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Splinter as Van Helsing

Universal Monsters x Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
by yo go re

Sure, if anyone is going to be an expert on how diseases spread, it's going to be the rat.

Trouble with monsters? Call the rat with the hat!
Marvel at the razor sharp rodent
Cunning with a crossbow!
He has the tools for taming terrors!
Master of ninjutsu! Hunter of vampires! Slayer of Shredder!

Still love the classic movie-monster-style hyperbole text on the back of all these packages. You can just hear them being read in Ronald Gans' deep, serious voice. (You may not know the name, but you'd definitely recognize him if you heard him; he was the Don LaFontaine of his day, narrating tons of genre movie trailers, including one for the Italian horror film Lady Frankenstein, which lives on today mainly as a footnote for having its trailer [and thus Ron's voice] sampled by Rob Zombie.)

When Playmates made their Universal Monsters/TMNT crossover figures back in the '90s, Splinter didn't get to take part in the fun; there were two series in 1993 and 1994, but April was the only non-Turtle who got monsterfied. But NECA is clever and inventive, so combining TMNT's wise old teacher archetype with Universal's makes sense (even if, as you already know, the original Van Helsing was about the furthest thing from a successful monster-hunter there could possibly be). Pop culture has cast Dr. Van Helsing as the informed mentor, and thus this combination slides together seamlessly.

The previous Movie Splinter sculpt was credited (in its SDCC set debut) to Trevor Zammit and Jason Frailey, but if you remember when Paul Harding defeated the Undertaker at Wrestlemania, he won the right to sculpt every single action figure for every single company. That's why his name just keeps popping up over and over again these past few years. I assume. It's either that or he's got demonstrable talent and has proven himself to have a reliability that means many companies are happy to work with him.

Like the last few releases, Splinter has an alternate head. Both versions sport his long, stringy beard, and both are wearing glasses - so no worries that you'll accidentally confuse them with the standard figure. The difference is one is wearing a hat, and the other is bareheaded. Notches in the hat would allow his ears to poke through... but as this is an amalgam of movie Splinter, he only has one ear! What attention to detail!

Splinter's clothes are a mix of his two classic styles: like the 1990 movie version, he's got the unbleached muslin smock on; but then he's wearing a thick travelling coat above that, and it's done in maroon, calling to mind Animated Splinter and the toy that inspired that. Way to appeal to both fandoms! The jacket has six large buttons and sculpted fur trim around the collar. Beneath it, he wears a scarf that matches his fingerless gloves; above it, he wears a large leather strap to hold his accessories.

What accessories are those? Well, let's start right on the front of the figure, where three round loops are sized to hold wooden stakes. There are no vampires in this line yet, and none have been announced - could this be a clue that Shreddracula is going to join the scene? That could be fun. Next to those is a wider, flatter loop where you can stow the big buck knife, suitable for any number of scary monsters. On the back of the big strap is a quiver you can drop his crossbow bolts into: three normal ones, one with a... blade? Grappling hook? Something... on the tip, and one with three big bulbs of garlic jammed onto it. More vampire foreshadowing! There's nowhere to store his crossbow, so he'll always have to be holding that, so it's a good thing he's got alternate hands to do so. The crossbow has a real (plastic) string on it, and you can even stretch it back far enough to drop into the little notch where it waits to be fired! We wouldn't recommend leaving it there for long - the plastic needs to flex, and could get stretched out over time - but it's a cool feature for the toy to have. There's a single ninja star sculpted into the hat band on that head, though it's not a removable piece.

Splinter has plenty of joints, but his clothes do get in the way of some of them. Like, the head is fine, the arms are fine (the double-swivel/hinged elbows were a little stiff, but they didn't take anything but effort to get them moving), the knees, ankles, and toes are fine... but the lower edge of his robe does flex back against the hips and tail, and the coat means the torso is better at tipping than turning. The tail is bendy, in addition to swiveling and hinging where it meets the body, so if you can't get it to bend far enough for your liking in one pose, try adjusting it up there. All six hands swap easily at the wrist. Stock images show Splinter with his legs fully extended, because that makes the toy look more proportional, but he's meant to be posed with a slight squat. The set includes a small black disc base to help him stand, though he doesn't necessarily need it. I'm pretty sure the feet on my figure have been assembled incorrectly: the toes on the inside of the foot are shorter than the toes on the outside.

NECA's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles x Universal Monsters line won the 2022 Best of the Year award because of its creativity and artistry, and it's excellent that Splinter gets to join in on the fun.

-- 02/23/23

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