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sorry guys but due to real life commitments this week’s scheduled look at the first TMNT movie is pushed back to next week and instead today we’re looking at the anime, enjoy.

As regular readers of this blog may know I lived in Japan for three years. As a video game and anime fan for many years prior to moving there I had a few preconceived notions about the country and its culture and actually living there shattered many of my preconceptions.

The main one being that I though Japan was the weirdest country on the face of the earth where the streets were lined with used panty vending machines, every TV show was a sadistic game show and women dressed as video game characters roamed the streets freely. Sadly the internet lied to me and continues to do so as even now a good 30% of the internet is devoted entirely to websites saying some variation of “Oh Japan, you so crazy.”* Including mummyboon itself at times. (Although my Japanese weirdness is 100% guaranteed eye witness real)

But Japan is depressingly normal for the most part and what incredibly bizarre things do crop up can often be explained and understood with the provision of a little context.

Let’s apply that context to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles anime or Mutant Turtles: Superman Legend. An original straight to video production consisting of two episodes that rejoice in the titles “The Great Crisis of the Super Turtles! The Saint Appears!”  and “The Coming of the Guardian Beasts – The Metal Turtles Appear!”

I’ve actually written about the anime on this site very briefly before where I described them as basically the most stereotypical Japanese thing imaginable cramming every cliche of Japanese pop culture into one incredibly insane package. I imagined that some executive took one look at anthropomorphic ninja turtles and decided, nah, needs more combining to form a giant robot.

But let’s instead examine why that might be the case.

American cartoons are very rarely successful in Japan. There are a variety of reasons for this both cultural and economic. In the main it’s because economic pressures force Japanese television stations to show predominantly Japanese produced content, foreign content is mostly banished to satellite and cable with a few exceptions. However if a foreign show has the financial backing of a Japanese company (in the case of the 1987 TMNT cartoon this was Takara who helped produce the toys) it can be allowed on a Japanese network.

However, even if it gets shown humour and storytelling conventions don’t always translate and regardless of the quality of the original show if the dub is done poorly then it will be regarded as a poor show.

So the 1987 TMNT show faced a lot of barriers to becoming a hit in Japan. Despite these issues it was a monster hit. Although not as popular as it was in Europe or America TMNT was a big deal in Japan in the 90’s.

There are a lot of reasons why this shouldn’t be. There were three competing dubs on the market for starters which confused casual fans. Also all three of the dubs chopped and changed episodes and showed them out of order ruining any continuity or any story arcs, again a barrier to enjoyment for a casual fan. Also the central conceit was two American guys doing a parody of Japanese culture and not a particularly well informed parody at that. For example Oroku Saki and Hamato Yoshi sound Japanese to a western ear but to a Japanese person they sound as authentic as two characters called Smith Jonny Johnson and Butch Rockhammer would to an American audience.

But what does work for Japanese people is the tone. The mix of slapstick, parody, light hearted humour and serious dramatic action storytelling is something Japan has always been fond of and has excelled in for years. Seriously look at any anime that is popular in Japan (Atom Boy, Naruto, One Piece and not exactly anime but any super-sentai show) and you’ll see many similarities with the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon.

Obviously, when working with dubbing you aren’t going to change too much of the story or the characterisation. You need to keep the plot roughly similar in order to use the existing animation that you’ve bought. So there were no changes to the origin, characters, motivations, etc from the 1987 cartoon when adapting it to Japanese tastes.  But there were some changes. In the most popular of the three dubs (which shares its voice talent with the OVA we’re discussing) the comedy was played up even further with a lot of ad-libbing to the extent that characters would be talking even when the animation clearly showed their mouths were shut. Some names were changed too. Shredder goes from Oroku Saki (which, um, is a girl’s name) to Oroku Sawaki and Splinter goes from Hamato Yoshi to Yoshihama Takeshi. The voice acting also changed some personalities a little so Donatello becomes quite manly whereas Raphael is weirdly effeminate. Shredder becomes a lot more put upon and complaining and Krang, ye gods Krang. The original Krang had a bizarre voice with weird grunts and burps and was very high pitched. The Japanese Krang however sounds like an angle grinder. It’s pitched so high that many of his lines can only be heard by dogs. Yet it’s weirdly endearing after a while.

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I also like the logo they gave the show in Japan. It’s similar to the western effort but I like the ninja mask over the first kana, it just looks cool.

So the show ran for 102 episodes and then got cancelled. But 102 episodes of an American cartoon was basically unheard of at the time and Takara was still cranking out toys even after the cancellation so they thought, let’s just make some more ourselves.  We’ll do some straight to video episodes to promote these new toys we’re making.**

And so was born the TMNT original video anime (or OVA).

So here is a brief summary of what happens in the two episodes of this show.

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The first episode starts with a flashback to an episode that does not exist so right from the beginning we’re getting into some strange stuff but I’ll explain it all later. Krang discovers a dark muta-stone, a counterpart to the turtles own muta-stones (just stay with it I’ll explain later). Inside the stone is a fairy called Dark-Mu with the power to destroy the universe. He hopes to awaken her and use her power to destroy the Earth. Meanwhile on Earth the turtles fairy friend Crys-Mu (nope, it is never explained where the fairy friend comes from) alerts the turtles that Dark-Mu is being awakened and this is causing problems for the Earth such as hurricanes, tidal waves and earthquakes. The turtles set out to stop Krang but he sends Shredder, Be-Bop and Rocksteady to stop them. They arrive and use the powers of the muta-stone to turn into respectively some kind of robot dragon, a New Wave Rock Star and a cross between a rhino and a lizard.

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The Turtles respond by using their own muta-stones (which they got in the episode that never happened) to turn into incredibly buff and disturbingly handsome green skinned humans wearing shells and carrying ridiculous weaponry (Raphael has the spinning top of super violent wind and Michaelangelo appears to have some kind of robot fish). The two groups fight and Dark-Mu awakens sending a tidal wave that submerges Tokyo. She reveals her powers by causing Shredder to grow into an enormous robot dragon and sending another giant ball of black energy to destroy the Earth which splinter just deflects with his bare hands because in this continuity Splinter is basically Chuck Norris. The turtles defeat Shredder by tricking him into dropping a building on his own head but Dark-Mu flies into space where she can destroy the world.

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So the turtles form the turtle saint, a giant robot turtle complete with wings (yes, you did read that correctly) to fly after her. They attempt to stop her but cannot because, well, I’ll let this quote from Donatello sum it up.

“how troubling, if we don’t sync with each other we can’t defeat her”

So Crys-Mu flies up and fights Dark-Mu. She thinks she can seal both herself and Dark-Mu back in the Muta-stones but she needs the turtles help, so they use their “mega final saint break” attack and turn both Crys-Mu and Dark-Mu back into stones.

I’ll, I’ll let that sink in for a moment guys.

Have you digested that? Good, prepare for more insanity.

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So in episode 2 the world is fine (…okay, sure) and the turtles travel to Japan at the behest of some “real” ninja. Shredder also has gone to Japan and this leads to a brief scene on the Shinkansen (bullet train) where Shredder loses to some “real” ninja which I think might be symbolic of something, hmmm. Anyway the turtles arrive in the ninja village where they have a magic mirror with some stones on the back and someone is trying to steal it. That someone is, unsurprisingly, Shredder who has been sent there by Krang to get the stones which turn out to be Muta-stones from the back of the mirror. When he realises this the head ninja pulls a chain WHICH EXPLODES THE HOUSE THEY WERE ALL IN AND CAUSES A GIGANTIC CASTLE, WHICH IS APPARENTLY THEIR HIDDEN FORTRESS, TO RISE FROM THE GROUND!!!

It was at exactly that point that I decided that this is actually my all-time favourite version of TMNT.

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Oh and at some point before that the Turtle got ninja armour, because ninja armour is totally a thing despite the fact that this show has approximately eleventy trillion ninjas in it and none of them have worn armour before.

So now they all race to the top of the castle and Shredder gets there first and gets his muta-stones. This causes robot animals to fly from OUT OF MT FUJI! Then they meet up with Shredder, Bebop and Rocksteady and form robotic samurai armour for them. Shredder gets white tiger armour, Bebop gets a fish and Rocksteady gets some kind of Hydra. So we have the spectacle of a warthog mutant wearing armour that makes him look like a fish.

Ow, sorry guys I may have to pause for a moment, I think that might have been an aneurysm. Or can the rest of you smell purple now too?

So they fight the turtles for a bit and then the turtles get the mirror which causes them to get robot animal samurai armour too because just being turtles with ninja armour, that’s lame, kid’s won’t like that. Raphael gets a phoenix, Leonardo gets a dragon, Donatello gets a lion with wings and a dragon’s tail (???) and Michaelangelo gets some kind of cross between a lion, a spider, a crab and a turtle. And his attack is called the “beef bee tonic” so that’s also cows and bees and….I have honestly no idea what animal he’s supposed to be. I don’t think the creators did either, or cared.

So they fight for a bit, the turtles win and Shredder and his gang run away. The Ninjas are happy, the end.

…..

Now based upon that you’d be inclined to think, this is insane. There is no rhyme nor reason to what is happening here, the creators are completely round the bend loco. They are one crayon short of a box. They are not in their right minds. They are cuckoo for cocoa puffs.

And I had the same thought when I saw the trailer for it on youtube lo those many years ago.

But if you watch the entire show you realise pretty much in the first three minutes that THEY KNOW. The creators are fully cognizant that the story they’re telling is completely and utterly certified bat shit and they’re doing it on purpose. Rather than this being an example of Japan naively adapting a western property to Japanese tastes by adding giant robots and transformations it is a parody of all those conventions of anime and super-sentai. And they’ve crammed literally every cliché they can think of in here; giant robots, people combining and having to sync up their hearts, transforming heroes and villains, robot animals and animal themed armour and powers, mystical forces, ancient ninja magic, villains making their minions grow. If you can think of a shonen anime or super-sentai cliché it’s probably in here. And that extends to the visual style as well which incorporates every clichéd image and money saving trick ever used in an anime.

And that’s entirely appropriate.  TMNT the comic was kind of a parody but mostly played straight, TMNT the animated show had its tongue firmly in cheek but TMNT the anime pushes the jokes into pythonesque surrealism. I mean just look at some of the visual gags like this foot soldier in a Hawaiian shirt.

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Or indeed the…everything, about this.

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There’s also some brilliant visual gags I can’t show you here because they’re animated. My favourite being a series of images of the world being destroyed; Tokyo Tower crumbles, the Eiffel Tower crumbles, and then it cuts to China where….a picture falls off a wall.

The dialogue as well is so tongue in cheek it’s gone right through the other side. That’s why we have gems like, “I don’t object to destroying the earth but where will we live afterwards?”

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If you want further proof the very first scene is a flashback to an episode THAT NEVER HAPPENED! So all this stuff with fairies and muta-stones is just there and is never explained. Because it doesn’t have to because you know what the muta-stones are, they’re a macguffin like whatever the sentai-rangers need to power up this series.

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Other than all the parody stuff the characters are actually remarkably similar to the originals in appearance and personality. The 4 turtles are basically unchanged (until they mutate into incredible hunks or metal samurai). April O’Neil is basically the same except for, ironically, having a smaller chest (you’ve disappointed me Japan, where is your incredible perversion when I need it? Although Dark Mu does kind of make up for it). Splinter is the same in appearance and personality but has been elevated to monumental badass. Not only can he deflect huge energy blasts but he can project an illusionary image of himself that is LARGER THAN THE MOON!***

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Shredder is the only character to get a re-design and weirdly he gets two. In the second episode he has a look that’s quite similar to his movie appearance but without his trademark blades that make him, y’know the shredder. In the first episode though he has a very different helmet with a sort of red crest on it. He also doesn’t  have his shredding blades but instead has absolutely enormous shoulder pads. Oh and his eyes have become anime eyes and decidedly more expressive.

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He’s barely in this shape before he turns into a satanic robot dragon though so, whatever.

As far as alternative versions of the turtles go it’s beyond stupid and far from definitive but incredibly enjoyable. The creators looked at the original slightly weird and fun concept, looked at the utterly bizarre toys they were being paid to advertise and just said, “let’s make the weirdest, silliest, stupidest version of this show we can.” And they succeeded, and the result is wonderful.

You can check out the insanity for yourself on youtube, the starting link is embedded below.

I also want to direct you to who has a fascinating article on the complicated history of the turtles in Japan which was very helpful in writing and researching this post.

*For the curious it’s 30% ridiculous stuff from Japan 30% cats, 35% porn 4% memes and 1% misc.

** This is something I used to think was particularly Japanese, that if something is popular once they will never let it die. Gundam and Sentai Ranger for example have been going pretty much continuously since the 70’s but every series has a new setting and characters just shared themes, ideas and elements like the costumes for sentai ranger or the robots for Gundam. See also Final Fantasy, Mario, Gatchman, Transformers, etc, etc. And this was something that never happened in the west so when something like TMNT got cancelled, that was it, it was cancelled, over and done and with very few exceptions not coming back. Of course now Hollywood and western television is obsessed with remaking stuff that works before. And I also realised that all those properties that get constantly re-made in Japan, they’re not mainstream properties but nerdy ones. This is because Japan realised two things long before Hollywood did. 1. Nerds spend a ton of money. 2. If you give nerds something they already like but just change it slightly, they will buy it all over again and hence why we went 7 years for a TMNT remake the first time but less than 2 this time.

*** As everyone knows, old people in Japan don’t get older they just get smaller and more powerful as their power becomes more concentrated. If you ever find yourself in a group of heavily armed thugs, say there’s about 50 of you, armed with machine guns, and you come across a single old Japanese man with a cane, run! Run away immediately because he is going to destroy you utterly.

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In my review of Cabin in the Woods I mused that the film seems to be asking a question it provides no answer to. Namely why do human beings enjoy watching horror films? Why do we enjoy stories where people die?

Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard in Cabin in the Woods seem to have approached this from a cultural and symbolic level, arguing that there is an ingrained need for human beings to see violence and suffering. I don’t entirely disagree with this but I’m not quite as cynical as they are. Nor do I think it has anything to do with an ingrained cultural hatred of the young or the need to see them suffer.

For me it’s kind of basic. Humans are sacks of chemicals, one of those chemicals is adrenaline and we really like it when adrenaline gets fed to our brains. Adrenaline is a chemical associated with the fight or flight response so it is released whenever we are confronted by a scary or dangerous situation to help us deal with it.

The thing is our fight or flight response is an idiot and the rest of our brain is a genius by comparison and so we’ve been able to trick it into releasing adrenaline when we’re not really in danger. Like when we ride a roller coaster, or climb a cliff face, or watch a horror movie.

This is a physical chemical process in our brains, watching a horror film releases a chemical that makes us feel good. There’s no deeper investigations needed into the cultural reasons for this it’s basic science, being scared feels good. What is culturally determined is what makes us scared and why things that are scary in one culture are not in another. Japanese horror films, for example, are obsessed with children and water things not traditionally considered scary in the west.

But why do we need a horror film to do this? Roller coasters scare us without needing to invoke the imagery of death and suffering and on a purely cinematic level a jump cut will scare us even if the context around it isn’t scary at all. Even the laziest hack director can throw a spring loaded cat at the screen and scare the audience through surprise alone. So why not combine jump scares with something innocent like two guys driving a golf cart, won’t that scare us? Why do we need these images of girls suffering, isn’t that just a symptom of a sick society?

It’s because horror fans are like drug addicts addicted to that feeling of being scared. They keep coming back to seek it out again, but like any addict they become numb to the stuff with repeated use and so they have two choices, up the dose or change the drug. These can be thought of in film making terms as intensity and novelty.

Intensity accounts for most of the changes in horror as time has progressed. Just as a heroin addict needs to use more and more heroin to get a fix a horror fan needs more and more horrific images to trigger the same original thrill. You might watch Psycho and flinch when the knife hits the girl but after the 5th or 6th time you’ve seen this you’re numb to the image, de-sensitised. Worse you’ve worked out how it’s done and know the knife never stabbed her, instead the camera cut away. You can no longer trick your brain into producing the adrenaline because it knows it’s a trick now. But then some film maker comes along and shows the knife lingering a little longer and shows some blood! Oh wow! Suddenly this is terrifying again and it’s tricked your brain all over again. Until the 8th, 9th or 10th time you see this done and then, you’re used to it again. But now some guy comes along and shows the open wound! And on and on the cycle goes getting gorier and more explicit.

This operates on both an individual level and across the genre as film makers move to out do each other or push boundaries. That’s why the genre has gotten progressively gorier since the 1950’s.

Then there’s novelty which is much harder to do. A film shows you something you haven’t seen before, a combination of images or sounds that scares your brain in a new way. This doesn’t even have to be intense if it’s original or unexpected enough.

But novelty is hard to do whereas intensity is easy. It takes talent to come up with something new but anybody can just add more gore.

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You can fake novelty though by rehashing the same bag of tricks that always works (discordant music, isolated areas, jump cuts, slow pans, etc) but with different stock elements. So it’s a cabin in the woods with a murderer, in space! Or a cabin in the woods with a murderer, that’s a leprechaun! There’s just enough novelty there to make the audience think they’ve seen something new when really it’s the same stock techniques again and again and again.

Indeed Cabin in the Woods makes fun of this lazy copy paste approach to film making with the signature scene in the room full of monsters.

That’s why you get so many films that work on the same basic premise. It’s not because humanity demands some kind of totemic sacrifice, it’s because lazy film makers know that they can use stock character archetypes so long as they come up with a unique monster or one novel scare. And we watch them, because we’re desperate for a fix and if it provides that fix we’re happy even if the characters, setting and story are incredibly familiar.

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Indeed that familiarity can help. Genre cinema is pretty much defined by a conflict between familiarity and novelty. Audiences enjoy genre cinema because at heart we like to see our expectations confirmed. This is not a new nor a controversial statement, there is a wealth of media theory discussing how audiences essentially like to see the same things over and over again. But they can’t be exactly the same things. Give us exactly the same as we had before and we just get irritated by the repetition. So film makers need to give us the same with just enough new to disguise it.

Sometimes that takes the form of something like Evil Dead, taking the familiar spam in cabin set up and formula but investing it with novelty trough the tone, the way the camera is used, the way the music is used, etc. Sometimes it takes the form of Jason X, taking the familiar spam in a cabin set up…but in space!!! And having the familiar set up helps make the novel elements more distinct which helps from a marketing perspective too.

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But is there any deeper meaning to the particular elements that get re-used. To go back to Cabin in the Woods is there a particular reason that so many horror films use teenagers and use teenage archetypes like the jock, the slut, the fool, the virgin and the brain?

Possibly and many a fine essay has been written on just such a topic. But I can also offer much more prosaic and practical reasons why that might be.

Why are they teenagers? Because your audience is mainly teenagers and so it helps with audience identification. It also gives you a plausible reason for your characters to act rock stupid since teenagers are well known for making mistakes. Why have a brain? To spout expository dialogue. A fool? Comic relief. A slut? Some cheap exploitation (read boobs) that will bump up the potential audience.

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In fact let’s look at the new vogue in horror cinema, found footage films. Although found footage as a concept goes all the way back to Cannibal Holocaust it really first made an impact with the Blair Witch Project and with monster hits like Paranormal Activity and REC has become the new hotness in horror cinema.

Why is this?

Well you could look at it one way and construct an argument around the fact that modern society is increasingly recorded. We all carry a camcorder built into our phones everywhere we go and our own recorded image is now plastered all over social media. This is the society of the recorded image more so than any society that has existed before and horror films reflect the tensions and fears of the society that produces them.

Or you could make an argument that Blair Witch costs peanuts to make and made bonkers amounts of cash. That found footage is cheaper to film, doesn’t require a particularly talented DP or particularly nice cameras and yet the ticket price is just as much as for a big studio production. That they’re a relatively new trick in the tradition of horror cinema and they still have enough novelty to work on the audience for the moment so producers are squeezing as much profit out of the trick as they can before audiences vote with their wallets and reject them or someone creative comes up with a new trick.

And this ultimately comes back to Cabin in the Woods and two possible ways to read the film.

In one interpretation the film seems to be saying that you are a bad person for wanting to watch horror films. This is the interpretation that is focused on the cultural significance of the repeated use of archetypes. It asks you “why do you wan to see the youth of society slaughtered again and again, what does that say about you as a horror fan?”

In another interpretation though the film seems to be saying that you are a bad person for wanting to watch unoriginal horror films. This is the interpretation that is focused on the prosaic and monetary significance of the repeated use of archetypes. It asks you “why do you want to see these stock characters get slaughtered again and again, what does that say about you as a horror fan that you’re prepared to put up with the same recycled plots?”

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Cabin in the Woods (2012)

There has been a lot of critical discussion of Cabin in the Woods that starts by tip toeing around the issue of spoilers, warning you to watch the film before you read anything about it and that having anything spoiled will ruin the film.

I certainly hope those critics don’t actually think that’s the case because Cabin in the Woods spoils it’s oh so secretive premise in the very first scene. If this was supposed to be building up to some incredible twist reveal then the filmmakers botched it massively. However, I have a little more faith in Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon than that.

That said there are some nice reveals in the later part of the film and this review will be spoilerific so I would watch the film before reading further.

Have you watched it? No, you’d still like a plot summary? Well suit yourself.

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Cabin in the Woods is ostensibly your traditional Spam in a Cabin film. 5 young adults, the jock, the stoner, the slutty one, the smart one and the virgin head out to a cabin in the woods to drink too much, have sex with each other and then get murdered by (insert random monster here).

So far so generic but that is exactly what Cabin in the Woods sets out to do and it immediately starts subverting these genre conventions. For starters our characters aren’t quite the archetypes they seem to be. Our dumb blonde is in fact a med student and she’s not even a real blonde. Our alpha male is a sensitive sociology student and our brain is actually a decent football player. As for our virgin, well, she just broke up from a distinctly sexual affair with her professor.

Even stranger the whole set up appears to have been staged by some kind of secret organisation. For reasons that are initially unclear they’re creating the circumstances of a typical Slasher movie. For example; they’ve dyed one characters’ hair blonde and added a chemical to the dye that basically makes her super horny and decreases her intelligence thus creating the horny dumb blonde they need for their horror film.

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These controllers sit in a high tech bunker underneath the titular cabin and manipulate events with chemicals and light cues to, not exactly force, but certainly heavily push our protagonists into doing what they want. And what they want is our heroes to go into the basement where, in one of the film’s better ideas, there is a huge variety of bizarre and creepy objects that will each summon a different monster. In a brilliantly over the top scene the friends are each seconds away from summoning a different evil force while the guys in the bunker bet on what the outcome will be. Eventually it’s selected; pain worshiping redneck zombies will be the order of the day.

Set up completed we move into what for most horror films would be the meat of the plot, the assault by evil forces against our protagonists as they one by one get picked off and killed in gruesome and imaginative ways. But really this is all still set up for what proves to be the best part of the film. Our virgin and our stoner character realise that they are in some kind of staged scenario and through a fluke manage to escape from it and make their way into the underground base that controls everything. Now for the first time the film isn’t parodying horror conventions but instead telling it’s own story of two young adults caught up in a conspiracy fighting for their lives and possibly the fate of the whole world.

Cabin in the Woods is usually described as a horror film but it isn’t one. Certainly the iconic elements of horror films are all there. Stereotypical dumb young adult characters, slashers, isolated cabins, lack of phone reception. Indeed in one of the film’s most inspired gags literally ALL of the iconic elements of horror are there as the two escapees find themselves in a room containing every monster the film makers can think of. This ranges from classics like vampires and werewolves, to versions of existing characters like pinhead to real life monsters like the ku klux klan. Even a unicorn! It’s an inspired joke and it really stands for what the film is saying as whole, that though the icons and monsters may change all horror films are essentially the same thing.

Because Cabin in the Woods is a film about horror films and not a horror film itself. It’s never once scary and it never really tries to be scary, even in the early scenes that seem more like a horror film. Instead its tone veers between pathos, drama and humour. It is basically a black comedy.

And as a comedy it’s brilliant. It has plenty of gags and great one liners. It was written by Joss Whedon and his familiar dialogue sizzles and zips out of every actor’s mouth, but it mostly relies on two main sources of humour.

The first is the incongruous contrast between the horror and murder being committed and the very normal office atmosphere of the control centre. This is most visible during the party scene. The controllers, thinking they’ve killed all our protagonists, open up some drinks and throw an office party. It’s the typical scene you might get after a successful project completion. Guys from different teams interact awkwardly, someone tries to hit on a colleague, the intern brown noses the manager. It’s all very normal boring office stuff. Meanwhile in the background on the monitors a girl is being beaten, presumably to death, by some kind of zombie.

The other is straight up parody of horror conventions. During the scenes in the middle of the film with the secret agency manipulating the kids we get lots of nods to the rules and conventions of horror, how certain characters act in certain (usually stupid) ways to advance the plot. In this way the film kind of resembles Scream but it is much more effective in pointing out the conventions and subverting them. My favourite example being the button one of the controllers presses that electrifies the knife our final girl is holding, causing her to drop it. The dropping of knives has to be one of the most annoying tropes in slasher films and it’s great to see it lampshaded here.

Cabin in the Woods is a very, very well observed parody of the horror genre and there are some deep references in here (there’s a reference The Faculty and another to Leprechaun of all things) but this is not an affectionate parody. In fact it has a surprisingly scathing view of horror from two guys who have worked so extensively in it.

Firstly it puts forward the view that all horror films are essentially the same stock tropes repeated ad nauseum with only the nature of the monster changed. Again the scene with the room full of monsters really hammers this point home but the sub text is made text many times as the controllers have to manipulate the characters to conform to stereotypes. In the climactic end scene Sigourney Weaver (in a largely pointless cameo) outright states words to the effect that they have to make the young adults into cultural archetypes. This is a little harsh on horror but it’s not a sentiment I necessarily disagree with. However I don’t think that repetition in the horror genre is a bug but a feature. Something I’ll discuss more in the companion piece.

Much more controversially though it asks the question why do we watch horror?

Normally our controllers are stand-ins for the artists that make horror films, the writers and directors, etc. People who just have a job to do but unfortunately have a job that requires becoming de-sensitized to the death and the gore that surrounds them. However, at times the controllers stand in as audience surrogates, watching our protagonists and getting a voyeuristic pleasure from it. This is most obvious in the scene where the control room fills with male crew waiting to see our blonde slut take her top off or again in the party scene where everyone cheers as a girl gets beaten to death. The film is obviously condemning this behaviour. Our sympathies have largely been with the final girl and we as the audience want her to live but our stand in audience wants to watch a gruesome death and reminds us that we enjoyed watching the other four kids die. Morally the film positions this as somewhat sick behaviour and tries to answer why on earth horror fans would want to see this stuff and why we as a culture would keep making it.

The answer they come up with is punishment, specifically punishment for being young. Again this is explicitly stated in Weaver’s thunderously clunky expository speech at the end but it’s also subtly indicated throughout the film. Horror films function as a proxy for virgin sacrifice, something cultures all over the world have practised. Be it spam in a cabin films, or Hunger Games or Battle Royale or burning witches or throwing virgins in the volcano; the ritual suffering of the young is something that is key to the human psyche.

This is a profound observation but it opens up another question that the film fails to answer. Why? Why do we need to see the suffering of the young? Is it jealousy; do we see them having a good time and want them to have the problems of adults? Is it some kind of symbolic proxy for how they have to suffer in some fashion to stop being children and become adults?

The film never really explains why the sacrifice is necessary. It does explain within the context of the film. The ritual sacrifice of these five cultural archetypes will pacify an ancient lovecraftian evil and stop it from destroying the world. However it doesn’t explain why this sacrifice is necessary on a metatextual level.

This is probably because the lovecraftian demon (dun dun dun) is us. In the final shot of the film the hand seen emerging is distinctly human, and earlier in the film the demon expressed pleasure at seeing one character die. As much as the controllers are audience stand-ins so too is the dark god demanding it see suffering and sacrifice in order to appease it. This speaks to an often suggested reason why people watch horror films, as a kind of release by proxy of violent desires inherent in the human psyche. That there is something about humans that demands we experience violence and by watching a horror film we can pacify that demand rather than enacting it in the real world.

Again that’s rather profound but still leaves a question unanswered. Why do Whedon and Goddard think we want to experience this violence?

The film doesn’t answer but instead moralises about this desire to view violence. Our two protagonists when presented with the facts, they need to die to save the world, opt not to sacrifice themselves. Instead they’re perfectly happy for the whole world to die whilst they sit there and smoke a spliff. Their reasoning being that human beings are terrible and we deserve to be destroyed so the world can start over.

If we take this at a meta-textual level the film seems to be saying that the existence of horror films proves that human beings on a basic level want to see violence done. We want the young to suffer. And in the absence of a reason given in the film for why this might be the case it seems to posit that this desire is an intrinsic facet of being human. and it will persist as long as human beings do.

That’s a surprisingly cynical view of horror films and human nature. It might be necessary to have them to sublimate a worse evil but the fact that they exist is evidence that the human beings that watch them are fundamentally evil.

Cabin in the Woods is a smart film and a very successful comedy but it has a bad case of multiple personality disorder that will really divide horror fans. On the one hand they’ll love the parody of the genre and recognising the tropes and references. On the other it is very harsh towards both the artistic merit of horror films and their morality and on a meta-textual level really makes a case that horror films are bad and just a symptom of how sick human beings are. That’s going to rub a lot of horror fans the wrong way because nobody likes to be judged or told that what they enjoy is wrong and Cabin in the Woods seems to be saying that.

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On a side note I do want to briefly address the review of Cabin in the Woods by Gooberzilla over at The Greatest Movie Ever podcast. This is an excellent podcast by the way and I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in film, particularly genre film. I don’t always share Gooberzilla’s taste in films myself but he is always articulate and logical in his arguments about why he doesn’t like a film I might personally love.

But in his review of Cabin in the Woods he makes a cardinal film criticism sin. He reviews what the film isn’t rather than what it is.

Gooberzilla posits a version of the film that starts with the future dead teenager characters and does not cut away to the controllers until much later in the film. In this version the set up would be played straight until they get to the cabin and the film would slowly reveal hints that what the characters are experiencing is more than it seems. They find the cameras, we in the audience notice the gas or a subtle voice whispering what a character should do and we start to suspect that this is some kind of set-up. Then the third act proceeds much as before with two of our protagonists escaping into the facility and discovering the conspiracy and the fact that they need to die to save the world.

His argument is basically that this would have worked as both a horror film and a comedy and the scenes where we don’t know what’s going on would have genuine tension to them and enigma.

Now I fully agree that this would be a great film and I would happily watch it, but that isn’t the film Cabin in the Woods is, nor is it the film it’s trying to be. Starting the film with the controllers was a very deliberate choice, not a failing and here’s why they did it. To deny the viewer what they want. The very fact that many voices have bemoaned the opening scene and how it ruins the tension and the mystery points out that the audience wants tension and mystery. But the filmmakers don’t want you to have it. This is a film that is a) about subverting conventions and b) has the core thesis that horror cinema is bad and human beings are bad for wanting to watch it. Therefore they’re going to set it up like a horror film and then deny you the pleasures of a horror film. That’s why the film isn’t scary, that’s why our protagonists neither die heroically nor find a way to beat the odds. Those would be satisfying endings. Instead our characters fail because they want to deny you the pleasures of a horror movie. Whatever you want to see this film thinks is bad for you and so denies it. They even make this idea literal with the Merman running gag. One of the controllers wants to see a merman, it’s a running gag throughout the film, and when he sees a Merman, it kills him. What you want is bad for you horror fans.

You may disagree (indeed, I do) but you can’t criticise the films structure when it works towards the films aims.

Gooberzilla’s other complaint I want to respond to is the big hand at the end saying he would have preferred something more lovecraftian like a tentacle. Again I’d argue there is a very good reason for the human hand, it’s because the great ancient one is a human being, or at least symbolic of human beings. The whole reason for the sacrifice in the context of the film is to appease this dark gods but meta-textually there are no dark gods only human beings. Human beings want to see violence and gore and human sacrifice and we can be appeased by what the controllers have created, a horror film, a scenario that conforms to our cultural needs and which prevents “the dark times before” i.e. the violent history of humanity prior to the outlet of violent fiction. Making it a tentacle would make it less obvious that the dark gods are viewer stand-ins.

There is also a companion post to this review that discusses some of my thought about why people enjoy horror films.

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Evil Dead (2013)

The problem with being a fan of horror films is that – more so than any other genre – the law of diminishing returns sets in fast. We watch horror films to be scared by them, but the more we watch, the more we become used to the tricks of the trade, and the harder it becomes to scare us. That’s why the primary audience for horror films are teenagers; they haven’t seen enough horror films yet to become jaded.

So when a horror film comes along that is genuinely scary, it really is something special, something to be held up and admired. So much so, that you excitedly tell all your other horror loving friends that they need to see it. The remake of Evil Dead, shocked as I am to say it, is such a film.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a wholly original film by any stretch of the imagination. Plenty of this is familiar territory. A bunch of young adults in an isolated cabin? Jump scares? Discordant music? We’ve seen all this before, right? In fact, it’s a remake, we’ve literally seen all this before. However, director Fede Alavarez masterfully plays upon the fact that this is a remake for some of the scares.

The old Hitchcock nugget about what defines tension goes something like this; two people sit at a table, a bomb goes off. That’s boring. But two people sit at a table, the camera pans down to show a bomb, then goes back to them sitting at a table. The audience knows what’s going to happen, and it’s the waiting for that to happen that builds the tension.

Alvarez uses this trick repeatedly, explicitly showing what will happen to a character in a page in the necronomicon and then making us slowly, gradually, agonisingly wait for the reveal to occur. But he’s at his most clever when he uses the audience’s prior knowledge of the earlier films to pull off the same trick. When one character gets an infected hand, fans of the original films know exactly what’s going to happen, but he makes us wait for what seems an unbearably tense eternity for the inevitable to occur.

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He also doesn’t flinch away from his reveals. This is a gory and explicit film. Gore doesn’t usually bother me since I normally find it flat and lifeless, but Evil Dead had me peeking from between my hands on more than one occasion. It also helps that most of the effects in this film are practical. You’d be amazed how much that helps sell the horror. Or maybe you wouldn’t. I know many horror fans despise CGI blood, so they’ll be pleased to hear there’s plenty of dyed corn flour in this flick and nary a computer in sight.

Whilst I think it being a remake is a crucial aspect of the success of the film, what a lot of fans want to know is, is it better than the original?

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Well, cards on the table. Evil Dead 2 is in my top ten favourite films of all time, and the first Evil Dead is an imaginative, innovative, and insane film. The remake however, doesn’t come close to the twisted genius of the original. That’s partly because this film makes no attempt to be funny, whereas the original Evil Dead is one of the few movies to successfully tread the line between scary and hilarious. If you go into this wanting it to be Evil Dead all over again then you’ll be disappointed.

Some have said this film would have been better received if it dropped the Evil Dead name altogether, but as I hope I’ve made clear, much of the pleasure is in remixing those familiar Evil Dead elements in new ways. Think of it like a cover version. Take a song like Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and do it in a punk style. The cover isn’t trying to improve on the original; they’re trying to do the original in a different way.

And that’s what we have with the 2013 Evil Dead. It’s Evil Dead but played straight. I didn’t think I would ever want such a thing, but the film genuinely surprised me with how enjoyable a straightforward horror version of Evil Dead can be. And really, what was Evil Dead 2 but a cover version of Evil Dead, with the comedy dials turned up and the horror toned down?

It’s not perfect by any means, though. The biggest problem is the script, which is clunky and contains some of the worst chunks of expository dialogue you’re likely to encounter. The acting is workmanlike at best, with no real standouts and certainly nobody to rival Bruce Campbell’s magnificently charismatic Ash. Nobody is annoying, but they’re all fairly flat and we don’t get a stand-out star. It also has very problematic sexual politics, even for the relaxed standards of horror films. And the less said about the ending, the better.

So, not perfect, nor as good as the original, but a worthy addition to the series, and an increasingly rare example of a genuinely scary horror film.

The above content was written by and is owned by Richard Adam Halls. It originally appeared on the Simply Syndicated website at http://www.simplysyndicated.com/evil-dead-wminor-spoilers/#.UcrHs_k3uSo all posters and image are copyright their respective owners

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Iron Man 3 (2013)

The Iron Man series of movies has a couple of key strengths that put it ahead of other superhero movies: Robert Downey Jr, the character of Tony Stark, and snarky banter. Downey Jr is delightful to watch as Stark, quipping his way through life, cracking bon-mots, and generally being effortlessly cool. He’s a lot more fun to be with than brooding tortured souls like Batman, Spider-Man or the Hulk.

The producers of the series know this too, and so in the third installment of the franchise they give the audience exactly what we want; lots of Tony Stark being glib and charming. Bringing in Shane Black (writer of Lethal Weapon and writer/director of Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang – another Downey Jr quip fest) was a great decision in this vein as the man knows how to deliver good banter.

But whilst the dialogue was always the best part of the previous films, it wasn’t the only aspect necessary to make Iron ManIron Man 2 and Avengers Assemble work. Fast-talking he may be, but Tony Stark as a character has depth. He’s a conflicted man, using his bravado to mask feelings of inadequacy, fear of losing control of his life, and fear of death.

This film seems aware that it needs a character arc for Tony, but it forgets to have one.

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It starts well. After the events of Avengers Assemble, Stark is having trouble sleeping, kept awake at night by nightmares of how he nearly died stopping the alien threat, and haunted in the day by hallucinations & anxiety attacks. With his best weapon – his mind – seemingly fracturing, two threats emerge. One, a terrorist with unclear aims but seemingly immense power named the Mandarin, and the other a mistake from his past in the form of a biomechanical virus named Extremis. Tony is stripped of his home, his supporting cast and even the Iron Man armour. Now the only tool he has left to fight back with is his mind, and he may be slowly losing that too.

That is a brilliant first act, but it has with two problems.

Firstly, that’s the set up for the first Iron Man film. Tony gets kidnapped and forced to use his wits to escape. Spoilers, he builds a suit of armour and kicks ass. Further spoilers, that does not happen in this film.

Secondly – and more importantly – all of that set up gets tossed away in the second act. Tony gets a pep talk from a cute kid and suddenly decides, okay, no more PTSD. There isn’t any pay off. It’s like the film knows it has to get rid of that stuff so we can have our big fight in the third act, but unable to think of a satisfying way to do so, it  just drops it.

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The psychological set up isn’t the only thing that’s jettisoned either. The most glaring example of this problem is the Mandarin. Ben Kingsley is fantastic in the early scenes; a terrifying and enigmatic presence that literally interrupts the film to deliver ominous warnings of doom. He’s tremendously scary and the audience is eager to learn more about him. Then the second act undercuts all of that with a reveal that – whilst hilarious – leaves a gaping hole where the antagonist should be. Guy Pearce’s mad scientist character, Aldrich Killian suddenly has to step in and be the bad guy, but he doesn’t have the charisma or the personality to carry it. That’s no slight on Pearce by the way,  as the fault is with the script. We just don’t get enough time with Killian to care when he suddenly becomes the big bad.

The suit is another problem. In the film’s set-up Tony gets separated from his Iron Man armour, and has to make do with a malfunctioning prototype. Now, unlike the aforementioned problematic aspects, this one does build on the set-up. Tony has to use improvised weapons and his fast mouth to deal with physical threats until his armour is repaired. All of this builds up to Tony getting back in the suit and kicking righteous butt in the third act. And it does.

The problem is they then proceed to do it again, and again. Tony gets suit, loses suit, gets suit. In fact the final battle is literally Tony getting into one suit after another as each breaks down or gets destroyed in turn. I know that the aim is to reify the theme of Tony having to rebuild himself, but the effect is just one big cinematic tease. Your film is called Iron Man; a significant part of the appeal of said film is seeing the man in the robot suit hitting things – get to the money shot, people!

Despite my complaints it’s not a bad movie. I enjoyed it more than Iron Man 2 (which was a bloated, overcrowded mess) and there’s a lot to like. I loved the banter. I loved the multiple armour designs in the final fight. I loved the stunt with the people falling from the plane. I really, really loved Gary (you’ll know when you see him). It’s just frustrating that there’s one third of a truly great film here that gets sabotaged by its own plot twists.

The content above is written and owned by Richard Adam Halls but originally appeared on the Simply Syndicated website at http://www.simplysyndicated.com/iron-man-3-wspoilers/#.UcrHrPk3uSo all pictures are copyright their respective owners  

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There is a tension inherent in adaptation.

When you adapt something from one medium to another you have to change things, that is simply unavoidable. Mostly this is due to the strengths and limitations of the medium you’re adapting the story into.  To give a comics example; you can’t do the Dark Phoenix saga in a film the same way yit was done in the comic because a film lasts 2 – 3 hours and tells a single story. A comic runs for years and tells a new story every month so you can have a slow burn sub-plot like the corruption of Jean Grey into the Dark Phoenix happen in the background every issue until you suddenly make it the main story. You could also do that on television, or possibly in a novel if it was lengthy enough but not in a film.

That’s just one example and there are many more. In adapting something to a new medium some changes are necessary.

However, if you’re bothering to adapt a story then there must have been something in the original worth adapting. It must have been popular enough that someone thought it was worth spending the money to make it into a film or TV show. The tension comes from making the necessary changes to adapt it into the new medium whilst preserving what made the original work in the first place.

So a certain amount of change is necessary.

But then you get the changes that have nothing to do with conventions of the medium but happen in adaptations anyway.

For example, Gimli the dwarf is presented an entirely serious character in the original Lord of the Rings novels. However in the films he increasingly becomes a comic relief character, prat falling and spouting one liners. There is nothing inherent in film as a medium that demands a comic relief character, this was a change the creators decided to make because they thought it would improve the film that was not entirely necessary.

These changes are unnecessary. But they’re not necessarily bad. There are plenty of examples of a creator adapting something and improving upon a flaw in the original text.  Batman the Animated Series was so good at this that many of their changes, like Clayface’s origin or Two Face’s personality, were absorbed back into the original comics.

More often than not though they are bad, or at least neutral, and they infuriate fans of the original work.

I’m a die hard comics fan, I have been so since I was 9 years old and I have heard more than a few people whine; “why did they have to change it? It was great before and now it sucks!” whenever anything from a comic gets adapted.

Indeed I’ve said it myself on occasion.

I say all this as a preamble to my next statement. The adaptation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from gritty black and white comic book to Saturday morning cartoon may be one of the most successful adaptations of a property from one medium to another of all time.

I say this not because I think the 1987 TMNT cartoon is better than the comics (I don’t) nor do I consider it to be an amazing cartoon (it really isn’t. the animation and storytelling do not hold up well at all) but because I think the cartoon is a better and more successful at being a cartoon than the comic is at being a comic.

As evidence just look at the history of the two properties. The comic was cancelled one year before the cartoon was and whilst it has been brought back and cancelled a few times since and was a big hit for an indie property it was never a number one, nor even a top ten, selling title.

In contrast the cartoon was at one point the longest running American animated TV show (until The Simpsons overtook it). It spawned countless imitators and a huge host of licensed products and spin-offs.

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For most of the world, the 1987 cartoon is the definitive version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and it in every way supplanted the original comics. Indeed it introduced some changes and improvements that would be carried forward into pretty much all other adaptations.

So, what did it change?

The biggest change is an overall change in tone. TMNT the comic is played straight. Ridiculous stuff happens but the threats are real threats, the dangers are really dangerous. Characters die and suffer. It is a dramatic adventure story.

TMNT the animated series is a comedy. Dramatic stuff happens, the turtles use their weapons and fight bad guys but there is never really any sense of threat or danger. At all times the tone is light and comedic. We have bumbling incompetent villains, fourth wall gags, nod and wink references, parody characters and puns, a constant non-stop torrent of puns.

Now if you were a fan of TMNT the comic in 1987 I imagine you’d be furious at this. It seems for all the world like the cartoon is making fun of this comic you love. It really isn’t though; it’s making fun of anything and everything it can get its hands on and just embracing the fact that, well, the basic concept of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is kind of ridiculous.

And I think this was the smartest decision the producers could have made.

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Most narratives, especially in genre, are all about hitting the audience’s expectations and giving them moments they specifically come to see. In porn it’s sex, in comedy it’s a joke, in horror it’s a scare. For a dramatic action story it’s an action sequence. And your audience will forgive anything in the story itself if you hit these pay off moments well. A film with a very basic plot but excellent action sequences will go down well with fans of action films.

But action sequences that are exciting to watch are hard to do in animation. It can be done but it requires a lot of time and money to animate well and TMNT just doesn’t have that budget. Comedy though is kind of easy to animate. That’s why most animated television shows historically have been comedies and only recently have we had serious attempts to do dramatic story telling in western animation on television.

And let me just pause at this moment to critique the cartoon as a whole. In preparation for this review I watched the first 5 episodes of TMNT 1987 again and hoo boy are they rough. The animation is largely appalling* with tons of mistakes (my favourite is when the wrong voice comes out of a turtle’s mouth) and just the worst editing in a cartoon I’ve seen in outside of Hanna-Barbera. The plots are perfunctory and riddled with plots holes (how does the turtle van drive to a vast subterranean cavern?), the action is unimpressive and tedious (mostly it’s turtles dodging lasers) and there is never any dramatic tension even for a second.

But, as a comedy, it still works. Even though it’s aimed at kids and plenty of jokes don’t work there were more than a few lines in these episodes that had me smiling.

“We’re the news media. Who’d want to hurt us?”

“This is great! I must really be onto something hot if they’re trying to kill me.”

“No April, you wouldn’t last five minutes in a ninja pizza parlour (turns to camera) I love saying lines like that.”

There’s also just plenty of sight gags and situations that had me giggling too, such as an old lady pulling a giant machine gun out of her shopping cart when she sees the turtles.

Trying to do the TMNT cartoon as a drmatic action piece in the manner of the comics would not have worked with the restraints the producers had. Playing it as a comedy could have though, and it did.

So they changed the tone, what else did they change?

Most significantly and most successfully, it changed the appearance of the Turtles. The actual characters are slightly taller and slightly more humanly proportioned than they’re drawn in the comics. They also look friendlier and have pupils in their masks that make them more open and human looking which helps with the comedy.

But best of all they have colour coded bandannas.

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Now I know colour coding wouldn’t help much in a black and white comic but even in later volumes of the comic that are in colour the turtles all have red bandannas. Considering the turtles are drawn to look identical to each other this makes it incredibly annoying to figure out which character is talking. Literally the only way to tell is to see what weapon they’re holding. Yes, it doesn’t make sense for a ninja to jump around in bright primary coloured cloth but these ninja are all green to begin with so shut up logic. The colour coding is such a massive help in telling the turtles apart that it was naturally carried forward into every other version.

The initials on the belts though…not entirely necessary guys.

The turtle’s origin is tweaked a bit as well. The turtles falling into the sewer and the mutagen falling into the sewer happen on different occasions. This is neither an improvement nor a loss really but does remove the Daredevil parody.

The mutagen doesn’t come from aliens this time either but from Shredder in an attempt to kill Hamato Yoshi.

This brings me to Shredder, Splinter and Hamato Yoshi.

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In this version Hamato Yoshi and Shredder (Oroku Saki still) are both ninjas in the foot clan. Yoshi is the leader and trainer of the branch of the clan they both belong to.  Shredder wishes to be the leader and so when a revered sensei of the foot comes to visit he literally stabs Yoshi in the back. Well, nearly. He stabs his robe to the wall meaning Yoshi can’t bow, and then when Yoshi removes the dagger he appears to have pulled a dagger on the sensei. Yoshi has been framed by Shredder and is apparently disgraced so he flees to New York.

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For some, inadequately explained reason he ends up destitute and living in the sewer. Kay. There he makes friends with some rats, and then the turtles. One day he and the turtles get exposed to the mutagen turning them into turtle-men and he into a rat-man, Splinter.

This is so much better than the comic.

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For starters it means we don’t have to buy kung fu rats in tiny cages. Yoshi becoming Splinter means he would of course know martial arts from his time in the foot. Indeed he’s already shown to be a teacher of ninjas.

It also provides a much more interesting dynamic between Splinter and Shredder. Rather than being a clichéd “you killed my master” kung fu set up Splinter has multiple reasons to hate Shredder. He disgraced him, forced him out of the clan and turned him into a rat man. Shredder also has better reasons to hate Splinter than revenge, he’s jealous of his superior martial arts skills and fears that he might take back the foot clan. It also gives the turtles a better reason for going after Shredder than revenge; they want to turn Splinter back into a human. That’s a much more noble motivation than they had in issue one of the comics. And it adds a tragic element to Splinter as a noble man betrayed and forced down to the level of a rat but who still has dignity and appreciation for art.

Considering this series isn’t aiming for high drama it does a better job of setting up dramatic conflicts between the main characters than the comic does.

Of course they had to change the origin. The original version had too many murderings and love affairs for a kids cartoon. But even if it’s an accident it’s a happy one.

There are some problems with the new origin though. It makes Shredder out to be the unequivocal bad guy, he’s the betrayer and the attempted murderer when in the original comic he has been wronged by Yoshi and so is a bit more nuanced. It also doesn’t explain why Yoshi goes to New York and then sets out living in the sewers. There are homeless shelters in New York dude, sewer should not be your first option.

Other than the origin changes the Turtles and Splinter are much the same as they are in the comics with clearly defined personalities. Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines, Raphael is cool but rude and Michaelangelo is a party dude. Why it’s all there in the (still fantastic) theme song. The only real change is Raphael who is usually portrayed as the angrier more violent turtle but you can’t really do that in a Saturday morning cartoon so Raph here is more of a sarcastic quipster.

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The series also introduced a lot of stuff we associate with TMNT. The surfer talk catchphrases (Cowabunga, Radical) were created for the series. Incidentally it’s fun to see in the first five episodes things that were obviously meant to be catchphrase that never caught on (“Turtles fight with honour” and “let’s boogaloo”). It also introduced the idea that the turtles order really weird pizza like whipped cream flavour, or adding breakfast cereal as a topping. In fact it’s the first version to suggest that the Turtles are obsessed with pizza at all. While the weird toppings idea didn’t stick around the concept the the Turtles love pizza has certainly become ingrained in their make-up. This series also introduced the Turtle Van and Turtle Blimp. This is typical Saturday morning stuff  (put some vehicles in for kids to buy toys of) but the Turtle Van is so well designed and so iconic (I love the frowny face with the spare tire as a nose) it’s been brought back a few times too.

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April O’Neil is much changed from the comics. For starters she isn’t a scientist’s assistant but a news reporter. This is another great change from the source material. There’s a reason Superman and Spider-Man work for newspapers, it’s just a great story telling engine to insert into your narrative. Rather than being reactionary and limited to New York April O’Neil is out there chasing stories and that provides an excuse to send her around the country and get the turtles involved when threats become too big for her.

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Her appearance is much changed too but this is the iconic April O’Neil most people think of. Red head, yellow jumpsuit and, two features in particular that everybody remembers.

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Yeah, April O’Neil is pretty much the first woman I ever had a crush on. And I think she cemented my fondness for red heads forever.

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April brings with her a lot of new characters from her news channel. Her boss, Burne Thompson, her rival reporter and cameraman Vernon Fenwick and her friend and secretary Irma Langinstein. These characters provide broad comedy in most episodes with varying degrees of success but they’re pretty one note stereotypes.

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Casey Jones shows up but he’s a much reduced character than in other adaptations. He’s presented in a manner that very closely matches his earliest appearance parodying vigilantes and cop shows like Dirty Harry with his extreme violence (well, as extreme as a Saturday morning kid’s cartoon can get). The thing is in other versions of TMNT Casey is allowed to grow beyond that role and become an ally to the turtles and a well-rounded character. Here he never does.

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By far the biggest sets of changes apply to the villains. We’ve already discussed some of the changes to Shredder’s origin but there also changes to his appearance and personality here. The original comics Shredder was just a ninja, a particularly dangerous ninja with a Darth Vader helmet but still just a ninja. In this he gets elevated to full on super-villain. He has plots to take over the world (well eventually, most of the time he has a more short term goal that he needs to achieve before the world conquering stuff can start) and although he does have a ninja clan he also has a vast array of high tech weaponry, vehicles and resources, access to an extra-dimensional army and a crew of mutated street punks. His appearance makes him seem less like a stealthy fighter and more like a flamboyant Doctor Doom style villain complete with purple cape.

Now all of these changes are to make him more like a standard cartoon villain of course. The set-up with him having vast technological resources means you can tell a lot more stories with the same starting point. Shredder needs thing n so he uses x special weapon which causes y problem for the Turtles. Rinse and repeat. At least in his first few appearances he is still treated with dignity and comes off as a viable threat. However, by the time a few seasons have rolled around he’s been reduced to a comically inept villain.

This is also the series that cemented Shredder as the Turtle’s big bad. In the comics he dies in his first appearance, and although he does return the Turtles deal with a variety of threats in that book. In the cartoon he appears in nearly every episode. Again standard Saturday morning stuff but it helped define Shredder as the Turtles bad guy.

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Krang also appears in nearly every episode and he is by far the best thing about the 1987 TMNT series. Instead of being a race of brain aliens Krang is unique in this setting. He’s actually the conqueror of an alien dimension (Dimension X) and he used to have a body before losing it in an unseen accident that also blasted him to our dimension. Krang, more than Shredder , really drives the plot. He either wants to get a new body, or bring his army over from Dimension X or empower his vast tank the Technodrome** but being a brain without a body he can’t enact any of these schemes himself hence his allying with Shredder. Krang is written and acted as amazingly sarcastic. He just owns Shredder repeatedly with cutting put down after cutting put down. Their relationship is akin to something like Ren and Stimpy or Brian and Peter in Family Guy. One intelligent guy constantly sniping at his stupider friend at a level that often goes over Shredder’s head. It’s such fun to watch.

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Bebop and Rocksteady were original creations for the 1987 series that were fondly regarded but don’t seem to have shown up in any other versions. In one sense I don’t know why. They have really great designs and provide a striking visual. They’re also a nice concept. In this continuity Shredder has the mutagen himself and he uses it to turn his street gang allies into powerful animal men. Great idea, it means Shredder can routinely produce new monstrous foes for the Turtle’s to battle and it provides an endless source of new animal men designs for Playmates to make toys out of. However the main reason they’re usually not used elsewhere is that they’re a bit redundant. They’re henchmen for Shredder who already has an entire ninja clan at his disposal and they’re bumbling comedy henchmen at that. Bumbling henchmen is a venerable old trope but the problem with including it in TMNT 1987 is that the relationship between Shredder and these two is basically the same as that between Shredder and Kang so they’re a touch redundant.

Incidentally the foot clan in this version are all robots. This is incredibly stupid and makes no sense but was necessary because FCC restrictions at the time would have precluded the turtles using their weapons on real people. So it’s either robot ninjas and Raphael gets to stab things or human ninjas and he doesn’t. I feel the show made the right choice there.

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Baxter Stockman was the second villain the turtles encountered in the comics and so he is in the TV show too in a fairly faithful adaptation of his initial scheme involving small dangerous robots called mousers. Whilst Stockman is a recurring character in the comics he is mostly a technological foe attacking the turtles in a cyborg body for example. The TV show already has a technological foe in Shredder and Krang though so Stockman is another redundant character.

Until they turn him into a fly in a parody of, what else, The Fly.

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Yeah, that happened.

Oh and he was black in the comics and isn’t in the cartoon. I don’t know why.

The show also created a few new villains or elevated some existing villains into a much bigger deal. Of these Leatherhead and The Rat King are probably the most prominent and well remembered.

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Leatherhead is a Cajun Alligator-man. Unless you really like Cajun jokes there isn’t a lot to him.

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The Rat King is a bit more interesting. He’s a homeless guy with the power to control rats, initially with a flute and then later with just his mind. Since Splinter is a rat this understandably causes a few problems for the turtles. Rat King is interesting for a few reasons. Firstly he’s really more of Splinter’s enemy than the turtles which allows for some rare Splinter focused episodes. Secondly he isn’t a bad guy so much as he is chaotic neutral. He believes rats are superior to humans but mostly is content to just hang around in the sewers with his rat buddies and whilst he often is in conflict with the turtles he will sometimes aid them if something threatens the sewers. For an 80’s kid’s show that’s surprisingly nuanced characterisation.

Also props for taking a design like this

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And rendering it in a way that it can be animated; that took some skill guys.

So ultimately what do I feel about the 1987 turtles cartoon?

This is my childhood in TV show form. This thing is pure raw unfiltered nostalgia. And unfortunately it pretty much sucks. It’s got bad stories that are badly animated. I have very fond memories of this show but it does not hold up well at all. The only thing that hasn’t aged is the comedy and I was pleasantly surprised with how funny I found it as an adult when I had a sneaking suspicion going in that it was going to be a Scooby Doo level of bad, bad puns.

But I think the ideas and concepts in here are better than the comic. They’ve taken what was a promising idea and refined and improved on it. The characters motivations and personalities in here are just superior to the comic and it adds some concepts (colour coded bandanas, eating pizza) that just work and will show up in later adaptations.

Basically if you could take this show complete with light tone but combine it with more logical stories and better animation you’d have the platonic ideal of TMNT.

But what if you didn’t animate it at all? What if you did it as a live action movie? Join us next week when we look at the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie.

*Although by the standards of the time it wasn’t that bad actually. Of all the American cartoons produced between 1980 and 1990 really only stuff done by Disney and some of the Sunbow stuff (i.e. Transformers) was better animated. But it has not aged well at all.

** More kids cartoon stuff. TMNT like any 80’s cartoon existed to shift toys so Shredder and Krang often employed tanks and vehicles that screamed “buy me!” to their audience. The biggest and best was an enormous vehicle called the Technodrome which was basically a Death Star on tank treads with a giant eye on the top. Gaze upon it! I love the designs in this series, they’re so creative and so bizarre.

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For boys (and most girls I’d imagine but having never been one I’m speculating here) there are certain toylines from your childhood that hold a special nostalgic place in your heart. These are the products that not only kept boredom at bay through long afternoons but shaped your imagination and the person you’d ultimately become.

Some people have Transformers or He-Man or G.I. Joe but I’m slightly too young for those venerable toylines which had all shot their bow just before I was born. I was aware of these and had a few toy Transformers but I didn’t love these properties.

Instead my affection was for Thundercats (which I made the mistake of re-watching once. Hoo boy is that show terrible) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Oddly enough  I am not a furry despite my childhood being focused on two anthropomorphic animal teams. I feel I made a lucky escape there.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles debuted in a set of black and white comics in 1984 two years before I was born but the cartoon show launched in 1987, when I was one year old, and ran until 1996! When I was 10! That’s 9 years! That is an absurdly long time for a kids’ show, let alone an animated kid’s show.* And that’s not  surprising considering what a monster cultural hit TMNT was. TMNT merchandise was everywhere in the 90’s: clothes, lunches, backpacks, their own cereal and special snack cake, video games, movies, even a touring stage show and an album!

And it spawned a slew of imitators trying to cash in on the formula of anthropomorphic animals with catch phrases that fight bad guys. Street Sharks, C.O.W. boys of Moo-Mesa, Cheetahmen, Biker Mice from Mars, Battletoads.

There has never been a time in my life before TMNT was a cultural phenomenon and so of course I just accepted it as part of the zeitgeist like Spider-Man or Batman, Football or Star Wars. These things have always existed to me and always been popular so I never had cause to think about why they were popular.

But if you step back from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for just one second you realise.

This is a profoundly weird concept.

4 brothers, turtles, mutated by alien ooze and named after renaissance artists, that are trained in ninja arts by their master, a mutated rat, live in the sewer and fight bad guys including robot ninjas using high tech gadgets including a blimp and a van.

There are at least 7 bat shit crazy concepts in that last sentence. Just read it again, let the insanity soak into your head. Isn’t it amazing?

So how did something so odd come about? What incredible drugs were the creators on to come up with that random hodge podge of insanity and why did anyone think it would ever work, let alone become the monster hit it did?

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Well as most of you reading this probably know Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles started as a comic from Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird and either intentionally or not it reflects the prevailing popular comics of the day. Really you can break the four word name into four aspects that directly reference popular comics from 1984. Why are they teenaged? Because Teen Titans at D.C. comics was a huge hit featuring young adult heroes learning to come to terms with the adult world both literally and in super heroic metaphor. Why are they mutants? Because X-Men with its mutant heroes was the most popular comic in America and the word mutant or an x on a title really helped it sell. Why are they ninjas? As well as Ninjas really breaking into American pop culture in the 80’s in a big way they hugely influenced comics, especially Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil which was revolutionising the way comics were actually told. That book was a masterpiece and it was full of ninjas. Finally why are they turtles? well this was a black and white self published comic and there really was only one prominent black and white self published comic at the time, Cerebus the Aardvark (who would actually team up with the turtles shortly in their first comics run). He was an anthropomorphic aardvark so in celebration of that success why not make another funny animal comic?

Conceived of that way there’s a certain mad logic to it. If all these four things are popular why wouldn’t a combination of them be four times as popular. In practice that kind of thinking never works out but there is a strange alchemy to TMNT, taking several disparate ingredients and producing from their interaction something wholly new and wholly unique.

All of which is a preamble to me announcing my next big blog project. I want to look at the origins of the Teenage Mutant Turtles every time they get a new origin. The original comics, the 80’s, 2000’s and modern cartoons, the anime and the first film. I’m going to examine what’s the same and what’s changed, what works and what doesn’t, what tone is aimed for and whether it’s hit or missed. Ultimately I hope to get to the core of the question, why does the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles work as an idea at all?

So lets start with the earliest example of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the 1984 black and white comic from Mirage studios.

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Mirage studios were so named because the studio was a mirage. It referred to Eastman and Laird’s living room, a shared drawing space for the two friends where they cranked out home made comics for fun and failed attempts at profit. TMNT was the studio’s first official production with a print run of 3000 issues. That print run cost Eastman and Laird every penny they had and some more money borrowed from a  relative to produce. They sold out in less than 3 months. That’s small potatoes for a major publisher like Marvel but for a home made product this was an absolute monster hit.

But what affection and positive criticism there was for the issue had a lot more to do with the idea and potential of the book than the actual story contained in the first issue; which is workmanlike at best and downright bad if you’re inclined to be mean. Judged by the standards of two guys working at home this is amazing stuff but judged against popular comics of the day it is clearly amateur hour.

Mostly the problems are in the art and even then only in two places. The figure work and the backgrounds.

Eastman and Laird’s figures have a crudeness to them that’s kind of charming but definitely looks amateurish. The proportions of the human characters are just slightly off. Not in a stylised way either, if that were the case then the proportions would be consistently off in the same way each time but instead character’s facial features seem to wander about their heads with eyes moving up and down or getting closer together or further apart.

The turtles also don’t look like they will in any adaptations or even as they will later in the comics run. They have big heads, big hands and big feet but relatively small bodies and skinny short arms and legs. It’s not bad, in fact it almost a has manga-ish super deformed feel to it but I’m more used to seeing the turtles with more human proportions (except obviously shorter and with the larger than average torso) By about issue 4 or 5 the more human proportions have started and the hands and feet have shrunk considerably.

The biggest problem is the line they employ. An artist’s line really defines an artist’s style, whether it’s thick, thin or even invisible if you’re aiming for photo realism. The problem Eastman and Laird have is the line is inconsistent, and not from panel to panel but within part of a drawing. They’ll draw an arm and rather than draw a line of even thickness to delineate the edge it will vary in width. It gives the whole thing a crude and amateurish feel.

It’s also a problem that clears up by around issue 3. Although there never stops being something, slightly off about the proportions the line issue gets cleared up and a thinner, straighter much more confident line starts being employed.

Then there are the backgrounds or rather the lack of them. When the artist bothers they’re perfectly capable of drawing backgrounds (although again there are issues with the fuzziness of the line) but they opt not to draw them most of the time. That’s partly because it’s a black and white drawing and they want their figures to pop out from the background more so opting not to draw a background leaves you focusing on the figure in question. However when you compare it to the professional standard at the time the lack of background is noticeable. You would never encounter a panel in a fight scene in X-Men or Teen Titans with the background missing because taking the background away has a distancing effect on the reader and undercuts the reality of the world the characters inhabit. Again this stops being such a noticeable problem in later issues.

Oddly though these are the exact opposite to the art problems you’d expect to find in a juvenile effort. Most artists master figures before they move on to try and tel a story, they get taught how to sketch still images long before they try and put a comic together. So what trips them up is learning how to tell a story in sequential art. Eastman and Laird have no such problems. Their panel to panel storytelling is clear and efficient and even uses some inventive grids. They make great use of splash pages and generally pace fight scenes well. There’s nothing especially flashy in here but that’s a good thing. Learn the essentials before you start experimenting. However based on this the essentials were already down pat.

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The fact that the storytelling is much better than the lines might be attributed to the unusual way Eastman and Laird worked together. Rather than one inking and the other pencilling or trading off pages they aimed to work together on each page. Presumably the fact that line wanders in thickness is a facet of this as one artist drew a thicker line than the other.

One issue with the storytelling though is just how much of it there is to tell. Look at a page like this

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that is crammed pack full of words. Show don’t tell guys, we’re reading a comic not a novel.

Although I don’t blame them for taking short cuts, the issue is 39 pages long which is about half extra the length of a normal comic. Even with the extra space though they need to introduce the origins of the turtles and splinter, the origin of the shredder and his conflict with splinter and have a fight with shredder and his foot clan (who are a parody of the hand from Daredevil by the way, explaining the bizarre name).

That’s a lot of material to cover guys.

The origin of the turtles themselves is pretty much the same as it is in any adaptation. A boy has four pet turtles in a jar, they are struck by a canister of mutagen which smashes the jar and the turtles and canister fall into the sewer. The mutagen covers them and they grow up to be kind of humanoid turtles. Splinter then finds them in the sewer and teaches them in the ways of ninjitsu.

The weapons are all here but the individual aspects of the turtles haven’t been fleshed out yet. For starters all the bandannas are red (although it’s a black and white comic so colour coding them wouldn’t help much) so visually they’re all identical anyway. Personality wise in issue one the turtles are total cyphers, only Splinter and Shredder have any personality and they’re stock archetypes. It wouldn’t be until the series continued that the turtles developed distinct personalities, but they are the personalities you’d expect for each turtle. Raphael is the wild, rude, sarcastic one who likes violence a bit too much, Donatello is the smart one who tinkers with gadgets and expresses wonder and amazement, Michelangelo is the goofy one who tells jokes and Leonardo is the stoic driven one concerned with living up to his master’s ideals and protecting his brothers.

What is different though is that the mutagen accident is actually part of the daredevil parody of the book. You see Daredevil is a marvel super hero whose origin involves him leaping into the road to save a blind man from a careening van. he does so but is struck with radioactive waste from the back of the van, blinding him but giving him super powers. As for the turtles universe, I’ll let the page speak for itself.

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Then there is the origin of Splinter which differs from the cartoon and is way, way worse.

Most of you probably think that splinter is a human named Hamato Yoshi who was turned into a rat man when he touched the mutagen and then a rat. Nope! No, originally he is just like the turtles, a rat (specifically Hamato Yoshi’s pet rat) who turned into a rat man.

Why then is he proficient in the ways of the ninja? Because he learned them when he was a ninja’s pet rat by watching him practise and practising in the cage himself.

No, I am not kidding, here is the evidence.

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This raises many questions. Even if we assume that Splinter mastered martial arts routines in his little cage he has never had a chance to put them into practise, nor will he be aware of how to do other ninja tasks like scaling walls, making smoke bombs, etc that he teaches to the turtles.

And let’s not even get started on how he’d be able to teach the turtles how to use their signature weapons. Did Hamato Yoshi craft tiny little katana for his rat to practise with?

There is a rule about suspension of disbelief that the audience will accept any one impossible thing so long as the rest of the story follows logically from that. Aliens made a mutagen that turns animals into people and people into animals, fine, that’s your impossible thing. But the world of the comic also asks us to accept that rats can stand on their hind legs and master karate by watching it…which I’m not buying.

Shredder gets a much more nuanced and complex origin in the original comic too. Shredder is Oroku Saki. Shredder’s brother Oroku Nagi and Splinter’s master Hamato Yoshi are both ninja in the foot clan. They’re also both in love with the same woman Tang Shen (who presumably is Chinese because that is not a Japanese name guys). Shen prefers Yoshi and Nagi, in a jealous rage beats her. Yoshi discovers Nagi in the act of beating his lover and kills Nagi. Having dishonoured himself Yoshi flees to New York with Shen( and his pet rat Splinter of course) to set up a new life.

Nagi’s brother Saki is tasked by the foot clan to kill the traitorous Yoshi and fueled by his hatred for the man that killed his brother he forges himself into the Shredder and sets up the New York Foot clan. He then kills Yoshi and Shen and leads the New York Foot as a criminal gang.

Splinter then tasks his sons, the turtles with killing Saki, now Shredder, as revenge for killing his master.

That’s a pretty classic origin and it makes Shredder somewhat sympathetic. His desire for revenge is understandable even if we cannot condone it and even though his brother was a dick.

In fact Shredder isn’t all that villainous in this and it causes a problem because what are supposed to be his villainous qualities are all qualities present in our ostensible heroes.

Yoshi, by his own moral standard, is a coward. He has killed a man but rather than face punishment (which presumably will require he commit seppuku) he flees to America.  Okay it wasn’t murder but self defense but right there Yoshi has harmed Shredder and so Shredder’s desire for revenge is understandable. You’d expect the plot to take the line that while we understand the desire for revenge the heroic thing to do is not give in to it…but that’s exactly the opposite of what happens. Splinter basically sends the turtles on a revenge mission. He’s all “Shredder killed my master so you should go kill him for me” and the turtles go “okay” which is EXACTLY THE SAME THING that shredder does (bar killing Shen who is the innocent in all this.) Splinter has an opportunity to stop the cycle of violence but instead he’s all in favour of it, Splinter totally thinks two wrongs make a right in the comics.

He’s considerably wiser in other adaptations.

So the turtles fight Shredder and beat him and try and give him the option to do the honourable thing, which is commit seppuku. And Shredder refuses, which would be a bad thing except, Yoshi did exactly the same thing too. So they kill him.

Yup, issue 1, Shredder, the turtles’ ultimate big bad gets deaded.

He does get better though, I mean this is comics people.

The turtles don’t act like heroes in this issue they act like a street gang. You whacked one of ours so we’ll whack one of yours.

Which leads me into discussing the tone. The original turtles’ comics are generally described as being darker and grittier than later adaptations and for being quite violent. Certainly the comics are much darker and more violent than the cartoons but in general this is a bit over exaggerated. In issue 1 the turtles aren’t heroes, they’re ninjas. They’re motivation is honour and their goals are violence and death and yeah they straight up kill a guy with ninja weapons, something they can not do in the comics or the movies. But by issue 4 or 5 they’re basically superheroes with ninja powers and much more concerned with saving innocent people.

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And as for gritty, this comic includes robots in issue 2, aliens in issue 3, a trip to space in issue 5 and magic in issue 8. And the central premise is ninja turtles. This is a comic with plenty of out there and crazy ideas. It’s as over the top and odd as your standard super-hero comic and aside from the more serious attempt to do a ninja story in the first issue it swiftly becomes a super hero comic. But it is a super-hero comic played straight. There are jokes but no pun filled banter, 4th wall breaking asides or inept comedy villains. The turtles are in real danger in real fights and what humour there is arises from the incongruousness of giant turtles battling for their lives or the odd sarcastic quip.

It’s also not any more violent than comics of the time were but it is certainly a lot more violent than a kids cartoon can be. Leonardo doesn’t use his swords to deflect laser blasts in this, he just stabs people with them.

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In fact it’s a bit less grim and gritty than most early 90’s comics and the comic even lampshades this with the introduction of Casey Jones. 90’s comics are notorious for introducing a new breed of violent anti-heroes that killed their opponents, angsted about their own horrible lives and narrated in bad faux noir prose. Casey Jones is an archetype of these cliches, a faceless personality free cypher who exists purely to beat minor criminals like muggers to death. His initial story arc is all about Raphael, the most violent turtle, thinking that Casey goes too far in his violence and trying to tone him down. This happens in between issue 4 and 5 and considering the turtles in the first issue were a murderous gang highlights how far from the original conception the characters have moved.

The other two characters key to the turtles mythos that get introduced early in the comics are April O’ Neil and Krang.

Well not really Krang, but instead these guys.

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Those are Utroms and appearances aside they’re actually nice guys here just to observe earth and certainly not the villainous conqueror Krang was. They’re also the aliens responsible for the turtles since they made the mutagen (it was a canister from their space ship) that mutated them in the first place.

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April O’Neil shows up in issue 2 as the assistant to a mad scientist Baxter Stockman. She’s not a reporter (boo) but she does have a jump suit (yay) but she only has it for one issue (boo) and she’s not a red head (double boo). Instead she’s a completely normal girl that provides a sort of audience surrogate character constantly reacting to the turtles bizarre adventures.

The turtles eventually move into her apartment rather than live in the sewer which makes for some nice comedy when you get the surreal sight of a turtle in a bathrobe.

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They then ruin April’s normality and the nice contrast she provides with two very stupid changes to her neither of which happens in the original run of comics.

Firstly they turn her into a super hero named nobody which is meh and only lasted for a short time.

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Secondly they reveal her secret origin, April O’Neil is actually…a drawing come to life.

Yup, in the comic continuity April O’Neil is a drawing that comes to life with the aid of a magical crystal and has no idea she is a drawing. This serves to allow a cliched and hackney identity crisis arc for the character (who am I? am I real? can I die? etc) which does give April something to do other than react to turtle or Casey Jones stories but really really undercuts her role as normal girl in weird circumstances.

Overall the comics are very good and well worth seeking out. It’s the core idea of ninja turtles played completely straight and if you like fun super hero comics it’s a good example of exactly that. There are problems early on ,especially with the anti-hero nature of the turtles and the art but they get ironed out relatively quickly and from about issue 3 onwards it’s a very strong super-hero series at least as far as I’ve read. I’m led to understand that the storytelling quality takes a nose dive once Eastman and Laird start devoting their time to running the merchandising side of things but for the first two volumes of IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection you won’t get a bad story.

But whilst the comics are the original turtles, they certainly aren’t the definitive ones. Next week let’s look at TMNT the animated series.

*although there are some longer running examples. Ed, Edd and Eddy ran for 10 years Rugrats  and Spongebob for 13, Arthur for 16 and the Japanese show Sazae-San has been running continuously since 1969

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