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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
by yo go re

In the '80s, two comic creators decided, as a joke, to combine the most popular elements of comics at the time into one book: teenage heroes, mutants, ninjas and talking animals. To their surprise, the resulting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a huge hit, inspiring any number of poor imitators (unless someone wants to argue in favor of the Adolescent Radioactive Kung-Fu Hamsters as "good and original").

The Turtles branched out from their initial comicbook to a kid-friendly version, a cartoon, several movies and an arcade-full of videogames. And, of course, toys. Toys enough to fill many a child's room with various green mutations. Eventually the line's popularity fizzled, as kids my age outgrew the concept and the next generation latched onto Voltron 2 Power Rangers. Like returning home to their sewer at the end of a fight, the Turtles went back to their black and white indie comic, leaving the mainstream success as a thing of the past.

Fox has recently flushed the guys out of hiding, however, with a brand new TMNT cartoon airing Saturday mornings. Of course, no kids' show would be complete without some tie-in merchandise, and Playmates Toys (they of the Simpsons line) were more than happy to oblige. All four turtles are back, as is their master Splinter. On the evil side, Shredder and his Foot Soldiers are ready to stir up some trouble.

If you ever needs something, anything fixed, Donatello is the only Turtle you'll ever need to call. He has the rad ability to know how things work - probably because he's been taking things apart and putting them back together since he was a turtle in diapers. Sure, Donatello likes to act calm and collected, but he can't help himself when it comes to cool technology - he totally flips! When he's not inventing awesome new vehicles like the Battle Shell or turbo-charged Sewer Slider, Donatello loves to kick butt with his lightning-fast Bo Staff.

You know, if you're naming your characters after Renaissance artists, why on earth would you not name the inventor "Leonardo"? Does no one appreciate a good art-geek joke any more?

Don's always been my favorite Turtle, possibly because he wore the purple mask. Of course, he also had the coolest weapon; while Leonardo's katana may be flashier and Raphael's sais more exotic, there's just nothing more versatile than a simple fighting staff. So he's the smartest one, has the best fashion sense and the coolest weapon? How could I not like him?

While the Turtles weren't screaming for an update the way some older lines were, the passage of time really does make you forget how much things suck. At nearly 4¾" tall, the new figures are taller than their late-80s counterparts and a bit more stylized. They have all the same articulation (neck, shoulders, elbows, wrists and hips) though their shoulders are now swivel/hinge jointed, which does give them a bit more poseability.

In the original comic, all four turtles wore the same red masks. Since that would never play to kids (or to parents buying toys), the cartoon gave each of the guys a signature color on their masks and pads. The new toys keep the unique masks, but the knee and elbow pads are all the same brown. Gone also are the monogrammed belt buckles, replaced with simple knotted sashes. I do miss Don's one over-the-shoulder strap, but only Leo gets one of those.

The sculpting is quite good, looking for all the world like an anthropomorphic turtle. The muscles aren't as "cut" as they were in the first line, and the shell is more detailed. He's got more of a smirk on his face than the angry grimace of old, and the ties on his mask are longer. Each of the guys has a unique shade of green, and while Don isn't quite as brown as he used to be, he's still the darkest.

One of biggest leaps forward is with the weapons. Back in the day, each Turtle came with a plastic "tree" frame of weapons. They were all flat brown, with no paint detailing. I don't know if Playmates was expecting 10-year-olds to paint their own accessories, but the weapons never looked too good. With this new line, however, we finally get some paint apps. Don comes with two bos, as well as two oversized throwing stars. At least in the '80s the turtles' fingers were separate, so you could put a shuriken in between; today we don't even have that luxury. Don also has two "ninja weapon caps," bladed weapons that fit on the end of the bo.

The new cartoon is quite good, sticking closer to the tone of the original comics. The toys are a nice update, if not one that was totally necessary. I credit TMNT with sparking my fondness for collecting anthropomorphic figures, though I don't think I'll be getting much from this line beyond Donatello. I still have every TMNT figure I got the first time around, after all.

-- 03/11/03

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