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Turtles From an Alien World

By John Schulte                                                                                                                                        February 2, 2018

Still recall getting direction from Playmates Toys about writing the origin story for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It was 1987 and my notes from the development meeting were lean and mean: "Keep it simple, but wacky and weird." I poured over the Eastman and Laird comics, the scant licensing material that was evolving out of Mirage Studios, then repaired to a pizzeria in Pasadena for inspiration. My soon-to-be writing partner, John Besmehn, puzzled along with me. Since this was all about parody, the classic evolution story made sense. This was the visceral direction from Playmates Toys, too. So a simple but obtuse origin story was the charge.

Everyone always gets hung up on how everything came to be the way it is (which is, incidentally, one of the biggest mistakes of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, but I digress). It all had to be told in four basic panels on the back of the blister card — that was the real estate space we had. So the frame was only so big, but required so many point to hit:

  • A teenaged boy's pet turtles accidentally fall into a sewer, coincidentally right next to Splinter, a penniless ninja sensei.
  • Shredder, the notorious enemy of the outcast sensei, in an act designed to kill, pours toxic ooze on Splinter — and the turtles.
  • Splinter and the Turtles, however, mutate, assuming the traits of whomever they were with most recently. Splinter becomes a rat; the Turtles become teen ninjas.
  • Now the Turtles, guided by Splinter, go out to fight crime, Shredder, and his evil Foot Clan.

The wacky copy went through many revisions, mostly getting honed and tightened so it would fit with the graphics — all within the upper third of a blister card. This was the original, first-time-ever-seen-in-the-mass-market, backstory for the Ninja Turtles, totally driven by the toy development, which barring a few role-playing games, was the first major licensed product, based on the underground comic books. It should be noted, too, that Playmates Toys, underwrote the original animated mini-series that started the ooze flowing. And ad agency guru, Jerry Sachs, coined the term, Green Against Brick, as the foundation for the tone and flavor of the entertainment property. In other words, Playmates Toys development was driving home many entertainment points.

Now, jump ahead to 2012 and Michael Bay's remarks about the film he was slated to produce. He slipped in the words "alien race" when he spoke of his vision for the new film at a Nickelodeon summit. Whoa, dude! Suddenly over 25 years of storytelling purity are flushed back into the sewers?

"These turtles are from an alien race, and they are going to be tough, edgy, funny and completely loveable," said Bay, who was a mere 22 year-old college grad when the Ninja Turtles burst onto the scene and became a billion dollar phenomenon. Though some fans had a meltdown over that news and denounced Bay as Satan, truthfully, I was more distressed at the use of the word 'lovable' than the words 'alien race.'

Once you take into account that the Retro-Mutagen Ooze is a substance created by the Utrom — yes, an ALIEN race — it's not that farfetched to call the Ninja Turtles aliens, too. That pink entity at the top of this article is an Utrom. Looks pretty other-worldly to me. This is sourced back to the original Mirage Comics. So Michael Bay, surprise!, did not create anything new by calling the Turtles aliens. There are plenty of backstories in the animated series, too, where the Turtles encounter aliens — the Neutrinos, for instance. Turns out the Turtles are quite at home in outer space. Krang is, himself, from the Utrom race.

And in the toy realm, because they are parody-based action heroes, the Turtles also crossed-over with the Star Trek license and became parodied characters, like Spock — or Star Trek Don as he was called (who I believe is, even by Vulcan-standards, at least half-alien). Over the years, too, there was Space Cadet Raph, Space Hoppin' Mike, Leo, Don and Raph, the four-part Turtles in Space animation, Alien Invasion, The Battle Nexus, and on and on.

But let's murder to dissect and examine the word alien:

  • A foreigner, especially one who is not a naturalized citizen of the country where they are living.
  • A hypothetical or fictional being from another world.
  • It can surely be agreed and considered inarguable that the Turtles are not naturalized citizens. (But perhaps after 30 years, their application for citizenship should have been approved by now.) Fictional beings? There can be no doubt. From another world? Well, partially born of this Earth, partially influenced by a substance from another world, mix that up with sewer muck, and I think you can make a case for calling the Ninja Turtles aliens.

    But there's one final component that would really drive the point of parody home. Renaming the property, Teenage Mutant Ninja Alien Turtles. The more, the merrier. The title was originated as over-the-top — and adding the word 'Alien' certainly pushes it out even further, eh?

    Here's the simple sewer truth: the Turtles have been — and will continue to be — all about parody, even when they’re poistioned straight and tough. The name sets tone. That means everything is fair game — even being part-alien, from another planet.

    Finally, do you really want to argue with the genius behind Transformers 4?

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