When I was a kid way back in the pre-Internet Stone Age of 1988, I received about $5 a week in allowance. That wasn’t a lot of money, at least not compared to some of my friends, but I still made the best of every Abraham Lincoln that I received each week, and I don’t mean that I put the money into a savings account so I could collect a small amount of interest and eventually buy myself a car or something equally important. Instead, I bought Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures, a new one each week, because I was downright obsessed with those classic toys and all of the awesome accessories that came with them.
Of course, there were two big problems with the TMNT toys of the late 80s and early 90s: 1) That first batch from 1988 featured characters that were tough to find, and there were never Shredder, Splinter and Bebop figures available at my local Toys-R-Us and Kay-Bee stores, which often led to multiple mall trips on any given Saturday in South Florida, and that’s a hell I wish on no man. So for the first year or so, I only had the core characters and Rocksteady for them to fight, which got pretty boring after a while. 2) Then, when the new batches came out in 1989 and 1990, there were suddenly too many to keep track of, and the whole thing became even more frustrating and expensive. But still, I look back quite fondly on those days of my innocent youth, despite the fact that I’d love to go back and slap myself while shouting about the value of precious metals.
Now, before I get into the nuts and berries, or pizza and ooze, of this very important, conversation-inducing ranking of toys from my childhood, I need to define the ground rules for this endeavor. For starters, I’m cutting the action figure toy year of eligibility off at 1993, because by 1994, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toy line had become a Playmates executive’s filthy wet dream. A quick rundown of the ’94 character list reveals a hilariously shameless treasury of all of the turtles, their allies and enemies fulfilling their own Village People fantasies. Honestly, I don’t know which kids were begging their parents for “Chief Medical Officer Raphael” and “Farmer Don,” complete with his Modern Mutant Tractor, but they were spoiled dicks. So with apologies to the fans of “Bride of Frankenstein April” and “Creature from the Black Lagoon Leo,” we’re sticking with the heart of the lineup here and addressing only the originals and side characters who would join the TMNT from ’89 to ’93.
“But Burnsy, there have been awesome TMNT toys made in recent years, and they’re way better than those that you played with when you were a kid.” Wrong. I’m glad we settled that matter.
Also, if this was an all-inclusive list, the actual action figures wouldn’t stand a chance compared to the vehicles and playsets, so I’m going to give you two lists for the price of none today. That’s right, a ranking of not only the TMNT action figures, but also one for the playsets and vehicles that cluttered the rooms of so many children in the early 90s. The only real difference between the two is that I couldn’t ever afford some of the bigger toys, so some of this is based on channeling my 10-year old self and asking what I would have wanted the most. So let’s start with that.
10) The Mutant Module
For as cool as they made this thing look in the commercial, the Mutant Module was kind of a piece of junk. You know how when a toy comes out of the box, it’s like the coolest thing in the world, but over time and after a kid with sticky fingers and no respect for structural integrity has his way with it, it becomes a plastic shell of its former self (pun heavily intended)? The Mutant Module was basically a purple tube that could transport the Foot Soldiers and their freakishly long arms to safety.
9) The Toilet Taxi
Here’s the thing that I don’t get about the Toilet Taxi – was it supposed to be poop-powered? Like, I get that these were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so of course they’d think that a toilet seat was a funny idea for the seat on a vehicle, but I always assumed that the only way it could run was if the turtles were pooping in it as they occupied the driver’s seat. Were the turtles a lot like Ed Begley, Jr.? You know, except also while fighting crime, living in the sewers and hanging out with a giant talking rat? These questions need answers.
8) The Foot Soldier Killer Bee and Needlenose
I was really partial to the individual vehicles and flying contraptions, because they weren’t ridiculously overpriced like some of the other, more-elaborate TMNT toys. The Killer Bee and Needlenose were pretty cool, because they were also alive, but then I had to believe that at some point they would have been slaughtered by Air Force fighter jets. Also, if the turtles were real, I’d have to think they’d be dealing more with the aggression of the National Guard than they would Shredder, Krang and the Foot Clan, but things like details aren’t of importance to anyone today.
7) Turtle Party Wagon
Much like the Mutant Module, the Party Wagon was just a box with wheels, but it was also the lead vehicle of my small fleet of TMNT accessories. As with most of the toys, the stickers on the van were a pain in the ass, because after a while they all started peeling off. Maybe it was the Florida humidity or a sibling’s prankery, but there was something always moderately depressing about a Party Wagon that was missing its colorful details.
6) The Sewer Playset
A friend of mine had the Sewer Playset, in addition to just about every TMNT toy ever made, which might have explained why he was my friend, but this thing was the real deal, as fun as it was detailed. It rivaled the board game Mouse Trap in terms of gadgets and doodads, which also meant that if something broke, snapped or went missing, the whole thing became a big waste of space.
5) The Turtlecopter
The Turtlecopter’s punch cannons were as wonderful as they were pointless. Only some teenagers would turn a helicopter’s guns into two pneumatic jackhammers with boxing gloves on the ends. In theory, this would have rivaled the submarine with a screen door for the worst combat vehicle ever designed, because flying a helicopter directly up to a target so that you can punch it into submission would make you one big sitting duck. But still, the trigger on the end and the potential to annoy other kids by sneaking up on them and punching them in the necks made the Turtlecopter very special.
4) Krang’s Android Body
The original Krang action figure was released in 1989, and he was basically a pink blob of brains in a little plastic bubble with legs and two plastic arms that you could attach to give him a gun. That sucked, according to the kids who watched the cartoon, because Krang didn’t walk around in a little bubble. He was locked in the belly of a large, doofy-looking android, and it wasn’t until 1992 that we’d finally be able to put that android into battle with the turtles. It was well worth the wait.
3) The Turtle Blimp
The Turtle Blimp was awesome because you could attach the turtles and Splinter to it and make them fly around and divebomb things, and Shredder never saw that coming because he was an idiot. But the one problem with the blimp was that when you’re dealing with inflatable parts, it’s only a matter of time before the blimp gets popped. Sure, adding duct tape to things can give them charm, but even after a few pieces of the heavy duty stuff, you’re basically left with a glider.
2) The Technodrome
Like He-Man’s Castle Grayskull before it, the Technodrome was great in theory. In the cartoon series, it was this massive, burrowing lair of Krang, Shredder and the Foot Clan, so it had to be big enough to provide sleeping arrangements for several hundred people, mutants and aliens. It was basically an underground Death Star. But then you put the toy version together, and it’s no bigger than all four turtles stacked on top of each other, before it opens up to reveal a few spots for the Foot and your good guys. Don’t get me wrong, the Technodrome was awesome, obviously, but I had the GI Joe aircraft carrier at one point, and that thing took up 1/5th of my bedroom. Toy scale used to mean something, damn it.
1) Pizza Thrower
A lot of us celebrated Pizza Hut’s creation of an actual pizza thrower for Comic-Con this year, because the idea of a cannon that shoots weaponized pie is fantastic. But when it came to the toys, and especially the ability to annoy people with plastic pizza sneak attacks, nothing ever topped the Pizza Thrower.
And now the action figures. I know, I bet you never expected to have this exciting of a Tuesday. Another caveat: I’ve excluded almost all of the figures from the original 1988 batch, because they weren’t as great as the more detailed figures that would follow in the next five years, and the turtles are basically Hall of Fame status anyway. Except maybe Michaelangelo, because his stupid plastic nunchucks broke within weeks of taking him out of the package. Also, if you were a fan of the Slash action figure, I have bad news for you – he was automatically disqualified for having the worst packaging quote.
Wrong, pizza is awesome. You stink, pal.
10) Rat King
I always liked the side characters more, because they all had different and unique stories to tell about how they got to where they were. Like the Rat King, who was a dude who controlled an army of rats. What I loved the most about Rat King was that he had a crossbow with a rat on it, and I always imagined that he shot his rats at the turtles, which totally wasn’t cool since his stance was that rats were man’s best friend.
Of the 1988 toys, Bebop was the best because he was the most detailed. Sure, Rocksteady might have had the bigger gun, but he was really plain and boring. Bebop looked like an 80s wrestler, which made him the coolest at the time.
8) April (1992)
The April toy that was released with the first batch in 1988 was awful. She was just a bow-legged girl in a yellow jumpsuit, and her accessories were a camera, microphone and a throwing star. She also had a handgun, but that was worthless considering all of the bad guys had way better weapons and she was just a news reporter. Three new versions of April were introduced in 1992, including “April the Ninja Newscaster,” which featured her as some sort of fighting stripper, and “April, the Ravishing Reporter,” which was basically a buxom Barbie Doll with brushable hair and pink weapons. However, the just plain April figure from that year, while having the same accessories as the 1988 version and despite looking like a young Joan Rivers, was way better.
7) Baxter Stockman
A lot of the secondary TMNT characters and action figures were knockoffs of other characters in pop culture, like Baxter Stockman, who was basically The Fly. His wings and giant claws, though, made him the coolest of the turtles’ enemies released early on, especially since his weapon of choice was a fly swatter that he modified to crush turtles. That’s one hellbent human fly.
Wingnut was basically like Batman and Superman decided to have a baby made from a combination of their sperm, only to find out that they were somehow brothers and the baby came out all goofy as a result. Still, he came with his little alien mosquito buddy Screwloose, so to a kid with $5 that was basically two for the price of one.
5) Usagi Yojimbo
The turtles sure were lucky that Donatello knew how to invent a portal that could bring a Ronin rabbit to the present from 200 or so years in the past, because it definitely helps in the fight against Shredder. But Usagi deserved a lot of credit for adapting rather well to the future. Sure, he didn’t have anything to love for back in feudal Japan, but it would be pretty alarming for any of us normal mutant rabbits to suddenly wind up in New York City.
Krang’s invention had a serious advantage over the normal turtle figures in that his cheap plastic weapon didn’t snap in half after a few weeks of use. His nunchucks were even cooler than Michaelangelo’s because they were attached to his hand and could spin around. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve wished for that ability before going to sleep at night.
3) Panda Kahn
Like Usagi, Panda Kahn ended up with the turtles in 1990 through a little coincidental time traveling, except he came from the very distant future. The action figure also came with the second coolest weapons of any of the others, including his traditional samurai gear and a laser gun. He was the cutest badass in the entire collection.
2) Casey Jones
Looking like he just helped himself to a sale at Play It Again Sports, Casey Jones came with the best weapons of any of the action figures, since he also had the golf bag that wrapped around his chest. The really cool thing about Casey is that you could also pretend that he was a baseball or golf star, too, in case you were the type of dork that was often very bored.
He’s a mutant giraffe that plays basketball. Not only did the turtles find themselves an unlikely ally, but they also had a starting center for their rec league team. Nothing is better than a giraffe playing basketball, especially if he has the ability to kick some ass, too.