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Splinter vs. Baxter

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987)
by yo go re

Okay, after a few oversized solo figures, it's back to a two-pack.

We got the Turtles four years ago, but the team can't be complete until they've got their master Splinter with them! After all, he's the one who taught them to be cautious around rough wood ninja teens - he's a radical rat!

The TMNT cartoon broke with established continuity by cutting out the middle man and just making Splinter be Hamato Yoshi, rather than Yoshi's pet rat - a change which also fundamentally shifted the way mutagen worked. See, in the original Mirage comics, it worked like the Prometheus Engineers' black goo: it accelerated life (or in this case, evolution), which is why it could turn turtles and a rat into more human-like forms; in the cartoon, it blended anyone's DNA with the last thing they'd come in contact with (which obviously opened a lot more doors for silly, weird mutants to sell toys).

I had the Playmates Splinter as a kid, but that thing looked very little like Splinter did on the cartoon: he was more "rat" than "rat man," but while the animation model kept the long snout, the head received a slight anthropomorphization that makes him look more like a wolf than a rodent. The only real lingering clue to his intended species are the two large incisors that stick down below his nose.

Like NECA's movie Splinter toy, this one has a softgoods robe that completely conceals all the sculpted fur on the body beneath. (The sculpt is credited to Brodie Perkins, Jason Frailey, Jay Kushwara, and Trevor Zammit, but with two figures in the set, we have no way of guessing who did what where.) All we can see are his face, neck, hands, tail, and feet. The robe is a nice maroon with circular yellow emblems on the chest, and does look good on the toy - the cloth is just the right weight to hang properly - but you'll still have to untie the black sash if you want to get a look at Splinter's body. On the other hand, this means they didn't have to worry about the "cel shaded" paint anywhere but his head and shins.

Splinter is a short figure, especially if you pose him with his knees bent like the cartoon did. He's more diminutive than his sons, as he should be, with the ears barely reaching the 4¾" mark. The articulation is plentiful, as we expect from NECA: he moves at the head, neck, shoulders, biceps, elbows, wrists, chest, tail, hips, thighs, knees, wrists, and toes. Oh, and he's got a hinged jaw, I forgot that! The balljoint for the head on my figure was slightly stuck when I opened him, but gently working it back and forth got things going with no problem. For the ideal "Splinter squat," we recommend moving both of the knee hinges one "click" away from being straight - with his feet flat, that's just enough to let the tail rest on the ground behind him the way it should.

Both figures in this two-pack are wee ones, so it makes up its price in the form of accessories. We'll start with the large (9¼" x 6½") foam tatami mat. Why would they include this? Why not! It's flat, takes up almost no space in the package, and will spice up any number of displays, even outside the TMNT realm. There's also a yin-yang medallion necklace that can slip over his head no problem, his familiar walking stick, a small gray rat friend for him, an ancient scroll with faux-Japanese writing explaining the Cur-Lee Maneuver, a closed book with a tattered red cover, a blue art history book open to show the painters who inspired the Turtles' names, and the Sword of Yurikawa (which once belonged to Splinter's master) with a removable flame effect. There's also a small pistol, which seems to be Shredder's retromutagen ray generator from the five-part intro "movie." (Hey, it's not the first time one set came with accessories meant for another.) In addition to the loosely holding hands he has in the package, there are also two with a tighter grip and two in a sort of martial arts pose, and one with the pointer finger extended.

Just as Splinter is the "and also" of the good guys, he's paired in this set with the villains' equivalent: the main antagonists are Shredder and Krang, Bebop and Rocksteady, and also Baxter Stockman.

Baxter Stockman is a villain created by Capitalism: when he tried to sell his Mousers to Ajaz Pest Control, they said the robots would work too well and put them out of business, so threw him out on the street. Then Shredder came to recruit him, which set the poor guy on the path to becoming a human fly. If not for corporate greed, he'd never have been a foe for the Turtles, and like 90% of Shredder's devices would never have been invented or built. Allegedly the cartoon producers wanted to give Baxter a heel-face turn at the end of the first season, but Eastman and Laird vetoed it.

Cartoon Baxter is a lot cuter than his toy was. The broad strokes are the same, of course - teal nasolabial area, dark rims around the eyes, strawberry blonde hair, little antennae/feelers along the hairline - but the lines are simpler. His mouth is open slightly, revealing a pink tongue, and there are little hairs painted on his cheeks. The eyes are smooth rather than compound, but they get three shades of paint to make them look like the cartoon: a base of red, with pale pink highlights on one side and darker shadows on the other.

While action figure Baxter wore a jacket and no shirt, the cartoon version goes in exactly the opposite direction: not only does he have a shirt, he's also got a grey sweater vest. And no jacket at all! Similarly, his pants don't get ripped to shreds, and all his skin is purple rather than retaining human-pink hands. There's a gigantic yellow bow tie at his throat. The hands have four fingers and the feet have two toes, and the sculpts are very soft and round. Two extra insect arms poke out of his back, right below his wings, though they look really nice when you raise them up above his shoulders.

Sadly, those extra arms don't warrant any extra articulation: they have swivel/hinges where they emerge from the body, but that's it. Eh, as thin as they are, it would be tough to make anything sturdy enough. Like so many Baxters Stockman, the angle chosen for the wings' swivel/hinge joints feels like it's at the wrong angle. Why can't we ever get balljoints for those? Counting things that don't come out of his back, the figure moves at the head, shoulders, elbows, chest, hips, knees, and ankles, and every one of them moved just fine straight out of the box. Tell us again how "every" toy NECA makes is constantly a broken mess? Standing straight up, Baxter is even shorter than squatting Splinter - which makes sense, considering the relative size of a human and a fly.

Most of the figure's accessories come from the episode "Bye, Bye, Fly," but we'll start with one that's not. In Season 2 episode "Enter the Fly," Shredder sends April O'Neil a deadly "doku plant" whose fragrance will kill her in a day unless she gets an antidote in the form of a gazai leaf. because animation is expensive, both plants look identical in the cartoon, matching this potted plant. You can pretend it's whichever you want! The only one Baxter interacted with was the gazai, though.

From "Bye, Bye, Fly," we get the Muta-Zoo Ray Baxter used to turn Shredder into a fly and Michelangelo into a gerbil. Which is why we also get Shredder as a fly and Mikey as a gerbil! The ray looks like a squarish gun with a big dial on the back. If that sounds familiar, that's because it's the same gun Super7 Baxter Stockman came with (a fact we only know because one of our readers told us back then; so thanks, Batman1016 - we'd be worse without you!). Unlike Super7's, NECA's is actually painted and has the animal silhouettes on the dial. The only thing that would be better would be if it could actually turn, so you could select from a cat, turtle, horse(?), gerbil, ant, or fly. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Gerbil should be tan, not gray, and Shredder-Fly is sized more for a normal human-sized human than for an action figure, but they're still fun accessories. And again, Baxter gets a bunch of alternate hands.

Finally, we get what is technically a third character. Baxter got the Muta-Zoo Ray from inside an alien ship he managed to find under New York City. When the ship tried to leave Earth, a piece missing from the warp drive meant the entire thing fell apart, leaving Baxter stranded in dimensional limbo along with the ship's sentient computer. In "Son of Return of the Fly II," Baxter manages to get back to Earth, and is carrying the computer with him. While it eventually got a body, this is just its screen/head. The face is lenticular, allowing it to show three different expressions as you view it from different angles. The nameless computer (fans call them "Z") really did seem to care for Baxter, and was a good friend to him, so inluding them in this set is a great choice. There's a hollow under the computer, too, so maybe some day we'll get a version that has a body, too.

At a glance, this set seems like a weak one, being sold mainly on the strength of collectors wanting to complete some "teams." But even knowing fans were probably going to buy in on this one no matter what, NECA didn't cheap out at all. The figures have unique molds, and an entire collection of amazing accessories (including, if you count Z, Michaelangelo, and Shredder, three bonus characters). It's highly impressive!

-- 05/06/21

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