I'm the type of writer who usually needs to maintain complete silence and concentration to get my points out clearly. Tonight I come to you live from a friend's computer, with three people behind me gabbing about cats while watching the episode of Frasier where Niles keeps getting plastic surgery treatment. In other words, if it seems like I'm a bit flustered throughout this one, I've got an excuse. Its hard to transcend to new literary heights when I see Daphne giggling over Frasier's jogging suit out of the corner of my eye.
I did come prepared though - I knew I was going to have to write an article tonight out of my usual home environment of empty Pepsi cans and certain keyboard keys that never push down all the way due to cigarette ash residue, so I gathered up all the pics and info I'd need for this earlier tonight, and now all I gotta do is put everything together with a nice little bow as best I can without any of these freaks behind me noticing. Its a daunting task to say the least, but the focus of today's article is something I know better than the scar on the back of my hand received when I was experimenting with lighters and Almond Joy wrappers back in the 8th grade - the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
So now that you know the situation, let's go back in time to 1990. The Turtles were huge, especially with all us fifth graders who were in what we understood to be the last year of our lives when buying toys was a socially acceptable affair. Of course, I'd secretly keep up the habit to this very day, but back then, the ordeal was safe to talk about at the school water cooler in between making spitballs and taping pictures of Paula Abdul to our desks. Yes, TMNT was a phenomenon. I got into them pretty much by accident - a year or so prior, I went food shopping with my neighbor's family. Since grocery stores don't have much by way of toys, I'd always stalk my way down the stationary aisle in search of the latest new notebook to adopt as a sticker album. I came across this weird spiral notebook with the TMNT logo and an ominously alive pink brain on it. Yep, that brain was Krang, Shredder's alien partner in crime. Something about those bloodshot eyes of his told me that TMNT was indeed a very special phenomenon, not just another Kay Bee flash in the pan. That Christmas, my brother gave me my first TMNT action figures, and ever since, I've been a devout supporter of amphibious mutated wit.
I had my fifth grade birthday party at a local video arcade - I really wasn't the type to advocate social engagements in my honor, but I knew that overcoming my school shyness was a small price to pay to get all those glorious Turtle presents. Sure enough, schoolmate after schoolmate helped me quench my unreasonably obsessive thirst to own every Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toy on the market. Even the tough figures to find, like Metalhead and Leatherneck, all mine at last! It didn't stop there. I got my hands on all the vehicles and playsets, including the embarrassingly awful ones like the 'Retrocatapult,' essentially a few pieces of plastic held loosely together by stale rubber bands that let you launch slime across the room with reckless abandon. An obvious favorite of parents everywhere. Let's not forget the Pizza Shooter Tank, an electronic vehicle that shot hard plastic pizzas so well and with such unbelievable force that most stores eventually pulled it from their shelves. The stupid pizza toys would fly around seven feet at speeds faster than most used cars. Its one of the few examples of a toy that's actually more dangerous than the real life version would be, because I fail to see the damage these Turtles could do by launching real pizzas at their adversaries. Sure, Shredder's royal purple cape might get messy, but its not like a pizza's gonna knock him unconscious. These little fake pizzas, however, were the closest thing to workable bullets a kid could find. Finally, we have the 'Flushomatic,' a glorified toilet that let you, the aspiring ninja turtle, pour slimy retromutagen ooze all over your action figures. Words don't do it justice, so take a look at the picsie...
You've really gotta love the footnote sticker on this one - 'Keep Off Hands'. I think they mixed up the words a bit there, but its a moot point anyway since the entire point of the toy was to cover the entire figure with ooze. Then again, what would covering the Turtles with more mutagen actually accomplish? Isn't that what gave them their humanesque stature and super powers to begin with? This is like trying to torture Sally Struthers by giving her double her usual helping of ham. Plus, I always thought that Shredder was pretty well off financially. He's got this million dollar wardrobe and a transportable metal Technodrome the size of a baseball stadium, so why would he cut so many corners with his torture devices? This thing is just a few pieces of metal with a neon toilet seat attached to the top. Its definitely not screaming Imperial War Machine. The only way I can see this device as worthwhile is if they made Tony Danza shake hands with all the Turtles before spraying them with mutagen. Then they'd come out of the predicament with less of an emphasis on killing Shredder and more of an emphasis on convincing casino-goers at Bally's that he's still worth seeing as a standup routine. My only concern is that there's absolutely no way Raphael could fit a cheap Sears lumberjack flannel shirt over that bigass shell.
Yeah, these kiddies behind me are watching Who's The Boss? now. And they're talking about camera film while eating stale McDonald's. I'm really up against some severely awful odds here. Them toitles deserved better.
Anyway, the obsessions just kept mounting and mounting to unprecedented crescendos, and eventually I had virtually every single item ever made that had even the slightest thing to do with TMNT. This obsessive nature would often get me into trouble later in life when there were a lot more interesting things to 'collect' than Turtle action figures, but that's another story. I had all the toys, I had all the vehicles. Hell, I even had all those shitty plastic Burger King pins that let me proudly wear the phrase 'Cowabunga!' on my mock Starter jacket. I had it all. Problem was, once I got all the toys, what was left for me to do? I mean, let's face it, the type of people who have this kind of vested interest in a complete TMNT toy collection aren't the type to have really full social lives. Once I got all the toys, there really wasn't much left for me to occupy my time with. I was empty. Soulless. I had the Turtles, but I paid the ultimate price: my life was now meaningless. I may as well have died right there, because honestly, what was left for me to do? I couldn't just move on to another toyline. It'd be sacrilegious. I was all about the Turtles, and I wasn't about to give up on 'em just because my checklist was complete.
No, all I had to do was wait. There'd be more toys. It'd just take a little time. A little time...
And somewhere during 1990, my dreams and prayers were finally answered. Playmates finally debuted four new figures into the Turtle line - these guys hadn't been shown on the cartoon yet, but I was so absolutely enamored with the idea of going back on the hunt that it wouldn't make a difference if they started marketing figures featuring the cast of The Ropers wearing ninja eyemasks - so long as their packages had the TMNT logo, I was there. But this wouldn't be an easy mission by any means.
I wasn't the only kid in town who adored the Turtles. Everyone did. The things were like crack to us. So while the figures were indeed on the market, actually locating them at toy stores was nearly impossible. It got to the point where the stores wouldn't even bother unpacking the shipping boxes - they'd just lay them out in the aisles, sealed and all with the Playmates address label still attached - and let all us voracious kids rip into 'em, vainly searching for the all-important new figures desperately needed to complete our collections.
I shit you not - we weren't just little kids with a severe fixation on getting action figures. The affliction - the disease - was something far worse than anything you can imagine. I've seen heroin addicts show less desperation in getting their fix. I can't tell you how many times I've battled with another collector when we came upon one of the new figures - and I don't mean we'd just argue, the situation would easily come to blows to the point where even our parents would start arguing over who should get the toy. And can you blame 'em? My poor mother, for weeks and weeks, had to drive me to toy stores everyday after school looking for the things. I still can't for the life of me figure out why she'd agree to go along with my crazed lunatic scheme for so long, but I guess it was easier to just give in than to see her son commit suicide because all his friends landed a Mondo Gecko before he did.
In the end, I did get the four new figures. One at a time, over the course of a two-month period of hysteria which easily marks a spot as one of the most intense, idiotic periods of my adolescence. Tonight, we're going to take a look at this Fab Four, and I'll leave it up to you to decide if they were worth all the trouble. Friends, join me as I tell the tale of my greatest life achievement: finding the new TMNT action figures.
Of the four new figures, Scumbug was originally the one I was least interested in. Someone pointed out to me that this was probably because I already got my evil TMNT insect fix with Baxter Stockman, but I think it had more to do with the fact that the other figures came with little plastic sidekicks, or in the best case, neon skateboards. Compared to that, even a cockroach-faced exterminator with 7" plastic pesticide hoses seems pedestrian. Over time, Scumbug's grown on me to the point where its easily one of my favorite figures from any line.
Believe it or not, Playmates didn't just market these things blindly. Every figure's package told the inane little back story on how they ended up looking like such messes. In Scumbug's case, apparently he was a regular joe - an exterminator sent to the Technodrome to take care of their bug problems. Hmmm. You know, if I was the Shredder, a global terrorist who virtually every nation on Earth would love to imprison or electrocute, I probably wouldn't be advertising my location, even to an exterminator. Its not like he was going to confuse the Technodrome with some other giant underground subterranean complex, he'd obviously realize this to be the bad guys. Given the fact that Shredder would take over the national television airwaves at least three times an episode to make his villainous intentions clear, I'm also relatively sure that Scumbug would've recognized him right off the bat. C'est le vie, the guy had a job to do, and he did it well. But while the bugs were outta the Technodrome, the various barrels of mutagen were not. One little mishap later, and Shredder had a new mutant asshole to converse with on his module trips through molten lava.
Aside from being one of the most detailed figures available, Scumbug came with some great accessories. In an effort to teach the children of the world the brilliance of ironic comedy, he crawled around wearing a backpack full of insecticide, complete with rubber hoses allowing him to spray pretend poison in the very face of virtue. He didn't stop there - ever the preparer, Scumbug also carried around a Turtle Extermination Gun. Actually, almost all the villains had those. Makes you wonder how many times the guy who invented them laughed in the faces of his detractors who said the thing wouldn't sell.
Noteworthy Features: Bumpy, buglike flesh that was an incredibly excellent texture for kids to chew on. Trademark ripped shirt to indicate the hazardous properties of spontaneous mutation. Pair of antennae inexplicably held together by a bunch of duct tape. Scumbug screams esoteric, but nothing could mask his insectuous nature. Especially since he had giant fangs protruding out of his violet cheeks all the time.
I learned an important lesson when I got Wingnut. My sister had taken me to the mall, given me 5 bucks, and left me inside the KayBee while she went off looking for the latest way to get a tan without going the obvious boring route of sitting in the sun. If memory serves, she came home with a bottle of brown shellac that somehow was legally marketed as a fake tan lotion. In the end, she shined more than the blue-glazed ashtray I made in my school ceramic class. But let's not get off-track. She left me in KayBee with 5 bucks - enough for one TMNT figure. Problem was, I somehow managed to find both the Wingnut figure and one of the other new ones. The line was long, incredibly long. And the store was full of Turtle enthusiasts. I knew that if I put either of the figures down, even for a second, they were gone for good.
So, I stood there idly waiting for my sister to come back. Surely she'd understand my plight and give me the extra few bucks needed to get both figures, right? Nuh uh. Instead, she ran off a very loud and all-too public speech about me being greedy, told me that the line was way too long, and pulled me out of the store before I could even get one of the figures. And that was the day I learned the all-important lesson of greed. It only works on people who you don't throw pillows at on a regular basis.
Wingnut was every bit as ugly as Scumbug, but make no mistake about it, this guy was a bona fide hero. Friend to the Turtles and humanity at large, Wingnut not-so-gracefully glides through the city with his 'plasma-propelled' bat wings in the never-ending quest to STOP TROUBLE. Unlike most TMNT characters, Wingnut's not some guy who fell into a puddle of slime and mutated. He's actually a creature from another planet, a planet with really asinine clothes that never invented shoes. His innate clumsiness is cut off a bit by the integral genius of his sidekick, the yellow mosquito guy, Screwloose. Together, they give the Turtles a constant reminder that their social outcasting could be much worse - the world may not be ready to stand on mall lines with 5' jive-talkin' turtles, but they're much less likely to successfully deal with a guy with 13" mangled brown ears who drops bombs full of blood on the floor every five minutes.
Noteworthy Features: Constantly chews on his tongue, rips off Adam West by carrying around a bat-utility belt, and conveniently has a hole in his spine exactly large enough to host the base of ridiculously oversized metal wings. Of all the TMNT characters, Wingnut's one of the few who's psychosis runs a lot further than skin deep.
Huzzah! Here he is folks, the walking dynasty himself. I thank Jesus for whatever drugs he allowed to scorch the seeds of his creations, because there's just no way anyone could've come up with the concept of Muckman without being under the influence of *something* saucy. I had seen small pictures of the four new figures before getting 'em, but believe me, until you've held this majesty of molding in your own hands, you've not met plastic perfection. Muckman is unbelievable. He's a walking tribute to everything odd. Example 1) Muckman's special feature entails ripping off his scalp, pouring slime in, and letting it drool out his mouth. Tell me you're not in love already. Example 2) Muckman only has one foot. His other leg simply runs off and molds itself around a manhole cover. The best part about all this is the fact that he's got the happiest face of all the TMNT characters. A true model of optimism. If this guy can make lemonade with the mucky hand he was dealt, surely we can turn our plights to rights. Don't underestimate the morals here - everyone wants to be just like Muckman.
Strangely enough, he's a heroic character, a mutated garbage man who chills out with a little green triclops named Joe Eyeball. Joe Eyeball! I mean, its great and all that Joe's such a swell compatriot, but he could be an absolute shithead and still be the best friend a guy could have, because his name is just that fun to say. Plus, imagine having the chance to introduce people to Joe. He's like the ultimate conversational piece, and best of all, you can take him anywhere!
Our friendly Turtles enjoy Muckman's company, which was sufficiently explained on the cardback which said they liked him cuz his face looked like a pepperoni pizza. Oh those wacky Turtles. Of course, this isn't to say Muckman's an all-and-out 'good guy.' He's more of a rogue hero - he doesn't subscribe to the Turtles theory that they should keep setting the people trying to kill them free, nor does he think victory can be claimed simply because someone cracks an insanely hilarious joke to close out every half hour. Muckman doesn't just dislike evil - he wants to wipe it out. Can he do it? The guy carries around a friggin trash can for a weapon. He's hardcore. Place your bets.
Noteworthy Features: Ostensibly, the only way to get the full mileage out of this figure is to use the official TMNT retromutagen ooze. Of course, that toy stopped shipping in 1988, and this figure came out in '90. Personally, I just used the quarter-machine slime from Toys R'Us, which actually turned out better because the only thing cooler than making green slime pour out Muckman's stomach is making red slime do the job. Also keep an eye out for his left eye - the thing follows you across the room.
It was only fitting that the last of the four I came across was the one I wanted the most - Mondo Gecko represented a sort of virtual Babylon for me, and I was absolutely positive that once I had him, the secrets of the universe would unveil themselves to me with the utmost respect and delight because I had beaten the odds. I got the elusive Gecko. I was a god. The real back story isn't quite as dynamic - all us kids wanted Mondo Gecko for two very simply reasons: he had the word 'mondo' in his name, and he came with a toy skateboard. Didn't take much to please us, but believe me when I tell you that finding this guy was along the same difficulty levels as winning the lottery or enjoying any show Damon Wayans gets his greasy paws on.
Mondo gets along famously with the Turtles, and for obvious reasons. They're all reptilian, they all like to party, and they all know what its like to wake up underground next to puddles upon puddles of liquefied shit. Yeah, Mondo Gecko is the Turtles' sewer-surfin' neighbor buddy. He's not actively a crime fighter, but you can bet that if there's ever a situation that calls for a mutant lizard with braces to skate the day to salvation, Mondo'll be there.
But his level of strangeness didn't stop simply with the whole talking, skating lizard stuff - as an action figure, Mondo had a few other hampering features. Namely the fact that his giant tail was detachable. He also shares the affliction most TMNT guys do - another tongue-biter. Apparently someone at the board of Playmates really had their finger on the pulse of yesteryear's youth, because nothing got us rolling on the floor in uncontrollable hysterics than seeing goofy guys chewing on their tongues, again, and again, and again. This isn't to say Mondo Gecko is redundant or unoriginal, because anyone who gets around town by attaching a skateboard to its tail definitely calls for some kind of award from the unique department.
The triumph was more than in the playtime, though. My friends were insanely jealous that I was able to find the last of the fabled Fabulous Four. I carried the thing around and showed it off like I'd just received the Purple Heart. Sure, the social impact of the figure only lasted a day or so, but boy, what a wonderful day that was. I'll put it to you like this: if any action figure can get your friends to literally beam bright red with envy, it was a toy worth buying. Along the way you could grow fond of some toys your friends didn't want, but let's not lose focus of the point of the hunt: bragging rights. People aren't buying Corvettes just because they look cool. They're buying them to rub it in the face of every Ford-drivin' workaday washout they plow rainwater on. These aren't traits we learn once we hit adulthood. It all starts with the toys.
Noteworthy Features: If memory serves, Mondo Gecko was the only TMNT figure that came with a sheet full of nonsensical stickers. You know, to decorate his skateboard. Christ, talk about taking shit in stride. If I fell into a pool of sludge and woke up looking like Carnivore, the last thing on my mind would be making sure my skateboard was still hip. Then again, in TMNT's parallel universe, falling into slime and mutating was the equivalent of catching herpes in our world. Yeah it sucks, but shit happens. Only difference was that Mondo couldn't try to convince his girlfriends that nothing was wrong with him. Not that'd he'd do that anyway - he's an honest, law-abiding reptile of righteousness. AND - he plays the guitar!
And there you have it. Mission accomplished, I nailed the four new figures. Course, this was just the beginning, as more and more new figures came out to the point where I got so disgusted with looking at the same three Usagi Yojimbo figures at the toy stores that I gave up on the line altogether. But I'll always look back with fondness on my time spent in the evil dankpit of Hell known as TMNT figure collecting. Toys R' Us was our crackhouse, and believe me, we wanted our crack. I just wish I would've hung in there long enough to see the release of the Krang Android Body toy. Guess ya can't win 'em all.