Do you remember waaaaaay back when having a day off meant Saturday, and Saturday meant waking up at the crack of dawn to plop yourself in front of the television set with a bowl of sugar based cereal substitute to watch Saturday morning cartoons? Yeah, me neither. But that’s okay. Let’s get NOSTALGIC!
Come with me on a stroll back to 1987. Actually, a stroll will take too long. Let’s use the mental equivalent of an interstate highway, shall we? Ah. There. December 14, 1987. Throw Momma From The Train and Bad Taste were in the theater. Chrysler pleads no contest to selling driven vehicles as new. Also airing for the first time on this day was the animated series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
They’re lean. They’re green. They’re fighting machines. But they’re also turtles, who are ninjas. How exactly does that work? According to Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, in an interview with Time Magazine, “One night in 1983 — and neither can remember why — inspiration struck. Eastman drew a humanized turtle wearing a ninja mask and carrying a katana blade. The idea of a slowpokey turtle as a swift and wily ninja cracked them up. By the end of the evening the artists had created four tortoises. Eastman quickly christened them the Ninja Turtles, but then, in an absurdist wink at two of the most popular themes in comic books at the time, Laird lengthened the name to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” TMNT started out as a comic book in 1984 before being picked up as a line of toys by Playmates Toys following a successful cartoon series by Fred Wolf Films. (For those playing the game at home, this means that the TMNT cartoon was based on a comic but created to test the market for toys.) The comic, and other adaptations, featured the adventures of four brothers, pet turtles who gained humanoid form and intelligence through contact with a mysterious substance known as “ooze,” who fought crime under the tutelage of a rat, also mutated by “ooze” and previously owned by a practitioner of ninjutsu. It’s something of an extension of Frank Miller’s run on the Daredevil comic (or maybe an alternative universe would be a more apt description?) in that it shows the radioactive substance that blinds Matt Murdock, alter ego of Daredevil, rolling off into the sewers to transform the turtles and their mentor.
What I remember
The show might have first aired in the late 80s, but I don’t think I started watching it until middle school so… early 90s? The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were some of the first characters I learned how to draw and what got me into drawing my own comics. (Terrible, terrible comic books that were some sort of terrible hybrid between tropes from TMNT and Marvel Comics. Radioactive ooze was everywhere.) I also remember one of my brothers exchanging what might have been his entire paycheck for quarters so that we could beat the TMNT video game at the local arcade.
Season 1, Episode 1: “Turtle Tracks” does everything that an origin story is supposed to do. It introduces the main conflict (a ninja crimewave), the main protagonists (four ninja turtles, their rat mentor, and their human associate), the main antagonist (the rat mentor’s former student) and how all of them fit together in the present (the former student is training the ninjas) through a connection in the past (the student betrayed his master who then fled to NYC in disgrace to live in the sewers). The origin story is slightly tweaked from the comics (the child who originally owned the turtles wasn’t a parody of Matt Murdock from Daredevil and neither was the accident that released the “ooze) but for obvious copyright reasons. The show clearly employs cartoon logic, meaning things make sense in context of the story from the viewpoint of the characters who are in it (with the exception of some 4th wall breaking), but they wouldn’t hold up in real life (bipedal turtles walking around only disguised using trench coats and a scientist identifying the perpetrators of a crime as ninjas only by observing the visual evidence).
Recommended! (And I can see where I got my habit of referring to everything as “dude.” )
More to come (live from what I remember about the 80’s!) as this story continues.
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Kevin Wadlow is 100% a real human being and definitely not a murder of crows wearing a person suit. He is an avid reader of horror, tabletop gamer, and drinker of coffee who enjoys drawing things of strangeness along the way. When the zombie apocalypse comes, he will probably be eaten first after saying something about how he fully expected to go out like this.