it all started with Wingnut and Screwloose. Their crazy design was just a taste of what was to come. In 1990, we started voting with our wallets, and we voted “More”. More toys, more vehicles, more playsets and cartoons…and we got just that. Some might say that in 1990, the Playmates toy line was starting to pad out their roster of figures, and some more people might say that this was the start of the sell-out period of the TMNT, but I say that you’re ignoring the fact that this brand can kind of go anywhere and become a success. Here we are, twenty seven years later, talking about an alien bat and mosquito. That doesn’t happen unless you’re onto something good. And Wingnut and Screwloose were the beginning of a toy line that was just starting to stretch its legs creatively.
Turtle Trivia: Wingnut was voiced in the 2012 series by voice actor Daran Norris. He also provided the voice for Batman in the animated short DC Super Friends: The Joker’s Playhouse.
Muckman and Joe Eyeball
The Garbage-Gathering Ghoul and His Parasitic Pal
Released in 1990
I have so much love for this figure, which is incredibly ironic when you consider how much I hate clutter. Maybe it’s not irony, I’m not sure. Muckman and Joe Eyeball are two ordinary garbage men that are accidently mutated into walking piles of filth by a rare, experimental new strain of the same mutagen that turned four normal, pet shop turtles into the crime fighters we know today. The animated debut of the two junky and gunky heroes is actually pretty cool as this new mutagen (Compound X-7) that transforms Garson Grunge and Joe Junkee into Muckman and Joe Eyeball seemingly degrades the mutagen within the chemistry of the Turtles themselves, slowly killing them; at the very least, it nerfs their strength to the point of uselessness. Thanks to some quick thinking, 90’s cartoon-era science and a bit of the Compound X-7, the Turtles are able to immunize themselves to Muckman’s presence; which is good news, considering the two former garbage men mistook the Turtles for the ones that mutated them.
How do you make an action figure that is supposed to accurately represent a pile of walking garbage? I couldn’t even begin to figure that one out. Playmates Toys has done so, twice, with their Muckman figure. The figure, while being a solid object, perfectly captures the liquid, gooey, runny effect that would naturally present itself with a character like this. This may come as no surprise to you, but Muckman is covered head to toe in garbage. Not only covered heat to toe, but his head and toes are garbage, and his figure’s sculpt showcases this feature very nicely. From the banana peel stuck to his head to the manhole cover stuck to his foot, you could probably spend hours examining this figure and not catch all of the details presented with this guy. Muckman is home to discarded vegetables, fish bones, various earthworms and horseflies, old coffee can, soda pop bottles, and he even has a bicep made out of mushrooms. The amount of detail on this figure is staggering and it is arguably the most visually dense figure in the line, which does lead to a small problem with this figure.
This figure is basically two colors, green and orange, thanks to Muckman’s old sanitation coveralls, with small bits of yellow and gray thrown in for good measure. It would’ve been nice to have seen some more color thrown into this figure, but I can’t help but wonder if that would have helped or hindered the figure. Considering the amount of detail put into this figure, I think we were lucky to have gotten the color that we did, seeing as how this figure is basically two colors, it’s amazing that this figure doesn’t look flat when held in your hand. Besides, his look doesn’t stray far from his animated counterpart, which wasn’t always the case with this line, and the lack of color could’ve been a cost cutting solution, as the extra paint job would’ve jacked up the price of the figure. This is common practice with action figures, and not something that Playmates hasn’t done before or since.
But what about Muckman’s best friend, and partner in anti-crime, Joe Eyeball; well Joe is just like the other little buddy figures found throughout the line. He is a one-inch, solid piece of plastic that is a slightly lighter shade of green than Muckman, again, not straying too far from the design of the animated series. Joe is a small three-eyed…something that hitches a ride on Muckman’s back via a trashcan that attaches to Muckman’s back. Joe Eyeball looks like a goblin or gremlin type figure that looks like he’d be right at home in a film like Legend or Willow, but he’s so odd looking that he looks right at home riding on the back of a pile of garbage. He is a small mass of broken teeth and multiple arms, and the eyeball sticking out of his side is so weird and oddly perfectly placed that he just fits with Muckman more perfectly than most of the other little buddy figures. Whereas some of these other one-inch figures are just smaller versions of the figure they accompany, Muckman and Joe Eyeball are two completely unique characters that work just as well alone as they do together. If not for his size, Joe eyeball could’ve been his own figure in the line.
Muckman and Joe Eyeball a beautiful disaster when it comes to their respective figures. Their sculpt lacks a lot of color, but the details make up for it. They are so ugly, and such a mess to look at that they lend themselves to being viewed as a villain, but in reality, they’re anything but. If nothing else, these figures, as well as the episode that inspired them, is a great lesson in not judging a book by its cover. And for that matter, that you shouldn’t jump t conclusions as they did when they mistakenly blamed the Turtles for their mutation. But in time, Garson and Joe came to terms with their altered state in life; which might be a lesson in accepting yourself? Wow, this cartoon just has so many levels.
Turtle Trivia: Muckman and Joe Eyeball’s characterization were somewhat inspired by Jackie Gleason and Art Carney’s performances from the show The Honeymooners.
Authors note: Back in the day, you could pour “RetroMutagen Ooze” in a hole at the top of Muckman’s head and it would creepily ooze out of his mouth. I didn’t comment on this because my mom never let me have the ooze when I was a kid. She said she didn’t want to risk ruining the figure, but I know she didn’t want to risk ruining her carpet with green slime. Can’t say I blame her.
The Fist-Fighting Fish
Released in 1990
Introducing, Ray Fillet, AKA Man Ray; Real name: Jack Finney. Also called Ray, real name…forget it. This guy has more identities than Jason Bourne. This figure is actually based on the character named Jack Finney; a former marine biologist turned mutant manta ray that appeared in the TMNT Adventures series from Archie comics, back in issue five in 1989, where he was known as Man Ray. It’s unnecessarily confusing.
Ray Fillet actually has a massive impact upon TMNT history. Not only does he become a protector of Earth’s oceans and sea life, he also is a founding member of the Mighty Mutanimals; which are kind of like the JSA to the Turtles Justice League. The Mutanimals Consists of Ray Fillet and fan-favorites Mondo Gecko, Wingnut and Screwloose and Leatherhead. Other members included Dredmon, a mutant red wolf, and Jagwar, a mutant jaguar. Unfortunately, to this day there have been no figures or representation of the latter two characters outside of the Archie comics. Jagwar did make a return in the most recent comics from IDW publishing, but the current Jagwar is a dramatically different character, being something of a war god.
Ray Fillets figure is seemingly one of the first figures in the basic line to come with a gimmick. If you pour water on his shirt, or maybe it’s a rash guard, it changes colors from red and purple to blue and yellow. When I was a kid, I remember wanting to try out his color change feature for myself, but I just never wanted to put my figures in water. Maybe I was being a little overdramatic, but I just always thought that the interior of the figure would rust. Which is kind of dumb considering the insides and outside are all plastics of some form or another.
Ray also come packaged with a little buddy character named Fish Stix, a dynamite-strapped explosives expert who looks like he’s been drinking too much coffee. Seriously, I love these guys and I wish there had been more of them made. But that’s just me being greedy.
Ray’s sculpt is colored an attractive aqua green that sets him apart from the other figures in the line. You could see that this color would play well underwater, and it clashes well with his multi-colored shirt and green flippers. In an odd choice, he’s got a mouth full of razor sharp teeth that are packed tight. On top of this, Ray sculpt comes equipped with a set of dorsal fins and tail that actually resemble something of a cape, which kind of make the figure look weird. I mean, if those fins are attached to his back, how is his shirt underneath the fins? It’s not that big of a deal, but say his fins are just a cape, why does he have back muscles sculpted to it?
Honestly, it isn’t that big of a deal, and honestly, questions like those just ruin the fun experience you have with these characters. So, don’t be the guy that asks those questions. And if you are that guy, the brand is called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. You have to accept that some things are just going to be a little off.
Ray was given a big push in Turtles media beyond the Adventures comic book series. He was in the Sega Genesis version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters. From what I remember, he controlled fine. The gameplay seemed pretty slow compared to games like Killer Instinct or Mortal Kombat,.on top of that, the difficulty for the Tournament Fighters games was brutal and I never made much progress in them. There’s plenty of ways to watch a playthrough online and it’s pretty cool to see Ray Fillet kick some shell with the boys in green.
At one point, there was even talk of an animated series for the Mighty Mutanimals as their popularity in the comics was starting to rival the Turtles themselves. After a three-part miniseries from Archie Comics, the Ray Fillet and the Mutanimals were given an ongoing series to see if the series had legs.
It didn’t, and after twelve issues of faltering sales, the book was canceled and any talk of an animated series fell through.
Ray Fillet has made a bit of resurgence in the recent TMNT comics from IDW Publishing, where we once again find him working with a team of mutants called the Mighty Mutanimals. It’s nice seeing that people working on Turtles meda nowadays still remember the many great side characters that helped create the world that the Turtles inhabited. Characters like Ray were always my favorite in the first toy line. The more streamlined designed characters, to me, seem like the ones that would’ve been the most difficult to create. As it seems easy to think of a bunch of junk to throw on a character, but for someone like Ray, not covering him in seaweed and barnacles had to seem like a gamble that wouldn’t pay off.
But then again, as corny as it may seem, TMNT has always been about risk taking; and Ray Fillet is no exception.
Turtle Trivia: Ray Fillet was supposed to premiere on the ’87 animated series as a villain, but Ray’s creator, artist Ryan Brown, objected to this, resulting in the villainous Ray from the season four episode “Rebel Without a Fin”.
The Non-Stop Mutating Monster
Released in 1990
If there is a way to make a body-horror film accessible to kids, the Turtles found it with Mutagen Man. This woefully underappreciated character is a victim of happenstance when it comes to his mutation, or lack thereof.
Seymour Gutz was just an average delivery man when he was forced into a vat of raw mutagen and given nothing to mutate into. As a result, his body decayed all the way down to his nervous system, save for a few vital organs. Never willing to take miss an opportunity to take advantage of someone, the Shredder equipped Seymour with a containment suit that would keep him alive and said that he would repair Seymour’s ever-decaying form to its proper state if he could take out the Turtles.
There you have it; Sympathetic villain 101.
This figure is absolutely genius in its design. I mean, this figure is just a horror show on rapidly decomposing legs. While Mutagen Man’s insides may look like nothing more than a pink mass of…stuff, there is just enough detail in there to see that inside is a manthat is trapped. Aside from the obvious implications of his backstory, Seymour is tasked with taking out a Turtles, a task that he wants no part of, but in order to survive and retain his physical humanity, he must be willing to cross a few lines he never intended to, and that is played brilliantly across this figures face. I may be reading into this a bit too much, but inside the figure’s containment suit lies what used to be a man, and he’s screaming for help.
Outside of the figures transparent suit is two arms and legs that are covered in ripped flesh that reveals the sinew underneath, His fingers and toes have grown largely disproportionate and are accented by massive claws. You have to wonder if these appendages are what are left of Mutagen Man’s human arms and legs. If they’re not, who the hell do they belong to? Where’s that guy, and what’s left of him? Was he another failed experiment conducted by Shredder and Krang? We never find out, and I think that might be a good thing. Taking a look at this figure, you see the depths of villainy capable of Shredder and what lengths he’s willing to go to take down the Turtles.
One cool addition to this figure is the fact that you can open up his containment suit at the top and fill it with plastic “guts” that accompany his other accessories (Mutagen Machine Gun!!!!). Next, you fill the tank with water and watch the guts float around his suit, before they sink to the bottom. Think of it like a really evil snow globe that screwed over the guy stuck inside it. Personally, I never liked the idea of mixing my figures with water. Something about that just makes me think that my figure is going to rot or dissolve, even though I know these figures are made to withstand the average abuse dealt by any kid that isn’t Sid from Toy Story.
Mutagen Man is one of those rare figures within the 88 Playmates toy line that wasn’t afraid to step away from the comfort provided by a safe human/animal hybrid character. Mutagen Man, pun intended, goes for your guts. This guy makes a statement about the stakes found within the world of TMNT. It’s not all pizza parties and “cowabunga”. Sometimes, innocent people get caught in the crossfire of a war between good and evil. And when that happens, those people have to make a choice. Choose between becoming a monster, and staying true to who you are. Seymour is a good man forced to do bad things. Sometimes this happens. This has happened to all of us, albeit, not to such a dramatic effect. Looking at Mutagen Man “figure”, there is more than just a generic bad guy for the Turtles to punch. There is a walking moral conundrum. Be who you are, or be a slave. While the animated series did stray from this within the same episode that Mutagen Made his debut, you can’t help but notice the incredible visage and impact that this figure made upon this line of toys. Sure, he’s a gross out character, but he’s also a figure of a man that was cheated and has to play someone else’s game to get his humanity back. After learning that, can you really blame him?
Turtle Trivia: In the animated series, which played out differently than his figure’s portrait, Mutagen Man was turned back into a human where he proceeded to go out on a date with April O’Neil; Proving that looks are all that matters.
The Evil Turtle from Dimension X
Released in 1990
Every now and then, there is a bad guy that everyone loves. Whether it’s the Joker (even though it should be Bane) or Lord Zedd, there are just bad guys that surpass the whole “love to hate” angle. For the Turtles, it’s Slash; the seriously beefed up evil turtle has the skills, muscle and wherewithal to take out the Turtles.
Slash’s origin is a bit of a mixed bag. Sometimes he’s an alien that was brought to Earth by Shredder to terminate the Turtles, other times he was a pet Turtle that was mutated, again by Shredder, to kill the Turtles. At this point in the Turtles continuity, figures, comics, or animated series, it didn’t really matter what you subscribed to, all that counted was that you knew that this guy was a serious threat to our heroic teens, and a truly opposite number to them, all at once.
There are a lot of villains out there that are created to be the polar opposite of our hero. Personally, I always thought that this narrative device was a little redundant. Why does there need to be another mutant turtle running around out there? We’ve already got four of them, and they even have a robot-turtle, just in case. But, as with most things involving the TMNT, Slash took a common storytelling trope and took it to its nth degree; which is hilarious.
Not only does Slash look like a menacing snapping turtle instead of the much more inviting box turtle, he also hates pizza, wears a black bandana (the absence of all color), he wears armor similar to the Shredder, he hates fun and loves dishing out pain and torment; giving our heroes a truly terrifying villain that is to be feared and not to be trifled with.
Keeping the whole opposite number of the Turtles angle going; Slash’s figure also come equipped with villainous versions of the Turtles signature weapons. There’s a mace, spiked nunchucks, a bent sai and a friggin’ buoy knife, showing that this guy truly is a force to reckoned with.
My only real complaint with this figure is the fact that he’s so small. This is a guy that is (literally) shown to tower over the Turtles in virtually every form he’s taken in the Turtles cannon. But where his presence counts most, he’s figuratively cut off at his spiked knees. Sure, his sickly blue skin, sharp teeth and dead eye set him apart from every turtle-type figure, and most of the villains for that matter, in the line. But I can’t help but look at this guy and think that he’s someone trying to be a Ninja Turtle, as opposed to someone that can take them out in one fell swoop.
With that one complaint out of the way, Slash is a figure that has stood the test of time and it’s easy to why he’s such a fan favorite. In my opinion, it goes beyond the twisted, mirror-image of the hero plot device. Slash is a monster that has the singular goal of putting the Turtles in the ground. While there are other versions of Slash out there (IDW’s version is a particular favorite of mine), this figure represents him the best despite his vertical challenges. He is a dark turtle that shows just how dangerous the lives of Turtles can be. Everyone thinks that the villains of the story presented are always cartoony, over the top and laughable. But with Slash, you know that there is something bad in store for our heroes when this guy shows up. Because at the end of the day, Slash proves that, sometimes, a death ray or Technodrome is unnecessary. Sometimes, all you need is muscle and a “positive” attitude to accomplish your goals of world domination.
Turtle Trivia: In the 2012 animated series, Slash is voiced by actor Corey Feldman, who voiced Donatello in the 1990 live-action film.
The Rip-Roarin’, Skateboardin’ Reptile
There are so many characters found within the Playmates TMNT toy line that are so easily identifiable, that you’d be hard pressed to find a figure that could be labeled generic. It is staggering, the amount of figures that you can pick out by only knowing their name. And Mondo Gecko keeps this tradition alive with a look and sculpt that cements his place within the Turtles zeitgeist.
Let’s get the obvious part of this figure out of the way, yes, he is a mutant gecko. That’s not what I meant when I said you could single him out armed only with his name; although it does help. Mondo Gecko is exactly that, a mutated gecko that has adopted a skater boy motif, which is given life by the multiple skulls found on his shirt, knee pad and skateboard. But that’s not the best part of his given name. The term “Mondo”, is used to describe the extreme nature of something. So while Mondo Gecko may just seem like an oxymoron molded in plastic, it’s actually a bit of a commentary on the figure himself. The whole mutant aspect of these characters is somewhat taken for granted in my opinion. It seems that some of these characters are just identified as being humanoid versions of the last animal or object that hapless victim latched onto. But with Mondo, in my opinion, the name is a decidedly on the nose description of who he is. He’s an extreme example of a gecko on two legs. Not only does this guy look like a five foot tall gecko, he’s also an extreme athlete with a rocket-powered skateboard. He’s the lead guitarist in a thrash-metal band. He’s a former thief whose girlfriend, Candy Fine, still loves in spite of his mutation. He’s a talented spy and a decent hacker who (almost) always gets results…whether they’re the results you wanted are up for debate, but still, the dude’s got skills.
Now, not all of these attributes are from one continuity, he’s no Batman, and that’s one of the great parts of these characters; none of them are a jack-of-all-trades, they’re specialists in one way or another. But they need each other to really make an impact. Mondo Gecko is a great example of this. While he may have been many things in past continuities, one thing has always been steadfast, his punk attire and attitude. In the beginning, Mondo was a bit of a loner, who preferred it that way. Once he got around the Turtles (and the Mighty Mutanimals) he came out of his shell a bit.
What really matters when it comes to this figure is the fact that he has one of the most dynamic looks of any of these figures. Every scale is painstakingly present, a testament to Playmates standards, at least from back in the 90’s. His flair for skating gear is charming, although I don’t think I’d ever willingly wear a yellow t-shirt outdoors. He also has the benefit of being one of the very few flat-footed figures in the line and this is all thanks to his turbo-charged sewer skateboard. The board has pegs that plug into Mondo’s feet that add a bit more flair to the figure as well as another level of (increasingly important) poses you can display him in.
Probably my favorite addition to this figure is the skate that’s tied to his tail, which, I would imagine, is there to ensure that Mondo never kisses the curb again. My only real complaint with this figure is actually part of his head sculpt, and no, despite my deep hatred of ponytails on guys, that’s not the issue here. No, it’s the braces on his front teeth. I know this sounds like a corny nitpick, and it is, because I am going to apply a bit too much logic here. If Mondo started out as a human that was mutated, wouldn’t his braces have busted when his jaw changed shape? Or if he started out as a gecko that turned humanoid, why the hell does he have braces on? Seriously, who took a look at Mondo’s grill and said to him: “You know, your central and lateral incisors could really use a good realignment.” I mean, who does that? This guy doesn’t have enough to deal with?
With that out of the way, I have to say that Mondo is a vibrant, well-detailed figure whose look stands up, even today. He may seem slightly counterculture, but considering he’s a mutant lizard, he doesn’t seem to be trying too hard to accomplish his look. Given his background as a metal head that is now a mutant, how were we expecting him to look?
It’s nice seeing this character still getting the attention he deserves today. He was a recurring character on the 2012 TMNT show from Nickelodeon. He’s also, once again, a founding member of the Mighty Mutanimals, this time from IDW Publishing. And perhaps most importantly, his character hasn’t felt the need to change with the times. His origin may change, depending on who is writing for him. But his rock and roll attitude and fun-loving persona have always been the bedrock of what makes this guy cool; much like the four Turtles themselves. Some characters don’t need to conform for whoever “today’s” audiences are. Sometimes, being a skater is all you need to be. Because we’ve all known this guy, the punk rocker who didn’t really care what the established order was. He was probably some dunce named Mike that we knew from elementary school. That guy, today he may be a bartender or a gas station attendant, but he’s still got that skateboard, and that may be all he needs. Something tells me that as long as Mondo has that skateboard, he’s going to be alright. And we’re still going to love him.
Turtle Trivia: Mondo Gecko was voiced by actor Robbie Rist in the 2012 animated series. Rist also provided the voice of Michelangelo in the first three live-action films in the early 1990’s.
The Psychotic Pizza Chef
Released in 1990
Let’s talk about conviction. Some people hold beliefs so dear and close to their hearts that there is no swaying their opinion. Some people hold to their belief in Bigfoot, a sports team or religion. But some people, some people believe they can crawl into a custom made oven with a canister of retromutagen and close the door on them, thinking that it’ll give them the power of…of whatever their addled mind thinks mutagen does.
Pizza Face has such conviction. This poor guy actually cooked himself in a pizza oven big enough to hold a full grown man thinking it would give him superpowers of some kind. When the Turtles pulled him out of the oven to save his life before his mutation could take effect, he blamed them for ruining his plans and turning him into the hideous man he is today. As a result, he became Pizza Face, sworn enemy to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their friends.
Yep, he’s addlebrained.
This is a truly hideous figure to behold. Even by TMNT standards. This tubby culinary expert is a mass of burned flesh, singed hair, missing limbs and broken teeth. You might almost feel sorry for this window-licker if he hadn’t thought it was a good idea to bake himself in a high powered, industrial strength pizza oven. Pizza Face is truly a victim of himself. Something I think a lot of us can relate to. Just hopefully not to the same degree (the third one).
Pizza Face has the look of a clichéd cook in a pizza place that has so many health code violations attributed towards it, you would think that only the Toxic Crusaders would eat there. I know I talked earlier about how Mutagen Man was something out of a body-horror film, well, this guy is a monster straight out of a slasher film. Looking at this figure today, I get shades of Leatherface or Jason Voorhees. With cleaver in hand, Pizza Face looks like something out of one of Michelangelo’s pizza-fueled nightmares.
Looking over his figure, it’s kind of hard not to miss any of the incredibly gross details across his massive frame. At the same time, it’s hard to look at them to. His arms are a patchwork of stiches where he had to sew his arms back together. Burns peek out of his red tank top. Pizza sauce or blood(?) is splattered across his legs and apron while roaches crawl up and down his limbs, feasting on his scabs. His bulging eyes show off the pain he’s in with every waking moment, but his broken, leering grin reveals how much he enjoys it. What used to be a man has truly become a monster who wants nothing more than to dice u the heroes in a half-shell and bake them in his next pizza pie.
How the hell did this figure ever make it into production?
Probably my favorite bit on this figure is his pizza box peg-leg that plugs into the bottom of the figure where his right leg should be. It can be switched out with his mighty cleaver and used to pummel anyone who gets in his way. While my figure hasn’t held up the best over time, his peg-leg is way too loose, I still think that this is a great design choice that is nightmare fuel plan and simple. This figure shows off just how vast the breadth of creativity is when it comes to the Ninja Turtles. There really are no limits to what they can do, where they can go, or who they can come up against.
My only real complaint for this guy as a character is that there just isn’t enough going on with him. From what I can gather, he was never in the ’87 animated series or comics at the time. The only time he was never implemented within the TMNT, outside of this figure, was in the 2012 animated series, where he is voiced by the great John DiMaggio. Barring that one awesome exception, we kind of had to make this figures character up as we played when we were kids. We can all see what kind of effect it had on me as a kid.
Looking back on this figure as an adult, I kind of wish this figure was a bit taller, while keeping his bulk. I like the sloppy look to this guy and his sturdy, if not tubby, physique. That being said, I really appreciate having another veritable monster in the toy line.
Turtle Trivia: While the concept of Pizza Face was being conjured up, he was named Pizza The Hut, after the same character from the film Space Balls.
The Turtlebustin’ Exterminator!
Released in 1990
You know, with the amount of accidental mutations happening out there in the TMNT universe, you’d figure that Mutagen would be more commonly known and safeguards would be put in place. Well, if that were to happen, then a massive plot hole would open up in Turtles fiction and then it would just become a wormhole of “how did this happen again?” type scenarios, and the whole mythology would come crumbling down. And none of us want that.
When a lowly bug exterminator was hired by the Shredder(?) to take care of a roach problem on the Technodrome, he was accidently mutated into a massive cockroach. Apparently giving up on whatever life he may have had before, this former bug zapper became Scumbug, the Exterminator.
This figure’s history is weird in terms of the animated series, and it’s even crazier with the comics, as he often shows up once in the background and runs off. I won’t go into his various comic book appearances, but he appeared in the ’87 animated series once in an episode called Night of the Rogues, which is probably my favorite episode of the entire series. Funny thing though, Scumbug never appeared before that episode, but the Turtles reacted to him like he had been a recurring enemy like Leatherhead or Rat King, who also appear in the same episode.
Scumbug, as a figure, is a truly ghastly figure to behold. His bulging yellow eyes and massive pincers rest uneasily atop his chittering jaw that doubles as an eighth point of articulation. Extra limbs protrude from his abdomen; spikes and a three-fingered arm have burst through his human skin that has long since sloughed off. He is covered head to toe in critters that resemble roaches, showing that Scumbug seems to be a kind of nest for his hard-winged companions.
Quite possibly the best, or at least the most disgusting, part of this figure is his bug pack and turtle-exterminating gun accessories. The backpack plugs into his back thanks to a nifty peg system, like many figures in the line, but his pack comes with three gray cables. One of the cables attaches itself to the exterminating gun in question, but the real horror show lies within the extra two cables, which, starting at the top of the pack near Scumbug’s shoulders, plug into the figure’s chest. So this means that his own bodily fluid is transferred from him to his pack, weaponized, and used to fire as a projectile at the Turtles.
To say “that’s gross” is a bit of an understatement.
The great thing about this figure is how it has stood up over time. I know I have said this before, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record I will say it again; this figure would never have been made today. He’s a figure that is covered in spikes, bugs and flesh that has long since rotted off, and as such, would be deemed too scary for kids today. But, would he really be too scary? You really think about it, saying that something is too scary for a child is a bit presumptuous, isn’t it? While I do believe that it is the parent’s decision to decide what is too much for their child, I believe that kids should be expected to decide for themselves what is too scary, to a certain degree. Kids aren’t dumb, they’re just naive. So buy them a figure that looks like it’s going to munch on their face while they sleep at night and let them figure out if it’s too scary for them; if they don’t want it, then no big deal. But if they love it, there’s a good chance that they’ll grow up to write about action figure one day.
Turtle Trivia: Scumbug was set to be a recurring villain on a proposed Mighty Mutanimals animated series that was to act as a spinoff of the ’87 animated series. But alas, the show never moved forward.
The Samurai Bashin’ Bear
Released in 1990
Panda Khan’s real name is actually Li Yang. He was created by the team of Dave Garcia and Monica Sharp for the comic book titled A Distant Soil. From what I understand, they worked out a deal with Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird that was similar to the deal that Stan Sakai worked out for the use of Usagi Yojimbo and Space Usagi. In fact, on all three of those figures, you can see that those creators are given a copyright credit, where Mirage Comics is given credit on all other figures in the line. Unfortunately, Panda Khan never appeared in any episodes of the’87 animated series, and to my knowledge, has never appeared in any of the comic series to feature the Turtles.
Also, from what I can tell, this is the only figure of Panda Khan/LiYang to have ever been put into production, making this figure something of a time capsule of what comics and figures were being made back in the late eighties and early nineties. That, to me, is worth the price admission alone. Believe it or not, Panda Khan is readily available online for purchase. You can find him loose, with accessories, for a pretty fair price. If you’re looking for a carded figure however, that’ll cost you a bit more. The difference between the two seems to be, as of now, about one hundred dollars so; buyers beware.
With all of that out of the way, let’s move on to the figure.
I am constantly amazed by the sculpts of these figures that Playmates were able to come up with. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to convey that a plastic figure has a full head of hair, much less being covered head to toe in fur, but (and this won’t be the last figure like this) this guy that he is covered in fur as a bear would be and totally conveys the look he should possess, from what is shown. Most of his body is covered in bulky, heavy-looking samurai armor and chainmail that seems to match his comic book counterpart, but again, I haven’t read the comic so I can’t tell you how accurate his look is to the actual book. His armor seems to be somewhat in line with the armor seen on the Usagi Yojimbo figure. This may be a coincidence seeing how varied the designs of actual samurai armor can be.
The backstory of this figure is kind of amazing; Panda Khan is a descended from a race of giant pandas that live on Earth a thousand years in the future. Through circumstance, like Usagi, he is transported to our time with no way of returning home. Living by the code of the Khan, he finds himself aligned with the Turtles in their fight against Shredder and Krang. And it’s a good thing to, Khan stands at a mountainous eight feet tall, a feature that isn’t conveyed in the figure though. He stands just as tall, if not a bit shorter than the actual Turtles themselves. But hopefully you were a child with an active imagination and you could just picture him towering over Shredder. It is cool to have one of the very few figures in the line just be a tank for the Turtles. But the size of the figure is the one aspect that’s lacking in this figure.
When I get to them I’ll elaborate more, but there are some figures that I consider “big guy” figures. Guys like Dr. El, Monty Moose and Sergeant Bananas that are physically much taller and broader than other figures in the line. If nothing else, they’re sculpted in a way that gives the look and feel of size than a guy like Panda Khan. The only reason I take issue with this is the fact that Panda Khan is billed as the tallest good figure in a toy line that includes a mutant giraffe. So why the stocky build? Oh well, it’s not a deal breaker. Scale Tail, a popular villain in the toy line, is billed at twenty feet tall (uncurled) and yeah, that didn’t happen.
Other than his height, he still boasts the standard seven points of articulation, and a cool assortment of weapons; to include a gou hook, a katana sword and a massive battle axe that no big guy should leave the house without. But for whatever reason, he comes equipped with a “fusion blaster” pistol. Again, I don’t know that actual backstory of this Khan, but they have guns in a samurai civilization. I guess in a thousand years they would be plentiful.
Finally, I want to mention Panda Khan’s head sculpt. This dude wants you to know that you’re going to die at his hand. His barred teeth and red eyes let you know that your last day is about to be a bad one. This guy may not be an angry guy, but it’s obvious from his sculpt that he is in the middle of a battle that he is determined to win.
Turtle Trivia: Despite his appearance in the TMNT toy line, Panda Khan has not appeared in any other form of Turtles media.
The Hard-Headed, Horned Hoodlum
Released in 1990
To find the inspiration for the next few figures in the line we have to go back, way back, to the original TMNT comics that started everything. After fighting off both Shredder and Baxter Stockman, the Turtles find themselves in the distant reaches of space while searching for their missing master Splinter. Along the way, they make friends with an A.I. named Fugitoid, and run afoul of the Triceraton army. Of course, hijinks ensue.
I’m not going to pretend to know everything there is to know about these guys. All you need to know is that they are part of an invading army that almost always has ties to Fugitoid and throws hands with the Turtles. And their presence has been felt in virtually every form of Turtles media, second only to the Foot Clan.
While I do think that it’s weird that a race of aliens was boiled down to a single figure, other toy lines in TMNT history have rectified this mistake, so…small victories. Also, if you think about it, the same hand was dealt to the Foot Soldier, and nothing was stopping you from buying multiple figures to build a Foot Army of sorts; unless you had logical parents that said “no”, nothing would stop you from buying multiple Triceratons. I digress.
The figure itself is truly a sight to behold. This figure, while not the tallest in the line, is one of the broader bad guys out there that makes it look bigger than most of the bad guys in the line. His bright color palate, consisting of orange, green and blue, is a nice change of pace that helps to further separate itself from the other villains surrounding him. Honestly, I believe that if you had no idea who this guy is, and you’d be forgiven if you didn’t, seeing as how he’s kind of a niche character, your eye would be instantly drawn towards this Mesozoic mauler.
While he doesn’t have articulation at his wrists like virtually every other figure before or since, this figures sixth point of articulation is at his tail, which I believe helps to balance the figure while posed on your shelf. Be wary though when posing this guy; he was the only figure in the line whose internal plastic joints seized and broke on me, both at the legs and the tail, resulting in me buying a second Triceraton; which works out when you think about it, because thanks to some super glue, and a Shogun Triceraton variant, I now have a Triceraton landing party.
Speaking of which, I know that this whole thing is about the “basic” series of figures, and as such I didn’t want to mention the plethora of variants that arguably dominated the line. But, this next figure is a rare figure that I am proud to own and has a distinct enough personality to separate himself from the Triceraton figure.
The Dentable Destroyin’ Dino Dynamo
Released in 1994
For the serious collector, the Shogun line of TMNT variants is a sought after line of figures since their debut in 1994. Personally, I had never heard of this variant series until a year ago. At first, I didn’t pay much attention to these variants because that’s not really my thing. The breadth of variants in the first line is immense and a serious rabbit hole lined with burned cash. But this figure the Shogun Triceraton figure leans, I think; a bit more on the side of realism than the standard Triceraton figure. The Shogun variant is a deep green with silver armor accents and helmet that emphasize both the regality and size of the figure. Standing with the Triceraton figure, the Shogun variant almost defaults to a leadership position within their ranks. While the sculpts are identical, the added bits of armor and different weapons add a bit more character that make him an interesting figure to own.
But the cost is going to be a factor. I won’t throw numbers out here because that’s not what this is about. At the end of the day, it’s just nice to see more varied enemies for the Turtles, outside of the regular mutant of the week villain type; especially a character that has such deep roots within the Turtles comic book mythology. On top f which, the figures are absolutely massive while staying within the scale of figure that Playmates allowed for at the time. It’s obvious from first glance that the Turtles are out of their league in terms of pure strength. These guys are the size of modular houses and they have the fire power to back up their world-dominating ambitions.
Turtle Trivia: The first appearance of the Triceratons in the 1987 animated series was in the episode Night of the Dark Turtle. Told you I didn’t know much about them.
The Sleek Servo Servant
Released in 1990
Before there were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, there was Fugitoid. Premiering back in the pages of the anthology comic book called Gobbledygook in 1984; Fugitoid (along with the Triceratons) is one of the first creations from Mirage Studios. I have heard tale that Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird TMNT #1 in 1984 the official start of Mirage Studios, technically speaking, it started here.
But, it’s Kevin and Peter, they know what’s what.
Fugitoid was once a man named Dr. Honeycutt; one day, thanks to some ridiculous circumstances involving the Triceratons, Honeycutt’s consciousness was transferred to his robot servant SAL. Classified a Fugitive Android he spent most of his days running from the authorities until he crossed paths with the Heroes in a Half-Shell.
The action figure in question seems to be a pretty accurate rendering of the comic book character. Admittedly, there are a few extra bells and whistles added for flair and to differentiate itself from other robotic figures in the line, like Metalhead. Where Fugitoid from the comics is silver, the Playmates figure is bronze with blue and red circuitry added throughout the figure. Plus his head sculpt is a great display of a minimal design. He only has two red eyes and thin red line for a mouth, but somehow, it’s a great way to display his character.
While his articulation does leave a little to be desired, he makes up for it with a chest plate that opens up. Inside is a peg that can latch onto his accessory of choice, the skeletal scanner. While this isn’t a weapon, Fugitoid, according to his portrait, is meant for recon, scouting and infiltration; and as such, his weaponry reflects his non-combative purposes. But when push comes to shove, he does have his trusty metal-melting machine gun, proving that this fugitive android is not to be trifled with.
While it is a shame that Fugitoid never appeared in the ’87 animated series, he did have a massive presence in the 2012, Nickelodeon series. The figure I have in my collection hasn’t held up the best over time. The paint on his arms and legs has faded over the years. This may have something to do with the materials used during manufacturing. His limbs are made of a softer plastic that is almost translucent in the right light. Seeing as how he does lack articulation when compared to other figures in the line, this may have been a design choice for the figure seeing as how his comic book counterpart is almost never standing still. He isn’t a bendy figure by any sense, but the sculpt on his limbs shows off a telescoping effect that is translated nicely on the figure. Perhaps the folks over at Playmates were trying to save us from broken arms and legs with this guy and opted for softer materials. Either way, this is a fine figure that is a great example of what came before the Turtles we all know from the creators we all have been inspired by.
Turtle Trivia: Fugitoid was voiced by actor David Tennant, a Scottish actor well-known for playing the Tenth Doctor in the long running sci-fi show Doctor Who.
The Mega Mutants
Now when I started writing this I had a strict, self-imposed rule of only covering action figures, and no variants. Well, spoilers, but my no variants rule is going to be bent later on, and while the next two figures are also considered vehicles…they don’t have wheels so, we’re fine.
The Psychotic Stinging, Pollinating Punk
Released in 1990
I know that I have said that some figures are “massive” or “huge”, but Killer Bee truly deserves that description seeing as how he’s large enough for any figure in the line to actually ride him. As I write this, I’m actually trying to find a story reason for these mutants to be as large as they are, but considering that may ruin the whole mystique of what the Mutagen is and what it does, I’ll just say that Playmates just wanted to make a toy that another toy could ride, therefore increasing the longevity of the toy line. Anyway…
Killer Bee is a massive bee that, I guess, broke out of insect jail, seeing as how he’s wearing a stripped hat, a ball and chain and he has an electric chair strapped to his back. This six legged psycho comes equipped with a chainsaw and a large cannon that plugs into his back, he also seems to have had his stinger removed and replaced with a metal one that looks like it could punch a hole in a building if he were so inclined. One aspect of this figure that really stands out is just the amount of damage that this bee has taken. From his wings to his abdomen, Killer Bee is covered in large gashes and bullet holes that have apparently not even begun to slow him down.
Perhaps the best aspect of this figure is his head sculpt, as Killer Bee has veiny, crazy ex-girlfriend looking eyes that seem as if they’re about to pop out of his head at any moment. Also, he must have a bad head cold as his mouth is overflowing with some type of mucus. On the other hand, one this that is a massive annoyance about this figure (as well as his good guy counterpart, Needlenose) is the fact that it’s really had to stand him up for a prolonged period of time seeing as how his body is so big and the two legs that he stands on are scrawny. Fortunately, his stinger is molded in such a way that he’s meant to kind of lay on while standing. Although it is tricky to keep him balanced when you strap a Foot Soldier to him and set him on a shelf, as he wasn’t made for display.
The Bloodsucking Military Mutant Mosquito
Released in 1990
Not to be outdone, the Turtles have a monstrous, mega mutant flyer of their very own with Needlenose. Apparently this humongous mosquito was a person at one time or another. I’m guess that’s the case since he’s described as “military”, but, perhaps I’m putting too much thought into this.
Perhaps this crewcut-sporting cruiser is described as such because of the heavy artillery he’s carrying as he has no less than three guns on his person and two rockets strapped to his forelegs. While Needlenose is less gross than his villainous counterpart, he takes his flying incredibly seriously seeing as how he has a massive engine strapped to his back and some type of turbines on his wings to give him the boost he needs to mow down the enemy where they stand. Also, it should be noted that, unlike Killer Bee, Needlenose is much easier to stand due to have four legs to prop him up. Sure, the feet could have been spread a bit wider for better support, but these toys were never meant for display. So this is a problem that may just be unique to me and other collectors.
I know that they are vehicles and not figures but honestly, I can’t help my own appreciation for them having the same amount of charm and character as the figures in the basic series. You can definitely tell that lot of thought and care went into the designs of these figures, and while they are more than a little gross (seriously, Needlenose has a tongue for a seat), they are truly unique amongst their fellow mutants seeing as how they are kind of lacking any kind of human characteristics, making these Mega Mutants the only truly animal figures in the line.
Turtle Trivia: Yeah, I got nothing. There’s nothing really known about these guys other than they exist.
Well dear reader, I thank you for getting this far in my radical ramblings about the early TMNT action figures. I know you’re probably tired of hearing how much I love a certain character or how amazing and bright this figure or that accessory is. But I have a small confession for you…I lost interest in the Turtles around the latter part of 1991.
I know, I know, what am I doing writing this much about TMNT action figures if I didn’t bleed green my entire childhood? Well, to be honest, I think it was because of what was going on around the same time. This is kind of an embarrassing confession, but I was eight years old in 1991 and while I was in school, I had a really hard time putting words together while reading. Reading in my head, reading out loud, in front of people, not in front of people, it didn’t matter. Reading was becoming a major problem for me and I didn’t know what to do.
My father did, though; and on Christmas morning that year, I unwrapped a huge box of comic books. There were probably around twenty books in the box but it seemed like I had inherited hundreds of new books to pour through. And the first book I opened, and the first hurtle the Turtles faced in the battle for my fandom, was the Amazing Spider-Man, number 350. Spidey fought Doctor Doom in that issue and I was hooked. I had put down the toys and Nintendo games and invested myself in any comic book I could find. Spider-Man, Batman, X-Men, it didn’t matter to me what company published what book, I just had to find out what my new favorite heroes were up to that month. Over the next few months, I read more and more, completely absorbed in the fiction worlds and heroes within them. Then, suddenly, X-Men the Animated series came out, followed by Batman: The Animated Series was released on Fox, then Spider-Man, Superman, Hulk and Justice League Unlimited…and my Ninja Turtles action figure collection collected dust in my closet.
I won’t go into it much more but, suffice it to say, I had fallen out of love with the TMNT. I can remember seeing an episode here and there as I got older; the show did run for ten seasons so, how could I not? I remember really enjoying Next Mutation when it came out, but it didn’t last. And by time the TMNT made its resurgence with the 2003 animated series, I was already an adult. An adult that worked straight midnights for three years before enlisting in the Army; and by time I had come home in 2009, the Turtles were gone again…until 2012.
Now this was a very longwinded way of saying that the next batch of figures I am about to review for you are not figures that I had as a child. An argument can be made that I think so highly of these figures because of the impact that they had on me as a child. But these next figures prove, at least to me, that these figures are some of the best we’ve ever gotten. Not just in terms of the TMNT, but toys in general. These toys deserve a place besides icons like the Transformers, He-Man and G.I.JOE.
Okay, okay…I know I’m rambling.
On to the figures!
The Wiggly Weirdo Warrior
Released in 1991
Around the fourth series of figures in the original Playmates TMNT figure line there was a strange mandate that was seemingly put into place that saw some figures wearing a single boot or shoe, while the other leg was completely mutated into the limb of the animal in question. Every now and then, you’d have a figure that had a hoof or talons, but the figure that I think captured this feature the best was also the first one to have been given this treatment; Wyrm.
Before he was mutated, another mild-mannered sanitation worker had run afoul with some mutagen. This time, instead of a pile of garbage, this poor guy was mutated into a massive flatworm, that seemingly doubles as a host for other worms.
I don’t know how someone thought to create a humanoid worm, even writing it sounds impossible, but the figure we got is somehow incredibly appealing. While he may look nothing like an actual worm, he makes up for it with his incredibly bright color palate that, while mainly only being blue and green, is almost refreshing and is a great indication as to what direction the line will look like going forward.
Wyrm is dressed in the same green hat and coveralls that he had while he was human, but his skin is a festive-looking, cotton candy blue that compliments his coveralls and really helps the smaller details in his sculpt pop out to the owner. Those details found in his sculpt are an incredible sight as well. I think that the sculpted details in his fingers is truly a sight to behold as each individual digit is a worm itself with intricate, detailed lines which standout thanks to being a darker purple against Wyrm’s blue skin. The aforementioned animal limb on Wyrm is a large tentacle that replaced his human leg when he was mutated. It contains a bright yellow streak down the middle of the limb that is accented nicely by what appear to be purple suction cups. The bottom portion of the limb is flattened out, making for easy posing. But perhaps the best part of this figure is the head sculpt and all its eye-popping glory.
Curled blue lips, purple gums, baseball card-sized teeth and an ear to ear grin that reaches past where his ears should be. I can’t lie; this guy looks like he should be a villain. I know that I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but be honest, you know what the cover of a horror book looks like, therefor, this dude looks like a bad guy that’s going to wrap you up in a blanket and make you worm food. I mean, this guy pummels his victims, I mean, the villains, with a pipe wrench and a friggin mallet. All this guy needs is a final girl to chase around the sewers and he’s ready for his close up.
Wyrm’s head sculpt actually contains a pseudo point of articulation with the purple tuft of hair at the top of his head. If you (gently) pull up you’ll lift of the upper jaw and his eyes will bulge outward; which is what happens to most of us when our hair is pulled, gently or otherwise.
Wyrm, as a character, has been criminally underused since his debut in 1991. He is one of the more visually outlandish characters in the entire line, and that is no small feat. Honestly, this guy looks like he and Muckman should be teaming up to fight off Eco terrorists in the hope of ridding the world of pollution. But, alas, he was not used until very, very recently. While he was first seen in the pages of the TMNT comics from Archie, he sported a passing resemblance to the mutant we all know. Thankfully, Wyrm’s lack of a solid backstory has opened the creative writing gates wide on this guy given his appearances in the 2012 TMNT series as well as the (AWESOME) appearance in a 2016 issue of the IDW published book Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Universe. With both appearances, the character of Wyrm differs greatly from what was created back in ’91, as well as from each other. I won’t spoil the story of either appearance, but I will say that IDW did it best.
Wyrm is an awesome figure that finds a way to stand out from the pack. While he may seem like just another mutant in a long line of mutants, this guy captures, I think, the essence of the term “mutant” more than any other figure. While the figures look more like jacked up animals, Wyrm could also double as an invading alien or some type of sewer demon if he were so inclined.
Turtle Trivia: While Wyrm never appeared in the ’87 animated series proper, his one contribution to the show was an action figure commercial that showcased the various new villains that were being introduced to the line at the time.
The Guerilla Good Guy
Released in 1991
When I look at this figure, I can almost sense my father’s eyes rolling. I never had this guy as a kid and God do I wish I had. It is everything that is both great, and kind of lame, about the toy line as a whole. Sergeant Bananas is a massive gorilla dressed to the nines in military fatigues. Complete with Kevlar helmet and corporal ranking; although, what a sergeant is doing wearing the wrong rank is beyond me.
Now to this day, Sergeant Bananas has not been featured in any form of media from the TMNT, outside of his one appearance in the spring 1991 issue of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Magazine, where he was referred to as the Guerilla Gorilla. In the magazine, he was an African Gorilla that was traveling through the rainforests in Central America (naturally) and defending it from lumberjacks. This is a great intro to a character that seems quant nowadays. Back in the nineties, there were a lot of cartoons that advertised the importance of our environment and its safety. Given our current ecological state, I would say that it’s time for these role models to make a comeback.
The figure itself is another that finds its character within its own simplicity. This is a gorilla that found itself in the Army. It happens to the best of us.
I know I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again but it is amazing that these sculpts can covey the texture of fur and hair while also being a lump of plastic. Bananas may not have much variety of color found within his fur, but this isn’t a smooth character that you’re told is covered head-to-toe in fur.
While the figure boasts the same seven points of articulation as everyone else, he is hunched over slightly to show off the ways which real gorillas both stand and move around. But what really sells this figure is his blue buddy, Larry the Lemur.
I know that these figures are usually just placeholder characters with no articulation, Larry sports articulation at his left arm and his tail. Much like another little buddy of the mosquito variety, Larry is intended to ride on the Sergeants back while gripping onto his helmet while they save the world from Eco terrorists. While it can be tricky to balance Larry on Sergeant Bananas’ back, when you hit the sweet spot, he holds on surprisingly well, and is not easily knocked off. While it would’ve been great to have a peg on Larry’s foot, it would have made standing him on his own impossible. Take what you can get.
I would like to comment on Sergeant Bananas’ accessories, but I bought him loose with no accessories outside of Larry the Lemur. But honestly, this guy doesn’t need much else. He’s an imposing figure that looks to send environmental-haters like Shredder and Krang back to whatever hole the crawled out of with ease.
Turtle Trivia: Despite being named Sergeant Bananas, this seems to be a last minute change on the part of Playmates, as Sergeant Bananas’ name is displayed as “Guerilla” on a patch on his intricately painted BDU top.
The Sinister Snappin’ Turtle
Released in 1991
Let’s get one thing straight right out of the gate, Tokka and his buddy Rahzar, are more than just clones of Bebop and Rocksteady. Making their initial appearance in the 1991 film, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze, Tokka and Rahzar were originally supposed to be the cinematic debut of Bebop and Rocksteady; but due to a licensing dispute between New Line Cinema and Playmates Toys (who wanted payment for the appearances of the iconic knuckleheads that were created for a show they helped spearhead), New Line enlisted the help of TMNT co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird to create a new duo of evil mutants for the green machines to take on in the film. Thus, everyone’s favorite benchwarmers were born.
No matter what you opinion is on the film, it’s hard to argue that Tokka and Rahzar didn’t steal the show, and I believe that that is partly due to their own design, which is reflected greatly with their action figure counterparts.
The Wickedly Wallin’ Wolfman
Released in 1991
Now the appearance of Tokka and Rahzar in the film was very intense when I was a child. I can remember that Rahzar in particular was nightmare fuel for me, and that translates incredibly well with the figure. I won’t waste anymore of your time by explaining again how well these figures translate the texture of fur, even if this is a figure made of plastic. Just know, that this figures conveys the fact that it’s a mutated wolf about as well as can be expected. Possibly the best part of this figure is the fact that this guy may be as bright and colorful as the rest of the figures in the series, but it’s inspirations are rooted in his appearance in the film. In the film, Rahzar wears body armor that is made from old car parts and the figure follows suit. With possibly the best bit being the armor found on his forearms that seem to be some kind of odd mixture of tire tread and nails. Just imagine being hit by those…the end result would be horrifying.
As much as I love Rahzar’s sculpt and colors, I am somewhat disappointed in his cohort Tokka, as his sculpt is basically a repaint of Slash, a figure that we all know by now was released the year before. I hate saying stuff like this, but I have to be honest here, Playmates was being lazy here. Sure, the paint apps and the head sculpt are clearly inspired by the character found in the second TMNT film, but the fact that they used the same mold from a figure that came out a year prior, down to the accessories, this is just a shame; and I wouldn’t blame you if you felt a little ripped off. While I didn’t notice it as a kid, I can’t help but notice that I have two Slash figure, only one of them has a different head. Looking at the figure as an adult, it seems like someone just made a custom Tokka figure with parts left over from other toys in their closet. But, to be fair, this was a common practice of many toy manufacturers back in the day (goggle The New Adventures of He-Man). And Playmates didn’t have to give Tokka a unique head sculpt, but they did, and while his sculpt does have more of an animated flair to it, so does Rahzar, and it works in both cases.
At the end of the day, both figure represent their respective inspiration rather well. The figures do look like the characters stepped right out of the movie screen and into our toy collections. Both Tokka and Rahzar have moved above and beyond the silver screen, appearing in multiple animated series and video games and it’s not without good reason. These figures, as well as the 1991 film, had a major impact on people that are working on Turtles-related projects and products today, while at the same time, they prove that they’re more than just copy cats of what and who came before them.
Turtle Trivia: Tokka and Rahzar appeared in a single episode of the ’88 TMNT animated series in the 1993 episode “Dirk Savage: Mutant Hunter”, where they were voiced by Michelangelo himself, Townsend Coleman.
The Flesh-etched Illustrated Man
Released in 1991
I’ll tell you what’s great about Tattoo, as a character, he’s taken a hindrance and made it his greatest strength. Within Tattoo’s backstory, you hear the tale of a fat kid from Japan that was laughed at for his size. Not wanting to hide who he was, Tattoo took it upon himself to train and compete in the great sport of sumo. Along the way, Tattoo, whose real name is Tai San in the Archie comics, was enlisted in a secret agent style sumo society…you read that right; Sumo secret agents.
Only in the 90’s…or Troma films.
So, to make a long story short, Tai San is now Tattoo, a massive dose of muscle that helps our green friends stomp out the Foot clan. As if his impressive bulk and immense strength wasn’t enough, the multiple tattoos that cover Tattoo can be brought to life to attack evil wherever it stands. Because being a giant sumo that can kick ass just isn’t enough for the kids these days.
Honestly though, tattoos coming to life from someone’s skin is nothing new, but it almost seems a little too horrifying for a kids show. But I don’t know if it was handled well because I never saw this guy in a single episode of the ’87 animated series.
But the figure is a great addition to the overall toy line. Even though Tattoo is one of the very few human characters in the Playmates toy line, that doesn’t mean he’s boring at all. Sure, he may be a sumo in shorts, but this characters bulk and strength makes him easily identifiable in a line of dynamic looking figures. Sure, he may be lacking the same type of striking color palate that these figures are known for, but the same attention to detail is there. Tattoo’s topknot is slick, his teeth are gritted and his shoulders even have ball joints, a rarity for 1991. While he may not be entirely flatfooted, Tattoo’s feet are wide enough to ensure an easy time standing him on your shelf for display (if that’s your thing). His black and green clothing and silver chains on each wrist standout as much as they do primarily because this guy is mostly flesh colored. While he’s not wearing much, Tattoo has a massive belt that is fitted with a large dragon’s head for a buckle that is filled with sickly scales and nasty teeth that, while only being a solid green color, breaks up the monotony and lack of vibrant color quite nicely.
Unfortunately, this also leads us to the figures biggest fault and namesake; his tattoos…or lack thereof.
While I do love the simplicity of this figure, in his various appearances across the TMNT landscape, Tattoo is a person that is shown to be heavily tattooed from shoulder to the knees. While he may not be wearing a body suit-style tattoo, he’s often depicted as having at least five or six massive tattoos. The figure on the other hand doesn’t show any body art at all. Instead, he comes with a small pack of stickers for you to decorate Tattoo as you see fit. While I can appreciate Playmates toys for wanting people to doctorate a figure to their liking, I just don’t understand why they didn’t make Tattoo’s tattoos part of the figures mold.
While I’m not in the toy making business, thus making my own critiques much easier for me, why couldn’t they have just made his tattoos slightly raised to illustrate the life found within them? I would imagine an argument could be made at that given the bulk of the figure, it would’ve been too costly to paint the tattoos on top of the cost of the amount of plastic used. But if that’s the case, why were so many other big figures in the line so colorful? Muckman, Dr. El and General Traag are loaded with color and they all dwarf most figures in the line. So what’s the deal here?
Unfortunately, the answer (probably) is that the stickers are a gimmick that was used to sell the toy. I know it sucks, but, to me anyway, this was nothing more than a tool to sell a product. And that’s okay because it was and still is a common practice back in the day.
Personally, I don’t have any of the stickers on my figure because having watched a few reviews of this figure online; it seems that the stickers just don’t hold up well over time. Whether you decide to place stickers on this guy or not, you’re in for a treat with this figure. He’s a bulky guy that can stand up to the best/worst the Shredder has to offer.
Turtle Trivia: In the original ’87 animated series, Tattoo was mutated from a hamster. He became a tattooed sumo wrestler from a hamster…you can’t make this stuff up, folks.
The Kicking Kangaroo from Down Under
Released in 1991
Man, who doesn’t love a kangaroo?
Before we talk about the next figure, let’s take a minute and explore Walkabout’s portrait. First off, in case you didn’t know, our hero Walkabout hails from Australia; a land full of the world’s scariest animals. We all know how much of a gap there is between the United States and Australia, right? But when reading his portrait on the back of the card, it makes it seem as if New York City and Australia are as close as NYC and Trenton, New Jersey. Secondly, reading through Walkabouts portrait, you find out that, not only was he a swagman (traveling laborer), not only did he walk from Australia to New York, but apparently he never came into contact with the amazing mutagen that so many of our favorite heroes in a half-shell have. One day, this one-eyes wonder just mutated all on his own, through sheer force of will.
What’s really impressive about this figure, aside from an amazing sculpt, is the fact that it showcases many different shades of orange without feeling redundant or looking bland. The molded fur looks great, and his blue and green clothing looks great with amazing attention to detail.
With pockets and pouches (of course he has pouches) ago-go, he also comes equipped with multiple knives attached at the hip, which, unfortunately are a part of his mold and thus non playable. Surprisingly, Walkabout comes sporting eight points of articulation instead of the usual seven, thanks in no small part to his tail that can aid in standing the figure upright. Although you should have no problem standing this tramp seeing as how he is one of the few flatfooted figures in the entire line. The best part of his articulation is the fact that he has joints at the knees that allow you to mess around with his scale thanks to knee joints and the overall balance of the figure.
Walkabout also comes with a little buddy character names Kid Kangie, a much smaller kangaroo armed with a bo staff that’s almost bigger than he is. While it’s never mentioned what the relationship Walkabout has with his pint-sized cohort, I always imagined that he was his son that he brought along with him on his journey to the Outback to the city that never sleeps.
What a guy.
Unfortunately, there’s not much else to say about Walkabout or his buddy/son Kid Kangie, as he has never appeared in any form of Turtles media outside of the action figures from Playmates, which is too bad considering his potential.
Turtle Trivia: Like I said, not much to say.
The Mechanical Master of Metal
Released in 1991
This mechanical menace was developed by the Shredder in his own image with the singular purpose of destroying the TMNT. Chrome Dome is an awesome looking figure that easily separates himself from the rest of the toy line with a very 90’s silvery/chrome paint job that shines like a damn mirror to this day.
While Chrome Dome’s file card does indicate that he is supposed to bear Shredders image, he does look more like a traditional samurai than the Shredder. Chrome Dome’s silver paint job is accented by black paint that helps the overall silver finish pop ad keep you from getting lost in his silver design. His arms and legs however, are almost all black plastic that is broken up nicely by blue, red, and more silver details that add to the overall appearance making this figure more than just a shiny piece of plastic.
My only real complaint about this figure is the blue utility belt that can be attached to his waist. It looks great, adding some color variety to his chrome torso, but thanks to the arch in his back, it’s impossible to realistically holster his swords in their sheaths which are molded to the back of his belt. Maybe other collectors have had better luck than I have with his weapons, but I just couldn’t fit his weapons where they’re supposed to go and have it look natural.
One thing that I have noticed from most toy reviewers today is that almost everyone has had a similar complaint about this figure. Most people have said that due to the weird design of Chrome Dome’s feet, he’s next to impossible to stand. With respect to their opinions, I have no idea what they’re talking about. I have personally never had a problem standing this guy on a shelf or a table, or any surface other than carpet.
While I don’t want to make too big of a deal with this next point, I feel it is worth mentioning that in the original TMNT cartoon, Chrome Dome was depicted as a massive character that had to stand around twelve to fifteen feet tall. But his figure is in the same scale as almost every other figure in the line. I understand that this was probably a cost cutting solution on the part of Playmates, and one I definitely understand; I would want to sell as many of these as I could. But there was already an eleven-inch Krang Android Body figure released the same year, so why couldn’t Chrome Dome receive the same treatment?
However, this doesn’t take anything away from the figure itself and he looks really cool standing alongside Robotic Bebop and Rocksteady.
Turtle Trivia: While Chrome Dome only makes a couple appearances in the ’87 animated series, he was voiced by none other than the great Peter “Splinter” Renaday. Peter also voiced over forty characters in ten seasons of the first animated TMNT series.
The Mean Munitions Mutant
Released in 1991
I felt the need to put the spotlight on these two figures all at once because like so many other characters in the TMNT universe, they’re part of a duo that has yet to be separated. The first animated series was a great showcase for villain duos. Outside of greats like Bebop and Rocksteady, Tokka and Rahzar, there was another duo that I had never heard of until a couple of years ago with Groundchuck and Dirtbag.
Making their first appearance in the episode “Planet of the Turtleoids”, Groundchuck, a mutant bull, and Dirtbag, a mutant mole, briefly worked for the Shredder before striking out on their own to take out the Turtles and…get rich, I guess. I don’t know, 90’s cartoon villains either wanted money or world domination and these two seem like they wanted the former based on their looks.
Groundchuck is one of the few mercifully flatfooted figures in the line that happens to (to me) a complete mishmash of ideas. He’s a bull colored red from head to almost hoof that is something of a marksman that is also part cyborg for whatever reason. But he’s got a bullseye on his chest, just so you know where to aim. Honestly, he’s not a bad figure, but he’s full of metal limbs, spikes, horns, skulls and chainmail that he’s almost too much to take in upon your initial viewing. I mean, you know he’s a bull, but he also has a green Mohawk and purple and silver horns because…why not, that’s why. He looks like the designers over at Mirage studios and Playmates toys were daring the animators of the cartoon to draw the most complicated character they could think of.
Where Groundchuck is incredibly busy from a visual standpoint, his bestie Dirtbag really leans hard into his visual motif.
The Militant Mutant Mole
Released in 1991
Moles burrow underground, right? So of course they’re going to make a mutant mole a miner. What else would he be; a murderous insurance salesman? Dirtbag is a great looking figure that really pushes the limit on how far you can go with painting a figure in various shades of brown. I mean this guy is one crossbow blaster away from being named Chewie. While not exactly flatfooted, he makes up for it with an articulated tail that makes standing the figure on display very easy. He comes equipped with a mining helmet, jackhammer, pick axe and backpack that do everything they can to remind you that Dirtbag is in fact a miner. They sculpted fur is colored nicely, but also, due to its dull shades, hide details like bit marks, stiches and open wounds that he’s flat out ignoring.
One detail that the manufacturer didn’t want you to miss was his heart-shaped “MOM” tattoo on his right shoulder. It’s cool that he has a tattoo, but it makes me wonder why he’s got tattoo as a part of his mold when a figure that came out the same year that’s actually called “TATTOO” comes with stickers.
And the tattoo itself makes no sense. I mean it’s obviously a tattoo, but it has fur as a part of its sculpt. So did he paint it on his fur? And if he did, why is the lettering for “MOM” textured? So is it a patch? Again, why does it have fur?
I don’t understand these figures. They’re cool, and I am by no means saying that they’re dumb or terrible to look at, but why am I asking so many questions about them. Why is Groundchuck named after a primal cut of beef? If Dirtbag loves his mother so much, why doesn’t he ever mention her? Is it in her memory? Why is one part robot? Does Groundchuck ever take off his armor? Why does he have a Foot clan brand if he’s just going to defect? If Dirtbag is a miner, is he union? Did he steal his tools? Why were they so underused, or were they overused? Why am I questioning logic so much when these are characters from a brand called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?
Turtle Trivia: This is the weirdest review I’ve ever written.
The Mutant-Mincing Mega Madman
Released in 1991
Ever since he broke out on the big screen during the big finale of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze; the Super Shredder has been a staple of TMNT media. The best games in the TMNT library feature the big man as a final boss and there is a reason for that…he’s friggin’ terrifying.
Born in an act of desperation, the Shredder, inches away from defeat at the hands of the Turtles, defies his fate and drinks a large vial of Mutagen in order to gain the strength necessary to crush his sworn enemies. The result is a hulking mass of strength, power and hatred with the singular goal of destroying the Turtles.
The Super Shredder’s figure takes the original Shredder’s design (puts clothes on him), and turns everything up to eleven with more blades, a redesigned helmet and a larger frame that looks like it’s too bulky to be supported by its own legs. One detail of this figure that I really like is the actual stance of the figure nicely emulates the stance of the Shredder figure that came out in 1988. It’s a small detail that I literally just noticed as I am writing this. That attention to detail can almost be considered the mission statement of this entire toy line.
While this figure may just be a beefed up version of everyone’s favorite bucket-headed villain, you may be surprised to know that there are more than one version of this figure floating around out there in the wild. There was the standard version of the figure that wore silver armor with purple clothing, as purple has become the signature color for the Shredder. But there is also a version that was released in the European markets that wore both purple clothing and armor. I don’t know what the aftermarket value of this particular figure is at the moment, but from what I’ve seen, purple Super Shredder’s missing their armor are carrying a one hundred dollar price tag.
The version that I am writing about here, the one that I have in my collection, is a rare figure that wears gun meatal colored armor and black clothing. This guy is considered a rarity because he was part of a mail-away promotion for Chef Boyardee. The reason I chose not to try and find the other versions of the Super Shredder is pretty simple, while I did have the basic version of this figure as a kid, the black and gray Super Shredder was a Christmas gift to me a few years ago from a friend who is also a collector. What makes this so special to me, is that my friend knew how rare this figure was and he didn’t care, he knew I would love and gave it to me from his collection.
It may sound lame, but whenever I look at this figure, I don’t see a rare toy or a mutant hating ninja warrior; I see a gift from a friend that I made through a shared loved of all things TMNT. And that simple gesture from him is what Turtle Power is all about.
Turtle Trivia: Despite how sturdy these figures are, the European-only, purple armored Super Shredder’s bladed armor was made with cheaper, softer plastics that were comparable to rubber that did not hold up well over time, as it would crack easily.
This was a big year for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The animated series was going strong with their sixth season debut. There were two live action films that had been huge (to not as huge) financial and critical successes, and the Playmates toy line had hit their fifth anniversary. This may not seem like much, but back in 1987, when the figures were being designed, Playmates told co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird that, at best, they had only prepared for the toy line to be around for one to three years. Three years being the best case scenario. But the toys had shattered everyone’s expectations and eventually lasted ten years. Considering the surprise longevity of the brand, Playmates released a 5th Anniversary Leonardo figure (known as the 5th Anniversary Collector Turtle). While this figure seemingly used the same mold for Leonardo that had been used in ’88, this figure was painted gold and attached to a base for display.
While this may seem like a blatant cash-grab that may border on the arrogant side of things, if you read the box this “statue” came in, you would see that this was (to me, anyway) a way of both congratulating the people that made this toy line possibly, as well as giving out a piece of history to us, the fans, that made the Turtles Longevity possible. Each statue was individually numbered and the one I have is #11,472. Who knows how many were actually made, but it should be noted that this figures existence is a massive feat, as most toy lines usually start to show a decline in popularity at this time.
But for the Heroes in a Half-Shell, they were just getting started.
Turtle Trivia: Figures released during 1992 had a special insignia on each card that displayed a 5th Anniversary crest along with the slogan “New for ‘92”. Also, for an in-depth look at the creation of the toy line, look for a film called Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, directed by Randall Lobb and Produced by all around nice guy, Isaac Elliott-Fisher.
The Plodding, Peanut-Eatin’, Mini-Mammoth
Released in 1992
Wow, the 90’s were a crazy decade because a figure like this would never be released today. Doctor El is an African elephant with a witch doctor motif that is just crazy to look at.
Doctor El is a massive figure that oozes power from every gray crack on his hide. We all know elephants to be one of the biggest and most powerful animals on the planet, and Doctor El shows off this very trait thanks to a muscular sculpt that make him look more like a power lifter than just a round mass with a (articulated) trunk.
He also has to have one of the busiest sculpts in the entire line of good guys, thanks in no small part to his multiple piercings, vegetation-covered headdress, busted tusks and boney jewelry.
While the Doc does have an incredible sculpt, he also falls victim to the dreaded cost cutting solution of paint skipping, as so many, if not all, of the other figures do. It’s weird because the front half of this figure is painted with vibrant color pallet we’ve come to expect from Playmates toys, but the same colors are skipped on the rear of this figure. Making what little clothing this guy wears become lost in a sea of gray plastic.
With that being said, however, I do love how much of a crazy amalgamation of human and elephant this character is. According to his backstory, he was a pygmy that was mutated by the Shredder in a bid to gain the upper hand on the Turtles (naturally). But thanks to how kindhearted elephants can be, this spooky spell-caster sided against the Shredder. Perhaps my favorite part of this figure is the left arm that still retains the same look of an actual elephants’ foot, but can still grip a shield.
Unfortunately, like so many of the figures that came out later in the toy line, there’s not much to go on with this figure from a character standpoint. He was never in any comic book, video game or even a single episode of the animated series. I can’t even say that he’s a fan favorite with any confidence as he seems to be a character that many have forgotten. Many characters have made comebacks in recent years, or at least they’ve been turned into a joke by the guys making the 2012 animated series (see Ace Duck), but there’s been very little love for Doctor El. With that being said, it’s probably better that he doesn’t come back into the spotlight as today’s temperaments just wouldn’t allow for him in this form. If he were to appear in some form of media today, he would be altered to such a radical degree that he could possibly be unrecognizable. I hate to say it, but Doctor El probably deserves to be left to our nostalgic childhood memories than stampeding across our television screens.
Turtle Trivia: Not much other than what I’ve mentioned before.
The Slitherin’ Slippery Sleezeball
Released in 1992
Tired of always having his brain stem handed to him every time he takes on the Turtles, Krang decided to bring in a ringer with Scale Tail, the most feared and successful bounty hunter in Dimension X.
Scale Tail is a crazy looking figure that is quite possibly one of the most ambitious sculpts of any figure in the ’87 toy line. Scale Tail is a massive cobra that is made up of a collection of other snakes. In my opinion, what makes this figure so ambitious is the fact that Playmates didn’t just put a snake head on a humanoid figure, they actually took the concept of a giant snake with guns and brought it to life.
Scale Tail is truly a sight to behold; he boasts nine points of articulation, unheard of for the time, a sculpt that truly pays homage to the animal that inspired it in both color and painstaking detail, a right arm that is made up of three snakes that have coiled themselves together, and his tail is also home to two other snakes that must take part in his bounty collecting as the snake on the end of Scale’s tail is wielding a blaster of some type as part of the figures mold. And perhaps my favorite part of this figure, outside of his incredibly detailed head sculpt, is the forked blaster inside this guy’s mouth. You read that right. Dude had his tongue taken out and replaces with another gun; if that’s not dedication to your craft than I don’t know what it.
(Scale Tail can also be considered a role model for the body modification crowd out there)
However, as much as I love this figure, I can’t say that this guy is flawless. Since Scale Tail is not a humanoid character (ain’t even got legs), standing him upright is a bit of a chore. Where his back arches upright there is a small base to stand the character up, but it’s way to small and doesn’t cover enough surface area to keep him from falling on his dome from time to time. I have found that curing his tail under his left arm helps a lot when standing him on a shelf. Also, the fact that his right arm is made up of other snakes, while awesome, keeps Scale Tail from holding any of the many weapons that come with him. But it’s such a unique and interesting design that I feel I have to give is a pass since nothing else out there really looks like this, even today.
It’s at this point in the toy line that less and less of the figures were seen in the animated series. Perhaps this guy would’ve been too complicated or perhaps too costly to put into the show, But Scale Tail is a small step out of the norm for the TMNT toy line in that he is not a mutant, human or some type of robot. He’s a snake that’s a bounty hunter, no more, no less. And I think that that is a cool flip on the status quo that proves that there is room for more originality and not just more of the same.
Turtle Trivia: While Scale Tail hasn’t been used much in Turtles media, he was a boss in the game Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Radical Rescue, for the Nintendo Gameboy.
The Picnic Punk with a Four Fisted Punch
Released in 1992
Apparently, Dimension X is a bad place that is that is constantly under the iron heel of Krang’s mighty army. There’s crime, child soldiers and corruption everywhere you look, but there is only one person that executes the guilty and that terrible responsibility falls to Antrax, the Executioner.
I’ll be honest; I almost didn’t get this figure while I was filling out my collection. Bugs usually don’t bother me, but Antrax, in the right (lack of) light, he can really look eerie. Antrax is a four-armed, two-legged behemoth of a figure that boasts the most articulation in the entire line and also happens to be draped in my favorite color, purple.
This figure’s sculpt is also incredibly ambitious. It must’ve been scary trying to design a figure with multiple limbs and not make them look like the same arm times four. Each arm is of a unique design, with their own point of articulation…mostly. While three of Antrax’s arms have both a ball-joint at the should and a swivel at either the elbow or the wrist, the lower right arm only has a single ball-joint at the shoulder, which is fine, but I guess I’m greedy when I say that I wish all four arms were articulated at multiple points. The tradeoff though is that all four hands can brandish a weapon of some sort, making Antrax look nigh unbeatable when fully armed. But that’s also a point of my own ridiculous frustration with this figure; his weaponry. While he does come equipped with a massive battle axe that just so happens to have a noose tied to one end, and he comes with a mean looking spiked club, that’s about it for Krang’s personal executioner of Dimension X. Sure, he does come with a ball and chain to attach to his prey (I guess), but I feel that if you’re gonna design a figure with four arms, you’ve got to use them. Maybe they used too much plastic when manufacturing the figure, but I feel that this was a missed opportunity on Playmates’ part not to make Antrax the Swiss army knife of supervillains.
With that being said, I love the details on this figure. His breast and abdomen are plated with bronze armor. His purple hood flaps in the wind while his eyes and antennae poke through. White, gritted teeth peer out from behind Antrax’s red feelers at his snout, and black frame is accented by deep red colored veins that line his musculature.
I can’t say too much more about this figure. Not that I don’t want to, I just feel that would be repeating myself. I do love his whole barbarian theme that they went for. Sure, the animated series may have went a little far with it. But, if you have a guy that’s supposed to be an executioner type, it is required by law that the repeatedly yell out “Off with his head!” at every opportunity. But I would like to recommend to you the one episode that he appears in in the ’87 animated series entitled “Night of the Rogues” in season seven. The episode sees the Turtles taking on Antrax as well as Shredder, Leatherhead, Rat King, Slash, Chrome Dome, Scumbug and Tempestra (where is her figure, Playmates!?)
Turtle Trivia: While Night of the Rogues is the first and only appearance of Antrax in the ’87 animated series, the Turtles all react to him as if they have been battling him for years at that point…weird.
The Supreme Slippery Ninja Neptune
Released in 1992
In every team of superheroes, there is always one guy that is considered the outsider. From Wolverine to Batman, they’re usually tough and standoffish with a giant heart under the surface. When it comes to the Turtles, they’ve got Merdude, the lost king of Atlantis. Now outside of his figure, I have never seen this character within the TMNT media. I know that he was in a single episode of the ’87 series and he has made a few appearances in the Archie TMNT Adventure comics, but other than what I have read about him online, I’m sorry to say that I don’t know much about him. Fortunately, I can tell you that while his action figure is a bit limited in practical design, it is ambitious in the fact that he’s basically a merman in toy form.
This blue drink of water is covered head to flipper in gills and armor seeing as how he is the lost warrior king of Atlantis who has allied himself with the Turtles when the Shredder tried to drain the Earth’s oceans (as you do).
Thanks to Merdude’s sculpt, you could be forgiven if you though that this guy was a villain thanks to his gritted teeth, eyepatch and deadly looking trident ( a realistic-looking rarity amongst the good guys in the line). While he is mostly a pale blue in color, he comes equipped with striking blue armor that covers his chest and most of his arms. The cool part is, is that he seems to be wearing a diving suit that covers everything from the chest plate to his caudal fin, which is spread wide in order to allow for easy display. Think of it as a cross between overalls and a wet suit. The diving suit is also painted in a nice vibrant red that breaks up all the different shades of blue nicely.
One thing that is kind of mystifying is the fact that Merdude is wearing a pair of knee pads where his legs have a natural bend to them. I guess an argument could be made that this is part of his royal battle armor, but it just looks out of place and a little dopey, even for this line of figures. But it’s easy to ignore when you look at the figure as a whole. Even though this guy may look a little limited in design, he still sports the standard seven points of articulation, a dynamic head sculpt, and it really shows how creative Playmates could get by limiting their color palate to basically two different shades of blues, some red and very little black. If nothing else, Merdude is a great example of identity through limitations.
Turtle Trivia: In the Archie TMNT comics, Merdude is credited as being the first mutant as a boy (Alim) was mutated into a massive coelacanth fish 5,000 years ago.
The Majestic Mutant with a Mane
Released in 1992
I didn’t know that the Ninja Turtles were hiding a Dark Souls boss in their ranks.
King Lionheart is the story of a Shakespearian stage actor that was mutated by Shredder in the hopes of creating a leader for his ever-growing mutant army. Apparently Shredder didn’t spend much time researching who he was going to mutate because King Lionheart took his namesake to heart and decided to protect us commoners from the evil plights of Shredder and Krang.
Having no media appearances outside of his own figure, it’s kind of hard to elaborate on who Lionheart was; which, to me, is part of the fun. You can kind of put your own spin on who he is.
The figure itself is a great display regal, almost ornate looking armor and weaponry. Sure, this guy is basically just blue, orange and gold, but just like Merdude, he makes it work. The fur on Lionheart’s head sculpt is groomed to look like someone has slicked their hair straight back, while his “beard” is properly brushed and put together.
Lionheart’s armor is blue scale mail armor that seems to be a hodgepodge of both armor and cloth under armor pieces at the joints in the arm. Also, he is another victim of the style of figure Playmates was putting out, where the limbs couldn’t be uniform. Both arms are covered by a different style of armor, and while one of his legs is covered in the same scale mail you see on his right arm, his right leg is almost completely bare, save the vibrant orange fur and a gold knee pad. While this doesn’t take anything away from the figure as a whole, I am a fan of uniformity. If you’re going to have an armored figure, go all in and cover him in armor. Unless you’re going to make a “Battle-Damaged King Lionheart” figure, why tear away the armor?
With all of that being said, King Lionheart is a great figure that found a way to stand out from the pack thanks to his unique design, simplistic and historically “accurate” weaponry (sword, shield, and scepter) and the fact that he is a flippin’ lion. Who doesn’t love a lion?
Turtle Trivia: Yeah, there is not much about this figure that I haven’t mentioned already. But his cape is non-removable, so there’s something.
The One Who Always Gets His Mutant
Released in 1992
Step back Hosers, the Turtles have got Canada covered!
One day, up in the great white North, a small moose drank from a river of Mutagen that had spilled after the Shredder and his minions had swept through the mountainous terrain for unknown reasons. This moose, smaller than the others in the forest, drank from the large pool of green ooze with gusto, not realizing until it was too late that it wasn’t the water he had been searching for.
Overnight, the small moose began to mutate into a massive humanoid form. He was recovered the next day by the Royal Mounted Police. He was named Monty and raised as one of their own. Upon learning his true origin, Monty took it upon himself, and his police training, to take the fight to Shredder to ensure that no other innocent animals were ever mutated against their will again.
Okay, so I may have dramatized Monty’s backstory a bit, but I swear, I only did so because no one has ever referenced this character outside of his action figure. Noticing a trend here?
Moose are known for being massive animals that really don’t get intimidated by anything unless you’re a bigger moose or a bear of some sort. While Monty might not be the tallest figure in the toy line, he sure is one of the broadest. Looking at this guy, you get a sense of power from him that you don’t get as much of from the other figures. Perhaps it’s from his Mounty uniform that barely contains his frame, or his bared teeth and wicked antlers that are almost the same width of his shoulders. Or perhaps it’s his stance that always makes him look like he’s constantly charging forward as if nothing can stop him. Whatever it is, seeing the good guys get a tank is a nice change of pace as they always seem to be out “gunned”.
I also have to acknowledge that this figure’s paintjob is both a strength and weakness here as there are multiple tears in his uniform where you can see fur popping through. Most of this is painted a dull brown color, but in certain areas, mostly the back where you can’t see, the tears are painted in the same red as his uniform top. I’m willing to give this a pass as it was common practice in most of these figures in the line, and if you’re not really looking for it, you won’t notice it. I have to say that there are really only two real problems with this figure and one is more obvious than the other.
My biggest problem is with the sculpt of Monty’s hands and how they relate to his weaponry. See, Monty isn’t given crazy weapons made from junk found in the sewer or a nearby landfill. No, this guy comes equipped with six-shooter, saber and he wears a pistol belt that can actually sheath his sword. But when it comes to actually holding his pistol, in my opinion, one of his hands should have a flexed trigger finger to keep Monty from looking like an action figure holding a plastic gun. I understand the ridiculousness of my last sentence, but it just looks…weird when he’s holding a weapon in his hand Maybe it has to do with the vibrant yellow paint on his gloves but, you can’t win them all I guess. While the pain job is incredible on this figure (dude’s eyes are on point!), I have to say that I am a bit bummed on the rushed job they did on Monty’s antlers. Maybe it’s just mine, but it seems like he could’ve used another coat on his way out of the assembly line.
With all of that being said, I really love this figure. He exudes strength and power with an animal that we don’t see much of outside of trophy photos from you’re uncles hunting trips, all while reminding you that the Mounted Police are no joke. Go Maple Leaves.
Turtle Trivia: Nothing much, but did you know that the Canadian Mounties no longer patrol on horseback? What a shame.
The Foot-Fryin’ Warrior Dragon
Released in 1992
I have to be honest here (I wonder how many times I’ve written that so far), I didn’t know this character existed until a year or so before writing these retrospectives. Hothead is a massive red dragon that is known for spewing fire wherever evil may lurk. I know that within TMNT media, there have been several versions of this character across the mediums of cartoons and video games, but I am shocked by how little I was able to find on this guy. I do love his backstory that came on the figure’s card back though. One day, an average New York fireman was battling a blaze in “Old Town” when he accidently broke a statue of a dragon. At that moment, one of New York’s finest was transported to another world, and in his place was our heroic, fire breathing friend, Hothead.
While I don’t think we ever find out what happens to the fireman that vanished, whether he came back or maybe even became Hothead, I do not know, but what I can say for certain is that this figure is a pretty ambitious one if I may say so. While a massive dragon figure would’ve been enough to sell me on why he is needed in your collection, this guy ups the ante by decking himself out in armor befitting the grandest of samurai warrior, armor that happens to be purple and gold and somehow does not make him look ostentatious.
Hothead’s frame is also littered with detail such as scales and spikes that break up the monotony of red that is his body. While not all of his details are painted, Hothead is covered in blue and green scales as well as blue veins that pop and grab your attention. For whatever reason, he is wearing one green boot…because, why not? Honestly, I do think Playmates went a little overboard with the “make all the limbs different” initiative they had going back in the day. While neon green boot on a human looking foot (what?) can be a bit distracting, it is more than made up for with the real money maker of this figure, the head sculpt.
I know that this guy is supposed to be a samurai and all, but due to his head sculpt I have to say that this guy seems to be inspired by drawings of Chinese dragons as Hothead seems to look more in line with the spinney look of the massive puppets you would see in a Chinese New Year’s parade. This guy has hors, fins, a top knot, dangerous looking teeth, yellow eyes, a braided beard and honest-to-god flames painted on his snout to emulate his fire breathing abilities. On top of all of that, Hotheads neck can extend to give him a more serpentine vibe and separate himself from all the other humanoid figures in the line. Gently pushing the head towards the body will cause the neck to retract into the figure, but this gives him a much stockier look that makes him seem as if he always looking up and overall making him seem shorter and less imposing.
However you decide to pose him, Hothead is a welcome addition to the Turtles and their friends as he breaks up the monotony of mutants as he is one of the few non-mutant characters in the line. Now, what the hell happened to that poor fireman?
Turtle Trivia: In the 2012 animated TMNT series, Hothead (known as Kavaxas) was voiced by the clown prince of crime himself; Mark Hamill.
April’s Big Bad Boss
Released in 1992
You want to know something ridiculous? In terms of detail, Burne’s action figure, while slightly outlandish, is one of the best when it comes to nailing their animated counterparts.
While I’m sure many of you are wondering the why and how of Burne getting a figure made, you should remember that not only was he the main man at Channel 6 News, but he was also a staple character that helped round out April O’Neil’s work life. Along with Irma and Vernon, Channel 6 became more than just backdrop for adventures to unfold in, Burne, and Channel 6, became anchors for forming public opinion on not only the Turtles, but for all mutants everywhere. And, shockingly, it wasn’t pretty.
While the figure itself may just look like nothing more than a curmudgeonly oafish fat guy with food in his mouth, I am honestly floored at the amount of small details that give this figure life. From the pencil tucked behind his ear to the ink stain on his shirt, to the toilet paper stuck to his shoe, Burne shows that he somehow always firmly planted at his desk while always on the go, ready to dish out the bad news on the heroes in a half shell.
While this figure may have been designed as a bit of a joke, and not to be taken seriously, you have to hand it to Playmates to not skipping on a single detail and honestly not skipping on the paint either. While almost every figure in the line has glossed over details that are woefully unpainted, Burne somehow made it through manufacturing with nearly every detail on his sculpt finely painted. If nothing else, the inclusion of Burne Thompson, along with the rest of the Channel 6 news crew, should prove to everyone how much of an impact the animated series had at the time. While there were figures made for characters that were limited to a single appearance on the animated series, to see a figure made for the human characters that weren’t necessarily part of the main cast was a big deal at the time
Yes, I understand that a tubby crankshaft holding a sandwich was not the first item on your average kids Christmas list, but the fact that you could find this guy on store shelves next to the likes of Casey Jones or the Shredder speaks volumes about how big the Turtles were in the early 90’s. Whether or not it’s still that huge is up for debate, or at least it’s up to another round of focus testing. But with that being said, let’s hear it for Burne Thompson, the figure we didn’t know we wanted.
Turtle Trivia: Burne was voiced by two legendary voice actors during the ’87 animated series run; while Pat Fraley, and Rob Paulson as an alternate.
*Burne Thompson was known as Toon Burne in the Toon Turtles variant line released in 1992.
April’s Best Friend
Released in 1992
Okay, I’m going to be honest with you here; I really dislike the portrait on the card that came with this figure. On every figure, there was a brief history, and oftentimes a origin story, on the back of every blister card package that was part tongue twister. With Irma’s, it seems very mean spirited in that it tells the reader that she’s not very smart, she carries around ice cream and describes her as a drawn up ding-a-ling. Now, I haven’t read every portrait for every figure in the line, but none of the other figures have received this type of treatment. Call someone evil, call them a coward, call them what you will, but don’t teach kids that t’s cool to belittle someone else’s intelligence. It is never okay for a kid to think its fine to call someone stupid. Especially since Irma was never portrayed as such. Sure, she may have invested a bit too much of her time daydreaming about the perfect guy, but she had a dry wit that showed you that there was definitely something going on upstairs. Playmates toys…this is a fail.
Now that that’s out of the way…
I have always liked Irma, April’s best friend and secretary to Burne Thompson at Channel 6 News. She was always really sarcastic, incredibly cute and more than a little klutzy. While her figure may not translate the best to an action figure, she’s definitely got the same smile and dorky glasses that set her apart from almost all of the other women in the first animated series that were seemingly all designed to look like pin-ups.
Her action figure comes dressed in a yellow sweater under a green vest and a red skirt, where her animated counterpart dresses in a simple blue sweater and purple skirt which looks much nicer from a design standpoint as its fewer layers and the colors complement each other nicely. Plus, she’s wearing socks and sandals, this too is a fail, but it’s a fail that’s on Irma this time.
Irma is a great character that has made something of a resurgence over the past couple of years, having appeared in the 2012 animated series as well as the current comic book series from IDW Publishing. While I don’t have much more to say about the figure, I’m just glad to see that, while Irma may just be labeled the “best friend”, it’s awesome that she was popular enough to have an action figure back in the day…even if she didn’t look the way she did on TV. Which is hilarious and something Irma would probably shake her head at and think it was just her luck.
Turtle Trivia: While many fans seemingly agree that Irma’s last name is “Langinstein”, in the ’87 animated TMNT series, she was never given that name, as she was only referred to as “Irma”.
*Irma was known as Toon Irma in the Toon Turtles variant line released in 1992
Channel 6 Cameraman
Released in 1992
With camera in hand, Vernon is ready to take the shots that no one is prepared to take. He’s willing to go out on the front lines and report the most dangerous news bubbling just under our noses. No one else is prepared for the dangers and risks that Vernon faces on a daily basis…it’s just too bad that he’s too much of a chicken to actually face the dangers that he’s being paid to cover. More than likely, he’s going to make sure to take the credit for all the life risking that April and the Turtles actually deal with.
I just have to say, Vernon’s figure is great, in particular his head sculpt. They really nail down his animated counterparts likeness, from his large nose to his cool and slick haircut. But wow, he is wearing a PINK shirt. Now I like the color pink (or watermelon to you alpha males out there) just fine, but Vernon looks like he’s partially made out of bubblegum he’s so pink.
It is kind of weird to find a figure in this toy line that captures the likeness of a character so well. There is no real artistic likeness taken with Vernon. He’s not an amalgamation of different versions of a given character like even the Turtles are. And it’s also kind of refreshing to just see a normal looking guy. He’s not wearing a funny getup, nothing is on fire, he doesn’t have a gun made out of egg beaters, nothing. He’s just a dude. Yep, just a guy named Vernon…the action figure.
Okay, so he does have a gun concealed in a video camera, but so did April, and this is pre-Giuliani New York. It was nuts.
Turtle Trivia: In the TMNT Adventures comics from Archie Comics, Vernon’s last name was Prindle and not Fenwick.
*Vernon is known as Toon Vernon in the Toon Turtles variant line released in 1992.
Way back in 1987, during the first season of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series, we saw the debut of the intergalactic hot-rodding teenagers from Dimension X; Zak, Dask and Kala, otherwise known as the Neutrinos.
The Time-Traveling Teen from Dimension X
Released in 1992
The Dude from Another Dimension
Released in 1992
The Cool Cruisin’ Cosmic Chick
Released in 1992
Now I will be the first to admit that I don’t know much about these cool cats or what inspired their elvish appearance. But what I don’t know about them, I really dig and I think it says a lot for the first animated series as a whole. No one really talks about this, but the Neutrinos are seriously anti-war and are all about peace, love and happiness. Since these guys hail from Dimension X, a place of constant intergalactic war, they are mercilessly pursued for their stance against armed conflict. I won’t go into specifics, but by the end of their first appearance, they decide to head back to Dimension X and fight for their right to live peacefully, have fun and just be young.
So yeah, the Neutrinos, much like the Turtles, become child soldiers. That’s deep, man.
The figures themselves have a great (dare I say) alien appearance to them as well. While they look human, their skin tone has an off-white look to it with a bit of a waxy shine that sets them aside from the other human figures in the line. One of the best aspects of these figures is their wacky hairstyles that almost look like some sort of helmet, or maybe they just use a can of Aqua Net a day. Their clothing is a great spoof on old school science fiction films of the fifties and sixties, showing off just how ridiculous we thought we were going to dress in the future post 2,000.
Their clothing and hairstyles do much more than just grab your attention, as the Neutrinos of the cartoon spoke in mostly 50’s-era American slang, drove in flying cars that resemble 1950-something Cadillac convertibles. Their action figures followed suit, but also gave them hoverboards, jet packs, and Kala even tore up the skies in a pair of anti-gravity boots (that are supposed to clip on over her feet, but they don’t really accomplish this feat). I will say that while the Neutrinos are peace loving characters, they come armed to the teeth with several laser rifles and handguns; although Kala also comes with a hairbrush and a mirror. What is with giving all of the female characters in this toy line a bunch of makeup inspired accessories?
One thing that I feel that is sorely lacking in these figures is their articulation. While Dask has the standard seven points of articulation, Zak and Kala, while having the same articulation, have very, VERY, stiff joints that don’t turn in any direction whatsoever. I can’t even get a decent neck pivot out of them. Perhaps it’s due to their age, as they are twenty six years old as of the time I’m writing this. Also, it should be noted that Zak is a repainted re-issue of a figure that was released in 1991, as part of the basic assortment of figures, called Zak the Neutrino. While his updated paintjob is a nice addition that fits in with the other two Neutrinos, his level of detail sets him apart from the other two hot rodding teen. While Dask and Kala have a sleeker design, Zak is loaded with extra details, like a knife tucked into his left boot, buttons and rivets on his suit and he a bit more muscular than his friends. This doesn’t take anything away from his figure, but once you notice it, you realize that Dask and Kala could’ve had more.
I am very happy that these figures made it to the toy line as they didn’t have many appearances throughout the animated series, having appeared in only five episodes. But they were kind of an important part in expanding the mythology of the universe that the Turtles inhabited. Being fun loving teenagers from an alien world that was constantly at war with itself, it made you realize that there is more to this nebulous, unknown world that was a constant bad-day generator for the Turtles. It showed you the heartbreaking reality of a race of people that were persecuted just for wanting to be young and have fun. It showed us that there were three kids that had the wherewithal to understand that youth is fleeting ad it is important to make some great memories along the way. And that is a great person for a little kid to look up to.
Also, Kala totally had a crush on Michelangelo. It was adorable.
Turtle Trivia: The Neutrinos appeared in the TMNT comic published by IDW Publishing. While they maintain their 50’s-era look, they are hardcore soldiers that almost take out the Turtles with giant comic book-sized guns.
*Zak, Dask and Kala are known as Toon Zak, Toon Dask and Toon Kala in the Toon Turtles variant line released in 1992.
The Crafty Crook Cat
Released in 1993
If you’re a collector, you already know all about Scratch the cat.
Let me get the obvious stuff out of the way: He’s a cat wearing black and white prison coveralls. He’s got the standard seven points of articulation. He’s a human/ cat hybrid mutant guy who has been sentenced to nine life terms. He’s escaped nine times and he, more than anything, loves robbing banks and eating cake (apparently). His design is simple, being a brown cat with a devilish grin and sickly green eyes that peer out from beneath a black mask. Everything about his look screams prisoner circa 1929. From his stripped hat to the broken anklet that used to be home to a sturdy ball and chain, but thanks to a file that dangles from around his neck, Scratch made quick work of his restraints.
Like I said before, this figure is the crown jewel for some collectors, as this figure is incredibly rare and has a steep price tag. I don’t know if he’s necessarily hard to find, as he always seems to be available from a bevy of online shops. But his price is sky high depending on the condition of the figure, whether he loose or mint on card. No joke, Scratch out of box without accessories will fetch around three to four hundred dollars; And if you happen to find this guy in the wild or online both pristine and in box, you’re probably going to pay around eleven hundred bucks for a toy manufactured (as of 2018) twenty five years ago.
But why the hefty price tag? Scratch wasn’t a mainstay villain in any animated series ever. He isn’t featured in any TMNT films, and he wasn’t a character in any TMNT comic at any time AND he wasn’t the final basic figure released in the Playmates toy line, despite what many people online will tell you. In fact, his one appearance in any Turtles media was a game for the Nintendo Gameboy called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Radical Rescue, where he was the first boss. So why is everyone so enamored with Scratch the Cat? What has elevated this figure, a figure that doesn’t even look like he belongs in the TMNT toy line, to something of an iconic status? Well that’s the tricky part, no one really knows.
There is reason to believe that by 1993, Playmates toys just decided to focus on variant figures for the Turtles, which is why you saw guys like Farmer Donatello and Sumo Raphael. There is also the possibility that they just didn’t manufacture as many Scratch figures as they did for someone like Mona Lisa or Halfcourt. But at the end of the day there is no concrete answer to this. The crappy reality is, is that we may just have to accept the very real possibility that Scratch is only considered rare…because retailors have told us so. This is all hearsay of course, stuff I read online about someone who knew a guy that sold toys and was going to sell a Scratch figure for a certain price and then read an article saying that Scratch was worth somewhere in the area of $200.00. The collector, wanting the figure, bought it for said amount. And thus began price gouging online, and thus a legend was born.
That sucks, and it means that it doesn’t matter why Scratch is such a mystique to collectors. There are other figures that are actually limited run figures that demand an overinflated price tag. But none of them are Scratch, THE rare figure for any collector of TMNT toys. While he wasn’t exactly resting in the arc of the covenant when I acquired him, he was great find and one that I am super proud to own.
Turtle Trivia: While Scratch may not have a direct representation from any TMNT comic, many do believe that he was inspired by a similar-in-design cat character called Hallocat, who made his one and only appearance in the Lovecraftian-ish twenty seventh issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, titled “In the Dark”.
The Lovely Lizard Lady
Released in 1993
It has been said that behind every great turtle, there is a great lizard woman…or something to that effect. The point is, is that for Raphael, there is Mona Lisa.
Mona made her appearance way back in the season four episode, “Raphael Meets His Match”, of the ’87 animated series. I won’t get too into the specifics, but in short, Raphael and Mona meet, sparks fly, and they save a literal boatload of seafaring hostages. The episode has since become one of my favorites because, even as a kid, I always enjoyed a love story and that what the episode gave us. Unfortunately, it was a 90’s animated series, and there was little time for love in our show at that time. But what was even more unfortunate, was that it was another three years before we were able to get our hands on this figure, and by time we did, many of us just got it because we knew it was another Turtle figure.
With all of that being said, I think this is a great figure and a welcome addition seeing as how there are only four female characters in the entire toy line. Sure, there are plenty of April O’Neil variants, but very few ladies. I hate to say this, but it may have been a sign of the times when toy manufacturers (incorrectly) believed that boys wouldn’t play with girl action figures.
The figure itself is a great find to be sure. Mona’s overall appearance is very similar to her animated counterpart, although her green skin is a touch darker here than it is portrayed in the show, and her headband and scarf are a deep red instead of pink. She has webbed fingers and toes, as well as small fins on the backs of her arms and legs to possibly illustrate her poise and grace underwater, which was actually integral to the plot of her episode in the old series. I could possibly be reading into this a bit too much, but considering how much detail Playmates put into all of these figures back in the day, I may not be wrong. Also, she has a posable tail that is almost the same length as her legs, making Mona Lisa one of the easiest figures to stand up for display in the entire line. She may only have six points of articulation, but it should be mentioned that she is also made of a softer plastic, allowing for much more flexibility and it also makes her a candidate for weapon swapping between figures, as she can easily grasp many other figures weapons where most figures can pretty much only carry their own weapons. It’s a fun feature that I’m sure is just a happy accident that I noticed while goofing off.
Finally, I really like her head sculpt as it shows that Mona is kind of an adorable young woman. While she does have large eyes and pearly white teeth, she doesn’t just look like a green skinned woman, she also does portray the animal this woman was mutated into, although she does seem to look a bit more like a salamander than the general “lizard” Playmates says she is.
I have heard online that some people believe that Mona Lisa only exists to be a girlfriend to Raphael. This is ridiculous. I understand that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But I think many people have misunderstood who Mona is; but she’s more than a “girlfriend” character. Although her first appearances were brief, during her episode, Mona was a college kid who became another tragic victim of wrongful mutation who had come up with a plan to strike back at the ones that had altered her life as she knew it. Meeting Raphael and the other Turtles was completely coincidental and if it hadn’t of happened; she was still going to go about her mission with or without them. Mona is a character that was kind of on a revenge mission. Who knows how long she had been in the background, planning, waiting for her time to strike. If anything, Mona is not arm-candy at all, she convicted, disciplined and accepting of her mutation. Falling for Raphael (he falls just as hard for her too btw) is a bonus. Mona may be considered a girlfriend character now, by some, but she didn’t start out that way.
Like the Turtles, there’s more to Mona Lisa than meets the eye…wait…
Turtle Trivia: According to legend (which means that I don’t know how true this is, Mona was originally meant to be another turtle, but was changed at the last minute to a humanoid lizard.
The Fire-Fightin’ Dogged Dalmatian
Released in 1993
Something about Dalmatians has always appealed to me. Sure, Disney films may have had something to do with it, but I honestly think it has more to do with their reputation to aid firemen in saving people from unforgiving fires. I like their sleek coats and their loyalty to humans and their ability to keep other animals calm.
The Dalmatian has had a long and storied history as mascots for firemen, both here in America, and across the pond in Europe. They were chosen as such for their courage, build and ability to keep up with the horse drawn carriages that were prevalent in the late nineteenth century. And Since the Ninja Turtles are nothing if not loyal and noble, it should come as no surprise that Hot Spot is mutant firefighting Dalmatian.
I cannot imagine how hard it must’ve been to design what is essentially a white, plastic figure and give him personality. I mean, sure, he is wearing the traditional yellow trousers that all fireman wear as a part of their bunker gear, and he also has a fireman’s signature red helmet atop his furry head.
Once again, I do have to give props to Playmates for being able to emulate a furry texture on a plastic toy. Even a shorthaired animal like a Dalmatian still comes across as more than a smooth caricature of what it’s trying to be. On top of that Hot Spot’s actual spots may be an added bit of paint, but it doesn’t look like some poor guy at the end of an assembly line just poked him a few times with a black magic marker. On top of all of this, I think my favorite little detail is the fact that he’s chomping on a large bone where a cigar might have been were Hot Spot a human.
I wish I had more to say about this figure, but there is sadly very little to go on here. Like so many other figures in the line, Hot Spot had no other impact on the TMNT outside of his figure released in ’93. He was never in any video games or comics, and no TV appearances to mention. I haven’t mentioned this before, but I think that makes this figure kind of special. I know that many other collectors have marveled at the rarity of this figure, but to be honest, I got mine relatively cheap, based on the prices that I’ve seen online. But with all of that being said, I really do like this figure, mostly because he’s a dog and if you don’t like dogs, that’s fine. But I have always been in awe of the bond between dogs and humans. Aside from something like Cujo or The Beast, most of us love dogs and seeing a dog that can fight fires, (with a damn battle axe!), I don’t know why, but I just appreciate that he’s here.
Turtle Trivia: A Dalmatian’s spotted coat is considered a piebald coat. That means he’s got irregular patches of pigment on a coat with no pigment.
The Jumpshot Jammin’ Giraffe
Released in 1993
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have had a long history of being associated with sport throughout their history. Whether it be the Olympic games, baseball or even sumo wrestling, there were plenty of figures and advertisements of the TMNT participating in some of our favorite games. So it comes to kind of a surprise to me that there weren’t more figures of characters that were associated with a sports theme. Sure, there were plenty of variants of the Turtles playing baseball or participating in powerlifting, but there was only one figure that had a definite sports theme to them and that was Halfcourt, the basketball loving giraffe.
(Casey Jones doesn’t count because he only used sports equipment to fight off the bad guy of the week)
Halfcourt is another figure in the line that had no other TMNT-related media associated to them. He’s never been in any comics or episodes of any animated incarnation of the Turtles, but his action figure fits right in with the crazier figures that were making their presence known throughout the early 90’s. According to Halfcourt’s backstory…wait…apparently, Halfcourt has no backstory. He just appeared one day and decided, “Yeah, Shredder’s a bad guy. I’m gonna take him out.”
While this guy may not have much history to him, he is a great figure to behold. Decked out in a red basketball jersey and blue shorts, this towering figure features an “extendo” neck to increase his height, a broken basketball rim dangling from his neck, and a deflated b-ball under his shoe in an attempt to make it easier to stand this top-heavy figure.
One of the best features on this figure is his joints at the elbow that help him emulate his prowess with a basketball (which is actually a beehive!).
This may seem like a silly thing to get excited about, but there are so very few figures in the line that have this function, add to that a peg on his right hand that can plug into his beehive basketball(!), and you’ve got all you need to take it to the hoop or to the Foot.
While he’s got great action features and accessories, I have to say that I am disappointed with the way this figure stands. Out of all of the figures in this entire line, he is without a doubt the hardest figure to stand up, thanks in no small part to the backboard that plugs into the back of Halfcout’s neck. Maybe it’s just me, but the added weight of the board made him unbalanced and would cause him to fall on his face more often than not. I was able to fix this by opting to not pose him with the backboard, which is a shame because he just looks to cool with it on for him to not wear it. And then there’s the action feature on his neck that can make his neck extend. Again, this is a great feature…that severely limits his neck rotation. Not a deal breaker, but a nuisance that I just can’t ignore.
Turtle Trivia: I don’t know this for sure, but I think Playmates was making a basketball reference to Charles Barkley or Shaquille O’Neil, as they wore the same number on their jersey as Halfcourt wears on his: 34.
The Cool Camel Captain
Released in 1993
Well, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; the 90’s were a different time. Sandstorm is a Middle Eastern warrior that is represented as a mutant camel…I guess this is only awkward if I make it awkward, but he also has a pistol that a magic lamp and a shield that is a flying carpet. (I actually chuckled when I wrote that).
With that out of the way, Sandstorm is an awesome figure loaded with great detail and an action feature that makes him unique among his mutated family. With no real backstory to speak of, we can tell that Sandstorm was originally a human that was mysteriously mutated into a camel thanks to his right hand and (possibly) his right foot being human looking as his left hand had only three fingers and his left foot is a hoof.
Sandstorm’s stance is pretty dynamic as he looks like he’s winding up to knock your block off. This can also be seen with his pivoting waist feature that, when twisted to the right or left, some type of mechanism inside the figure launches him in the opposite direction, simulating a punch being thrown. I know I probably could’ve found a better way to explain this feature, but unfortunately, I’m not that articulate. If you ever had a He-Man action figures when you were a kid, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
I won’t bore you again by gushing over Playmates’ ability to sculpt hair onto a plastic figure and make it believable, but I do have to knock them for their paint job on this guy just a bit. Since Sandstorm is a camel, it stands to reason that he should have two humps on his back, which he does. Unfortunately, they’re painted the same white color as his the shirt that he’s wearing. I know that Playmates would sometimes skip on painting some of the finer details on their figures, but the humps on camel’s back are defining characteristics of that animal and should be highlighted here. But I guess you can’t win them all.
Since Sandstorm is no real backstory or any media appearances to speak about, there’s very little to say about this guy other than I wouldn’t have thought in my wildest dreams that I would ever see a camel turned action figure. I guess this guy is a prime example (one I’ve probably spoken of at length here) of how the ’88 TMNT action figure line could kind of go anywhere and do anything. What’s funny to think about, or at least funny to me, is if there were action figures of mutated camels, moose, lions and elephants, what kind of figures got rejected?
Turtle Trivia: I really have no idea. These figures get weirder and weirder.
The Metallic Maniac with the Ugly Mug
Released in 1993
I’m going to be honest here, these next two figures veer dangerously to crossing my no variants rule for these retrospectives, but they are based on characters seen in the original animated series. Appearing in an episode that I’ve never seen called “Super Bebop and Mighty Rocksteady”, Bebop and Rocksteady’s robotic counterparts both lack a lot of the same characteristics shown in the animated series.
While the figures do have a very nice coat of chrome paint and block looking sculpts, the figures themselves lack a lot of the same articulation and charm as the rest of the figures in the line.
While Chrome Dome was also a robotic “variant” of the Shredder, he was still very menacing looking, where Robotic Bebop and Rocksteady look very bland by comparison. Even their stance is just okay compared to other figures. There’s nothing dynamic about them at all. While their feet are flat, making them easy to put on display, they always kind of look like they’re just standing there waiting for something to happen. Maybe they’re just downloading a new software update. While they do have the occasional burst of color on their bodies (mostly red or blue), they really are just silver figures that don’t seem to have much character of their own. Maybe if they had been more faithful to their animated counterpart, they would have stood out more, but as they are, they’re really just kind of there on my shelf.
The Sinister Steel-Jointed Thug
Released in 1993
One thing that really does stand out with these figures is their head sculpt. Playmates really did a great job emulating the facial features of “normal” Bebop and Rocksteady, but all that does is remind of other figures, and that is not necessarily a good thing.
Turtle Trivia: I am very sorry to be such a downer on this review. I know you can’t win them all, but still, they’re so shiny! (Honestly, in recent months, I’ve softened on these figures. They’re cool)
The Ruthless English Pirate
Released in 1993
In 1993, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 hit theaters. This film saw the Turtles thrust back in time to the sixteenth century, and somehow ending up in Japan, where they end up in the middle of a war with a rebellious group of farmers and a warlords empire that is struggling to keep with their traditions in the light of ever advancing technology, thanks to an arms dealer who is trying to sell a stock of rifles and cannons to them. In the lead up to writing about this figure, I re-watched the film and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you spend any time on the internet at all, you already know the vitriol and shame thrown at this film. I won’t go into it here, but I will say that you should see it for yourself and don’t let some wannabe film critic form your opinion for you.
Perhaps the best character in this film is a pirate named Walker. An arms dealer heralding from jolly old England, Walker is seemingly desperate to sell arms to the warlord, Norinaga. Walker just does not care for the traditional lifestyle of the samurai and looks at them as if they aren’t worthy enough to lick his boots. And when he sees the Turtles, he honestly couldn’t care less about them or their plight. This guy takes arrogance to a whole new level, and hi figure follows suit. Keeping in suit with the other Turtles figures in the line, Walker sports seven points of articulation, dark and dynamic pirate clothing and a pretty douche-bag looking feather in his cap that just oozes class. Unfortunately, I don’t have the accessories for the “Movie 3” figures as I only recently got them. But from what I’ve seen online, Walker and the rest of the figures come with a pretty expansive cache of weapons. Quite possibly the best feature of this figure is his head sculp. While it doesn’t bear much resemblance to actor Stuart Wilson, who portrayed Walker in the film, but his sculpt literally shows him looking down at all of the other characters in front of him. He literally could care less if you are in his way. He just wants to get paid.
My only real complaint for this figure, and the Movie 3 series as a whole, is that we never got more figures featuring Walkers’ crew of pirating arms dealers to have the Turtles tussle in time with.
Turtle Trivia: The animatronics for the Turtles suits were handled by the All-Effects Company. They were also responsible for another massively popular animatronic figure back in the 90’s; the Energizer Bunny.
The Devious and Demented Daimyo
Released in 1993
Lord Norinaga is after his son for shaming their family name. When he finds him, who knows what he’ll do. Now, that’s my sin on what this character was like in the third Turtles film. He wasn’t necessarily evil just a guy out to do a bad thing. Perhaps he was going to take his son’s life to regain his family honor, we’ll never know for sure. But the film card that accompanied this figure makes him sound like a man who has a lust for power and enjoys taking lives out on the battlefield. While he was certainly capable of wreaking havoc when the time called for it, in the film he just wasn’t portrayed that way.
Actor Sab Shimono deserves a lot of credit for acting his butt off, considering what he had to work with. Acting opposite four stuntmen in turtle suits while they hurl insults your way couldn’t have been easy and if we’re all being honest with ourselves, we’d probably crack a smile at least once. But Lord Norinaga is portrayed as a man who doesn’t want to deal with the likes of Walker and his fellow pirates. He doesn’t want the guns and arms that go against his culture and way of life. But what can he do? He recognizes that times are changing, and if he is to stay in power, he must adapt to them.
The figure based on Norinaga, “Warlord”, is an incredibly well-designed samurai action figure, that while lacking some of the color of other figures in the line, relying on mostly maroon and black, what you have is a pseudo-realistic looking samurai warrior that looks like he could teach the Shredder a thing or two about honor.
If anything, he could probably take out the Shredder if he had to. In the third film, Norinaga almost takes out Leonard in one-on-one combat, sans armor. And while the figures looks to be just as dangerous, thanks to an imposing horned helmet and a dynamic stance, he doesn’t really look like the actor that portrayed him in the film at all.
While I wouldn’t normally call out an action figure for not capturing the likeness of an actual person, the figure doesn’t even look like a Japanese man. If anything, he looks more Central American than anything else. But this small discrepancy aside, this figure proves why this guy is a warlord and why he’s been given the rank of Daimyo. He’s a land baron that will take any and all challengers whenever it is necessary.
Turtle Trivia: Between the 10th and 19th centuries, Daimyo were some of the most powerful land owners/rulers in all of Japan, answerable only to the Shogun, the military leader of Japan.
The Turtle Tossin’ Double Crossin’ Spy
Released in 1993
I’m going to be honest here, I had no idea this figure existed until earlier this year (2018). It’s not like he had a release along with the Movie 3 action figures…even though he was a part of that line. Whit was actually a pack-in figure that came with a “vehicle” called the Movie 3 Turtlepult, much like a couple of other pack-in figures that we’ll get to later. While this figure isn’t the rarest one in the toy line, finding hind complete, with the catapult or not, is a bit of a feat that I just couldn’t accomplish.
What is great about this figure is that his cinematic counterpart is heavily implied to be an ancestor to everyone’s favorite hockey masked vigilante, Casey Jones, as they are portrayed by the same actor in the film; Elias Koteas. Whit’s figure is something of an oddball to me, as he is given the same sculpt as the Casey Jones figure (with the same torn up hoodie, only colored white) but the legs, arms and head all fit in with the attire worn by Whit in the film.
Plus, he also has an actual cloth vest that is held together by a belt, but sadly, I don’t have this as the only option available to me when purchasing this figure came with no vest or accessories, which is a damn shame. While I can live without the vest, Whit also comes with a hockey mask and a cap that fits over his head that looks like long hair, emulating Elias’ likeness in the film. Again, it’s a shame that I don’t have this because Whit’s head sculpt is smaller than most of the figures in the line as he’s supposed be able to essentially wear a helmet. But, in all honesty, I can look past all of this because I really do like the character of Whit, seeing as how he’s a spy for the Walker’s crew and he has a change of heart near the films climax that is slightly undersold, probably due to either script oversight time constraints. But it is really cool that Whit received a figure at all really. Taking an unbiased look at the film will show you that he could’ve been taken out of the film altogether and nothing really would’ve been changed too much. But the fact that he came with a catapult is a nice detail that is more than just a cash-grab on Playmates’ part, seeing as how Whit actually uses a catapult to take out the villainous Walker saving the Turtles in the process…spoilers.
Plus, Whit has an awesome beard that isn’t long and disgusting looking like most guys wear them today. Not bad for being the only truly average Joe type of figure outside of Vernon.
Turtle Trivia: Actor Elias Koteas has over eighty credits to his name between film and television. He’s been “that guy” in films for virtually my whole life. Plus, watch Defendor, he’s awesome in it.
*Author’s note: I went ahead and bought a Whit figure that had all the accessories and the catapult. Probably just for bragging rights.
Luscious Leader of the Rambunctious Rebels
Released in 1993
So, something tells me that this figure is somewhat misleading to the customer/collector. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t remember Mitsu being a leader to a band of Rebels, much less a full-blown princess.
True, Mitsu was part of a band of rebellious farmers that were striking back against Lord Norinaga’s planned acquisition of their land, and I guess the film could’ve done a better job illustrating her leadership skills, but I guess I could’ve paid more attention to the film. Wow, who knew the Ninja Turtle films could be such brain scratchers. But I never once heard any character in Turtles 3 refer to her as a princess, but it’s a film series about anthropomorphic turtles that do karate, I can look past a few details for the sake of story/toy sales.
The figure itself is a nice that actually looks like a Japanese female instead of a weird amalgam of a real person and a cartoon character. She’s dressed almost entirely in different shades of blue, which does a good job of setting her apart from the rest, but her robe/top is peppered with the white dots that almost look as if they were an afterthought by the design team. While this does match up with her design in the film, it looks a little off there too. I mean, I guess a female farmer/archer wearing a blue and white poke-a-dot kimono in the year 1593 isn’t impossible; it’s just not the first thing that comes to my mind. But as an action figure, it works just fine; it just seems last-minute.
Mitsu’s actual frame is a nice change of pace from someone like April or Irma, as she looks like she’s actually there to fight and not be rescued or tell a witty one-liner. Mitsu is lithe yet broad shouldered enough to look like she’s more than capable of holding her own, but her stance is a bit of a face palm in terms of displaying a figure. I’m sure I’ve already noted that these toys are meant to be played with and not just looked at. But Mitsu seems a little top-heavy for the size of her feet. Given that her knees are bent and her top half is set wide, you would think that her feet would be sculpted wider to ensure a good stance, but she is given a narrow pair of feet that make standing her up a bit of a chore, which is surprising considering that there are very few characters in this line that have such an awkward design to them.
But I really do think that her head sculpt actually makes up for this, as she has very long hair that is kept in a loose ponytail and her expression very calm and almost neutral-looking. I know that may not sound like it’s that big of a deal, but it’s actually in-line with Mitsu’s character, seeing as how she’s very stoic in the film, rarely giving a glimpse at her real emotions, while not being a stick in the mud; which, let’s be honest, is the bane of most leaders existence.
Turtle Trivia: Mitsu was actually supposed to be a playable character in the SNES version of the video game Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters. Unfortunately though, she was scrapped ad replaced by a one-time character named Aska due to the mixed reactions to the third TMNT film.
*Mitsu was portrayed in the film by actress Vivian Wu
The Rebel Son of the Evil Warlord
Released in 1993
Kenshin, the son of Lord Norinaga, is really the reason for the events of the third film transpiring in the first place. Lord Norinaga wants the farm lands that belong to Princess Mitsu, but Kenshin is in love with Mitsu and conspires with her to keep her lands out of his father’s grasp. Viewed as a traitor, Kenshin is brought to his father for punishment but accidentally sends himself forward in time, with April taking his place.
It’s kind of a shame to see how little Kenshin actually does in the film. While the audience is told that he’s a great warrior, you barely see his prowess in battle. And the battle that he does partake in results in his capture, so who knows what’s true and what’s not about this guy. While his action figure is a nice addition, he just looks a little off compared to the other figures in the Movie 3 variant line. Sure, you could say that him and April wearing the same clothes looks a little crazy, but that’s actually a point that gets explained in the film (matter transference). While he sports the same standard seven points of articulation, he just looks flat compared to the other figures. He’s just kind of standing straight and looking forward. Plus, we have the same narrow feet problem that we found with Mitsu, which is really confusing since this guy is just standing straight up, with barely an arch to his back and no knee bend to speak of at all. Perhaps the biggest problem I have with this figure is his head sculpt, and it has nothing to do with his man-bun (seriously guys, why is that a thing). I know it’s not, but Kenshin’s head just seems a bit big for the rest of his figure. It’s not that he has a bad design, his top and pants have some nice designs that have held up well over time, but the figure as a whole seems very two-dimensional and his articulation is nothing to write home about. But even with all of that being said, I think it’s great that this figure was released considering that he’s the son of a bad guy. Don’t think of these as action figures for a second and really think about the inherent drama that that sets up. You have a son that is rebelling against the traditions of old because he is in love with the woman that owns the land his father wants.
That’s crazy, and it is much more mature than some people give it credit for. A lot of people want to erase Turtles 3 from existence, and I guess I can understand why. I mean, yes, it is cheesy, the effects don’t look as great as they used to and the Turtles fighting new characters we’ve never heard of after two films of fighting with the Shredder is a bit of a reach. But, I am going to give them credit where credit is due. Turtles 3 was the type of story that took place in the comics many times before 1993 and the fact that they created new villains for the Turtles to fight is kind of ballsy. Imagine if the next Batman movie had an original villain that had no representation in the comic book medium. People would rake that movie over the coals before they ever saw a single trailer for it. Turtles 3 took a lot of risk and didn’t quite stick the landing. But that is what is great about the Turtles, they’re a risk that paid off, and Kenshin’s figure, while not my favorite, is a representation of that risk.
Turtle Trivia: While Kenshin is portrayed in the film by actor Eidan Hanzai, he was credited as Henry Hayashi, which was his screen name for many (if not all) of his film and television appearances.
The last two figures in the Movie 3 line came in the form of (more) vehicles. The figures in question were each a member of opposing armies from the film, one belonging to the Warlord and the other being a rebel. While I don’t have the horses, I think it’ nice to see that this type action figure/ vehicle combo making something of a resurgence in the past couple of years, at least when it comes to the Turtles. In 2017, as a part of the Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toy line, fan favorite Usagi Yojimbo had a variant figure that included an armored horse that looked suspiciously similar to the Evil Warhorse with Castle Guard that was released back in 1993.
Speaking of which…
Loyal Servant of Lord Norinaga
Released in 1993
While the figure is of the same standards as every other figure in the line, this one was obviously made to sit on a horse. His knees are slightly bent, giving him a great ready-for-anything kind of stance, but this is the one figure in the entire line that has an almost lifeless quality to it that I just can’t ignore.
His face looks somewhat flat and his eyes have blank stare to them that make him look like he’s looking both everywhere and nowhere all at once. But I can forgive this as the sculpt of the figure actually shows off the great design work that costume designer Ha Nguyen gave to the third film. While I have no idea whether or not it’s historically accurate, it’s a great design for this line and, while we’re dealing with a time travel story here, it’s nice to see what an average dude would wear, and not have every figure covered in bugs, food, or garbage.
Furious Farmer and Rebel with a Cause
Released in 1992/1993
Let me get the confusing part out of the way first. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3, as well as the Movie 3 figures, was released in 1993. Yet the Rebel Soldier has a copyright date of 1992 on the bottom of his left foot. But since the rest of the figures were released in 1993, I’m considering his release to be in 1993. But I wrote both dates above for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.
Outside of a horse, this figure also came clad in a removable cloth robe that was massive and looked hideous. Fortunately, I bought my figure loose and with no accessories and I would recommend that you do the same, as he looks much better without a huge navy blue poncho. With that out the way, this figure may look familiar to any of you that collect the variant figures. Back in 1992, there was a figure released called the Movie Star Foot Soldier that bore the same likeness as the Foot Clan ninja that appeared in the first two TMNT live-action films. When you remove the blue poncho from this figure, you’ll notice that Playmates used the same mold as the Movie Star Foot Soldier for their Rebel Soldier action figure, just repainted black and blue; hence the 1992 copyright on a figure released in 1993.
This figure has a very lean sculpt that I think is a nice contrast to every bulked up figure in the line, and it really makes me want to get a couple Movie Star Foot Soldiers one day. The addition of hinge joints in the shoulders is a nice touch that offers up a much greater range of motion that was barely seen in this line.
Both the rebel soldier and castle guard have great head sculpts that may look out of place in this toy line that’s full of misfits and mayhem, but considering that the Turtles are out of their element in the third movie, it makes a strange kind of sense that these two figures seem a little out of place next to the Playmates TMNT figures.
Turtle Trivia: While costume designer Ha Nguyen designed the costumes for TMNT 3, she was perhaps best known for her work on the big screen adaptation of Mortal Kombat in 1995.
The Metallic Mad Shogun Mauler
Released in 1994
There are few figures in this line that exude a sense of sheer power more than Shoate. This massive, dinosaur samurai is a major threat to the Turtles, and while he may be considered a bad guy, he’s much more honorable than you might think. While the portrait on the back of the packaging for this figure kind of overinflates just how tough Shoate is, I would much rather refer to the original Mirage comic books when talking about this figure as Playmates kind of sells him short. While Shoate never had any media appearances outside of the old comics and the Playmates toy line, he made a huge impression upon me while reading his one adventure that placed him in opposition with the Turtles.
Back in 1992, in the forty sixth issue of the Mirage TMNT comics, Shoate (known in the books as “Chote”) made his debut as a samurai that is honor bound to a nameless warlord who, for lack of a better word, is evil. Yes, Shoate/Chote is considered one of the primary villains of the two-part story arc that he makes his only appearance in, but the fact that he works for an evil man (a man that will remain nameless because it’s a great reveal that means a lot to old school TMNT comics fans) is a point of pride for reptilian samurai warrior. As he puts it, he lives his life by the code of the Bushido. What better way is there to prove loyalty than to serve a righteous man? That core belief is what makes Shoate/Chote an incredibly layered character with more going on upstairs than you may realize. He is a decent person, or at least he isn’t evil, that does bad things. Sure, he’s no hero, but he has a belief that he stands by. Unfortunately, we never got to see if Shoate/Chote ever redeemed himself as he never appeared in another comic or any form of media whatsoever since his1992 debut.
So moving onto the figure itself, Shoate is a seriously dangerous looking bad guy for the Turtles to fight. The sheer size of this guy is unparalleled; while he’s not the tallest figure, not even the Super Shredder is a can match the bulk of this figure. He captures his comic book counterpart very well in terms of his sculpt and I really do appreciate that Playmates knew a good design when they saw one and didn’t muck with it at all outside of the height of the actual figure, which stands eye to eye to pretty much all of the bad guys in the line, which was probably a way to keep costs down, thus ensuring this figure would sell.
But to be fair, this is another rare figure from the Turtle’s history of action figures. From what I have read about this guy though, unlike Scratch, the root cause of his rarity was due to low production numbers. Apparently, there just weren’t that many Shoate figures released which, I can kind of understand why. Shoate was released in 1994, and by that time, Playmates was shipping variant figures of the Turtles and few others almost exclusively. And by 1994, the animated series that (arguably) started everything had begun its penultimate season. As sad and possibly unthinkable as it may be to consider now, the Turtle’s popularity was on the wane due to competition from the likes of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. To me, Shoate marks the beginning of the end for the first wave of Turtles mania. By the ninth season of the animated series, the Turtles weren’t even fighting Shredder and Krang, they had moved on to other villains. And how fitting is it that Shoate is the last non-variant figure to be released in the original Playmates toy line, as directly following his appearance in the Mirage comic books, seeing as how Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird would begin their last story arc under the Mirage banner as a writing team. In a funny way, Shoate is the one Turtles villain that beats the Turtles as an era ends whenever he shows his scaly hide. So if you see Shoate, baton down the hatches, because he’s the one bad guy to do what Shredder cannot: End the Turtles.
Turtle Trivia: Shoate/Chote was a creation of TMNT comics’ writer and artist Michael Dooney, who also had intended to place him in his own comic titled Gizmo, but this unfortunately never came to be.
*Shoate appeared in the Shogun Ninja TMNT variant line of figures in 1994.
Venus de Milo
The 5th Turtle
Released in 1997.
Perhaps the most infamous character to be introduced into the TMNT’s storied history, Venus de Milo is a character that deserves more of a positive spotlight put. There is so much negativity out there about her that I can’t blame you if you just dismissed her without so much as a glance at her own creation or impact.
In 1997, there was a live action television series called Ninja Turtles: Next Mutation. Reactions were mixed, to say the least, and the show only lasted a single season. Everyone reading this probably already knows that the show was meant to be a pseudo sequel to the film series that introduced a new hero to the mix that was the long lost “sister” to the Turtles named Mei Pieh Chi, or more commonly, Venus.
Also in ’97, there was another series of action figures released that saw the touted a roster of around thirty figures (including variants). The figures were slightly bigger than the ones released by Playmates in ’87. They were made with a softer plastic and featured less articulation, and while the sculpts were different, they weren’t lacking in detail; it was just that the art style was different than what came before.
Venus’ figure has a very sleek design that carries enough similarities to the ’88 Turtles that she can fit right in alongside her fellow mutants. Venus’ character is actually represented very well with her warm smile, braided bandana and she has two yin yang crests on her person; one on her right arm and the other on her left leg. While I wish her shell weren’t the same shade of green as her skin, there are enough textured details in the shells sculpt that prove that this wasn’t a cost cutting solution. And to top it all off, she has an initialed belt buckle around her waist, perhaps as a callback to the Turtles of ’87.
Venus had an uphill battle from the word “go”. We all know that people were unhappy with the look of the Next Mutation television series. Some people didn’t like the fact that Venus was a girl, they didn’t like that she was a spiritual character that didn’t understand American customs. People complained that she was something of a magic caster, but also had no problem with Splinter visiting the astral plane whenever he wanted. But if you’re willing to give the show a shot, which I understand isn’t the easiest thing to do (admittedly, despite my enjoyment of it, the show could’ve been less campy), you’d see that the spirit of who the Turtles are, is left intact. They joked around a little more than usual, and the revelation that they weren’t blood related was a tough pill for a lot of people to swallow. But the fact that they always, in nearly every episode, referred to themselves as a family, proved that these were the same Turtles we’ve known since we were kids, just told in a different light. And Venus added a great layer to the show that a lot of people don’t give her credit for. She was just as physically capable and disciplined as the Turtles. She could conjure magical fire to aid her in battle and read minds, but she wasn’t proficient in it…yet. She was also a perfect foil for Donatello, seeing as how she is spiritual, and Donnie doesn’t believe in, nor does he have time for, mysticism.
While the show didn’t last long, there still exists a following for the character as well as the action figure. While the internet would have you believe that the Next Mutation never existed and is a terrible blight upon humanity, I would rather you just decide for yourself. The fact that she’s been brushed under the rug, in my opinion, kind of goes against what the Turtles are all about. Back in 1984, when the Turtles were just making their debut in comic book stores, I can’t help but wonder what my reaction would’ve been. Would I have thought it was a waste of time, or would I have taken a chance on it? Well, obviously, plenty of people took a chance on the Turtles. In fact, they keep taking chances on them. We are in the midst of a fourth animated series premiering on television back in 2018. There have been six feature films from several directors and hundreds, if not thousands of action figures for us to collect, but Venus, this one character from one show that wasn’t as good as the others, doesn’t deserve another chance? I beg to differ. If nothing else, the Turtles prove to us, time and again, that we should never judge a book by its cover. Venus, a character that accepted the four Turtles and Splinter as her family without a seconds thought, wouldn’t judge you for being a little different.
Turtle Trivia: After the cancelation of Next Mutation, Venus’ adventures were continued in a blog called Venus’ Venerations. Sadly, they were deleted after Kevin Eastman sold his rights to the TMNT.
*Venus was released as a part of the Ninja Turtles: Next Mutation toy line.
It took me a long time to write this book. It was hard, harder than I expected it to be. I know that this is just a book where all I did was talk about toys, but to me, it was a labor of love. I know that I already talked to you about the time I got my first Donatello figure. Well, the first one that wasn’t a variant. It started an obsession with me and all things Turtles. My young, impressionable, not-yet-formed mind loved these Turtles and all of the crazy adventures that they went on. My time with them wasn’t limited to the toys either. I loved the animated series, the live action films, and the Out of Their Shells tour. I didn’t care that they were an indie comic that was allegedly selling out to kids to make more money. I didn’t care that The Secret of the Ooze wasn’t as dark and serious as the 1990 film. I just loved the Turtles for who they were. Four brothers, blood-related or not, that helped people and loved pizza and having fun. That love for the Turtles came from that cold night in Walgreens where I saw my new favorite toy.
It was a memory that stayed with me as I got older. It came screaming back to me when I was twelve years old and I had started to think that I was too old for action figure. Slowly, over the course of a month, I gave away the action figures that I spent hours of my childhood, writing stories of my own, only without a pencil. I let go of everything, from Spider-Man to G.I. JOE, to the kids that lived in my apartment building. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had saved Leonardo, Raphael and Donatello for last. I didn’t know why at the time, but I had kept missing them as I gave away figures by the handful. One day, again with my mom, I was walking through the dusty aisles of an antique mall. My mom and dad loved going through antique malls on the weekends. Often I would go with them to look at old comics or magazines, or the old toys that my parents’ generation would play with. Often, I would hear how my father’s favorite toy was going outside as I worked my way through boxes of old Transformers looking for a G1 Optimus, to no avail.
Like I said, I went to a local antique mall with my mom. This memory is a bit fuzzier at first but it gets clearer. I was rummaging through some box of nameless, faceless toys that I can’t recall, probably because it doesn’t matter now, because at the bottom of that box was the one figure that I had spent years looking for to no avail. Michelangelo was at the bottom of that box.
I can remember that I actually stopped breathing for a second when I saw it, and as I reached for it, I took in every detail. His paint hadn’t faded at all. The brilliant orange of his bandana was somehow brighter than the sun outside; the deep green of his plastic mold a stark contrast to what I remembered it being when I would see him on TV. He even had his nunchucks tightly tucked away in his belt across his shell. I pulled out the small action figure and held it in my hand, suddenly remembering to breathe again. With one hand, not wanting to let Mikey go, I reached for my wallet, an old and beaten down, black leather wallet that my father gave me. As I flipped open my wallet, my heart plummeted as I saw that it was empty. It was so empty in fact that I swear to God a moth flew out of it. I wasn’t going to be able to get the one action figure that I had searched for my entire life, and having that realization at twelve years old was a heavy thing to deal with. As I was putting the figure on a shelf it didn’t belong on, a hand lightly tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to see my mom with some new find in hand (I think it was a bracelet), she asked me if I’m ready to leave, and as I sheepishly nodded in defeat, and she looked past me and notices Michelangelo and she smiles.
“Are you going to get that?” She asks me.
I shake my head. “No, I don’t have any money.”
I know now that she could tell how much it hurt me to say that sentence. She knew that I could never find that figure.
“Give it here.” She said, smiling wider.
She never asked me how much it was and she didn’t make me ask her for it. In a way, I had been asking for it for years, and I guess it bummed her out that she could never find it for me. When I got home, after maybe the longest twenty minute drive ever, I practically ran to my room. I shut the door, and sat at my desk, heart skipping beats as I reached in the bottom desk drawer to my left. Quickly, I set in front of me the three Turtles that had been my with me for almost seven years at the time, the longest friendship I had known before or since, really. Unconsciously, I stood them in front of me in the order they appeared in the greatest theme song ever written.
The Battle Commander for the Turtles
The Turtles’ Creative Genius
The Witty Voice of the Turtles
The Wild and Crazy Turtle
I know that this is going to sound ridiculous and incredibly dramatic, but when I saw those four figures standing shoulder to shoulder, I spoke out loud and said,
And then I heard my mom ask if I wanted pizza for dinner. What do you think I said?
Those four figures are the only figures that survived my desire to get rid of my toys. Those four figures sat on my desk, which stood next to my bed. For years, the Turtles from the Playmate toy line were the first and last thing I saw on any given day. I haven’t thought about that in years, and it makes me very sad to tell you that the four Turtles from that first line of toys that I own now are not the ones that I had as a child. I can’t remember what happened to them, but they got lost along the way as I got older. Looking back on it now, as a thirty five year old, I tell the five year old that is still in my mind playing with his favorite toys, to not feel sad, because even though they are lost, they got lost together. And they are still out there, somewhere, right now. Maybe some kid found them, and now he is giving them to his or her own kid. Maybe that kid will love the TMNT the same way I did and still do. Or maybe they’re in a landfill somewhere; and that’s okay, because those Heroes in a Half-Shell are still together, somewhere.
I know it may sound crazy, but that is what this line of figures means to me. I know that it’s just a bunch of plastic, but they are a part of me. Collecting them and writing this was a huge labor that I almost quit several times, but I just couldn’t let myself because I felt that I owed it to that kid that saw a crazy cartoon and an equally crazy looking action figure that just made me feel happy. That feeling is what I have right now as I write these final words. No matter what figures have come out since 1997 when Playmates finally stopped making Turtles figures, not matter what exclusives came out at comic con, or what Japan-only figure made it into production, no amount of articulation or sculpt work or scale, none of it has ever been as amazing or fun as what came out in 1988. Because nowadays, it’s not about fun or amazement, or being awestruck, now it’s about name value and two hundred dollar boxed sets. Now it’s about making sure you see the name of the manufacturer and not the product.
But these figures, not only are they of a simpler time, but they represent a simple message of quality over fame. It was quality that made us love these figures. Quality that made a toy line that was only supposed to last one to three years, last for almost ten; Quality that makes them the benchmark for what a great toy is; Quality that makes the Turtle Power.