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Nerd Obsession: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

As big a fan I am of Dragon Ball Z, far more people know me as a fan of the Turtles. I grew up watching the cartoon and aged up into their more mature comic content. Their faces adorned shoes, shirts, and backpacks when I stalked the halls of grade school. I have purchased the original trilogy of movies three times: Once on VHS, once on DVD, and once again on Blu-ray.

And no word of a lie: Every time I am in a Wal-Mart I always walk down the toy aisles to see what kinds of action figures they’re making these days (and sometimes even buy some!). The children of the staff in my office know that I have a stash of Ninja Turtle toys in my office that they’re welcome to take and play with when they visit. The walls of that office are also covered in TMNT art that students have drawn or colored for me over the years.

I’ve admittedly distanced myself from newer incarnations of the cartoon and the Bay-produced movies, and don’t have quite the grasp on the ongoing IDW comics run…but there is no doubt that Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello (listed in the order that I like them; fight me), and their friends and foes have been a love of mine for as long as anyone can remember – my parents included.

But it isn’t just me who has caught Turtlemania. The Turtles have been a huge part of the cultural zeitgeist since the 1980s…and they haven’t really slowed down since.

Timeline

  • 1983: Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird sketch the first ninja turtles
  • 1984: First issue of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comic
  • 1987: First animated series premieres (ran through 1996)
  • 1990: First Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie hits theaters; TMNT is the best selling toy line of the year (~30 million units sold)
  • 1997: Debut of Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation; live action TV show
  • 1998: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover episode with Power Rangers in Space (uniting two of my defining childhood loves)
  • 2000: Eastman sells his share of the franchise to Laird; goes on to be bought completely out in 2008
  • 2003: 2nd animated series debuts (ran through 2009)
  • 2009: Laird sells the rights to Nickelodeon
  • 2012: 3rd animated series debuts (ran through 2017)
  • 2014: TMNT movies rebooted by Nickelodeon and Platinum Dunes
  • 2018: 4th animated series debuts – Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (ongoing)

Censorship

The Ninja Turtles have seen a surprising amount of censorship over the years. The very first comic depicts Leonardo running Shredder through with his katana before offering him the chance to commit seppuku. This is obviously a far cry from the shenanigans of the turtle brothers in the first animated series! Pretty much the only turtle that could hit an enemy in the cartoon was Donatello with his bo staff. Although the Foot Soldiers were made into robots so that all of the turtles could attack something without strictly killing anything.

There was major controversy when the first movie debuted as moms across the country cried that it was much too dark and too violent. It definitely more closely reflected the early comics than it did the animated series that paved the way for its success. As a result, the second movie, Secret of the Ooze, sees only Donatello brandishing his bo against enemies. Leo and Raph only unholster their weapons as a threatening presence, and the closest Mikey comes to using his nunchakus was when he traded them in for sausages in the opening sequence. The rest of the combat in the movie is depicted as strictly hand-to-hand.

Combat cold cuts.

Speaking of nunchakus…The turtles had a doozy of time in Britain. The word “ninja” was censored from the name entirely, as it was synonymous with “assassin” and it was a TV show meant for kids. It was marketed as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.

Mikey’s nunchakus were also a no-go as they were believed to be too easily replicated in the home! Instead, he was depicted using grappling hooks when he was shown to be armed at all.

By the Numbers

  • Over $1 billion – Worldwide box office earnings for the TMNT movies
  • $60 million – Amount paid by Nickelodeon for the rights to TMNT in 2009
  • $71,700 – Auction price of the original sketch of the TMNT in 2012
  • 350+ issues of comics
  • 40 cities on the Coming Out of Their Shell Tour
  • Dozens of video games
  • 6 theatrically released movies
  • 5 television series

Rogues Gallery

First Appearances

  • April O’Neil – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #2, 1984
  • Casey Jones – Raphael: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, 1985
  • Bebop and Rocksteady – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles S1E1 “Turtle Tracks” (Human) or S1E2 “Enter the Shredder” (Mutants), 1987
  • Karai – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #53, 1992
  • Venus de Milo (first female ninja turtle) – Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation, 1997

Final Fact

The Ninja Turtles share an origin story with Marvel’s Daredevil!

Splinter’s name is also a nod to Matt Murdock’s mentor Stick, and the Foot clan is an homage to the menacing Hand that clashed with Daredevil frequently in the comics!

Go Down a Rabbit Hole

Remembering the cartoon. | Bringing the Ninja Turtles to life in Dungeons and Dragons 5e. | A review of Batman and the Ninja Turtles, Vol. 1. | A review of the TMNT: Shadows of the Past boardgame from IDW Games. | A Pathfinder encounter inspired by Krang. | A discussion on the death of a turtle in IDW’s comic run.