Like GHOSTBUSTERS, the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES is an ’80s property so popular that it’s as beloved and relevant today as it was when it was first introduced. And the franchises will soon share more in common than simply being enduringly popular, as sequel TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS and Paul Feig’s much-talked-about GHOSTBUSTERS reboot will both be vying for your box office dollars this summer.
TMNT 2 arrives on June 3rd, but we’re not here today to talk about the movie.
We’re here to talk about toys!
The crime-fighting, pizza-eating Ninja Turtles reached the height of their popularity in the early 1990s, and it was the original toy line that is largely responsible, along with the 1987 animated series, for how popular the teenage mutants quickly became. Put out by Playmates, the TMNT action figures absolutely dominated toy shelves in the early-mid ’90s, and the company capitalized on that success by running the line into the ground in the most glorious way imaginable.
Smartly thinking outside the box, Playmates came up with so many different designs for the franchise’s main characters that the line quickly became out of control, home to some of the most bizarre action figures the toy world has ever seen. Beloved heroes Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo and Raphael were put into all sorts of wacky costumes as the line got long in the tooth, transforming them into everything from clowns to rappers, farmers to sailors, and space cadets to barbarians. The creativity was off the charts, and so too were the sales figures.
There was even a point where the turtles were put into the STAR TREK universe, and it was right around that same time that the most glorious sub-line of all was released by Playmates. Beginning in 1993, and continuing the following year, the green dudes were fused together with the most iconic UNIVERSAL MONSTERS, and the world was instantly made a better place because of it.
Eight figures were put out across two series’ in the Universal Monsters-inspired wave, allowing for Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael to each become two monsters. As for Donatello, he for whatever reason was only merged with one of Universal’s iconic villains, and April O’Neil also managed to make her way into the line with one figure – after all, you simply can’t pay tribute to the Universal Monsters without including the lovely Bride of Frankenstein.
Let’s take a closer look, shall we?!
First up, in Series 1, we have Donatello as Dracula and Michelangelo as Frankenstein – or Frankenstein’s monster, if you insist on being a stickler about that. As you can see, the accessories included with these figures reflect the monsters they’re cosplaying as – Count Don comes with a wooden stake, for example, while Mikenstein includes shackles and a torch. Worth noting that the toys in the first series had a glow-in-the-dark feature, while the toys in the second series did not.
Also in Series 1, Leonardo transformed into the Wolfman, while Raphael decided to dress up as the Mummy. Out of all the figures in the Universal Monsters wave, Im-Ho-Raph was the most impressive in the glow-in-the-dark department, as he featured the most surface area that could be covered in the special “monstrous night glow” paint. These really make you wish there was a full-on TMNT Halloween special back in the ’90s, don’t they?
The second series of this particular wave, released in 1994, featured four brand new toys housed in different packaging, kicking off with Leonardo as the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Michelangelo as the Invisible Man. Given the inherent similarities between the Turtles and the Creature, Leonardo’s second figure is one of the coolest in the line, as Playmates went all out turning Leo into the movie monster. As for Michelangelo, his second figure isn’t quite as cool as the first, but the translucent flesh and add-on bandage mask helped spice it up.
The final two toys in Series 2 were undoubtedly the most unique of them all. Presumably because Playmates had run out of monsters by this point, they decided to merge Raphael with the Metaluna Mutant, a fairly obscure monster from 1955’s THIS ISLAND EARTH – at least, more obscure than Wolf Man, Dracula and friends – and as previously mentioned, April O’Neil was a natural way to bring the Bride of Frankenstein into the line. Yea, they actually made a Metaluna Mutant-inspired Ninja Turtles toy. Just let that sink in.
Gotta love the ’90s!