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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT), created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in 1984, debuted in an American comic book from Mirage Studios. The TMNT are a group of four anthropomorphic turtle brothers, who, as one might infer from the name, are also teenagers, mutants and ninja. The Turtles, each named after one of their master's favorite Renaissance artists, were Leonardo (Leonardo da Vinci), Raphael (Raffaello Santi), Michelangelo (Michelangelo Buonarroti), and Donatello (Donatello). The turtles were trained by a mutated rat, Master Splinter.

The original small-press black & white comic book was successful enough to inspire a syndicated (and later Saturday morning) cartoon, which catapulted the characters into an international merchandising craze. The cartoon, while obviously inspired by the comic book, diverged from it in almost every way. While the comic was meant for an older audience, the cartoon was standard children's fare and typically avoided overt human violence and any semblance of real conflict. The characters' popularity exploded with the release of a live-action feature film (which most closely followed the comic) and its two sequels.

The TMNT stories were written with a generally consistent philosophy of moral absolutism (although it could be argued that Raphael, at least, displayed shades of grey on occasion). The Turtles were consistently depicted as the "good guys," and their arch-enemy Shredder (with maybe one or two exceptions) was depicted as a "bad guy." As the plots became more complex, more ambiguous characters were introduced but the main characters remained either "good" or "bad."

The TMNT stories contain something of an ensemble cast; although the TMNT are the main characters (and are given slightly different levels of importance depending on the particular story), there are usually three or four strong supporting characters, including their mutant rat sensei, "Master" Splinter, and humans April O'Neil and Casey Jones. Each character has been featured in solo adventures.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles themselves are variously referred to as the TMNT, Ninja Turtles, or even, after being introduced more completely, the Turtles.

Comic books
TMNT #4, 2nd Print
TMNT #4, 2nd Print

Main article: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (comic book)

The Turtles originated in a small-run black and white comic by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird entitled Eastman and Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Published by Mirage Studios, it was released in 1984 and became an overnight sensation for independent comics. Over the years TMNT comics have spanned four separate volumes and several side stories, culminating in TMNT: Volume 4, which began publication in 2001 and continues as of 2005.

Archie Comics owned the rights to publish comics based on the 1987 cartoon series. This comic, TMNT Adventures, stopped following the cartoon story after issue 5 and developed its own storylines. While the 1987 TV series had much more humor, the Archie Comics incarnation was more violent and explored darker themes such as death, religious conflict and environmental issues. The Archie Comics series was published between 1988 and 1995.

Image Comics also released an action-packed TMNT series, known as Volume 3, after the ceasation of Volume 2 and before the release of Volume 4.

A daily comic strip, drawn and written by Dan Berger, was published until its cancellation in December 1996. At its highest point in popularity, it was published in over 250 newspapers.

A monthly comic, inspired by the 2003 animated series, was published by Dreamwave Productions from June to December 2003 before it was cancelled due to low sales. It was written by Peter David and illustrated by LeSean, and in the first three issues, which were the only ones based on the TV series, it showed the perspective of April O'Neil, Baxter Stockman and Casey Jones instead of the Turtles.

TV Series

1987 Cartoon Series
The 1987 cartoon.
The 1987 cartoon.

Main article: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987 TV series)

On December 10, 1987, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' first cartoon series began, starting in daily syndication and later joining CBS' Saturday morning block as well. The weekend edition presented a full hour of Turtle Power, initially airing a couple of (then) Saturday exclusive episodes back to back. The series ran until November 2, 1996.

In animation, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are four wise-cracking, teenaged, pizza-scarfing cartoon turtles who fight the forces of evil from their neighborhood sewer hangout. In the series' twilight, new creative directions included augmenting the stars' abilities, expanding the cast, and even darkening the mood a bit. This cartoon series was made by Murakami-Wolf-Swenson Film Productions Inc. Mirage Studios does not own the rights to the old 1987 TMNT cartoon series, although they have incorporated many tributes to the series in the recent animated revival (despite Peter Laird's mixed feelings for a TV series which strayed so much from his comic book).
Main cast (1987 cartoon)
Main cast (1987 cartoon)

The cast included new and different characters like April O'Neil, Casey Jones, Bebop and Rocksteady, Baxter Stockman, and the Rat King. Original characters like The Shredder and Foot Soldiers stayed true to the comics in appearance and alignment only. Krang, one of the series' most memorable villains, was inspired by the design of the Utrom, a benevolent alien race from the Mirage comics. The animated Krang, however, was instead a Warlord from Dimension X, and a thoroughly evil being.

"TMNT: The Next Mutation" Series

In the late '90s, a live-action TV series was made. A fifth turtle was introduced, a female named "Venus de Milo", and the series took place generally after the storyline of the 1987 cartoon series, as Shredder had been defeated and the Ninja Turtles had new villains. These versions of the Ninja Turtles made a guest appearance on Power Rangers: In Space, a similar live-action superhero show of the time [1]. This incarnation of the Turtles was not very popular and was canceled after one season.

Since its cancellation, the program has been considered apocryphal by the TMNT fanbase, and Laird and Eastman have disavowed all knowledge of Venus de Milo (in November 2000).

2003 Animated Series
The Ninja Turtles battling foot soldiers in the new 2003 Animated Series
The Ninja Turtles battling foot soldiers in the new 2003 Animated Series

Main article: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003 TV series)

On February 8, 2003, the Fox Network revived the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise with the help of 4Kids Entertainment as a Saturday-morning cartoon in Fox's Fox Box programming block, which has since been renamed "4Kids TV". The 2003 TMNT cartoon series was produced by Mirage Studios[2], and Mirage Studios owns one third of the rights to the series.

The show differs significantly from the 1987 cartoon in that it follows the comics more closely, providing a darker and edgier feel, but still remaining light enough to be considered children's fare. The Turtles are depicted as more of a family than as a fighting team (unlike in the 1987 cartoon).

The turtles from the Japanese OAV.
The turtles from the Japanese OAV.

In addition to the American series, a Japan-only two-episode anime OAV series was made in 1996, titled Mutant Turtles: Choujin Densetsu-hen ("Superman Legend"). It featured the turtles as superheroes, who gained costumes and super powers with the use of "Muta-Stones," while Shredder, Krang, Bebop and Rocksteady gained super-villain powers with the use of a "Dark Muta-Stone." The show's characters resembled those in the original U.S. cartoon series, but with very different personalities. The show was aimed at a much younger audience, and used many non-serious elements of Sentai and superhero comics.

Feature films

All the feature films are available on DVD and VHS as well as the 2003 animated series. The 1987 animated series is available on its out of print VHS tapes which are a vintage favorite. There is also a DVD release of the 1987 series available since April of 2004, which contains the original episodes that aired back in December of 1987 and four bonus episodes from its tenth and final season. The second season of the original cartoon is also now available on DVD. The Next Mutation is also available on DVD and VHS.

The first film, simply titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, closely follows the Eastman and Laird original graphic novels, with a little of the silliness of the cartoons. While fans of both the cartoon and the comic were appeased, many felt that the Turtle characters (with the exception of Raphael) seemed to have the same personality with few variations.

The second film, entitled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, expands on the Turtles' origin story while claiming the dubious distinction of featuring Vanilla Ice's film debut. It also featured new characters: Shredder's mutants Tokka and Rahzar, and a mutated Super-Shredder.

The third film in the series was the lukewarm Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles in Time, which featured the return of the character Casey Jones. The plot of this film includes the Turtles traveling back in time to ancient Japan and donning Samurai armor. It was based on a sub-story involving the Sacred Sands of Time, which debuted in Eastman and Laird's TMNT Volume 1, issue 8.

The fourth film in the series is currently in pre-production. Unlike the previous films, it will be using Computer-generated imagery. No details have been released regarding the plot.

Video games

Not only did the Ninja Turtles have a successful toy line, cartoon series, and movies, but they also starred in many video games. Japanese video game manufacturer Konami was largely responsible for them.
The Dude Tube
The Dude Tube

The older TMNT games are based on the old 1987 TMNT cartoon show, while the modern TMNT games are based on the new 2003 TMNT cartoon show.


The first Famicom/NES TMNT game was the side-scroller Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (retitled 羶��綽��篌�Gekikame Ninja Den in Japan, which loosely translates to "Fierce Legend of the Ninja Turtles", affecting the numbering of its two Famicom sequels), released in 1989. It was unique in that at any point, the player could switch from one turtle to the next; each Turtle used his unique weapon (Donatello's bo, Michelangelo's nunchaku, Leonardo's katanas as well as Raphael's sai). The game was also unique in that the player starts off in a strategic map where the player may explore sewer holes as well as engage patrolling enemy foot soldiers before entering any in-game portals or entry points of their choice. There are also several 'objectives' which must be completed before completing any of the 5 available levels, such as rescuing April in the first level. During the course of the missions, the player also gets to collect several useful expendable weapons such as the use of boomerangs as well as shurikens. As with the custom of most video games of the era, there is inevitably a 'boss' character at the end of every level. The game, however, is only for single-player. The game scenarios involve diving into the Hudson River, securing a warehouse and descent into an active volcano and more.
Konami's TMNT Arcade flyer
Konami's TMNT Arcade flyer

Released also in 1989 and popular in the arcades during the 1990s was the first TMNT arcade game, also titled simply Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a side-scrolling "beat-em-up." It was successful enough to be followed by an arcade sequel known as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time in 1991, which later appeared on the Super Nintendo.

The second NES TMNT game, known as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game, released in 1990, is an adaptation of the original arcade game, with two additional levels and some graphics changed to advertise Pizza Hut. It was featured in Nintendo Power Volume #21.

The third NES TMNT game was called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project and was released in 1991. It was featured on the cover of Nintendo Power Volume #32. This game has the distinction of being the first to introduce unique special moves to each turtle (e.g. Raphael leaping into the air and spinning, with the sound of a jackhammer, known as the Turtle Drill).

The turtles' first Super NES and Sega Genesis game was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV, which was a home port of the arcade game Turtles in Time. There were minor alternations made to the game (some enemies could be defeated in a single hit on the SNES version). After some levels of regular gameplay, the turtles are warped to a prehistoric time, then several other time periods until they reach the future, where they battle first Krang, and then The Shredder for The Statue Of Liberty.

When the Ninja Turtles' popularity began to decrease by the mid-nineties, the video games changed direction. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters was issued on the NES, Super NES and Sega Genesis. Each version had major differences in plot, gameplay, graphics and characters, but the basic concept was the same in each: a one-on-one fighting game similar to the Street Fighter series.

Several games were made for the Famicom/NES, Game Boy, Mega Drive/Genesis, Super Famicom/Super NES, and others.

Late 1990s - Present

Konami was recently commissioned to transform the current 2003 series into a video game franchise, resulting in two games (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Battle Nexus), with versions for the PC, Sony PlayStation 2, Nintendo GameCube, and Microsoft Xbox. Most of these games have been panned by critics as being uninspired and not living up to the legacy of the NES and SNES games. Some theorize the poor reviews may have more to do with the games being based on the 2003 series instead of the 1987 series, the latter of which the current generation of gaming journalists quite probably grew up watching. For this reason, the 2003 series has also endured unfavorable criticisms from fans of the 1987 series. Game Boy Advance versions of both games were also released, although they diverge from the other versions due to the Game Boy Advance's limited hardware.

A third game in the new series is planned titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Mutant Nightmare is scheluded to be released in the future, along with a party game spinoff titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Melee.
The censored UK opening sequence.
The censored UK opening sequence.

Censorship and Hero turtles

Upon TMNT's first arrival in the United Kingdom, the name was changed to "Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles" (or TMHT for short), since local censorship policies deemed the word ninja to have too violent associations and connotations for a children's programme. Consequently, everything related to the Turtles had to be renamed before being released in the UK (or Ireland). The lyrics were also changed, eliminating the word ninja, such as changing "Splinter taught them to be ninja teens" to "Splinter taught them to be fighting teens." The policies also had other effects, such as removing Michelangelo's nunchakus on the same basis. At the start of the later comeback these policies had been abolished, and no changes were made to the 2003 TMNT show. The name Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remained unchanged for the 2003 show. As a result, in the U.K., the 1987 show is still called Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles and the 2003 show is called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Concert tour

To further add to the Turtles' popularity, a concert tour was held in 1990. The 'Comin' Out of Their Shells Tour' featured live-action turtles (in costumes similar to the films) playing music on stage around a familiar plotline (April is kidnapped, the guys have to rescue her). A pay-per-view special highlighting the concert was shown, and an album featuring the songs was released. The track listing is as follows:

* 1. Coming Out of Our Shells!
* 2. Sing About It
* 3. Tubin'
* 4. Skipping Stones
* 5. Pizza Power
* 6. Walk Straight
* 7. No Treaties
* 8. Cowabunga
* 9. April Ballad
* 10. Count on Us

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle doll
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle doll

* A Pen and Paper RPG entitled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness based after TMNT was published by Palladium Books in 1985. Turtles and rats were not the only option for mutated animals, a rather large list of animals was made available. It later spawned a game with a future apocalyptic earth populated mainly with animals, called After the Bomb. Palladium dropped the TMNT rights in 2000, due to the 1987 cartoon making the Turtles "too kiddy", despite fan protest. Palladium is still producing After The Bomb material, with no plans to pick up the TMNT license again, even with the 2003 cartoon in production.
* In February 2004 a TMNT trading card game based on the 2003 cartoon was released by Upper Deck Entertainment.
* Among many toys and related products, a collectible sticker album was made.

Other information

* The Mirage Studios comic book series (Voumes 1, 2 and 4), the first movie, the upcoming 2007 movie, the 2003 animated series and the video games based on the 2003 series are considered official canonical TMNT material, meaning they are considered as part of the backstory of the TMNT (although some contradictions tend to exist within).

* "The Next Mutation," the second and third movies, the Image Comics series and Archie Comics series, the 1987 cartoon series, the video games based on the 1987 series, and "Mutant Turtles: Choujin Densetsu-hen" are considered apocryphal TMNT material.

* Some interpret Master Splinter as being based on Master Yoda and Shredder as being based on Darth Vader, due to analogous demeanor and appearance between the two sets of characters. However, there is no known proof as to the actual inspiration for these characters.

See also

* Comparisons within Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
* List of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episodes (1987 series)
* List of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episodes (2003 series)
* Anthropomorphic Superheroes

External links
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations by or about:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

* Official Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Website - From Mirage Studios
* An usenet post on with an excerpt from a Washington Post article published in 1991 regarding the above-mentioned censorship upon the 1987 TMNT show

Comic books

* Read the entire first issue of the original TMNT on Mirage's TMNT website

1987 TV series

* The Technodrome Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Website - Information about the 1987 cartoon show
* Ninja Rap Page
* Original Theme Song Lyrics
* Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) at
* Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) at the Internet Movie Database
* Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) at the Big Cartoon DataBase

2003 TV series

* Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) at
* Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) at the Internet Movie Database
* Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) at the Big Cartoon DataBase


* Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
* Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)
* Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993)
* Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV (2007)


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