It certainly feels like we’ve reached a new Golden Age for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We have an amazing comic from IDW, NECA making action figures that look like they just walked off a film set, an animation cell, and on special occasions, an arcade cabinet! Playmates is doing another retro re-re-(re?)release of the original TMNT on top of their “Rise of the TMNT” line. And to add even MORE green goodness to the mix, Super7 and the Four Horsemen are bringing back the original toyline in full “Classics” scale glory.
All this nostalgia brings back so many memories collecting the now-vintage figures. TMNT was so huge in the late 80s til mid 90s, it felt like Playmates wasn’t afraid to make a figure of any character big or small (albeit roughly the same scale for everyone). By the end of the original line, we had the entire Channel 6 News Team, the Neutrinos, as well as the Heroes in a Halfshell themselves in every theme imaginable. It became sort of the male action figure answer to Barbie. Even April O’Neil, a female character in a boy’s toy line, enjoyed over TEN different releases herself thanks for a 40% female fanbase!
It’s hard to imagine that on top of so many figures, vehicles, and accessories, Playmates never got around to many “could-have-been” heavy hitters for at least another 3 or 4 solid years. With various storylines running simultaneously through the movies, the cartoon, and both Mirage and Archie Comics, Turtle-Toy-Mania should’ve kept running wild well into the new millennia (curse you, Power Rangers)! As we sidestep “the Next Mutation,” here are the first ten entries in our top 30 (yes, THIRTY) forgotten, cancelled, or otherwise overlooked characters that never got vintage toy lovin’, ALL-NEW FOR 1997!
Aska debuted in the video game, “TMNT: Tournament Fighters” at the height of the fighting game explosion in the 90s. Every franchise was trying to cash in on the success of Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat, and TMNT was no different. While Aska was an all-new character, as the sexy, heroic Chun-Li pastiche, originally she was going to be a modernized Mitsu from the TMNT 3 Movie. Early testing had her named “Mitsu” during gameplay, but when the movie’s poor reviews came out, and the film flopped, they changed course and simply made her a unique character altogether. Since April went back and forth between fighter-in-training and perpetual kidnapping victim, there was a lack of badass femme fatale types in the vintage toyline and she would’ve made a splash on team green’s toy aisle.
29. TITANUS (and H.A.V.O.C.)
Titanus was a heavy villain (pun intended) that premiered in season 8 of the original cartoon. By 1994, TMNT was on the way down and many younger kids jumped to some new show called “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.” You’d think the cartoon would throw in the towel, but instead the opposite occurred. The series got a makeover, getting rid of the goofier, childish elements, and took on a much more serious tone. The series rotated out Shredder and Krang for new threats including the mutant team, H.A.V.O.C. and their leader, Titanus – a criminal from the future (2066), bent on making a mutant army. As a toy, he likely could’ve been the size of the deluxe Krang’s Android Body. The other evil mutant members were equally as eye-catching. I mean, who doesn’t love a huge mutant rumble? The turtles certainly weren’t silly anymore.
28. DIRK SAVAGE: MUTANT HUNTER
Appearing in only one animated episode of the same name (his), Dirk was sort of a cross between (David Hasselhoff’s) Nick Fury, the Punisher, and Cable. His captured mutants featured cameos of characters we’re supposed to own as toys, like Mondo Gecko, Genghis Frog, and Napoleon Bonafrog. The episode also features the only animated appearance of Tokka & Rahzar, fresh from the “TMNT II: The Secret of the Ooze” feature film. We had so many different kinds of enemies for the Turtles, it’s shocking that something as obvious as a mutant hunter didn’t make the list. Go figure … or not… I guess.
27. ZACH “the FIFTH TURTLE”
When I watched the original series, Zach was akin to Orko, or Snarf. He was meant to be an innocent semi-recurring character for kids to relate. Little did I realize when I discovered the online fan community that Zach was much closer to Scrappy-Doo than anything else. It makes sense since the main characters are teenagers themselves that adding a kid to the mix wasn’t necessary. The issue was compounded by the fact that Zach is based on the child of one of the show’s creators. As annoying as that fact can be, he did prove himself to be a true friend, and a devoted ally. He definitely had enough appearances that making a figure of him can at least be in the conversation, no matter which way you lean. As a kid buying these toys, I thought for sure a figure of him was coming sooner than later. Maybe had they done another Toon Turtle assortment. Speaking of…
26. TOON TMNT 2: the “RED SKY” YEARS
We’ve seen so many iterations of the Ninja Turtles, including Toon Turtles. The snag was, they were toon CHARACTERS, but sadly they weren’t really toon-ACCURATE as implied. Colored in their signature toy colors instead of the toon colors, they were given largely silly “toony” gimmicks like bugging eyes, or spinning bandanas. But in the last 3 seasons of the original animated series, the TMNT got serious, a huge departure from their previously lighter tone. And if April O’Neil is any indication, Playmates isn’t averse to doing a second pass on certain characters to improve them. Doing fully-realized, color-corrected TMNT with both heads from the first 7 seasons, as well as the moodier final 3 seasons would have fetched big money by now, not unlike the rare Undercover Turtles from 1994. Speaking of which, why doesn’t Playmates re-release those?
25. THE GANG OF FOUR (MEGADEATH)
I realized that doing another group of four as a singular entry is technically cheating, but these are bad guys so underhanded tactics are the standard. Debuting in the Archie TMNT Adventures Comics, you’d think they’d be somewhat nonviolent despite their name (It’s Archie, after all), but it wouldn’t be the case. They were villains of a TMNT spinoff team known as the Mighty Mutanimals. There was even a show in development that would’ve featured them, and, of course, we would’ve gotten toys. Playmates ended up passing on the figure duties because much of the Mutanimals roster, such as Leatherhead, Ray Fillet, Mondo Gecko, Wingnut, and Screwloose, already had figures. They didn’t wish to revisit them, so no toys meant no show.
When no show was happening and the comic was being cancelled, the creators decided to do something memorable. As a very final farewell to the group the Gang of Four murdered every Mutanimal in cold blood with NO WARNING, something that would NEVER happen on TV. To this day, my fragile child psyche appreciated multiple turtle timelines where my favorite characters were still alive and well in other universes. Still, had we had a Mutanimals show, we’d certainly have Waster, Lynch, Dead-Eye, and Fist by now.
24. VERMINATOR-X (MANX)
This Terminator kitty is another goodie from the Archie Universe. Like many other concepts, he’s so very 90s. He’s from the future (check), and he’s half mutant, half cyborg (check and double-check). His fictional back(fore?) ground is that he was once Manx, future Donatello’s apprentice, until he went insane performing cybernetic augmentations on himself and turned to evil. You really don’t need to know much more than that he eventually was saved and turned good again and a cyborg cat from the future would’ve made an awesome action figure. He seems like the type of toy I would’ve bought on coolness factor alone.
23. MR. NULL
When you think of evil in the TMNT Universe, you’d think that there isn’t a threat more serious than the Shredder. The only direction left to go would be Satan himself. Well, Archie decided to go there. Known as Null, he was a corrupt business man who, among other things, tried to destroy the rainforest, pollute the ocean, sold the planet to the alien queen, Maligna, and gathered the Four Horsemen of demons to destroy humankind. When he was thwarted by the Turtles and the Mighty Mutanimals, he created the Gang of Four, who murdered the latter. On second thought, when you read all that back, maybe Null not getting a figure makes sense.
22. VANILLA ICE
I could only imagine the licensing fees involved had Playmates wanted to pursue a toy of this memorable cameo in the “Secret of the Ooze” movie. An entire generation of kids fondly remember the cheesiness of “Ninja Rap.” Nothing was bigger than Vanilla Ice and the Ninja Turtles. He definitely would’ve put the “Star” in the Movie Star TMNT line.
21. HiTECH & MUNG
Again we have a two-for-one as an entry because it was another one of those “I can’t have one without the other” situations. HiTech and Mung were subordinates to Lord Dregg, the final big bad in the original cartoon. HiTech was Dregg’s second-in-command in season 9 and Mung replaced him in season 10. Unlike Bebop and Rocksteady, who always worked together, these two were very much rivals, even though both ultimately failed, as Dregg continuously placed more importance on his growing obsession over defeating the Turtles on top his initial goal of conquering of Earth. On top of being pretty interesting recurring characters in their own right, both have their own unique armies. HiTech had the similar-looking TechnoGangsters at his command, while Mung could call forth Batmen (no relation). Any or all of those aliens would’ve been amazing additions.
Pizza break! Stay tuned for part two, where we count down #20-11. While it seems like a long shot, the Masters of the Universe Shadow Weaver figure on my bookshelf gives me hope that we’ll get some of these less-remembered characters someday. And whether it’s from Playmates, NECA, or Super7, just like pizza, it’s all good.