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Donatello as the Invisible Man

Universal Monsters x Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
by yo go re

During the many months that I waited and waited and waited and waited and waited and waited and waited for Dracula to be released (still waiting, technically, since I got him online), I did happen across NECA's Invisible Man at Walmart a few times. I'm not really a fan of the outfit they chose for that toy, but I might still have picked him up if I didn't already know this one was on its way.

You'll never see him coming!
Watch behind you!
Madman or genius? You decide!
Catch him if you can!
Look out! His secret's under wraps!
Once the bandages are peeled the mystery will be revealed!

The Invisible Man was the only Universal Monster (other than Dr. Jeckyll) who "scienced" himself into being, so assigning that character to Donatello makes sense; back when the announcement of Leonardo as the Hunchback made the entire fan community think this line was going to start out fully Frankenstein themed, the popular guess was that Donnie was going to be the Mad Scientist; by making him the Invisible Man, he kind of still is.

Donatello is another Turtle who's switched roles since the Playmates line; whether that's because NECA refuses to duplicate the old toys (unless they have no choice) or because they just felt it would be better, we couldn't say. Playmates did two Universal Monsters crossover series, but Donnie only got to be in the first one (he got replaced by April in Series 2). His role in 1993 was a Dracula; Series 2 did have an Invisible Man, but it was Michaelangelo.

I've never seen Universal's Invisible Man (no pun intended), so all I know of how he looks in that movie is that he wears a smoking jacket or a regular suit. This figure wears cuffed pants, the requisite knee- and elbow-pads, some sort of layered sweater or something, and a large grey overcoat. I couldn't tell you for sure if anything like this appears in the 1933 film, just that if it does, there are no common photos depicting it... and also that the 1994 Invisible Mechaelangelo similarly wore a long coat like this. [the movie version does wear a trenchcoat, at the beginning, when he first makes his way to the Lion's Head inn --ed.]

One feature we can definitely say is unique to Donatello is the back of the figure. Like we so often see, the turtle's shell is treated as a separate item their clothes can go beneath, rather than an attached part of their body - in this case, the entire back shell sits outside his coat, which doesn't make any sense. But we're willing to overlook that, because the shell is completely molded from clear plastic, giving us a hint of what's going on with the character. In a truly goofy move, there are three fully painted slices of pizza visibly floating inside there; now, there's no logical reason something he ate would end up by his shoulders rather than his stomach, but it's still a fun feature.

The Invisible Man's trademark look is a head fully wrapped in bandages, with heavy goggles concealing the eyes, and that's exactly what this figure gives us. The shape of a Turtle's head is unmistakable under those wraps, with its wide cheeks and stumpy snout. The goggles are a separate piece, and while there are eyes sculpted behind them, they're painted solid black, to better suggest empty holes. No, wait, I was wrong: they're not black, the entire head is cast in translucent plastic and the bandages are painted, meaning the eyes only appear black because it's so dark in there! Shine a strong enough light on the plastic and you'll be able to see how it's done.

The set includes a second head, as well. This one is a representation of the first unmasking scene from the movie: it's authentically hollow, with openings for the eyes and mouth allowing a glimpse of the interior. This one also has tufts sticking out the top - in his early efforts to conceal his condition, the Invisible Man went so far as to tuck bits of hair into the bindings to maintain the illusion that he was perfectly normal underneath. A turtle may not have hair, but if Claude Rains' locks were fake, it makes sense that Donnie's would be, as well. You can also put the goggles on this head, though you'll have to work the strap carefully over the hair.

His articulation is usual: swivel/hinge ankles, swivel shins, double-hinged knees, swivels at both the bottom and top of the thigh, balljointed hips, a balljoint waist, swivel/​hinge wrists, double-swivel/​hinge elbows, and swivel/hinge shoulders. There's a barbell joint for the neck, allowing the heads to swap; the fully wrapped head has another between the head and neck, while the partially unwrapped one does not (if there'd been a joint there, it would have been visible inside the bandages). The coat is designed as two pieces, with the top and bottom moving separately. The divide is concealed by his thick belt.

You can decide how Invisible you want Donatello to be, thanks to swappable hands and feet. His feet are always molded from clear plastic, though one pair has bandages wrapped around everything but the toe-tips, while the other is fully bare. The only pair of clear hands are shaped for holding - when it comes to gloved hands, you get your choice of fists, several different holding hands, one fully open, and one pointing. Like we said recently, translucent plastic like this is notoriously brittle and prone to breaking, so hopefully the hands and feet will hold up to play. It should help that the rings in the joints aren't clear, but rather tha same pale gray plastic used for the bandaged parts, and that the pegs where the feet go into the body are so thick.

However, there's a missed opportunity. It would have been nice if they'd given us a fully translucent head, even if it needed to drop one of the joints like the unwrapping head shown above did. We don't have the option of simply displaying the figure without a head, because the neck's joint will be visible, sitting there inside the torso. The clever thing to do would have been to put the balljoint on the bottom of the neck, and put its socket down in the body, rather than joint in the body and socket in the neck: that way there would be nothing to see when you took the heads off, and we wouldn't need a fully clear head. Then finish the look by including a second fedora, made of ABS instead of PVC, with a small clip under the back of the brim that allowed it to attach to the coat's raised collar to make it look like it was "hovering" over the empty space.

When Playmates cast Mikey in this role, he got nunchucks that were actually test tubes, which was pretty clever; the bo staff here doesn't get any sort of special redesign - in fact, you can tell it was just a half-cylinder sculpted digitally and mirrored, because the "wraps" around it are just stripes at odd angles, not an unbroken tape. That's... a quick way of doing it. Maybe Tony Cipriano or Kushwara Studios were about to blow their deadline and just needed to turn something in, fast. Rather than a solid part of the belt to stow the staff on his back, we get actual ribbons tied in knots - unfortunately, they're tied too small for the bo to ever fit into them, so you'll have to untie them and retie them yourself. Yeah, good luck with that. Again, not great. His other accessories include a clear beaker, a microscope, and a journal from TGRI. A far cry from the entire chemistry set 1994 Mikey got! And yeah, this is a great microscope, but... it's just a microscope. It's not, like, a ninja microscope or a built-from-trash microscope, it's just a regular microscope. There's craft in the work, but there's no invention.

It's been a bit since the Casey of the Opera came out, and between then and now it's been revealed that the line is about to lap itself, with new versions of the first two Turtles released, Raphael and Leonardo, on the horizon (a Wolfman and a Gill-man resepctively). Maybe NECA can do what Playmates couldn't, and actually make a second Donatello! Even if they don't, this one is a fun take on the classic movie monster, though they should have been smarter about the neck joint and his non-clothing accessories desperately needed to be more creative.

-- 11/30/23

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