Back in 1984, a pair of comic book artists named Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird were brainstorming potential comic book ideas when the two hit upon an idea from a sketch one of them drew. Crafting a parody of comics that were popular at the time (such as Daredevil and New Mutants) and self-publishing through Mirage Studios, the two released the very first issue of a comic they called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As the comic grew in popularity, Eastman and Laird were contacted by a licensing agent named Mark Freedman about merchandising opportunities for their creation. From there, the rest is history as the franchise skyrocketed, not only spawning untold amounts of merchandise but also such things as movies and cartoon shows. In fact, most folks would probably best know of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles due to the success of the 1987 animated series. It was that series which would really create and solidify a lot of concepts and characters that would forever be associated with the franchise. However, this post isn’t about the original comics or the 1987 series. Instead, it is about one of the newest iterations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, an animated series that started in 2012 on Nickelodeon and offers one of the strongest versions of the franchise I’ve seen.
Lurking within the sewers of New York City are five extraordinary creatures. One is a humanoid rat named Splinter, once a skilled human martial artist named Hamato Yoshi but then mutated into his current state due to exposure from a mutagen made by TCRI. Living with him are four mutated turtles, who all now possess humanoid features. Raised by him as if they were his sons, Splinter taught them in the arts of ninjutsu and named them after famous Renaissance artists (Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael). Now teenagers, these four turtles decide to venture up to the surface for the first time in their lives. What they find is that the mutagen which made them what they are is the product of an alien race known as the Kraang, who seek to terraform Earth for their own purposes. They also find April O’Neil, a teenage girl who sides with them in their battles against the Kraang. Unfortunately, their presence captures the attention of someone else: Shredder, the powerful head of the Foot ninja clan and old rival of Hamato Yoshi. Now, these Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles find themselves battling not only alien invaders from another dimension, but also a ninja clan that seeks to kill Splinter.
Talking about the general qualities of the show, it stands for me as the strongest iteration of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles among the different iterations. The writing is very good, capturing a real sense of each character and how they play out amidst all of the action. It also has been working well with having an overarching storyline, instead of just relying on singular episodes. Each season has its central plotline, while the show’s overarching plot builds well with each new revelation or introduced element. It gives its content a sense of weight, of real matters. That said, the show also maintains the sense of fun that should come with a concept like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It embraces all the ninja action, all the crazy cosmic threats, and even ludicrous mutants. It also supports that sense of fun with a playful humor, one that shows itself through character interaction and also clever comedic action bits. There is one other thing that stands out to me, however, with this series. That is the way in which it is able to pull from throughout the history of the franchise for inspiration, while also making and crafting its own good additions.
Since Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was first created, there have been numerous versions and takes on the Turtles. With three cartoon shows, several movies, and three different comic titles, there is plenty to offer and different methods of taking its characters. This Nickelodeon series takes inspiration from throughout this varied history for its iterations of familiar characters. Take for example Baxter Stockman, a mad scientist who is a recurring foe of the Turtles and the inventor of small robots known as Mousers. Though his physical design harkens to his original comics version, his classically nerdy outfit and his eventual mutation into a humanoid fly are borrowed from the 1987 animated series. Another example comes from the Kraang, who are generally inspired by the Utrom aliens of the comics with a name drawn from the alien villain Krang from the 1987 cartoon. It is not just mixtures of elements that they use, however. Inspiration comes from all over. Whether from different versions of main characters or even one-off villains inspired by obscure action figures in the toy lines, the show finds all sorts of material for use. Of course, it also finds ways to offer its own ideas to the mix. For example, April O’Neil is made into a more active member of the cast thanks to training from Splinter that gives her martial arts skills for battling against threats. Likewise, the villain Karai is given a backstory that makes her a key player in the rivalry between Shredder and Splinter. It’s this skillful use of the source material, whether drawing inspiration from the past or carving new paths of its own, that helps to showcase the strong writing and respectful appreciation that this series gives to its core subject.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a franchise that has come in all sorts of forms. From comic books to animated shows to movies, there have been all kinds of different takes and versions of the Turtles throughout the years. This current series on Nickelodeon takes this expansive history and stirs it together into a fine mixture, taking familiar parts and adding some nice spice and inspired ideas to create a great new take on the Turtles. The show is currently in its fourth season, airing on Nickelodeon on Sundays at 11 AM (EST). If you want to catch up, Hulu also carries the series and has the first three seasons available.