Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1
January 16, 2017
Heroes in a half-shell... that kill ninja leaders!
Linkara: Hello, and welcome to Atop the Fourth Wall, where bad comics burn. Another Patreon-sponsored review time! But I don't think anyone's gonna complain about this one, because it's something I've gotten requests for since I started Secret Origins Month. It's time for the first appearance... of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
(Cut to a montage of origin comics that Linkara did in the past)
Linkara (v/o): Like with people asking me to cover Deadpool or other modern characters, the big reason why I haven't done it for Secret Origins Month has been it's too recent! Secret Origins Month exists to look at where heroes started from in a time of comics that was very different from where it exists today. And admittedly, the mid-to-late '80s was a different time as well, but not quite to the degree the Gold and Silver Age were. But still, if I looked at the appearances of other popular franchises in comics, it's probably not a bad idea to look at one who got their start in comics, especially one that isn't from Marvel or DC.
Linkara: I think the reason why people still tell me about Rob Liefeld properties getting movie deals, despite it NEVER, EVER HAPPENING OVER THE COURSE OF TWENTY YEARS, is that we do have success stories of non-Marvel and DC properties getting bigger.
Linkara (v/o): "Spawn", "Witchblade", whatever Mark Miller comic has been optioned, "The Walking Dead".
(Cut to the topic at hand: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as seen on the cover of "TMNT Meet Archie")
Linkara (v/o): But of course, the biggest, with multiple TV series, movies, comics, toys and other associated reboots, is "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles", a goofy name for a goofy franchise... that can still be pretty serious. To reiterate my history with the franchise, I did watch the original cartoon as a kid; didn't follow it as closely as other stuff; watched the live-action movies; attempted to follow the 2003 series, with mixed success.
Linkara: But of course, the series that is nearest and dearest to all of our hearts that I watched back in the day, was Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation. (A shot of Leonardo from this series appears in the corner and Linkara waves to it) Hi, Venus!
Linkara (v/o): But for some reason, it's just not something that's managed to stick with me in the same way other stuff from my childhood had. It's not that I hate it, it's just I'm not really as enthusiastic about it as others. But still, the enthusiasm of others is what got a Patron to have me look at this: their first appearance. So, how did the Turtles get their start? A doodle.
(Shots of these doodles of the early versions of the Turtles are shown)
Linkara (v/o): Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird met while working on newspaper comics and fanzine art. Eastman one day doodled a turtle with nunchucks strapped to its arms. Laird was so amused by it, he did his own. Then, Kevin did one of four turtles with different weapons, calling them "ninja turtles", with Laird following up with, "Why not teenage mutant ninja turtles?" And thus, it was born, with other things being inspired by sheer absurdity and joking around. Shredder was originally "Grate-Man", conceived of as a villain who put vegetable graters on his arms. The name itself was apparently supposed to a parody of "Skate-Man", whose comic I have done at a few live shows.
Linkara: And if you have never seen those live shows, let me assure you, Grate-Man is more dignified than Skate-Man.
Linakra (v/o): They changed the name to be less stupid, of course, but then there was Splinter, thought of as a bit of a parody of Stick, a character Frank Miller had retconned into Daredevil's backstory during his run. Deciding to go ahead with the book, they self-published it, thanks to a tax refund and a $1,000 loan from Eastman's uncle.
Linkara: Can't say for sure, but I'm going to assume that the loan got paid back in full and then some.
Linkara (v/o): Calling themselves "Mirage Studios", because they didn't actually have a studio, they did an initial run of about 3,000 copies, and thanks to a press kit sent out, the book got a ton of coverage and exposure, allowing the initial orders to be sold out and led to multiple printings of the book.
(Cut to a shot of the cover of "Sultry Teenage Super-Foxes #1")
Linkara (v/o): And multiple ripoffs, including one we saw with "Sultry Teenage Super-Foxes". Yeah, it was only the name they ripped off, but still, Solson also published a few other "Ninja Turtles"-related items, though I don't know if they were officially licensed.
(Cut back to "Ninja Turtles")
Linkara (v/o): Still, official licensing is how Eastman and Laird soon had an empire, especially when, in 1987, the original five-episode miniseries aired in syndication. There's certainly a lot more I could get into: how the comic was a parody of Frank Miller works, and a few other influences; how the book affected the lives of Eastman and Laird; the changes made; the impact the TV show had. But I think at this point, it's best to just get into the comic itself.
Linkara: So let's dig into (holds up today's comic) "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1" and see how this phenomenon started.
(AT4W title theme plays, and the title card has the TMNT theme play in the background. Cut to a closeup of the comic's cover)
Linkara (v/o): Reading from a 2009 "Free Comic Book Day" reprint of the book, but it's still the original cover, so we're still good there. Looking at it from my own sensibilities, it's odd. Usually, black-and-white books still have a full-color cover, but this one is just black, white, red and pink. It's just the turtles standing on a rooftop, and no way of distinguishing them, aside from the different weapons they carry. Even that is a bit suspect, since the one I presume to be Donatello still has a sword holstered in his shell. The art is a bit different, even from the interiors, as the turtles are made up of crosshatching lines all across their bodies so that they kind of blend into the building a bit. I wonder if that's by design, given the "strike hard and fade" ninja thing that's a recurring phrase for the series.
(The comic opens to the first page)
Linkara (v/o): We open with a closeup shot of Leonardo's eyes and bandanna, which seems to have quite a bit of mud on it.
Leonardo: (narrating) My name is Leonardo. My brothers and I made a wrong turn somewhere...
Linkara: I'd actually start watching the Wrong Turn movies if they featured the Ninja Turtles fighting inbred cannibals.
Linkara (v/o): They're trapped in an alley, confronted by fifteen members of the "Purple Dragons".
Leonardo: (narrating) The only way they'll let us out of here... is if we're dead!
Linkara: (as Leonardo) All right, bros, start stabbing yourselves!
Leonardo: (narrating) I hold my katana in a relaxed ready position. To my left, Donatello and Michelangelo follow suit with bo staff and nunchakus. With his sai, Raphael guards my right side -- I sense his body quivering with tense energy, waiting to be triggered in savage, slashing release!
Linkara: (as Raphael) For the ninth time, Leo, I really have to pee!
Linkara (v/o): Dear Lord, look at the size of that sword! Is it still technically a katana when it's the size of a buster sword?
Purple Dragon member: You're dead, freaks!!! Nobody trespasses on Purple Dragon turf and gets away with it... especially when they're wearing stupid turtle costumes!
Linkara: (as Leonardo) Look, I know the costumes are crap, but the budget on this wasn't that big, and we need to talk about the new Blue Line from Los Angeles to Long Beach!
Leonardo: (narrating) He's wrong... we're not wearing costumes.
Linkara: (as Leonardo) We're CGI!
Linkara (v/o): One thing that's different about this original version that I don't think has ever really been carried over into media – and I'm sure it probably has, but I've never seen it – the originals have tails. I mean, they're unfortunately placed in this image, but yeah, there they are. Although, this is an indie comic; those could be dicks, in which case I'm actually reading the start of Las Tortugas Pinjas.
(A clip of that film is shown briefly, showing the Pinjas shouting a Spanish equivalent of "Cowabunga!" before cutting back to the Ninja Turtles comic)
Linkara (v/o): The Purple Dragons gang is apparently made up of '70s disco fans, based on some of these clothes. However, they are intelligent enough, as Leo points out. Only a few of them are trying to fight hand-to-hand with the Turtles, instead just pulling out guns and firing on them. Somehow, this does not kill the turtles. Well, I suppose they are ninjas. And Raph goes to town.
Leonardo: (narrating) Raphael loves this stuff.
Linkara: (as Leonardo) You could say he's cool but rude.
Linkara (v/o): The turtles take out several of them.
Purple Dragon member 1: W-Who are these guys--?!
Linkara: (as another Purple Dragon member) I don't know, but you ever think about the fact that... well, they're just naked? Like, all the time?
Purple Dragon member 2: Don't know... some kinda freaks! But even freaks can bleed... Cut 'em!
Leonardo: (narrating) Yes... we can bleed...
Linkara: (as Leonardo) But our blood tastes minty!
Leonardo: (narrating) ...and so can you!
Linkara (v/o): Well, yeah, Leo, that's... that's kind of the point they were making, that living things can bleed. Anyway, having defeated the Purple Dragon Gang, presumably killing, if not maiming, a few of them, our heroes run off as they hear police approaching.
Leonardo: (narrating) We do not like to run from those who could be our allies, but they would not understand us.
Linkara: (as Leonardo) Our language is actually Portuguese.
Leonardo: (narrating) The storm drains beckon... We are never far from a means of escape or concealment...
Linkara (v/o): Nor are you far from a means of anti-gravity, as shown by Mikey here just floating in the air.
Leonardo: (narrating) ...for we are trained in the art of ninjitsu... We strike hard, and fade away...
Linkara: (as Leonardo) We hit things so hard, we ourselves dissolve from the impact.
Linkara (v/o): The turtles return to their very well-decorated and cozy lair in the sewers, which apparently has an automatic door built into a brick wall.
Linkara: Why is it that their secret, well-kept, high-tech base in the sewers is the most plausible part of the Turtles mythos?
Linkara (v/o): Splinter is waiting for the four as they return.
Splinter: Ah, my sons... You return at last. You have fought...?
Michelangelo: And won, Master Splinter... against fifteen foes!
Linkara: (as Splinter) Hmm... Upon reflection, my sons, perhaps violence is not the answer to our problems. We must form a rock band!
Splinter: You have done well. Your ninja skills are near their peak.
Linkara: (as Splinter) You have but one ninja skill left to master: ninja-style dancing!
(Cut to the Ninja-Style Dancer, who dances briefly to "Ninja Rap")
Splinter: I have forseen [sic] this night for many years. Now it is time... time for you to be told of the mission for which I have trained you these past thirteen years.
Linkara: (as Splinter) I didn't tell you the details of it until now because... well, I'm kinda lazy, and in the past, you've only defeated fourteen people at a time.
Splinter: To help you understand the purpose of this mission, I must speak of my life, and how you came to be.
Linkara: (as Splinter) Now, you see, when a turtle and a person love each other very much...
Linkara (v/o): Splinter tells the tale of twenty years ago, when he was the pet rat of a martial artist named Hamato Yoshi. He was intelligent enough to study Yoshi's movements and do them, too. Yoshi was a member of the Foot Clan and was in a relationship with a woman named Tang Shen. However, another ninja also loved Shen and demanded she be with him, even beating her up for her refusal. When Yoshi walked in on this, he killed the guy and saved Shen.
Splinter: But Yoshi's shame was great -- by killing another member of his clan, he had dishonored himself. His choices were simple, but not easy...
Linkara: (as Splinter) Should he deal the corpse before or after dinner? He and Shen were really hungry.
Linkara (v/o): Instead of taking his own life and hoping for honor in the next life, he and Shen decided to flee to America and start anew, forming a martial arts school in New York City and prospering. However, the dead guy's brother, Oroku Saki, was pretty pissed off about this and swore vengeance.
Splinter: (narrating) The seven-year-old Saki vowed vengeance on Yoshi. The Foot took hold of Saki's anger and used it to bend him to their own purposes. Saki began intensive training in the ninja's art, and soon surpassed his teachers. As he grew older, his hatred of Yoshi grew deep and bitter.
(Cut to a clip of Dragon Ball Z Abridged)
Vegeta: How did you know about the parts you weren't there for?
(Cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): Saki eventually rose in the ranks high enough to be assigned a branch of the Foot in New York.
Linkara: Nothing like having your ninja clan as a franchise. Over one million assassinated!
Linkara (v/o): Within a year, Saki led a powerful branch of the Foot, becoming the most dominant criminal organization in the city. He became known as The Shredder and hunted down Yoshi and Shen, assassinating them both. In the struggle against Yoshi, Splinter's cage was smashed and he was freed. Unfortunately... well, he was a rat, so there really wasn't anything he could do, so he just went to the streets to be a rat.
Splinter: (narrating) Then, one day, everything changed. While I was searching in a trash can for my next meal...
Linkara: (as Splinter) Ugh! Hardee's! Sometimes, beggars can be choosers.
Splinter: (narrating) ...I witnessed a near-accident. An old blind man was almost run by a large truck... but at the last moment, a young man leaped into the street and knocked the blind man out of the truck's path. As the truck screeched to a jarring stop, a metal cannister [sic] bounced out of the back of the truck and struck the young man.
Linkara: And that young man... grew up to be Daredevil. (beat) I'm not even joking. Their origin is deliberately a callback to Daredevil's origin. (grins)
Linkara (v/o): The canister of weird chemicals that gave Matt Murdock his abilities bounced off his head and continued into the crowd, smashing a jar of turtles carried by a young kid. Coincidence of all coincidences, the kid was standing near an open manhole, and the turtles dropped into the sewer along with the chemicals.
Splinter: (narrating) The canister split open, releasing a glowing green ooze which covered your bodies as you crawled around in it.
Linkara: And that's why they took Ecto Cooler off the market for so long.
Splinter: (narrating) I followed you down into the storm drain, and -- not knowing exactly why -- gathered you up in a discarded coffee can.
Linkara: (as Splinter) Look, I had just eaten some Hardee's, I stepped in some radioactive goop... I'm pretty sure I was planning on drinking you, my sons.
Linkara (v/o): Over time, the turtles stayed with Splinter, and they all grew in size, gaining intelligence and the ability to stand upright, and eventually even speak.
Turtle 1: Radical!
Turtle 2: Pizza?
Turtle 3: Star Trek!
Linkara: Hey, we've already gotten a crossover between Batman and the Turtles. (holds up index finger) I think it's okay for us to finally have a Star Trek crossover with "TMNT".
Linkara (v/o): Over time, he taught them how to use weapons, stealth, ethics, and apparently electrical engineering and interior decorating, given, again, the hideout, and gave them names of Renaissance painters because of a Renaissance art book that was also in the storm drain.
Linkara: Because apparently, Splinter could teach them all about fighting and ninja stuff, but coming up with names is really hard, so here's four random names out of a book.
Linkara (v/o): He asks them to help avenge the deaths of Yoshi and Shen, to kill the Shredder. We cut to some point later, with Raphael sitting on the edge of a rooftop.
Raphael: (narrating) I despise the dank, dark underground. My brothers don't seem to mind it... but this is where I belong.
Linkara: (as Raphael) In another life, I was a gargoyle. Or possibly Spider-Man, given this pose.
Linkara (v/o): Raphael is sent to the Shredder's headquarters to deliver a message.
Raphael: (narrating) Splinter told me to infiltrate the Shredder's headquarters and deliver a calling card...
Linkara: (as Raphael) We'd like to do business sometime! We handle mostly network integration and virtualization options.
Linkara (v/o): After beating up some guards, he tosses his psi through a window, where Shredder is having a meeting, offering protection to a guy's business. Considering how someone was able to deliver the psi in that manner, Raphael inadvertently ruins the deal, since Shredder is unable to properly protect his own friggin' HQ. The message is a challenge for revenge, ordering Shredder to meet the four Turtles on a rooftop for a battle to the death. That night, they meet, with the Turtles calling out Shredder while he contemplates who exactly these guys are and why this is coming back to haunt him. Still, he's Shredder, so he's a bit of a tool and he did not come alone.
Shredder: Foot... join me!
Linkara: Ironically, this battle was taking place on top of a club, where a certain song was being played, providing a fitting soundtrack for this fight.
(Cut briefly to a clip of Miami Connection, where Dragon Sound's "Against the Ninja" plays)
Dragon Sound: (singing) Against the ninja / We will fight the battle to win / Against the ninja...
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): The fight scene ensues, with the Turtles eventually being victorious against the Foot ninjas... but as Shredder notes, the Turtles were not unscathed in the fight, with multiple bleeding cuts on them. Still, our heroes make their attempt, first attacking Shredder one at a time. They get some hits and cuts off, but he stands his ground pretty effectively. Leo realizes that he's just too skilled to take on one at a time, so he recalls Splinter's tactics for fighting like a group and attacking from a distance. As such, they start throwing weapons at him, like shurikens.
(Cut to a clip of Ninja Terminator)
Ninja: (holds up shuriken) Look at this!
Second ninja: Yes, that's my ninja star.
(The first ninja throws it at the second ninja, but he catches it with his sword)
Second ninja: Right? It's my ninja star. (holds up another shuriken) This is yours! (throws it at the first ninja)
(Cut back to the comic)
Linkara (v/o): They kick his ass pretty hard, though he still manages to get a few hits off, particularly kicking Donny away. However, Leo manages to stab him but good.
Shredder: So... finish it, fools! I am... helpless... Slay me now!
Leonardo: We turtles are not dogs without honor...
Linkara: Leo, that is very racist of you to say about dogs! (points to camera) Show some damn respect for your canine brothers!
Linkara (v/o): Leo offers him his sword so he can commit seppuku and regain his honor, but Shredder has a different idea: detonate a thermite grenade to kill him and the Turtles. Fortunately, Donatello makes up for him getting kicked before, tossing his bow staff hard enough to knock Shredder and the grenades off the roof. It goes boom, and thus it's over. And just look at how happy they all are about it.
Leonardo: I'ts over, my brothers... Our mission is accomplished... Our master's master is avenged!
Linkara: (as Leonardo) And it's a good thing that we only have the one enemy. I mean, can you imagine if we had to fight against, like, a brain alien or other mutated animals? (laughs) That'd just be weird.
Linkara (v/o): They start heading home, but spot a piece of Shredder's armor.
Leonardo: Hmm... It seems that the Shredder... has been shredded!
(Cut to a clip of the "TMNT: Coming Out of Their Shells" tour)
Shredder: SHREDDED! (the word pops up on the screen)
(Back to the comic again)
Linkara (v/o): And so, our comic ends with our heroes discarding the armor piece.
Leonardo: (narrating) We are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles... We strike hard and fade away... into the night!
Linkara: More like, fading into infection from those open, untreated wounds. (closes comic and holds it up) Anyway, this comic is... pretty good for what it is.
Linkara (v/o): These days, the story is pretty simple and a bit cliched, but at the same time, that's kind of the point. It's a bit of a riff on Frank Miller's own work at the time, just without the stupider parts of Frank Miller's writing. And a lot of the cliches about ninjas and overdramatized talk about what they do is just par for the course in the '80s. It's only when we get to the late '80s and '90s when this really started to get irritating. The action is pretty decent, though, although that's more that Eastman and Laird know how to lay out a fight scene to get us into it and less with the actual artwork, which is amateurish, although considering it is an amateur work, I can't really fault it there. Said action is its greatest strength, especially in how both the villains and the heroes act very competently, which makes for a much more tense struggle in the final fight. Characterization is pretty scant. The most we get is from Raph, who only really gets "I don't like living underground." You don't really see any other signs of the distinct personalities they would receive later. Then again, they hold that grimace expression for the entire comic, never expressing any other emotions, so they're all pretty interchangeable like that anyway. I should note, on an artistic level, that my scans here come from a 2005 reprint, where a lot of the shading has been altered or removed, giving it a much starker, more black-and-white feel. I kind of prefer this, because it looks cleaner, but I understand why others might prefer the heavier amount of shading other prints have, including the comic in my hands. Hell, the shading actually does make it clearer in my printed comic that the explosion happened and killed Shredder. There's also a colorized version out there. Not sure if the trade for it is still in print, but Comixology has it if you're interested. Overall, it's not great, but I can see why people would love the book in the '80s and how it would influence so much in the future.
Linkara: Next time, we step away from Patreon-sponsored reviews so that we can get ourselves deeply, deeply into trouble. (gets up from his seat and leaves)
(End credits roll)
Coincidentally, "Pizza," "Radical," and "Star Trek" were the most common things I said when I was younger. And when I became an adult. Basically, they're all I say. Also: Pokemon.
I'd also to see how different the entire franchise would have been if Shredder really HAD been called "Grateman" from the start.
(Stinger: Linkara is seated on the futon again)
Linkara: You may not believe this, but this is not the first time the Ninja-Style Dancer has gotten himself involved in the Turtles franchise.
(A clip of the Ninja Turtles' music video, "Don't Talk To Strangers", is shown)
Turtles: (singing) Don't talk, don't talk to strangers! / You never know what they may want from you!
(The Ninja-Style Dancer appears during the video, ready to attack)