Remembering the Unabashed Weirdness of Ninja Turtles Toys

Parenting is a tricky thing. We all go into it with the best of intentions (short of someone saying, “I’ve got baby, now it’s time for my evil plan to be put into action”), but the hurdles are many.

Are they getting enough nutrition? Enough education? Enough social interaction? Enough love, dammit?

Even the most diligent among us can fall flat on our face when given an instruction like, “I want the Ninja Turtle toy”. On surface value, this seems like it would be straightforward enough. You’ve seen those things all the time, you reason, and they’re the hottest thing out there.

Upon arrival, however, the selection is overwhelming to the point of obtuse. There’s Raphael, sure, but he’s doing a myriad of mundane activities that somehow necessitate an action figure. Here he’s in space, here he’s a children’s party entertainer… in this one, he’s simply obese, and yes, that’s a real thing you could buy.

Such was the wonder of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in their heyday, a franchise that kids absolutely could not get enough of. As such, manufacturers figured — quite rightly — that you could cast the green guys in any mold imaginable and still make a tidy profit.

Though it would be obvious to anyone over the age of 12 that this was a clear cash grab, and canonically, Raphael probably wouldn’t have a side gig as a magician, it still worked somehow. The Turtles, by their very nature, were irreverent and goofy by the time the cartoon had enraptured a generation. So for them to lean into the obscene was on-brand. This is a license based on a quartet of crime fighting anthropomorphic turtles, after all.

Still, the scope of this insanity was truly awe-inspiring, and many late nights were no doubt spent huddled around a table littered with all manner of sketches, coffee cups strewn about the floor and enough coke on-hand to kill a horse. Not sure how much that would be, even a particularly diminutive mare is likely hardier than you’d think.

For Eastman and Laird, it meant not only brainstorming alternative costumes for the eponymous Turtles, but also trying to bolster the roster with as many potential friends and foes as possible. Your staples would appear, of course — Shredder, Splinter, April O’Neil, Baxter Stockman et al — but they would be joined by a cavalcade of characters that ranged from acceptably niche to downright outlandish.

Take 1990’s Pizzaface, for example, a terrifying villain who was part chef, part rampaging murderer, all Italian stereotype. His backstory involved him literally flinging himself into a radioactive oven in an attempt to gain ultimate power, with the Turtles yanking him out midway through the process.

He has a detachable meat cleaver leg, which can be swapped over for a pizza cutter wedged in a pizza box, and is riddled with little red splotches that are assuredly just sauce. At least that’s what he tells the authorities when they arrive with a search warrant.

Imagine being the kid who opened up the Turtles-shaped Christmas present only to come face-to-face with this fella. Thanks for that, Auntie Wendy! It will surely become a staple of playtime and childhood nightmares.

Then there was Seymour Gutz, more commonly known as the Mutagen Man. Where others exposed to the ooze would turn into stealthy terrapins or skateboarding lizards, he just straight up melted into an assortment of body parts.

To combat this, he donned a containment suit and went about his day, causing grief for the Turtles with his wacky assortment of alliteration-heavy weapons. The general rule of thumb is if the toy was ugly, they were probably a bad guy, and though the Mutagen Man’s backstory is one of tragic misunderstanding, the fact that he’s a watery tub of organs clearly renders him ignoble.

He’s basically Cain from Robocop 2, only without being a drug lord.

On second thought, maybe Mutagen Man is a drug lord? This was New York in the late 80s, you know.

Often, these newly introduced cast members would work their way into the comics or cartoons, uplifting them from merchandising ploy to relevant person of interest. For some, this transition would be messier than others, and never was this quite so apparent as it was with Ace Duck.

Somehow, this dude was just too strange, even by Turtles standards. Allow me to veer off-course for a moment, because I adore the unlikely nature of this redemption arc.

The figure was tamer than most, representing a former pilot turned fowl, and came complete with a pair of wings, a detachable hat (like Malibu Stacy!) and a pistol. Yes, Ace Duck carried a gun as an accessory. Fun!

His profile card proclaims that the Turtles hire him for aerial missions involving the Turtle Blimp, which is certainly a lofty position to hold, both literally and figuratively. Despite this, however, his cameo in the 80s cartoon series saw him quacking on a television screen. That was it. No brave pilot. No Turtle blimp. Quack, quack, quack, and gone.

He would reemerge for a brief moment as a leather-clad photorealistic duck in the 2012 series, dubbed ‘completely ridiculous’ and an ‘absolute failure’, until finally getting a major role in a 2017 issue of the IDW comic. Here, he was the dashing, devil-may-care risk taker we had been promised three decades ago.

…And yet, it wasn’t even his best appearance. That would be found in the mid-90s Archie Comics spinoff, where he was a buff, arrogant professional wrestler on a distant planet, and I can scarcely imagine why this was ever a thing. In any event, it remains the best of all the things.

But I digress (heavily).

Later iterations of Turtles would also dabble in the bizarre (with 2018’s Ghostbusters crossover being especially noteworthy), but they would never quite reach the dizzying heights of madness that defined this franchise in its halcyon days.

A simpler, more innocent time, where sometimes Donatello would do cartwheels or play basketball, and other times he would transform into a racing car and drive off into the sunset.

You do you, Donnie. You do you.

We each have our favorites, and toy chests around the globe are riddled with all kinds of oddities. Though our collections may differ in their breadth, we can stand united in our affinity for Turtle madness. It feels good, it looks good, it is good. Or mondo/tubular/gnarly/bodacious, if you’d prefer.

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