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Neca 1/4 Scale TMNT Movie Leonardo

IMG_1387NECA is now 3/4 of the way through the release schedule of their TMNT 1990 movie line with the release of Leonardo – the REAL leader of the group. And like Donatello and Raphael before him, he’s a pretty impressive specimen.

The original 1990 movie impossibly never had dedicated action figures. Playmates half-assed a line in recent years that didn’t seem like it committed to being a representation of either of the first two films and tried to have it both way, similar to how their own “classic” turtles were an amalgamation of the original cartoon and toy line. These giant figures from NECA have done an admirable job of filling that void, and while I do wish they came in a friendlier scale, I can’t deny how awesome these 16″ behemoths look.

Leonardo has all of the same articulation as his two brothers and that’s primarily because he’s essentially the same figure with a different head and belt. Of the three I have thus far received, I found Leo to be the easiest to pose right out of the box as his joints were pretty nimble and I never felt like I was in danger of breaking anything. His ab crunch however, hidden underneath the shell, is a little loose compared with Raph and similar to my Donatello. This means he has a tendency to pitch forward slightly and it’s hard to get his head to look straight out in front of him. The rest of his joints are tight and accommodating and the paint applications are flawless on my turtle. His belt is film accurate featuring two thing strips of leather crossing his chest from his right shoulder. I have no idea if the sheaths on the back of his shell are film accurate since you never really get a good look at them onscreen, but they look fine to me.

Leonardo naturally comes equipped with his twin katana. They’re very light which kind of surprised me and I do worry some about their durability. Currently, I’m a little scared that he’s going to fall off of my shelf and snap his blades, but hopefully that does not happen. They look pretty accurate to the film, and even have the octagonal hand guards and taped hilts. The film makes them seem a bit more dingy and worn, but that could just as easily have more to do with the lighting of the picture than anything. I can’t deny they look good, and their length seems spot on. Leonardo also comes with the same set of extra hands as Raphael. I’m a little disappointed that his pointing hand isn’t the reverse of Raph’s. He also comes with the same slice of pizza as the other two, but surprisingly he also comes with a canister of that famous ooze. Unlike the canister that came with Donatello, this one does not feature the crack from which the ooze leaked out and thereby justifying its existence. This means Leonardo comes with more accessories than brothers, though not by much. I would have preferred extra pizza to complete a pie, but oh well. Maybe Mikey will comes with that, though I doubt it since his weapons are probably the most costly to produce.

Aside from that, there isn’t much more to say since he’s fundamentally the same figure as the other two I’ve already reviewed. The only real downside to that is Leo should be a little taller than his brothers, and Mikey should be noticeably shorter (we’ll see how that turns out later), but it’s not egregious. The head sculpt looks fantastic and captures that grim seriousness embodied by the character in the film. The likeness is flawless, and I’m really glad to have this version of my favorite turtle upon my shelf. I very much look forward to completing this set when Michelangelo ships later this summer.

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NECA 1/4 Scale TMNT Movie Raphael

1200x-Raph9-It took awhile, but I finally have my hands on the second turtle from NECA’s 1/4 scale series of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles based on the original film. Raphael was released back in February, but I left the preordering of this series to my wife who saw them as gifts for basically the coming year for me. My wife, bless her, is not someone who normally orders such things and she ordered from a site I had never heard of that ended up not getting Raph in when they were supposed to, so what was originally planned as a Valentine’s Day present turned into a June birthday gift. Fear not though, I have since clued her in to better vendors so my actual birthday present (Leonardo) should be arriving soon, as I know you are all waiting with bated breath for my reviews.

If you read my review for Donatello way back in January, then you should already be pretty familiar with Raph. Structurally, he’s essentially the same figure as Don as both make use of the same parts. This is both good and bad as it means the things that are great about Don are shared by Raph, and the not so great things are as well. That’s sort of the “curse” of being a TMNT collector as you basically buy the same figure four times, but it’s hard to argue against the practicality of the release.

 

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way before getting to the good. This is a big figure, being 1/4 scale, so he’s also pretty heavy. Being heavy means he needs tough joints or else his arms and legs would be too flimsy for posing. This also means some of the joints are really hard to work, and the cumbersome nature of a turtle shell doesn’t make things any easier. My Raph has a particularly troublesome left shoulder that’s hard to get the socket to work right so that he can lift his arm. There’s definitely some “breaking-in” required for these figures, but since they’ll end up running you over $100, there’s a reluctance to work the joints too hard out of fear of breaking them. While Raph possesses an abundance of articulation, it’s not the most functional articulation out there and the pictures you see in this post are essentially the only poses I was comfortable creating.

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Hey, brother!

These figures are also somewhat minimalist when it comes to included accessories. Raph, by virtue of having two weapons, actually has one more accessory than his brother Don. Don came with five extra hands, a canister of ooze, and a slice of pizza in addition to his bo staff. Raph comes with six extra hands and a slice of pizza to go with his twin sai. Strangely, one set of extra hands is identical to his stock hands so I guess you can break and/or lose a set before you’ll be missing anything. Raph has one unique hand gesture compared with Don, a finger-pointing left hand that can be used to hold his sai in a unique way or use as a gesture. He famously gestures to his holstered sai when confronting a pair of muggers in the film, though sadly his range of motion can’t quite recreate that one. This is consistent with Don who has a thumb’s up hand gesture that Raph does not. The slice of pizza included with Raph is the same as the one Don came with, right down to the placement of the black olives. Laying them side by side, it looks like we’ll need four additional pieces to make a complete pizza so I wonder if Mikey will come with some extra slices when he’s released this fall. The missing accessory here is obviously Raph’s trench coat, hat, and backpack he sports in the film when he heads out to a movie. I can understand why NECA didn’t include such as it would probably be a substantial cost addition, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss it.

 

Raph primarily differentiates himself from Don with his head sculpt. One my favorite aspects of the original film is how the costume designers, the without peer Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, made sure each turtle looked unique. It was really the first time you could tell the turtles apart without their weapons or colored masks, even though they never remove their masks in the film. NECA did a great job with Don, and maybe a better job with Raph. His facial expression perfectly captures his beady eyes and that tough, but sympathetic, aspect of his character. A more serious expression works better for Raph than it did the more jokey Donatello, so it was probably easy for NECA to settle on a facial expression than it was Don. The “tails” on Raph’s mask are also of the same cloth-like material used for Don’s. The color matching between the tails and sculpted plastic of the mask is well done and it’s a nice, authentic, shade of red. The material adds a little personality to the ends of the mask that sculpted plastic can’t replicate. As I mentioned before, aside from the head sculpt the body is basically the same as Don’s. The freckles are different, and I don’t know if they’re just randomized for each turtle or if they match to the actual costumes in the film. Raph’s shell also sports significantly more ware and tear than Don’s, implying he’s probably been in more fights than his brother which certainly fits with his character. The musculature of his limbs is the same though, with an added vein here and there. His belt rides lower, as it did in the film, and the sai fit off to the side just fine, though I find angling them in the same manner as they are on the back of his box a little tricky. And that box, which resembles the original movie poster and VHS release of the film, is a nice way to display the figure for those who do not like to open their toys. I also love how the NECA logo on the rear of the box resembles the old f.h.e. logo of the home video release of the old cartoon.

 

NECA’s Raphael is every bit as good as Donatello which came first and which figure is better is probably determined by personal preference for the characters. Raphael was basically the star of the first film, and it’s great to see him brought to life like this. The 1/4 scale may not be for everyone (he stands over 16″ tall), but it’s hard to deny the level of detail the format allows. Licensing agreements with Nickelodeon and Playmates, who has held the main TMNT toy license since the cartoon was launched, prevent NECA from doing what they want with the license, but it’s clear the company has a love for the franchise. The price, which basically starts at $99.99 but is sometimes priced higher by other merchants, is also steep, but at least the release of each turtle has been spread out to help minimize the impact of such an expensive purchase. The figures are impractical, but if you loved the original film as much as I did, then you can probably talk yourself into collecting this line.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection Vol. 4

1336705It’s been hard for me to find the time to sit down at the computer and contribute to this blog since becoming a dad in the spring of 2015. It has become especially hard as my offspring has learned to crawl, and then walk. Even so, that event occurred well after I posted my review of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:  The Ultimate Collection Vol. 3 in January 2013. Hopefully, no one has been sitting around waiting for this post since then, but at long last, I’m finally getting around to reviewing volume 4 of The Ultimate Collection.

For the uninitiated, The Ultimate Collection is a five volume set of hardcover, oversized comic book compilations chronicling the early years for the TMNT and collecting only the works of their original creators:  Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. The comics are presented in their original black and white with new cover art and liner notes by both creators. As someone who primarily experienced the Turtles as a kid via the cartoon and the films, I wanted to get this collection to experience firsthand the genesis of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

If you go back and read my review of Volume 3, you will notice I apparently took a long time in getting to that one as well. That was due to my lack of enthusiasm towards the product. For Volume 4, much is the same, unfortunately. Though I should point out right off the bat that Volume 4 is a better read than 3 as it compiles the last major arc of the original run:  City at War. Volume 3 concluded with the re-death of The Shredder and Volume 4 picks up right where that one left off with the two-part Shades of Gray plot commencing in Issue 48. This volume runs in perfect continuity as it contains issues 48-55 as it represents a point in time where Eastman and Laird both had a renewed interest in the comic and a desire to put a finishing touch, of sorts, on everything before going their separate ways.

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This encounter ends up making a large impact on Casey Jones.

Shades of Gray focuses on the Return to New York fallout and takes stock of where all of the main characters are presently at, in terms of their frame of mine. The Turtles return back to North Hampton but intend to return to New York after consulting with Splinter. Splinter is not coming with them, and Donatello wrestles with where his place is. Meanwhile, Casey is returning to his vigilante routes and accidentally takes a life in self defense, which gets the attention of Nobody, another vigilante introduced in the Tales of TMNT stories. Casey is spared, with some help from the Turtles, but is a wreck in the aftermath. April is also shown as lost and decides she needs to leave, especially with Casey being so distant. There’s some nice attention paid to Donatello as the story succeeds in giving his character a little more color than usual and he and Casey have a poignant encounter in the woods nearby.

Shades of Gray is basically a setup for City at War as it sets all of the characters out in new directions. April, searching for a fresh start, heads west to LA where her older sister Robyn resides. The Turtles head to New York, and Casey resolves to go after April after he clears his head. City at War also welcomes back Eastman and Laird to the artist’s chair for issue 1. Aside from that though, all of the pencils are handled by Jim Lawson in this collection. Eastman and Laird’s crowded, cross-hatching heavy art lends itself well to the congested city setting and their take on the Turtles is a welcomed return. Their still pretty amateurish when it comes to illustrating the human characters, in particular April, but overall I enjoy their artwork the most in this collection. It’s a shame it’s only for one issue.

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City at War Part 1 marks the return of Eastman and Laird as artists.

The City at War arc is primarily focused on the Turtles and their place in the New York community. They take on a Batman like role upon their initial return which frustrates Raph. The other brothers confide in one another that they’re unsure of what their place is and Leo has the hardest time with it and struggles with his role as leader for much of the collection. Meanwhile, the Foot Clan is in disarray and has splintered off into multiple factions. We see a rag-tag group of the ninjas mostly making trouble, but also a more sophisticated faction that targets the others financially via cyber warfare. And then there’s the Japan faction which is teased throughout the entire collection. They’re lead by Karai, who finally reaches New York by issue 55, but her presence isn’t felt until Volume 5. The Foot Elite are also around making trouble, and their allegiance is unclear. One encounter seems to place their allegiance still firmly with their deceased master making them a chaotic force simply out for revenge. It’s also unclear how large their numbers are, but considering they’re the elite force, probably few.

April’s adventures in LA are shown and they’re dull by comparison. Her scenarios often retread familiar ground as she still feels lost and without a home even with her sister and her sister’s young son. Robyn is the foil who tries to get April to loosen up, have fun, meet a guy, and so on. She humors her sister, to a point, and shows some genuine enthusiasm in the upcoming Christmas celebration she’ll be able to share with her sister, but not a lot happens.

Casey, on the other hand, gets sidetracked out in New Mexico when his truck gets stolen. He falls in with a waitress named Gabby, and the two quickly become an item. When Gabby confesses to Casey that she’s four months pregnant, he seems to find some new purpose for himself. The scenes between the two are hard to get a read on as Casey becomes consumed by this new role for himself. Does he genuinely have feelings for Gabby or is he too just looking for some new purpose for himself? Someone to take care of and protect?

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AC Fairly handles the covers and he prefers a “chunky” kind of turtle that I’m not particularly fond of.

It hurts that Eastman and Laird aren’t the most gifted storytellers or script writers. There’s a lot of groan-inducing dialogue, some intentional as Casey is basically a lunkhead, throughout the two more grounded arcs. The parts with the Turtles have minimal dialogue at times. It is frustrating to see, that after such a strong character-driven opening with Shades of Gray, that the Turtles mostly return to their personality-less roles for City at War. Only Leo and Raph are given room to show-off their personalities, which has become a reoccurring problem for the books as a whole. Mikey is the most criminally overlooked as his comic book counterpart has almost no defining characteristics beyond his weapons. Perhaps it was an unintentional reaction to his oversized personality everywhere else that Eastman and Laird chose to keep the spotlight away from him.

Not to be forgotten, is the Splinter arc which is mostly small, but contains a nice reveal at its end in this collection. Another Tales of TMNT character makes their main-line debut and one that is familiar to longtime TMNT fans. The setup is done well and I really enjoyed the brief depiction of this character. Hopefully it pays off in Volume 5.

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Lawson’s version of the Turtles is not one of my favorites.

As I mentioned before, Jim Lawson handles almost all of the pencils in this collection and it was the reason I grew so disinterested in the volume to begin with. I do not enjoy his take on the Turtles. They’re blocky and his art is sometimes sloppy. I’m mostly okay with his April, even if she seems to not have any of the physical traits of the Eastman and Laird version, and his Casey is fine. His backgrounds are a lot less crowded which works for some of the action scenes but sometimes there’s an emptiness to them. Perhaps the over-sized format draws more attention to all of the white space. He does have some awkward transitions where he tries to convey too much motion on one page, but at least he’s not beholden to the traditional panel approach. There’s also an overuse of splash pages in issues 54 and 55 that feel like filler. Even Laird admits in the liner notes he’s not sure why they went with so many. Lawson’s art does shine some in issue 54 when he gets to depict a cloaked Mikey in the snow. For some reason, the snow is abandoned in the following issue. I guess they had a heat wave.

The cover art and some of the interior art is new and handled by Eastman. It’s in line with the other collections, though not my favorite. I think the back cover would have been better off as the front as it depicts the Turtles surrounded by Foot Ninjas which is a nice representation of what’s contained inside. Otherwise though, it’s fine. The liner notes feel more substantial here as well, especially from Laid. Eastman is still too in love with everything they did while Laird is a little more critical. The quality of the set is once again very high and there’s little to complain about there. The pages are nice and thick and the whole set has a nice weight to it.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles continues to be a mostly action-oriented affair. The attempts at actual story-telling work better here than they did in some of the other issues, but a lot of it is also cliche and amateurish. No one picks up a TMNT comic expecting Shakespeare though, and there are some genuinely good bits of character development contained in these issues. I just wish they had a better artist.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Nickelodeon) Season 2

TMNTThe resurgence of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been one of the more fun story lines from pop culture for me over the past two years. With an all new comic line, cartoon, and feature film, the TMNT are almost as relevant today as they were in 1990. Considering other old properties from the 80’s have been successfully resurrected recently, perhaps it’s not all that surprising the Turtles were able to accomplish the same. What has been surprising though is how successful the relaunch has been from an artistic standpoint. The general consensus for the vast majority of new films based on properties from the 80’s is that the material has been lacking. While no one can dispute how commercially successful a franchise like the Transformers has been for Hollywood, the movies themselves come across as overstuffed toy commercials. Like the Transformers, the return to the big screen for the Turtles was decidedly lacking when the new film was released in 2014 (I’d call the film trash but I personally have not watched it and don’t plan to). However, the comic book line launched in 2012 has been pretty well-received while the television show has been a smashing success.

When the cartoon was announced by Nickelodeon I was not optimistic about its chances at success. I was borderline indifferent, but my past romance with the Turtles was enough to make me curious. I set the DVR to record season one, and by its end, I was a fan. The show is witty, action-packed, and stuffed with enough in-jokes and material to appeal to 30-somethings who grew up with the Turtles. The cartoon successfully melds the old cartoon with the comic books while also taking its own path. The 2003 cartoon attempted the same, but was probably too reliant on the original Mirage comics. The old comics are an entertaining read, though nothing magical, but they do not possess an energy that lends itself well to animation. While on the other hand, the original cartoon was set on creating a fun series that appealed only to children. It never put the characters in any real danger and would eventually lose its audience as it grew up and acquired an appetite for more mature material. When the show finally made an attempt at change, it was too late.

What's old is new.

What’s old is new.

Like with season one, season two of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opts for a more serialized nature with plots carrying over from one episode into another with few stand-alone episodes and characters. When a stand-alone episode does pop up, it serves as a palette cleanser from the main plot and is often a more offbeat episode. Most of these episodes are packed with humor with season two’s “Mazes & Mutants” topping the list of funniest TMNT episodes so far. The writers have found a nice balance in the humor for the show with it coming up at opportune times and resisting the urge to go for the easiest joke or pun. The show is genuinely funny, but it also knows when to let up on the humor and isn’t overly-reliant on the Michelangelo character.

Season two picks up right where season one left off with The Kraang being beaten back temporarily. Shredder and The Kraang have appeared to have forged an alliance, and an early mishap with a canister of mutagen mutates April’s father, Kirby, into a bat monster causing tension between the Turtles and their lone human friend. Meanwhile, Splinter (and this is a spoiler for those who missed season one) is coming to terms with the fact that his daughter is alive and well but has been brainwashed by the Shredder into believing she is actually the daughter of the Foot Clan’s leader and not Splinter. These two threads, April’s distrust of the Turtles and Karai’s lineage, are major plot points for the bulk of season two. The Karai plot twist could be seen coming from a mile away, but it was still effective as the writers handle it well. Karai naturally does not react well when the truth is first presented to her, and her response to it is complicated and appropriately remains unresolved for several episodes. The Kraang maintain a healthy presence throughout the season as well, often playing a role in a small way in most of the episodes. The season concludes with another big face-off between the Turtles and Kraang and it would seem the alien race will not be going anywhere anytime soon.

Casey Jones and Raph team-up yet again.

Casey Jones and Raph team-up yet again.

Season two introduces several characters, old and new. As was revealed in press kits, Casey Jones made his series debut in season two. Like April, he has been aged-down for the show from his original depiction but remains a vigilante of sorts. And like the Casey of old, he forms a bond with Raph pretty quickly and the two are a crime-fighting duo in some episodes. And as predicted by me (and likely many others), Casey forms the third corner of a pseudo love triangle with Donatello over April. Naturally, April is more taken with the human and this creates tension between Don and Casey that is sometimes entertaining, and sometimes feels a little stuffy, but is one of the ongoing aspects of the show that serves to remind the audience that these characters are, in fact, teenagers after all. Other characters familiar to fans of the old show that make their debut in season two include Slash, Mutagen Man, and Pizza Face while other characters are obvious references to old ones (Kirby bares an uncanny resemblance to Wingnut, for example). The show also does a good job of hinting at future characters. When a thief with a purple mohawk shows up it’s only natural for fans of the old show to assume this character has a date with a warthog and some mutagen in his future.

Don't be surprised if Kirby's Party Wagon gets a make-over in season 3.

Don’t be surprised if Kirby’s Party Wagon gets a make-over in season 3.

My main point of criticism with the show early on was for its lifeless take on the city of New York, and while the show has done a better job of making it look like people actually inhabit this city, it’s still a relevant criticism for season two. The character designs though have improved. Some of the villains in season one were pretty boring to look at, and that has mostly been remedied (though some are underwhelming, I’m looking at you Tiger Claw). There’s very little for me to complain about when it comes to this show. The writers have also wisely made the Foot Clan robots in season two (and not just randomly, it’s explained in an episode) so the Turtles are free to user their weapons against them. The more graphic violence is handled offscreen, but the consequences are shown. When Leonardo gets isolated from his brothers in the season finale and beat-up by Shredder, we don’t see any of Shredder’s bladed strikes landing. However, when an unconscious Leo is tossed through the window in April’s apartment where the other turtles are holed up (awesome reference to the comic and original film, by the way) his body is cut and bruised.

Just like with season one, season two does a great job of tossing in winks and nods to the old material that came before it. They’re sometimes hidden in the background and other times in your face (the party wagon!). Shredder remains a credible threat to the Turtles throughout the season and is a more than competent ass-kicker when pressed into battle. And while the April plot is resolved during the season, the other big ones are still open heading into season three. The season concluded with an hour long special that was perhaps the best in the show’s short existence thus far. It was satisfying on an emotional level while also delivering the humor and action the show has become known for. I’m even more enthusiastic for the show’s third season than I was the second (aside from the fact that Seth Green is set to takeover the voice-acting duties for Leonardo). If you were a fan of the Turtles in your youth and still have a fondness for them residing somewhere inside of you then you should be watching this show.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) Season One Review

nick_tmnt_wallpaper1280x1024_02Back in September of 2012, Nickelodeon unveiled the newest incarnation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in a one-hour season premiere.  On August 8th, 2013, the first season came to a close with a one-hour season finale.  The symmetrical first season had its ups and downs, but no one can deny it was a smashing success from a commercial standpoint as Nickelodeon has already commissioned a second and third season.  Once again, the Turtles franchise has proven that it’s harder to squish than a cock roach as it rolls on into its fourth decade of cultural relevance.  Such was likely never predicted of the franchise back when it burst onto the scene in the late 1980’s.  I would be willing to bet most adults viewed it as the latest flavor of the month they had to endure to keep their kids happy as toys and various other merchandise was consumed by the millions.  Perhaps more importantly to fans, the first season of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was not only a commercial success, but a creative one as well as it successfully melded the various depictions of the Turtles over the years into an all new show.

I watched and wrote about the season premiere when it first aired and described my reaction as tempered enthusiasm towards the show.  That would eventually be replaced with full-on enthusiasm as I set my DVR to record each new episode (which became a challenge to keep track of as the broadcast schedule was all over the place) to watch at my leisure.  The show got better as the weeks rolled by and the writers seemed to become more comfortable with the characters.  A lot of the humor early on missed the mark but eventually the show found its groove in that department and routinely was able to bring a smile to my face.  The show also introduced a major plot thread that was woven through the entire first season revolving around the alien race known as the Kraang which helped make the show feel more significant for regular viewers.  I’ve always been a big fan of this approach for television over stand-alone episodes.

The Rat King was one of the better redesigns for the show.

The Rat King was one of the better redesigns for the show.

That’s not to say the show didn’t have stand-alone episodes here and there.  And quite frankly, that was when the show was its most uninteresting.  There was a period in the early part of the season where each episode felt like The Villain of the Week where some poor soul would be mutated into a monster the Turtles had to stop.  There was still humor to be found in these episodes and some nice action, but there was little lasting appeal.  Some of these monsters were also severely lacking in the personality department, both in a behavioral sense and visually speaking.  That is definitely one area where the old cartoon still reigns supreme as the villains often had a pretty interesting and fun look to them.  That was probably due to Playmates wanting a fun toy to market, but it worked.  The show did get better as the season went along, with one of my favorite looks for a villain popping up towards the end in the form of a newt with a Punisher-like pattern to his spots.

Overall, when compared with the old cartoon, the show was less reliant on guest spots and was content to rely primarily on a core group of characters.  The Shredder, obviously, was a big part of the first season even if he was secondary to the Kraang threat.  The writers wisely kept him out of action though, which made the episodes where he took up arms against the Turtles extra special.  He’s also a total bad ass when in combat, a far cry from the bumbling Shredder of the 80’s or even the original comic book Shredder who is famously decapitated by Leonardo at the end of the series’ first book.  This Shredder still retains his old look but with more black and bigger blades.  He’s also far more scarred than any other as his face has been badly burned and he appears to be blind in one eye.  Like the old Shredder, this one also has two mutant henchmen:  Dogpound and Fishface.  While these two are not as stupid as Bebop and Rocksteady, they’re not any more successful and are often beaten back by the Turtles.  Baxter Stockman also falls in with the Shredder during season one and provides him with some heightened technology.  Karai, Shredder’s daughter, is also introduced as a bit of tweener villain in that she has a bit of a friendship with Leonardo which serves as the backbone for a series of episodes during the middle part of the first season.  Other characters familiar to longtime fans also show up, such as Leatherhead and the Rat King, sporting new designs and new personalities.  I particularly enjoyed the new design for the Rat King and thought he was among the best of the villains shown off.  I hope to see more of him in the future.

The Karai/Leo subplot was one of the more interesting parts of season one.

The Karai/Leo subplot was one of the more interesting parts of season one.

On the Turtle front, the cast basically stayed the same throughout the first season.  A lot of old favorites were brought back though such as a new take on the Turtle Van which is now a subway car.  The Turtles retain their signature personality traits but they feel more honest this time around.  Raphael, for example, doesn’t just get pissed-off because he’s supposed to and Leonardo is far from being an emotionless robot.  All of them have strengths and weaknesses, and for the most part, they also feel like teenagers.

Of particular enjoyment for long-time fans were all of the little easter eggs and throwbacks inserted into this series.  Metalhead was brought back as a robot constructed by Donatello.  He looks fairly similar to the old one, only much smaller.  There’s even a spot during the episode were one of the bran-like Kraang latches onto his head, which I have to believe is a nod to the original action figure’s sculpted brain.  The leader of the Kraang also inhabits a giant robot body and the antenna on its head evokes images of Krang’s body from the old cartoon.  Little things like that go a long way towards pleasing the older fans and trying to spot them is part of the enjoyment in watching the show for me.  The Technodrome is also introduced during the season finale, and the long-awaited Splinter vs Shredder confrontation takes place as well.  There’s a big reveal in the season finale that I think anyone familiar with the franchise saw from a mile away, but it was still done well and, despite being predictable, is actually a new direction for an old character.

The Donatello/April relationship could have felt forced, but the writers have handled it well and I'm actually curious to see where it goes (expect Casey Jones to eventually butt-in).

The Donatello/April relationship could have felt forced, but the writers have handled it well and I’m actually curious to see where it goes (expect Casey Jones to eventually butt-in).

From an artistic standpoint, the show animates quite well and is far superior to the DC CG cartoons currently airing on Cartoon Network.  The city streets of New York remained pretty barren for the whole of season one with some signs of life in the finale, but otherwise the show looks good.  I like the fact that each turtle has his own shape and anatomy instead of basically looking exactly like the others with the exception of the mask.

All in all, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a good show that strikes the perfect balance between action and comedy.  The story-telling was also better than could be expected and the writing staff will have a hard time topping season one.  Its start reminds me quite a bit of the 2003 cartoon which, for me anyway, fell off quite a bit in the second season and seasons to follow.  Hopefully this show doesn’t meet the same fate.  Because season one was spread out over so many months, the wait for season two to begin is actually a fairly brief one as its set to kick off in late September.  This version of the Turtles may not be violent like the originals, or say “Cowabunga!” like the old toons, but they have a chance to go down as the best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles yet!


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection Vol. 3

Wrap-around cover of Volume 3, notice the little robots holding the black space where the barcode goes.  Nice touch!

Wrap-around cover of Volume 3, notice the little robots holding the black space where the barcode goes. Nice touch!

I’ve been rather slow lately when it comes to posts, and especially so with getting to this one in particular.  I can’t even remember when volume 3 of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Ultimate Collection arrived at my front door but I do know it was several months ago.  I’ve put off posting on it in part because I made a couple of other Turtles related posts in the interim and just plain laziness.

I suppose it would be fair to say that had I been blown away by what I saw and read in volume 3 that I would have posted sooner.  Volume 3 is a bit of a mixed bag and not as strong as the two preceding it.  The collection contains issues 12, 14, 15, 17, and 19-21.  The first four are one-shot stories that Eastman and Laird were involved with to varying degrees while the last three cover the “Return to New York” plot jointly worked on by the two.  At this point, the TMNT franchise was much bigger elsewhere and the original comics were starting to feel like an afterthought.  Playmates and the networks that aired the cartoon probably weren’t crazy about the idea of kids (and parents) stumbling onto these more violent turtles while the creators were suffering from turtle-induced burnout.  Simply put, the money wasn’t in the comics and it was in part out of obligation that Eastman and Laird continued with them.  Their working relationship had also soured, meaning they worked on few issues together and instead relied on the talents of guys like Jim Lawson and Steve Lavigne.  If you’re wondering why there appears to be some missing issues in this collection, it’s because Eastman and Laird didn’t work on them at all.  This Ultimate Collection represents the Eastman/Laird era and is set to conclude with volume 5, which will presumably arrive in the fall (volume 4 is currently scheduled to start shipping at the end of March).

The one-shots in volume 2 really made the set.  The individual micro series issues that focused on a sole turtle were among my favorites and succeeded in distinguishing each turtle from one-another.  In this volume the opposite seems to be the case as the one shots are lacking in focus and creativity.  The first one, “Survivalists,” is a Laird story and places our heroes out in the country with Master Splinter where they encounter an outlaw group fixing to steal a nuclear bomb.  It’s rather absurd, even for a TMNT story, but does feature Splinter in some action scenes which is always nice to see.  What follows is “The Unmentionables,” an Eastman story that puts Casey Jones in detective mode as he looks to solve the mystery of a stolen landmark.  The setting takes place in a small town and it’s genuinely interesting to read the notes following the story from Eastman and Laird about the real-life connections of the fictional town to the real town (Northampton, MA), but aside from that I found the story to be poorly paced and dull.

The original cover for "Dome Doom" was made to look like an old, beat-up comic.

The original cover for “Dome Doom” was made to look like an old, beat-up comic.

Things start to get a bit more interesting with “Dome Doom,” a story inspired by silver age comics.  It’s the type of story that a lot of modern comics have utilized where the current heroes are paired up with the heroes of a prior generation.  In this one, the TMNT help the retired Justice Force take down an old foe.  The plot is ludicrously corny, but I think that was intentional, and also seems to be a response to claims that Eastman and Laird are now sell-outs for licensing the TMNT (the retired Justice Force all sold their likenesses for millions in the comic’s plot).  This is some of Laird’s best artwork and I enjoyed the design of the little dome robots.  The story is kind of a throw-away, but I had some fun with the issue.  “Distractions” seems to take place in the far east sometime in the past with a TMNT-like protagonist helping out a damsel in distress that looks a lot like April.  It contains some samurai story cliches and all seems kind of corny, at which point the story ends and we find out it’s source is Mikey as he’s trying to write his own comic.  The artwork (by Eric Talbot) saves the day here with some really cool shading and a lot of violence.  I like this feudal looking turtle and I’m surprised he wasn’t made into an action figure (or maybe he was and I just forgot).  I could have done without the dinosaur though.

Most people who pick this volume up will do so for the “Return to New York” arc which features the return of a very popular villain.  “Return to New York” captures the spirit of the first issue of TMNT with a slightly more advanced approach.  There’s actual character development this time around and we finally get some good Leo vs Raph moments, including an all out brawl in issue 19.  The fight is pretty vicious considering it pits brother vs brother and ends up being really satisfying.  Unfortunately, the black and white nature of the comic makes it really hard to distinguish between which one is Raph and which one is Leo throughout much of the fight.  The first issue ends up dealing with the notion of teamwork and captures a lot of the same messages contained in the first two Turtle films.  It’s a bit of a re-tread, but this is also the type of story the TMNT are good at telling.

Look who's back!

Look who’s back!

The rest of the story revolves around the return of the Foot clan, and of course, the Shredder.  Shredder was famously slain in the first issue by Leonardo, but he’s back from the dead through odd means.  I didn’t quite get it, he’s composed by worms or something weird, but didn’t really care.  It’s basically all action as the Turtles storm the Foot’s base (with an unlikely ally too) and the whole thing builds towards a Leonardo vs Shredder re-match.  The fight is a vicious one that goes back and forth, but I don’t think it’s spoiling much to say that the heroes prevail.  The battle serves as a bit of redemption for Leo and Raph too, as Raph was able to pull out a victory in his one-on-one battle with Leo but was unable to take down the Shredder by himself.  Laird and Eastman actually take the time to show that Raph’s headstrong mentality can work for him in certain settings, but not all.

As was the case with the previous volumes, this one contains new artwork by Kevin Eastman on the cover.  It’s a mash-up of the stories contained within.  The notes from both of the creators are quite extensive and genuinely fun to read.  The interior art is presented in its original black and white and is enlarged to fit this over-sized format.  The quality is top-notch, and this is still a nice piece for any TMNT collector out there.


TMNT Classic Collection

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Classics are here!

I’ve been out of the toy collecting game for several years now.  I used to enjoy it as a hobby and it was a nice way to link my childhood to my adult life as I pursued action figures of characters I loved as a kid.  It became a compulsion eventually.  I started off just buying the characters I was particularly fond of like Venom and Iceman, but once it became a full-fledged hobby I was suddenly finding myself scouring department store toy aisles six at a time looking for an obscure Man-Thing or Warbird.  That’s when it became about the hunt.  Tracking down the exclusive Wal-Mart wave of Marvel Legends was especially thrilling.  It seems silly in hindsight, but it was kind of addicting.  Eventually though the quality of the figures declined and I also ran out of room for all of these toys.

I got a little taste of that rush today when I tracked down a set of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Classics.  It was a pretty easy hunt as I found a full set at the first place I went to, but I can’t deny it was a lot of fun.  The wondering, the hoping they’d be there.  I credit my interest in the line to my love for the TMNT as a kid and the new collections put out by IDW Publishing of the old books.  I’m currently onto volume 3, expect a review once I finish it.

The reverse side of the packaging.

I’ve talked about it many times, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but I did love the TMNT as a kid and they still hold a soft spot in my heart.  One of my last toy-related purchases before today was for a set of the turtles puts out by NECA.  I dubbed them my all time favorite as they’re a wonderful representation of the turtles as they appeared in the pages of Mirage Studios brand comic books back in the 80’s.  These collections, plus a new line of comics launched by TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman, have helped to contribute to a renaissance for the turtles that will soon culminate in a new television show aimed at kids on the Nickelodeon network.  To capitalize on this, and the original cartoon’s coming 25th anniversary, Playmates has launched a new line of toys aimed at those who fell in love with the turtles through the toys and cartoon back in 1988.

This new line, appropriately titled TMNT Classics, was first shown last February at the New York Toy Fair and has recently hit shelves in speciality shops and big box stores like Toys R’ Us.  The packaging on these new turtles states that they’re based on the look of the turtles from the old cartoon, but it would be more appropriate to say they’re combination of that look along with the style of the old toys.  Back in the 80’s, kid’s shows were basically extended commercials for toy lines and the turtles were no exception.  The toys were developed alongside the show and since Playmates only had concept art to go off of they ended up having their own look.  Each turtles had his own unique skin-tone and all sported solid, white eyes.  It was basically a hybrid of the comic look and the one the cartoon would go with.  These new toys sport the rounded features of the cartoon along with pupils in their eyes but retain their unique skin-tones, though they’ve been changed some.  Raphael has a darker green complexion while Don isn’t as brown as he used to be.  Donatello and Leonardo also retain their shoulder straps and each turtle, excepting Donatello, has wraps around the handles of their respective weapons featuring their trademark color (Raph’s sais are red, Leo’s katana handles are blue, etc).  It’s an interesting approach though I do kind of find myself wishing that Playmates just went all out in trying to make these turtles television accurate.  We already have comic accurate turtles, and the 2003 toy line paid homage to the original toy line, but we’ve never had cartoon accurate turtles.  Yes there was a wave of Toon Turtles in the 90’s but they were pretty crappy looking.

Group shot! Notice how some of the pupils are oddly placed.

Even though they’re not entirely cartoon accurate, these turtles are pretty nice to look at.  They’re loaded with articulation but their features are more reminiscent of the TMNT movie line of figures than the NECA one.  NECA went through the trouble of trying to hide the articulation but Playmates didn’t see need to, so while a lot of poses are possible, the numerous holes and joints do detract from the look of the figures.  And if the joints aren’t tight, it really hinders the amount of poses one can achieve.  My Raph has pretty loose leg joints which makes standing him a chore.  The hands on all of them are particularly combative as each features articulated fingers and thumb.  The finger piece on the left hand of my Leo figure even fell off in the packaging.  They can never get a good, solid grip on their weapons and the hands on all four definitely feel fragile.  There’s also an abdominal joint in each turtle that’s kind of odd.  The show’s animators definitely did take liberties in how the turtles could bend and move in those shells but I’m not sure the abdominal joint adds much.  Playmates at least had the foresight to only insert the joint in the front and not the rear of the shell, which would have looked horrible.

I’m pretty disappointed with Mike’s face sculpt. It just doesn’t suit the character.

Scultp wise, all four turtles are the same with the exception of a unique head sculpt.  The head sculpts are a call back to the original toy line as each turtle features the same or similar expression he had back in 1988.  This means they all look angry and I kind of wish they had gone with less intense expressions.  Leonardo should probably be grim and serious, but Raph and Mike definitely shouldn’t be.  The figures are tall, around six inches, so they don’t fit in with any other TMNT toy line.  They’re not too stocky looking either, and their proportions do remind me a bit of the movie line for the TMNT film.  They have kind of odd looking forearms and really long arms in relation to their legs.  Overall though, the sculpt is pretty solid for each turtle and they look good side by side though I really do wish Mike had a better face sculpt.

As far as accessories go, these are pretty bare-boned.  While the original toy line came with a bunch of ninja stars and other oddities, these turtles only come with their trademark weapons and Don only comes with one bo staff.  Each turtle also comes with a personalized manhole cover stand and their belts can hold their weapons easily.  Some toon specific items would have been fun like a mouser or turtle-com, but oh well.  The quality of the weapons is pretty standard, though Playmates did go above and beyond with Mike and gave him actual chains on his nunchaku which is a nice addition.  I never want to see another Mike action figure that doesn’t feature this.

NECA Don with TMNT Classics Don.

The paint job for each turtle is solid, though not very demanding.  Playmates opted for colored plastic for most of the parts with the paint only really coming into play with the bandanas, eyes, and teeth.  In the case of the eyes, it leaves something to be desired.  The rounded shape of each turtle’s head makes it difficult to paint on pupils that appear to be focusing on the same spot.  As a result, both my Don and Mike almost look like they have a lazy eye.  This has convinced some collectors to just paint over the pupils on their figures and go with the classic all white look.  From what I’ve seen, this actually looks pretty good but does take away from the cartoon look.  I’m not one to modify my toys anyways.

So did Playmates deliver with their classic TMNT line?  Mostly.  These are the most cartoon accurate turtles to date and they feature a lot of articulation which will allow fans to pose them in almost any position they can dream up, provided the joints are tight enough.  Even though they are the most cartoon accurate figures of the turtles to date, they’re still not the definitive take on the source material and the copious amounts of articulation does take away from the look a bit.  They’re also light on accessories which is hard to take considering these are the most expensive turtle figures I’ve ever bought.  I paid 20 bucks a turtle at a specialty shop, though the MSRP is said to be $18.  That’s still a lot of money for an action figure that’s pretty basic but hardcore fans will probably pay it.  I’ll have a hard time finding display space for these guys, but the nostalgic factor alone makes me mostly happy with my purchase.  They don’t top what NECA did with the turtles a few years ago, but they’re pretty damn good in their own right.  If you’re the sort of fan that’s really in love with the TMNT, then these figures are for you.