Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: 1988 and 1989 (Playmates Toys)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
1988 - 1989
If ever there was a cartoon (key word cartoon) that inspired and shaped me through my youth it was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As a child, I always knew that I wanted to be a comic book artist when I grew up. The TMNT show (and eventually the comic) became such an inspiration to me art wise that as the years went by, my goal was to eventually send a portfolio to Mirage Comics (the company where the series was created) and hope like hell that mine out of the hundreds of other portfolios they saw in a day would be stand out. Sadly, this dream got derailed when a couple years after I graduated high school the company went bankrupt and closed down.
But, enough about dreams lost. We're going to take a look at the first two series of action figures in the TMNT world. We're only doing the first two series for a couple reasons. First, they're the only two from the eighties, and second, they're the only two that are actually decent.
While it was already a comic book by the time the cartoons began airing, it wasn't well known for its time, and only had a small following. While you would think that having a highly successful animated show that aired daily would change this, it didn't. This was most likely due to the major differences between the two.
In the show, the four turtles led quirky lives full of (at the time) hip phrases as they battled crazy looking characters from Dimension X. On the other hand, while the comic book had a few of these characters, they were not represented in the same way. The comic had way more edge to it and featured a lot of violence for its time.
In 1988 Playmates was awarded the ability to produce a line of action figures to the highly popular TV series. The set included ten action figures that were accompanied with six vehicles. One being the highly sought after Technodrome.
The series included the following figures; Donatello, Michaelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, Splinter, April O'Neil, Shredder, Foot Soldier, Rocksteady and Beebop.
Reader Matt K. asks an excellent question pertaining to the series. He asks, "What's the deal with the soft heads vs. hard heads?"
To answer, the soft heads (or squishy heads) are from the very first production run of the series, and were only used for eight of the figures - The Four Turtles, Splinter, Shredder, Beebop and Rocksteady. This was done by Playmates Toys as a cost cutting measure. While Playmates was eager to produce a line based on the series, they weren't yet convinced that it would be successful.
When the line found immediate success in toy isles, Playmates stepped up the production value by making the hard plastic heads.
The soft heads are incredibly rare, especially carded, and thus come at a higher asking price.
The vehicles and playsets were; Technodrome, Foot Knucklehead, Turtle Party Wagon, Turtle Blimp, Turtle Trooper, Party Wagon and Cheapskate.
The biggest complaint from kids was the awful decision on Playmates part to package the weapons in the same fashion that they came off the assembly line. Meaning, they were all attached in a rectangular plastic mold (like model pieces), and were difficult to get apart without breaking. Not only were the weapons very fragile, but if one was lucky enough to separate them without any damage, there was still the problem of pointy and/or sharp edges due to remaining plastic bits. Sadly this manufacturing decision didn't change for a while in the series.
By series two in 1989, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a household name. Halloween saw several young turtles going from house to house as costumes became available, as well as a new comic series which was produced by Archie comics and geared more to resemble the show.
The second series of figures included mainly second stream characters, but still managed to kick out a few villainous main characters.
Series two included the following ten action figures; Casey Jones, Usagi Yojimbo, Ace Duck, Genghis Frog, Krang, Baxter Stockman, General Tragg, Metalhead, Leatherhead, and Rat King.
They were released simultaneously with the following seven vehicles and playsets; Turtlecycle, Retrocatapult, Flushomatic with (sold seperately) Retromuagen Ooze, Double Barreled Plunger Gun, Turtle Pizza Thrower, Footcruiser, and Sewer Playset.
TMNT went off the air long before the actual toy line ended in 1997. The ongoing popularity of the toy line was due in part by the three movies that hit theaters throughout the 90's as well as a brief stint at Pizza Hut (Coming Out Of Their Shells), syndication of the original series, and eventually a new series where a female turtle was added to the group as a new lead character.
However, this doesn't mean that they toys being produced were actually any good. Each series that followed the last seemed to be an excuse to make multiple versions of the turtles with different themes to them. Whether it was sports players, dinosaurs, transforming or other various carnations, the creativeness of the series was certainly gone.
Like so many toy lines before it, Playmates attempted a revival of the series by re-releasing the original first series again in stores with the same packaging back in the early new millennium. This in turn helped spawn interest in the series again, which led to the eventual new movie released in 2007 as well as several more toys that continue to be released today. The TMNT franchise also got another boost when Image Comics purchased the rights to the series and began producing a new (horrible) comic book series.
Playmates may have lost sight a long time ago of what made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the still going pop culture that it is, but despite this, the series created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Larid over twenty years ago continues to etch its name in stone making it a series that has spread across two generations of fans - a feat not easily achieved.
Check back next time when we take a look at a series that was a hell of a lot larger than I thought possible. Considered the "Poor Man's Transformers", they somehow managed to not only be of better quality, but also be available at a much cheaper price. I'm talking about GoBots of course. See you then!
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