Celebrating 30 years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Feature Matt Edwards 25 Jun 2014 - 06:46

Matt appraises the LEGO, comics, DVDs and books brought out to celebrate the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' 30th anniversary...

Last month marked the 30th anniversary of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Here at Den of Geek we celebrated in our own way; we put on headbands and played with dangerous weapons in the sewer in front of confused rodents. Several serious, badly infected injuries later, we realised we’d made a huge mistake. Fortunately for us, several awesome people celebrated the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles anniversary better than us by making things. With our badly botched job behind us, we’re going to have a run through of who did what and how it went.

I’ll also be covering one of the recent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles LEGO sets here, Mutation Chamber, even though it’s got nothing to do with the 30th anniversary. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles LEGO is brilliant, though, and we’d hate to miss a chance to put some together.

 

Comic books!

Right, here’s something I’m aware of; potentially, you could argue that an article celebrating a celebration with Lego is slightly wonky and has too much going on. Something that’s not going to help my case is that, technically, the only product actually celebrating the 30th anniversary of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the IDW comic book, helpfully titled ‘30th Anniversary Special’. The rest of the stuff on this list is here for a reason, though, and I’ll explain each one as I get to it. Turtle’s honour.

IDW's comic is a collection of short stories from various Turtles comic series. The best of the bunch, for me, is the story set in the current IDW universe, which focuses on Raphael and Casey Jones hitting the streets and laying a beating on some bad guys. The strangest is set in the 1996 Image run, a comic series notable for doing things like making Raphael Shredder and exploding Donatello, so the laser-shooting-robot fight here is fitting. The ‘Adventures of...’ short gives it a run for its madman money, which is fair as the original Adventures run, an environmentally minded spin-off of the famous 80s/90s cartoons series, could get a little wacky at times, too. Here, we end up with nude Bebop and Rocksteady in a supermarket. It makes your eyes teary with nostalgia, doesn’t it?

With many of the original creative teams returning, the book features some lovely character moments and some beautiful artwork. It also includes an introduction with some early Turtles art and has an incredible pin-up gallery at the back, with a selection of specially commissioned pictures by some artists from Turtles comics past and present (my favourite is Ben Bates’ punk rock Bebop & Rocksteady picture). The whole collection is just perfectly pitched for an anniversary celebration; if you’ve ever followed a Ninja Turtles comic there will be something for you here, but it’s the hard core fans who will take the most enjoyment from this release.

Also released in May was issue 32 of the fourth volume of the original Turtles continuity. This was quite some reward for long term fans as the last time we were able to buy a new comic in this run was back in May 2009, for the 25th anniversary (issue 30, with issue 31 released for free online). The book, written by Turtles co-creator Peter Laird with art by Jim Lawson and inking by Eric Talbot and Steve Lavigne, was released in a 1000 print run from Steve Lavigne’s Shellback Artworks store or the online Mirage store.

The comic itself isn’t actually anything more than just the next issue, with no attempt to bring the series to any conclusion. It’s actually stated in the notes that the issue had been written some time ago. While it’s nice for readers to return to the story, volume 4 always moved at a pace that could generously be described as plodding, and this one shuffles along with no real urgency and offers nothing close to closure. Let’s hope it’s not 5 years until the next issue.

Tenuous LEGO bit: For the LEGO construction part of this article, I’ll be putting together the Mutation Chamber set. It’s based on the Nickelodeon TV series and features a little LEGO Raphael in weird robot battle gear, a little LEGO Victor and a little LEGO Spider Bytez (who is post-mutation Victor). It looks pretty awesome from the packaging, but for one of the smaller sets, all of the bags of bits and the giant instruction booklet tumbled out and I felt more than a little intimidated. I’m not very good at LEGO.

Still, taking my cue from IDW's comic, I took a little bit of everything and started clipping it all together. This is a bright, colourful set, clearly the work of careful, thoughtful planning. You get the feeling that whoever designed this LEGO set really loved what they were doing. I did find some of the instructions long winded and a little dull, but I was on my way.

 

Book!

Just released, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Visual History by Andrew Farago tells the story of 30 years of TMNT, with interviews, rare art, script pages, a free comic and a poster. While this one wasn’t created specifically for the anniversary, its release was timed to coincide with it.

Ladies and gentlemen, me and this book have fallen in love. Ever since it came out, I’ve wanted to spend every waking moment with it, just staring at its lovely pages. It’s driven a wedge between me and my wife. In fact, it literally is the wedge between us, as it sleeps in the bed now and I like it to go in the middle so it doesn’t fall out. More than once I’ve woken up cuddling it. On one occasion, I even woke up being hit with it. Like I say, my wife is furious. Me and this book are going to go on a camping trip together. I might even take it to Paris. Just the two of us.

I’m still digging into Farago’s book, but I can confirm that it is tremendous. Everything is covered, from the first Turtle drawing to the upcoming blockbuster film, via toys, TV shows and Vanilla Ice’s Ninja Rap. Full of interviews, the book is a particularly useful tool in finding out the stories behind some of the lesser known chapters of TMNT history. Perhaps most exciting, it features lots of leaflets and press releases and such stuck onto the pages, like a demented scrapbooker has been enhancing stock in the warehouse. This book is must have for Ninja Turtles fans, or for people who like things that are brilliant. Just don’t expect me to lend you mine.

Tenuous LEGO bit: I really dug into the LEGO. I was clipping bits of everything together and the set was starting to look the part. Much like Farago, I did in-depth research (er, reading the instruction manual), followed those instructions and then conducted some interviews to make sure I was getting the full story of how good a job I was doing (in an interview conducted with my wife, I was able to find out that “Shut up or I’ll hit you with that book again!”).

Much like The Ultimate Visual History, I was doing an ultimate job. I was also thrilled with the product. The Mutation Chamber is kind of great, allowing builders to play on the Turtle Temper episode of the Nickelodeon series where Victor and Raphael fall out and Victor gets a bit Spiderish. The little Spider Bytez is an utter delight.

 

DVDs!

At the end of May Lionsgate released four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles DVDs. Each one was themed on one of the Turtles (with a nifty coloured DVD case to match the relevant TMNT) and features three episodes from the old cartoon series that focus on the Turtle at hand. Now, I’m not sold that the best way to collect a near-200 episode TV series is in random groups of 3. But that’s just me. The actual selection of episodes isn’t bad, with the Donatello disc featuring one of my personal favourites, Night Of The Dark Turtle.

These releases seem to be geared more towards the bargain bin at your local supermarket than collectors, which is why we’ve given this release a miss at Den of Geek. In amongst all these other releases, this one feels most like a cash grab, likely owing its release more to the previously scheduled release date of the upcoming movie.

Tenuous LEGO bit: I don’t know about this. The full collection of these LEGO pieces all stuck together in the right order is great, but I think I’ve gone a bit wrong. I was careless and disinterested and just slapped a load of odd bits together.

Sometimes putting together LEGO is frustrating. I found myself asking ‘what was the point in making me put 5 different LEGO tiles down, all different sizes and colours, if we were eventually going to bury them under other LEGO? Why not just make one big piece of LEGO?’, suggesting that I don’t know the difference between LEGO and action figures, even though I actually do.

 

Documentary!

Please find below the trailer for Turtle Power, a documentary about the history of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that we’ve had our eye on for a good couple of years at Den of Geek HQ. Paramount will be releasing it in the US in August.

Looks brilliant, right?

Tenuous LEGO bit: I haven’t seen this documentary and I got stuck on the Lego so I threw it on the floor and it fell apart.

 

Movie!

The upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is directed by Jonathan Liebesman and written by Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec and Evan Daugherty and produced by a whole bunch of people, such as Brad Fuller and his colleagues. Originally slated for release in 2013, the film was bumped back to May 2014, right in time for the anniversary. What better way to celebrate 30 years of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than with the highest profile release the franchise has ever seen? But, er, then the release got pushed back again. It’s within a few months of the anniversary, and the folks involved seem keen to mention it, so we’ll still count this.

A lot of people have been unenthusiastic about the upcoming film. There are certainly strange elements, with many concerned about the look of the Turtles, and the production could fairly be described as ‘troubled’, with script leaks, the previously mentioned delays and a several rewrites. Still, there’s been enough in the trailers to still get excited about, for me. I’m so looking forward to seeing a Turtles movie on this scale and thrilled with the choice of William Fichtner as the villain. I accept that a good few of you will disagree with me in the comments section, perhaps with some saucy language or harsh sentiments. Sometime you internet kids can be very hurtful.

Even for those not looking forward to the film, or concerned about the direction this film could steer the franchise in, it’s difficult to argue that it isn’t as responsible for the wealth of recent Ninja Turtles releases as the anniversary is. Clearly, people can smell money coming off of this film. I prefer the smell of hot pizza, which we’ve previously associated with Ninja Turtles, but money smells good too.

Whether this film will be a worthy celebration of the Ninja Turtles 30th anniversary remains to be seen. In its own way, though, it’s already contributed a good deal of attention to the series.

Tenuous LEGO bit: I finished my LEGO! It took me two hours, which caused numerous delays and accusations that I wasn’t sure what I was making. At numerous points during the production of my LEGO, everyone thought I was making a hash of it. At times it was undeniable that I was getting things very, very wrong. I was putting the LEGO together like the instructions were written by aliens. Yet, I pressed on and I worked hard and I finished my LEGO. I think it came out looking pretty good.

Also, there will be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie LEGO. Dude!

Also, there will be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie Lego. Dude!

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