Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Influential 8: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures

The heroes and villains of the Adventures Universe illustrated by A.C. Farley.
There’s no doubt about it: some of my most influential years as an adolescent were spent as a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The cartoon debuted in 1987, but didn’t really expand to all markets until 1989. I distinctly remember discovering it during its first experimental week of daily syndication over the summer of that year, right after moving from my home of the first ten years in my life to a school district I absolutely hated. In sixth and seventh grade, the Ninja Turtles quickly became my refuge from the shit that threatened to overwhelm my young life.

But I already was gravitating to comics. I already knew G.I. Joe and Transformers were far better comics than cartoons. I also knew the Ninja Turtles came from comics as I had read the first, third and fourth volumes of the First Comics color collections of the twelve issues that launched the Mirage series. I quickly got a hold of a couple Mirage comics but living in a town of a hundred in the middle of nowhere, Iowa, did not make access to comic specialty shops easy. Thankfully, Archie Comics came to my rescue.

Ninjara is awesome.
Art by Chris Allan.
After an initial three issue limited series in 1988 (probably my first exposure to the characters outside toys), the series started bimonthly in 1989. I bought a few issues but it was shortly after the arrival of the amazing artist Chris Allan that I became hooked. I started with the “Midnight Sun” arc, which introduced The Warrior Dragon, Chien Khan and the Turtles’ soon-to-be-ally Ninjara. The mix of international culture, cool characters and crazed action was everything I wanted in a comic. Allan’s clean line art in the era of a billion hatch lines drew my eye and I was irrevocably a fan of the series.

Mirage veteran Stephen Murphy wrote the series pretty much throughout. And while he often let the series get preachy (though with no depth given to his causes), he wasn’t particularly out of line with the messages of that era’s Archie Comics. The series rarely spent much time in New York either, instead often feeling like a travelogue as the Turtles made their way across the country, the universe and even up and down the timeline.

They met a plethora of allies that would become the Mighty Mutanimals and encountered a bunch of badass threats not seen on the cartoon: Null, Armaggon, Maligna and the like. Krang was barely an afterthought, Bebop and Rocksteady rarely appeared and every time Shredder resurfaced, he was a terribly deadly threat. It was a far cry from the comically inept villains from the cartoon.

When I first started to write novels and short stories set in the Quadrant Universe, I was a bit all over the place. A lot focused around the city of Federation, the so-called Champion City, but as I introduced new locales in Epsilon, A Dangerous Place to Live and various soon to be re-edited and released projects like Mean Streets, Out For Vengeance and Long Hot Summer, I realized that I would never be able to cover every individual story I wanted to write. Many of the heroes whose stories I wanted to tell were quickly consolidated into one super-team: F.O.R.C.E. But that book could never travel to every corner of the universe I wanted.

So I looked back at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures as a resource. I created the four brothers of the Quadrant as a tribute to my already named universe, but also as a celebration of the importance of the number FOUR to comics. And when I looked back at foursomes far and away from Marvel’s classic set, I started to take on the nature of how I wanted the team of Quadrant to interact with the Quadrant Universe. They would see all of it as their adventures continued and TMNT Adventures was definitely the main source of that idea.

Nowadays, IDW Publishing is releasing a pair of monthly Ninja Turtles titles that combine the very best of the Archie and Mirage runs with some great new ideas. I recommend them to everyone. But those books will never be even a quarter as inspirational to me as the classic days of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures.

If you're interested in the series, the first limited series and 50 issues are now collected in trade by IDW with more to come. Pick them up here.

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