Toychest Time Machine: TMNT Universal Studios Monsters (Playmates)
As an avid toy collector I admit that a big part of the hobby for me is ‘the nostalgia factor.’ I collect and re-collect toys from my past, or toys that remind me of the past, or toys that remind me of toys from my past, or revamped versions of toys from my past, etc. But sometimes I get an itch as a collector that transcends my past… even if the toys causing the itch are still from the past.
You see, I was never a TMNT toy collector when the original toys were in stores. I loved the first movie and the comics (both Mirage and, yes, even the Archie comics) but I didn’t go out of my way for the cartoon or the toys, or any other merchandise for that matter. With one exception – I did pick up a Slash action figure off the shelves when he was released in 1990. He was just such a visual thing of ugly beauty I had to have him. But no more original Playmates turtle toys entered my life during their retail run.
All that changed a couple years ago. I couldn’t tell you what happened exactly, but I think it stemmed from seeing so many Turtle toys at the flea market and being surprised at both their quality and also their quantity. I began finding things of interest to me and later discovered just how many cool toys were made. Since then I have amassed a few handfuls of the buggers, including some favorites like Wingnut, a must-have for a Batman fan like myself, Casey Jones, always a favorite character in all other media, Muckman, Leatherhead, Mutagen Man, Mona Lisa… and many more. Oh yeah, and the four regular versions of our heroic teen turtles and their master Splinter. Let’s not forget those guys.
Admittedly… I scooped up many of the ‘variant’ turtles too. Those silly ‘themed’ figures like Midshipman Mike and Caveman Don. Those figures are beyond ridiculous and in my old age something about them is, to quote Robert Palmer, simply irresistible. Ah yes. Those silly themes. Playmates went wild with the themes. We’re talking everything from Star Trek Turtles to Military Turtles to Astronaut Turtles to Dungeons and Dragons-esque Turtles and pretty much everything in-between, above, below, to the left, to the right and inside. Playmates didn’t miss a beat or a bad idea. Sometimes they even had a good idea!
Speaking of which, that finally brings me to the subject of today’s jibber-jabber: Universal Monster Turtles (and April!). Playmates released two Universal Monsters themed series, the first in 1993 and the second in 1994. The first release saw Leonardo cast as the Wolfman, Raphael as the Mummy, Michaelangelo as Frankenstein’s Monster and Donatello as Dracula.
Having blown their wad right out the gate, the second release featured two relatively strong contenders: Bride of Frankenstein April and Creature from the Black Lagoon Leonardo (the only figure from the two series’ that I do not currently own) and then hit bottom with Invisible Man Michaelangelo and Metaluna Mutant Raphael.
Don’t get me wrong, both of these ‘also-rans’ are fine, strong, well-designed and visually pleasing toys, with Mikey actually being quite extraordinary with his ‘invisible’ body parts and bandaged face; it’s just that the ‘monsters’ they represent aren’t quite ‘A’ or even ‘B’ list material. I don’t even really consider the Invisible Man a ‘monster,’ for that matter! Plus, Donny didn’t get any representation in the second series at all! What, no Phantom of the Operatello or Hunchback of New-York-Don? Come on Playmates, whose gonna do the machines?! Hey, at least we got April this time around.
Outside of the directly marketed Universal Monsters, a collector of TMNT and monster fans alike certainly has plenty of options to choose from to strengthen the mass of their horrible horde – Slash is for all intents and purposes is a zombie turtle (two of which flank my Bride of Frankenstein April ala The Walking Dead’s Michonne,) and one could easily replace Casey Jones’ baseball bat with a cleaver for a decent Jason stand-in. And admit it, Baxter Stockman is The Fly… to name just a few. Face it, the connection from TMNT to monsters isn’t that hard to get to when you remember that even the good guys are hideously mutated animals!
So, as a toy collector, I have gone from ambivalent to ‘I think I’ll pick up a few key characters’ to damn near gotta have them all and it only took me twenty years to do so.
Well played, Playmates. Well played.
This article is part of the Countdown to Halloween blogathon, a month-long blogging marathon dedicated to honoring the Halloween season. For more information and a full list of participating sites, please visit www.countdowntohalloween.com.