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Throwback Thursday: Vintage Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

vintageturtles (1)Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of those “perfect properties.” It’s a property that can work in a variety of media, can inspire fantastic toys, can be continuously updated for new audiences, and, best of all, has a personality. Personality is often the key missing ingredients in a lot of properties that fail to take hold. You can’t just pump out stock archetypes and have them last 30 years; you have to infuse the property with character.

The Turtles came around at a perfect time for me. It was a transitional toy, in a way, and also reignited a love of toys that I was dangerously close to losing. They came at the tail end of the ’80s. Transformers was dying a slow death. G.I. Joe was going neon and adding too many gimmicks. Masters of the Universe was dead, and there was no other property that was grabbing me. For a solid year I didn’t buy a single toy. I briefly broke that long fast with a ToyBiz Batman based on the Keaton movie, but that was a one-off.

Then I saw the Turtles. I had seen the cartoon, but had never read the comic since I didn’t have a comic store that carried it. The toys were loaded with my favorite things: ninja weapons.

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So I bought Raphael. Red’s my favorite color, so getting him first was a no-brainer. I actually considered just getting the one, because I didn’t really want to be a “toy collector” anymore. Or at least, that’s what I told myself.

But damn, Raphael was cool. Sure, his seven points of articulation wouldn’t be winning awards compared with the Turtles of today, but he could do sidekicks and he could hold his weapons a variety of ways due to his upper arm swivels, so he was cool.

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Of course, one wasn’t going to be enough this time around. I needed someone for him to fight. I wanted the one with the swords. So I got Leonardo. Dual-sword swinging awesomeness.

Well, I was halfway to a full quartet now. Why not get all four Turtles?

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And then I needed people for them to fight because they couldn’t just fight each other all the time. That meant Shredder and a Foot Soldier. And then my mom brought me a Baxter Stockman because she thought it looked cool. And it did. They all looked cool.

So there it was: I was collecting toys again. It was only one line, and I didn’t want to get too deep into it, but I was a full-fledged Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toy collector, and I was playing with toys and making noises with my mouth… and it felt right. Why did I ever think I had to grow up and give up playing with toys? Stupid, I says it was. I liked playing with these guys. It was a rejuvenation, a reyouthification, a — dare I say it — a journey of discovery of what I liked about collecting toys that I just wasn’t willing to give up.

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So there I was, collecting toys when other kids my age had given them up. But it was only one line, and once I had all that I wanted, I had no idea what else I’d be collecting.

It wasn’t very long afterwards that ToyBiz started making 5-inch Marvel figures. Well, say goodbye to wondering.

As I said, these original Turtles aren’t as articulated as today’s models are, but we were used to that back then. Much like the recent Nicktoons Turtles, they came with a sprue full of weapons of all kinds, and that alone was extremely cool, though I, of course, always preferred their standard weapons for them. There was a bit of a pre-posed aspect to some of the sculpting, but in essence they did what I needed for them to do to be cool and playable. The arm swivels were a huge help; it would have been bittersweet if Leo or Raph had been unable to cross their swords/sais.

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I’ve never given it much thought, but I owe the concept of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a lot for getting me over that ridiculous “putting away childish things” hurdle that infects the transition from childhood to adults. They were at the right place at the right time in the right toy aisle to kickstart a waning enthusiasm. That, friends and neighbors, is Turtle Power.

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