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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

by Rustin Parr

The world was stunned at the revelation of a second machine! If by which I mean "NECA's comic-inspired Ninja Turtle action figures" rather than "machine," which is in and of itself lends to an oddly decided upon reference to the film Contact. But as if well-articulated, excellently-painted and incredibly detailed figures of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles weren't enough, NECA released an image early on of a Turtle painted white with blank highlights - a figure that is a literal representation of the first black and white comic adventures of the beloved Turtles. Needless to say fans went a bit more berserk and have been eagerly awaiting the repaints for months! Well, thanks to San Diego Comic-Con 2008, 500 of us attendees scored an excellent sneak peek at what's in store.

In a nice bit of self-reflexivity, NECA mirrored their exclusive TMNT boxset for New York Comic Con '08 with this set by creating the only boxset in which all four Turtles, all of their accessories and all of their bases were available together in one package - only at SDCC everything was black and white, rather than in beautiful color (the wonder of the new age). Included with the set, which was a limited run of only 500, were two glossy cards - one with an image of the TMNT next to a big black space signed by Peter Laird and the other a return-visit stub for a limited Kevin Eastman signing.

The Eastman signing was broken into four groups and each colored-coded by the turtles cartoon-created colored bandanas. I must now confess to you, beloved reader, that I was so swept up in the chaos what is SDCC that I did not make it back for Eastman ("he came from the east to do battle with the great Rando!" [free toy for the first person who posts the source of the reference on the message board --ed.]) but you know what? I'm fine with that 'cause I still got some pretty awesome toys!

These figures, accessories and bases are all pure repaints so I'll leave the bulk of the sculpt/articulation/etc. to Poe's review. But suffice it to say these are great figures.

So, again, these figures are black and white, which is pretty cool and is the first time to my knowledge that any collectable of a color franchise has been purely black and white. Usually it's more of a grayscale, like McFarlane's Marv figure or NECA's own Sin City figures. The pure/clean treatment is really in keeping with the style of the figures and the romanticized roots of the franchise. I say romanticized because it is my understanding that the original comics were in fact also in more of a grayscale tone, black and white with gray shading, but my good friend yo go re will confirm or deny via parenthesis provided (do whatnow? --yo). Perhaps this could lend itself to another cool repaint down the road but these definitely represent a more iconic look for the turtles.

Everything is cast in pure white plastic with details highlighted with lines of black paint absolutely identical to the black line work on the standard figures. In fact, you can't help but marvel at how little was needed to make product that looks so radically different. Really, all NECA had to do was make another run of the turtles but using nothing but white plastic, cancel all the colored paint, and then voila! Remarkably different product for less money and less work - though of course none of the savings are passed on to the consumer. I am perfectly fine with that last bit because A) I'm sure that extra income will carry over to support/subsidize future waves of figures (that can't all reuse the same body like the Turtles can) and 2) these figures are just so darn cool and unique they're worth it!

There is really only one downside to the figures, and that is inconsistent whiteness. The Turtles use two different kinds of plastic, a harder kind - ABS - for body parts and the like, and a softer kind - PVC - at articulation and for clothing to allow for better flexibility. It is near impossible to match colors identically between kinds of plastic and, unfortunately, white is the most telltale shade for hue variation. As a result the front shell, the belt, the bandana and the kneepads are all have a yellow tinge to them as compared to the rest of the figure. It's a subtle enough variance that it doesn't photograph well but is present enough in person to be noticeable. The off-whiteness is best described as having the look of glow-in-the-dark plastic when viewed in daylight.

The figures in this boxset come with all the same accessories as the first batch of clamshelled figures and NYCC boxset, which includes throwing knives, ninja stars, a TCRI Mutagen canister, baby turtles, and a pair of interchangeable hands for each turtle featuring ninja climbing grips. They're all cast in white with black highlights to match the rest of the figures. While the interchangeable hands are cool, I really do have to ask: why four pairs? These figures reuse everything but the heads amongst each other so their trademark weapons and character-specific extra accessories are a big help to differentiate the boys, but different extra hands would have been much cooler than the same set of hands over and over.

And while they're neat extras, I can't imagine anyone really keeping the clawed-hands on the figure/s indefinitely. Since the claws are cast in soft, rubbery plastic it'd have been much cooler to have just the sculpted open hands with removable rubber claws. Or two different sets of hand poses (two turtles have one kind, the other two have the other), if not each having their own. Since the hands are all interchangeable between the Turtles this would have allowed for much more variation. As is, the extra hands seem like a bit of a waste all things considered. I definitely would prefer them to nothing, but there just isn't much display value to them, sadly.

Beyond the inclusion of the character-specific accessories, what really sets this box apart from any future release is that it will be the only multi-pack to feature any of the bases, which can interconnect to create a street diorama. There are two different bases that are differentiated by added sculptural details that ensure lots of variety off of two standard molds (if only the same approach was applied to the hands...).

Base A is a slab of sidewalk. It comes littered in trash, like any self respecting New York sidewalk. It has a single peg for a figure on the left and a half-circle indentation on the right. For one section it has a fire hydrant that plugs in while the other has a three-piece (base, pole, arm/light) streetlight. The streetlight is practically the only thing identical to the color version. Originally NECA wanted to do the colored streetlight in a blue and yellow scheme, but Laird referred them back to early color art in which the lamps where all white and requested they go with that scheme instead.

Now, I say "practically" identical because, while this version is cast in white plastic, the colored version is painted a dull gray/white. The front of each sidewalk panel has a section of peg holes that will connect it to the other style of base - street. Sadly, though, there is no way to interconnect sidewalk sections, so your street will always be street-and-sidewalk sections resting next to one another. Its not really a problem, but it would definitely have been appreciated.

Base B is, as mentioned, a section of filthy, trashy, stained New York street. Like its sidewalk brethren, the street too has a single foot peg on the left with a semi-circle indentation just front and right of center. One section has a small collection of wood planks while the other, a stylized sewer lid attached to that orifice. There are also two small indentations on either side of the middle peg hole, assumably also for some future attachment. To complement the sidewalk's peg holes, the base has a recessed strip with a row of pegs, to interlock with the sidewalk.

All told, NECA's Black and White Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles prove the point that paint is a crucial element of action figures. The standard, color Turtles are astounding due to the complexity and subtlety of their paint, while the black and white ones succeed equally from the minimalism and intricate line work. Granted, with nothing but white as a background, imperfections in the black paint will be magnified, so you'll definitely want to visually inspect these before you purchase. Unlike other companies these days, though, NECA seems to be consistently improving their Quality Control after several major dips last year, and besides, any little inconsistencies in the black paint will only make the figure more "free hand," more like the comics from which they are inspired.


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