Val’s Toy Chest- TMNT Retrospective

The next couple of months are going to be packed with action figure goodness as we head into the summer. Marvel figures both big and small should be hitting soon from various companies including Hasbro, Diamond Select and Hot Toys. We just got in the impressive “Guardians of the Galaxy” Groot 1:6 Scale Figure which as of this writing is still in stock. Groot will also be making an appearance in a two-pack with his buddy Rocket in due time. There will also be a new series of ALIEN figures coming from NECA within the next few weeks which includes a couple of gorgeous Ellen Ripley figures, one in her Nostromo decksuit and the other in her spacesuit.

DC Comics is implementing a new strategy this week by releasing a hardcover and softcover collection simultaneously. The book they are starting this with is the rejuvenated “Batgirl” title by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Babs Tarr. “The Batgirl of Burnside” is the title’s collection and it is a fresh jumping on point for new fans of the Batgirl character. DC has also consciously made the decision to separate this run from the previous Gail Simone one by marketing this collection as its own volume 1. I personally have enjoyed both the Simone-penned issues and the new creative team’s issues so you can bet I will be picking this one up (in Hardcover- what can I say- I’m a book collector too).

I promised that I would talk about the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line in this week’s column- so here goes. When I was growing up I had been a massive He-Man and She-Ra fan along with Super Powers and Star Wars, so when those lines ended I needed something new to collect. It was probably around 1989 and all my ten-year old self had as far as new toys went was the Toy Biz Batman/DC Super Heroes line which in hindsight were probably the worst sculpted figures ever. Toy Biz wouldn’t up their game til several years later. I always liked going into my local toy and/or department stores on Steinway Street in Astoria/LIC(RIP Play World, Woolworth’s and Genovese- I didn’t have a local Toys R Us until 1990 or 1991) just to check out what was new. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn’t strike me right away but I still thought they looked really neat and eventually I started buying the Topps Trading Cards (25 cents a pack for 5 cards with inedible gum!) and found myself really getting into the Heroes in a Half-Shell. I vividly remember seeing an April O’Neil figure at the Kay-Bee Toys(RIP) in the Queens Center Mall sometime in 1989, really wanting it but having no money for her and then finally giving in to the Turtles craze within a few weeks of that experience. I wanted April to be my first figure from the line as I was always into female action figures even as a kid. She wouldn’t end up being my first figure though since after that initial sighting I NEVER saw that particular version of April in retail stores again.

My first two TMNT figures were Raphael and Michaelangelo- the two most popular ones at the time. Raph is probably my favorite turtle since he wears my favorite color, but I am probably most like Mikey as he is the happy-go-lucky one and my personality generally fits that. It was appropriate that those two were my introduction into the Ninja Turtles series. I remember looking for April in vain after I started really getting into it and my mother also spent plenty of time looking for the elusive reporter for me. Of course I know now that Playmates Toys had pulled her from the case assortments at the time and I was the unfortunate one for not having been able to get the one that I saw in Kay-Bee those few weeks back. My mother finally brought me home an April O’Neil right around May 1990 and I was thrilled but also weirded out by her color scheme and her head sculpt. April looked nothing like the TV show version anymore, wearing a yellow and orange jumpsuit with blue highlights and orange boots instead of her all yellow jumpsuit, white belt and boots and they changed her head sculpt from what I remembered of it. I would continue collecting the line all through the 90s and can proudly say I have every unique character released in the regular line up until 1993-1994. This includes the last and rarest original characters: Halfcourt- a mutant giraffe, Sandstorm- a mutant camel, Mona Lisa- a lizard woman who also appeared during the CBS Saturday morning run of the animated series, Hot Spot- a mutant dalmatian and Scratch- a mutant cat dressed as a convict. Scratch is one of the hardest ones to find and goes for a lot of  ahem -scratch- even out of package.

Here is a top 10 list of my all-time favorite TMNT figures from the original era of the action figure series:

10/9. Leatherhead and Rat King- two of the hardest ones for me to acquire- my dad had found me both while he was on vacation in Thailand.

8. Baxter Stockman- one of the best sculpted villains in the line and a personal favorite.

7. Wingnut and Screwloose- a mutant Bat and his mosquito sidekick with a not so subtle color palette reminiscent of a famous Caped Crusader. My only issue with the line is that the non-articulated figures were cast in solid colors and didn’t have elaborate paint jobs, but that would have probably made the figures crazy expensive and TMNT was always one of the cheaper lines to buy at the toy store. Still a neat set.

6. Pizzaface- a gross overweight pizza chef with a pizzacutter in a pizza box for a leg and a cleaver weapon. Grotesque but oh so memorable.

5. Raphael- red bandanna, sai, attitude- still one of my favorite figures and there’s no question in my mind why he was one of my first TMNT purchases.

4. Mona Lisa- the only female mutant in the entire series, a favorite because of her appearance in the original series episode: “Raphael Meets His Match.”

3. Casey Jones- one of the fan-favorite characters of the entire TMNT universe, his masked sports themed vigilante schtick was popular with me as well. The sculpting was exceptional on Casey.

2. Scratch- As the rarest figure in the line he had to make the list. I also have a soft spot for him because he is a mutant cat and I am a huge cat person.

1. April O’Neil-(all yellow jumpsuit-white boots and belt version) 12 year old me had already started keeping tabs on his collection by reading and buying toy magazines and decided to write a letter to the now long defunct Collectible Toys & Values magazine to see if anyone out there in toyland had a spare of the original April figure for sale or trade. A very generous collector sent me for FREE the April figure I had long wanted with the original head sculpt and color scheme.

Playmates has gone on to reincarnate their Ninja Turtles line three times- initially starting with the Next Mutation series based on the ill-received Fox Kids live action series in 1996 before taking some time off before the 2003 Fox Kids revival. The current run of TMNT based on the Nickelodeon series has proven to be a hit with the kids and has been doing very well. We still have an assortment of these recent figures in stock.

I myself would go on to have a long love affair with Playmates Toys as they shifted gears and started doing Star Trek: The Next Generation and the other Trek series which still are some of the best Trek toys out there. In fact it was the toy series that got me into the show in the first place- but that is a story for another time.

Next week: A trip to Flame Con to try and meet Mark Patton from “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.”

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