I'm a sucker for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toys. I'm sure you are utterly shocked by that statement, but it is true. It is the first line that I looked at as more than mere toys. And for over twenty years now, I have dutifully bought wave after wave of the toys that were produced by Playmates Toys. While Playmates has produced a lot of different version of the green teens, including a few that were strongly influenced by the original designs from the early Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comics, they never quite did those original designs justice. And so for two decades, Mirage purists have been forced to settle for the likes of the 1993 Ninja Action series of figures. But no longer. Playmates still remains blind to the opportunity that the collector market presents. But another company, NECA has stepped forward to fill that void. If you don't recognize that name, NECA produces mostly specialty market products including collectibles, movie props and some toys from a variety of movie and video game licenses. And now they have taken on the license for the original Mirage Comics based Turtles and their first series is hitting stores now.
Packaging - carded 8/10, box set & tubes 9/10There are three different versions of the packaging either released or announced for these figures so far: clamshell style cards, a box set and plastic tube packages. The carded figures use plastic clamshell style packaging where the figure and backer are totally enclosed in the plastic. The figures are packaged in a neutral standing pose with their accessories displayed around them. There is a paper background as well as another insert that covers the left side, the bottom and the lower edge of the front of the package. NECA made heavy use of original artwork from the early Mirage comics and used text sparingly. Overall, I like it. I do see two issues with it. The first is a minor note, but on the side of the packaging they used close-up images of each Turtle's hands holding their weapons while the back of the packaging has full body images of all four of the Turtles as well as a group photo of the actual toys. I'm inclined to think they would have been better off switching the side and back images so that you could see more of the Turtle on the side while the back already has a full body image in the form of the photo of the toys. But what I am more disappointed about is the quality of the plastic for the clamshell. It just isn't thick enough to provide much strength, particularly for long term display or storage.
The tube packages are an interesting idea and rather unique in the current action figure market. Each figure comes in a short, oval shaped tube that is just tall enough to accommodate the figure. The figures are held in a neutral standing pose in the center of the tube holding their weapons. The paper inserts along the top and bottom as well as the back of the tube use original Mirage artwork well. I particularly like the use of black and white images for the background inside the tube. I was skeptical of the tube packages at first. But now having them in my hands I have to say I'm impressed. They make a nice alternative for those who want to have their figures out for display but still in the package. The only drawback is that it makes the seem smaller than the clamshell packaging does.
The box sets come in a wide window box with all four figures lined up and separated by their weapons. As with the carded figures, NECA used a lot of Mirage artwork throughout. As with the cards, the final product is attractive. And the box greatly reduces the durability issues. the box does seem to almost be a bit too large given the size of the figures. But that extra space is put to good use on the back where they included a much larger image of the toys on display. So why no perfect score? NECA used such a large box yet they still covered up a lot more of the figures than they needed to, especially Donatello. Still, these do make impressive display pieces. Just be sure to buy a second set to open so you can truly enjoy these figures. The final version of the packaging has not yet been released. But each individual figure will soon be available in a plastic cylinder. Hopefully that version will turn out as well as the other two.
I should also take a moment to point out that even if you are the type of person who generally doesn't care about packaging variations, you should pay attention to which version you pick up with NECA's TMNT line. The reason is that the toys inside are actually slightly different, or at least the accessories which they come with are. The regular carded figures which I will be reviewing come with all of the bells and whistles. (See the Accessories section.) The box set on the other hand only includes the four figures and their basic weapons: two katana, two sais, two nunchuks and a bo. The tube packaged figures include just the basic weapons as well. But then to make things even more complicated, there is also another version of the box set which will be available at the 2008 New York Comic Convention which included all of the accessories of the individual carded figures. Are you confused yet?
Sculpting - 9/10All four Turtles share a single body which was sculpted by the talented crew at the Four Horsemen Studios. They did an amazing job with it. They are supposed to be based upon their appearance in the very first issue of the TMNT comic. But the art style wasn't entirely consistent through that issue. Despite that, these figures do a great job of capturing the over all look. One area that has been a concern since the early prototype was shown is the length of the necks. They are extremely long, too long perhaps. But the Turtles were drawn with longer necks through most of the first issue, so they aren't inaccurate. And in person, they are not very noticeable. Beyond that, there are a couple of minor compromises for the sake of creating an action figure such as having the plastron or front piece of the shell stick out from the body a bit along the edges and not having the knee pads wrap all the way around the legs. But in the end, those things are very minor and don't really detract from an excellent sculpt. Each Turtle does have his own head sculpt ranging from a grinning Michelangelo to a scowling Raphael. The head sculpts do an impressive job of conveying different emotions. But since they are the only thing distinguishing one Turtle from another except for Leonardo's sheaths, they really had to.
Paint - 10/10The paint work on the Turtle figures is an excellent representation of their look from the Mirage comics. First of all, that means that all four Turtles wear red bandannas instead of the color coded bandannas of the cartoons. Beyond that, each figure receives an extensive amount of hand painted highlights. This not only makes the figures look really nice, it also adds an additional level of variation between individual figures that helps to make up for the fact that they all use the same body sculpt. The quality control seems to be quite high as well. Of the three sets that I have, only one has a noticeable issue with the paint. The Raphael in my box set has a couple of small specks of light green paint on his right arm. I do want to stress that those spots are extremely small though.
Articulation - 8/10NECA isn't really known for the articulation on their figures, so I was cautiously optimistic when it was announced that their TMNT figures were going to have Marvel Legends levels of articulation or close to it. They did a remarkable job of delivering on that promise with thirty points of articulation on each figure:
Accessories - Box set 6/10, Raphael 10/10 others 9/10NECA's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figures are available with two different sets of accessories. The regular box set and individual figures in the tube packages only come with each Turtle's basic weapon. Leonardo has his swords which can be stored in the sheaths on his back. Donatello has a bo staff. Michaelangelo has a pair of nunchuks with real chains. And Raphael has a pair of sais. That isn't a lot, but they are well executed and painted. They even designed Leonardo's swords and Don's bo to come apart to make them easier to slide into the figures' hands. A particularly nice touch is that Raphael can wield his sais in multiple ways including holding them between his two fingers which is a first for a Raphael figure. Honestly, that is probably enough for most people, particularly for casual fans of the TMNT. But if you do opt for the single carded figures or the NYCC box set, you will be getting quite a few extras. To start with, each figure comes with a small section of a street display base. Leonardo and Raphael share the same sidewalk base. But Leonardo comes with a fire hydrant to add to it while Raph comes with a street light. Donatello and Michelangelo come with the same section of street with either a manhole or some broken pieces of wood on them. The bases are designed to connect together. But only the sidewalks and street section connect. Neither the sidewalks nor the street sections can connect to themselves. So if you get all four, you can't actually "connect" all four pieces together. They look fine just sitting next to each other. It also means that you can choose to either place them in a 2x2 rectangle or end to end to make a cross section of an entire street. It is too bad that the scale is off. The bases and accessories on them are about 33 to 40% smaller than they should have been. Each one of the four Turtles also come with a spare pair of hands with climbing claws on them and an unmutated pet turtle. Finally, everyone except for Leonardo comes with yet another bonus accessory. For Donatello it is the TCRI canister that contained the chemicals which caused their mutations. Michelangelo comes with a trio of throwing stars. Raphael has three throwing blades. And all of these items come directly from the very first TMNT comic. It does seem strange that they left Leonardo without and additional accessories, but it is understandable since he is also the only one to have a true sheath for his weapons. All four figures have a great set of accessories. But I have to give the edge to Raphael overall since he has the biggest addition to his display base and the greatest, most versatile set of sais of any Raphael figure to date.
Value - 10/10The box set containing all four Turtles will run you around $40 to $50 depending upon where you buy them. But you should reasonably expect to pay around $45. At under $12 each, these figures are an excellent deal for what could very well end up being the best toy of the year. Certainly they are the best TMNT toy we are likely to see this year. The single carded figures are a bit more expensive, but you should still be able to pick them up for under $16 each. Whether you think the extra accessories are worth a few Dollars per figure more will vary from person to person.
Happy Hunting:Both the box set and single carded figures have just begun shipping. While NECA's products are specialty market only, retailer support seems to be pretty strong. If you hope to pick them up locally, check out your local comic book store(s) or stores that carry NECA's other products like Spencers Gifts. But if you can't find them locally, there is no shortage of web sites that are offering them for sale. There are two issue to their availability. First of all, they seem to be striking a cord with a lot of fans and selling quickly. So if you wait, you may miss out until NECA can produce more. Secondly, if you are looking to buy the individual carded figures make sure to track down Raphael and Donatello first. For some strange reason they are shipping in cases containing fourteen figures which means those two figures are short packed slightly.