Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of the most wildly popular franchises in our modern times. It’s shocking to think that there has been a major presence of the franchise since the first black and white comic book published by Mirage Studios in 1984. Since then, there have been numerous comic books, television shows, video games, movies, and toys that revolve around the TMNT franchise. Whenever a franchise lasts as long as TMNT has, there’s bound to be oddities that crop up over the years. Thirty years is a long time and a franchise can take some weird and wild turns.
This list celebrates these weird facts that may have slipped past even the most diehard TMNT fans. It contains facts from the entirety of the Turtles’ franchise, from its beginnings to the current day. Some of these facts come from behind the scenes and others are directly from the source material, but all of them come from almost every corner of TMNT whether it’s a movie, comic, or television show. Our rankings are in order from most well-known to least likely known facts. Read on to learn about some of the most surprising things to come out of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise!
15. DAREDEVIL AND X-MEN PARODY
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles technically have two origins. The first is that artist Kevin Eastman made a humorous drawing of a turtle holding a pair of nunchucks. Eastman’s friend, Peter Laird, suggested making more turtles, each with their own unique weapon. The two of them then came up with the wordy title of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The second origin is the content of their first issue of the TMNT comic book. Many elements within the issue are direct references to Frank Miller’s Daredevil series and The New Mutants X-Men spin off. Splinter is a riff on Stick, Dardevil’s teacher. The Turtles fight the Foot, just like how Daredevil fights the Hand. It even has been confirmed that the same toxic waste that blinded Matt Murdock is what coated the turtles to transform them.
14. MUTANT MURDERERS
Throughout the history of the franchise, many TMNT properties have been aimed towards children. There are many silly and fun TMNT comics, tv shows, movies, and video games. The original comic series had darker tones, however. The series positioned the four turtles as assassins raised by Splinter with one goal in mind: to kill the Shredder.
In fact, the Turtles achieve their goal by then end of issue #1. Leonardo defeats the Shredder in battle. He then asks Shredder to commit seppuku, meaning suicide. As his final act, the Shredder tries to blow up the Turtles with a grenade. He fails to do so and explodes. The beginning of the issue is no less violent as the Turtles slice and maim over 15 members of the Purple Dragon gang.
13. UNCLE SHREDDER
The Shredder is a villain who is routinely considered one of the best villains across comic books, television, and film. The 1987 TMNT cartoon was in many ways the first exposure people got to the Turtles and Shredder. It was none other than James Avery, best known as Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, who had the honor of voicing Shredder.
Avery voiced Shredder from episode one of TMNT through the middle of season seven. TMNT ran for three more seasons without Avery’s voice as Shredder. Avery had a robust career both on camera and as a voice actor, having also lent his voice to the 1990 Iron Man animated series as War Machine and playing a recurring role on the television version of Disney’s Aladdin.
12. OFTEN IMITATED
Whenever an intellectual property like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles skyrockets in popularity, there’s bound to be imitators. What is unusual is the sheer number of comic books and cartoons that were launched in the wake of TMNT. After the 1984 black and white comic book debut, there were dozens of copycat comics published including Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters, Cold Blooded Chameleon Commandos, and Pre-Teen Dirty-Gene Kung Fu Kangaroos.
Once again after the debut of the 1987 cartoon there was an onslaught of imitators that tried to cash in on the success of TMNT. These shows included Street Sharks, Biker Mice From Mars, Samurai Pizza Cats, and Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa. Whether comic book or cartoon series, all these franchises tried to replicate the unique success of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
11. TEENAGE MUTANT HERO TURTLES
The 1987 TMNT cartoon, of course, was a monumental success. Its popularity soared and created a fever pitch within new fans for more. Of course, the franchise spread overseas, but not without some complications. In the United Kingdom, media outlets deemed the word “ninja” to be too violent. The proposed change was to rename the show as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.
In addition to that, there were strict laws about the depiction of nunchucks. At the time, any media that featured nunchucks was immediately given a harsh rating. For instance, movies would immediately be rated 18 for adults. Around season five of the cartoon series, Michelangelo was given a grappling hook to replace his typical nunchucks. Confusingly, the katana, bo staff, and sais the other Turtles used were permitted to stay in the animated show.
10. ERNIE REYES JR. IN FIRST MOVIE
Keno is a character portrayed by actor Ernie Reyes Jr. in the second live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. While Keno only appeared in that second movie, it might surprise you to learn that he was in the first live action movie as well. See, Reyes Jr. was the actor inside the Donatello costume for all the fight scenes featuring Donny. When you see Donatello kicking butt in that first movie, it’s Reyes Jr. moving gracefully inside the animatronic suit.
It took many actors to bring the Jim Henson animatronic turtle suits to life. There were puppeteers who controlled the facial movements, voice actors who spoke as the characters, and actors physically inside the suits. Another actor, Leif Tilden, acted as Donatello in the non-fight scenes of the movie.
9. CROSSOVERS GALORE
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been featured in numerous crossovers throughout the years since their inception. Some of these crossovers have been high profile like the recent TMNT/Batman miniseries. The current TMNT comic book is published by IDW and frequently features crossovers between all their properties. In fact, there was a crossover event called “Infestation” in 2012 that featured the Turtles, G.I. Joe, and Transformers!
Older crossovers with the Turtles featured characters like Usagi Yojimbo, the anthropomorphic rabbit samurai or Savage Dragon, the humanoid dragon turned police officer. The Turtles crossovers aren’t limited to comics either. They made a live action appearance in one episode of Power Rangers in Space. There have been action figure lines that featured the Turtles mashed up with Star Trek, WWE, and Universal Monsters like Dracula or the Mummy.
8. THAT CRAZY ARCHIE COMICS SERIES
In 1988 Archie Comics began publishing a TMNT series, which was supposed to be a comic book adaptation of the 1987 animated show. However, the book quickly derailed from that premise and became a comic series in its own universe. There was no shared continuity between the Archie Comics and the television show. This comic book series ended up going in a wild direction where seemingly anything could happen.
Archie’s TMNT later featured a side team of heroes called the Mighty Mutanimals with characters like Wingnut, Leatherhead, and Man Ray. Many of the issues in these comics focused on environmental problems of the day, but it would spiral into super-strange stories as well. For example, the Turtles would often interact with future versions of themselves, and there was even an issue in which Donatello meets the explorer Christopher Columbus!
7. TMNT 1990 SET BOX OFFICE RECORDS
The original one-shot comic book of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was an unexpected success. The same can be said for the first live action movie, which, perhaps surprisingly, had a difficult path arriving on screen. There were fights about the script, difficulties surrounding the use of Jim Henson’s animatronic Turtle suits, and nearly every major studio turned down the opportunity to distribute the film. Partway through filming the upstart studio New Line Cinema finally backed the movie.
The first movie’s budget was a meager $13.5 million. However, its box office earnings raked in nearly 200 million worldwide! That made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the highest earning independent movie of all time for many years. In fact, TMNT 1990’s record wasn’t broken until the end of the decade with 1999’s Blair Witch Project.
6. APRIL O’NEIL WAS AFRICAN AMERICAN
While every other entry on this list is a verifiable fact, this one is still, 30 years later, a bit of a mystery. There is a faction of TMNT fans who believe that in the original Mirage comic books, April O’Neil was intended to be an African American woman. Supporters of this theory point to the appearance of April in these early comic books, which was pretty ambiguous in terms of her race.
On the other side of the argument is that many issues of the original Mirage series featured fill-in artists with their own styles. That inconsistency is why dismissers of this theory claim April was never intended to be African American. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird have remained fairly quiet about this fan theory over the years, so there is still no definitive answer one way or another.
5. VENUS DE MILO
Over the 30+ years of the Turtles franchise, there have been lots of characters added to the roster. In 1997, there was a live action television show called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation, which featured a female turtle named Venus de Milo who wore a light blue bandanna. Venus used a fan in combat as well as mystical orbs.
The Next Mutation featured a retcon that Venus was a fifth turtle exposed to the mutagen that transformed the other four turtles. Splinter simply failed to notice her when he was rescuing the other four. Venus was raised by a man named Chung who trained Venus in the art of Shinobi. After her appearance in The Next Mutation, she was mostly left out of further iterations of the TMNT franchise whether it was comic books, television shows, or video games.
4. THERE WAS A LIVE STAGE SHOW
The TMNT franchise has conquered, in one way or another, movies, television, comics, video games, and even toys. What you might not know is that there was also a live concert tour featuring the four radical pizza eating brothers. The Coming out of Their Shells Tour featured the four Turtles singing and playing instruments for legions of fans. One show at Radio City Music Hall in New York City was taped and sold on VHS.
The show featured Michelangelo as lead vocals and guitar, Leonardo on bass, Donatello on keyboard, and Raphael on drums. There was a light plot throughout the show involving the Turtles traveling to different cities to spread their love of music, with Shredder and Baxter Stockman teaming up to steal all the music in the world. The show was criticized for its plot and cheap looking costumes, but it did well with its rabid fandom at the time.
3. RAPHAEL BECOMES SHREDDER
While the Archie Comics series was a wild ride over the course of 70 plus issues, the Image Comics series from 1996 was a concentrated dose of bizarre. Within this series, Donatello suffers injuries and has bionic components installed. Leonardo doesn’t just lose a hand, it is eaten off by the villain King Komodo. Splinter was transformed into a bat and lost his mind, before eventually returning to his rat form after several issues.
Perhaps the most mind-blowing story arc in the Image Comics series was Raphael’s. In the comic, he first was horrifically scarred in battle. Then Raph wore a version of The Shredder’s armor and eventually became the leader of the Foot Clan. It was a shocking turn of events that perfectly embodied how far-out the Image Comics TMNT series was.
2. SHREDDER INSPIRED BY A CHEESE GRATER
The Shredder is an ominous and frightening villain, his terrifying villainy a stark contrast to the Turtles’ fun attitude. That said, there is a surprisingly funny origin to this classic villain. Co-creator Kevin Eastman placed his hand inside a rectangular cheese grater and imagined a character covered head to toe with metal and sharp blades. At first, he even wanted to call the character The Grater.
It was TMNT’s other co-creator, Peter Laird, who came up with the name of Shredder. Another interesting fact is that Shredder was never intended to be the Turtles’ main antagonist. The Shredder dies in the very first issue of the original Mirage Comics series! It was the 1987 cartoon that cemented Shredder as the main villain of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
1. CHUCK LORRE WROTE THE THEME SONG
The name Chuck Lorre might not be recognizable but his shows are among the most popular on television in the past few years. Lorre is the executive producer behind Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory, and other contemporary sitcoms. Before he was a writer and producer, Lorre worked as a musician. The theme song to the classic 1987 TMNT cartoon is one of Lorre’s earliest jobs.
In an interview, Lorre said he drew inspiration from the original comic book series’ outlandish and independent roots. He stated the comic book reminded him of garage rock. That is what led to the theme song’s aggressive in-your-face tone and lyrics. The theme song, of course, went on to be one of the most defining features of the 1987 cartoon series.
What other hidden facts do you know about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Let us know in the comments!
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