The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series that began in 1987 ran for ten seasons after becoming an instant hit. Based on the characters created by Peter Eastman and Kevin Laird, the cartoon toned-down the violence and turbocharged the colors from the comic books. Like so many cartoons from the '80s, the purpose of the show was to sell toys. Playmates Toys teamed with the Turtles’ creators to start a toy line, but worried that the comic lacked a large enough fan base to generate sales. So they agreed on and produced a five-episode season that aired in the summer of 1988.
Moving to Saturday morning syndication really opened up the show for its audience, and the cartoon’s success continued through its run. Soon enough, Donatello, Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo were popping up on everything from lunch boxes to bed spreads to pajamas to Halloween costumes. But as famous as the Turtles themselves were, plenty of other characters crawled across the screen during the show’s impressive 193 episodes. It got us to thinking about who exactly were the show’s best secondary characters, and who among those supporting characters would have been better off just staying on the drawing board.
15 RULED: KRANG
We begin our list the way all good lists should begin, with a disembodied brain. Krang was a warlord from Dimension X, but he got banished and had his body taken away. It happens. Krang’s android body looks like Zippy the Pinhead, which on its own is enough to land him on a “ruled” list, but add to that the android’s ability to turn his arms into weapons, and you’ve got the perfect vehicle for any bodiless warlord. He also got to drive around in the Technodrome!
Krang’s conflict with the Turtles came from a deeper place than Shredder’s blind rage and hatred for the heroes in a half shell. Krang had plans. He had ambition. He wanted to control not just Dimension X, but all the dimensions. You’ve got to admire a brain with a vision.
14 SUCKED: BAXTER STOCKMAN
Baxter Stockman likes a challenge. He understands that anybody can die, everything is fleeting, and you’ve got to catch up on what you can catch up on. When his Mousers were not accepted as a vermin control technique, poor Baxter was tossed out into the street. He understood that what’s comfortable and what represents your life, what’s unique and individual about you, that’s style, as it were.
And then around that time, he was turned into a fly with a bowtie. It was a realm of human experience that doesn’t get all that much attention on television. Eventually Stockman found work with Shredder, who, despite Stockman’s repeated failures, still put himself in the hands of engineers. Originally, Stockman was supposed to become an ally of the Turtles, but Eastman and Laird vetoed that notion. We secretly hope it’s still possible, because life, uh, finds a way.
13 RULED: SLASH
What would happen if the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were evil? They’d all be Slash. Though different versions of the Slash character have appeared across all the TMNT franchises, in the 1987 cartoon, Slash is Bebop’s pet turtle, mutated by Rocksteady who is looking for someone else to carry out Shredder’s orders.
Later, Slash is able to take on all four other turtles at once, before being sent off into space. In a different story, Slash gets super intelligence -- and a British accent -- from a race of aliens who hook him into a machine. Though his plan to turn everyone on Earth into a turtle didn’t work, that’s some impressive ambition. Slash appears on this list because of his great design, his impressive fighting skills, and his obsession with palm trees. We’re suckers for villains who like nature.
12 SUCKED: MUCKMAN
There is strength and honor in being a sanitation worker. It’s a unionized job with decent pay, holidays off, and first dibs on items that could end up on American Pickers. Muckman, however, is played as stupid -- an insult to the upstanding men and women who visit our homes every week to help keep the clean conditions of our living environment.
Muckman, real name Garson Grunge, would eventually become an ally of the Turtles along with his partner, Joe Eyeball, when they discovered that Rocksteady and Bebop were responsible for their mutation. While we appreciate that Muckman was given a voice similar to television’s greatest garbage man of all time -- Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden -- even this nod to classic entertainment isn’t enough to save this character from the “Sucked” list.
11 RULED: LEATHERHEAD
An anthropomorphic alligator who speaks with a Cajun accent, Leatherhead was just a regular gator, living a happy gator life in the swamp, until he swam through some Mutagen Krang and Shredder had spilled. A survivalist and tracker type, Leatherhead stalks all his enemies with a bear trap and a giant crayfish. Pretty awesome weapons outload, in our opinion.
While some people might criticize the stereotypical “bayou drawl” he speaks with, we like to think that Leatherhead is just proud of his cultural heritage. With his vest and rubber boots, he sure looks like an ambassador for the Gumbo Union. Leatherhead was also originally voiced by Jim Cummings, who would go on to voice, among many other characters, Darkwing Duck. Leatherhead gets extra points based on that lineage alone.
10 SUCKED: PINKY MCFINGERS
Before we go onto explain this character’s inclusion on this section of our list, try saying his name out loud a few times. Go ahead. We’ll wait. His name alone would be enough to land here on the list, but couple that with a cliched and retreaded character design and an “evil plan” that involved making everyone laugh so much they’d be easy to rob, and you’ve got a character just ripe for the “Sucked” list.
Pinky reoccured as a minor villain a number of times during the cartoon’s run, but he never elevated his game or his schtick beyond being just a stereotypical mob boss. Too bad he couldn’t have run into a blob of radioactive ooze. “Pinky McFingers” is a swell name for a mutant.
9 RULED: LORD DREGG
Krang and Shredder were goofy, though Krang’s goofiness was sufficient enough for him to end up on the “Ruled” list. Lord Dregg, on the other hand, was all business. Dregg and his army, the TechnoGang, made their first appearance in the first episode of the ninth season. Dregg appeared after Shredder and Krang were out of the picture, trapped in another dimension.
Dregg is top notch because of his ruthlessness. He isn’t afraid of treating his soldiers like the bugs they are. But he’s not above recognizing a job well done, so in addition to being hardcore, he also is a visionary leader. Combine all that with a cunning intellect, and you’ve got one quality bad guy that more than lives up to the villains he replaced.
8 SUCKED: ZACH
Despite being a show targeted to children, TMNT did a pretty good job of not pandering down to their level for most of the show’s history. Sure, the show had oozing mutants and occasional fart jokes, but really, most of the time, adults were doing adult things with adult stakes. And then came Zach.
Supposedly based upon the son of one of the show’s creators, Zach learns about the Turtles’ existence and idolizes them. He dresses himself in mock turtle (not from Alice in Wonderland) armor and sets to help the Turtles fight crime. He’s insufferable. Zach begins as a nuisance to the Turtles, and the audience, but eventually ingratiates himself to the fellas and becomes “the Fifth Turtle.” How the audience felt about him is another story entirely.
7 RULED: ANTRAX
This fellow appears on this list largely because we just love a good pun. And ants. Antrax serves as Krang’s “Executioner from Dimension X,” and he sports a black hood, a giant two-bladed axe, and all sorts of ant-y goodness. Unlike a lot of the characters on this list, poor Antrax didn’t get to make a lot of appearances through the years, which truly is a shame, because his design is inventive, and really dark for a kids’ toy.
He’s wearing a executioner’s hood, for goodness sake! That’s a pretty bleak call out. In fact, his one and only appearance is in the excellent episode “Night of the Rogues” which features Shredder bringing a bunch of the Turtles’ bad guys to form their own Legion of Super Villains.
6 SUCKED: KERMA
Why is Kerma dressed like a flasher from some bad '80s sitcom? Does anyone know? Because we sure don’t. That’s strike one. Kerma arrives in the cartoon as an ambassador from his home planet, Shell-Ri-La, hoping to recruit some help to defend his people against Herman the Horrible, an evil space dragon. So because Kerma comes from a people of freeloaders, that’s strike two.
He finds the Turtles and of course, they help defend Kerma’s people. In turn, Kerma helps the Turtles foil a Shredder plan, but in a later appearance, Kerma returns and asks for help again! That’s strike three. You’ve got to attend to your own business. Kerma and his people eventually learn to defend themselves, but not before earning a place on our “Sucked” list.
5 RULED: MIYAMOTO USAGI
The final three characters who ruled could have appeared in any order, so don’t go giving us shade in the comments. Stan Sakai’s Miyamoto Usagi, crossed over into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the 1987 cartoon, and in later books and shows because he’s just such a great character. His books have one numerous awards, and Sakai is considered one of the greatest creators in comic book history.
A master swordsman, Usagi is a ronin -- a wandering samurai -- from a dimension where animals are the primary species. Interesting fact: the cartoon’s creators misunderstood the title of Usagi’s book, thinking “Usagi Yojimbo” was the character’s name. The title actually translates to “Rabbit Bodyguard,” but most people don’t bother to check the ID of a rabbit samurai.
4 SUCKED: METALHEAD
Poor Metalhead. Krang built this robotic turtle to fight against the Turtles, in doing so, programming him with all the Turtles’ personalities (like an amphibian Transformers gestalt). This gave Metalhead dissociative personality disorder, and eventually, he rebelled against his creator. Building a fully functioning body out of spare parts hasn’t worked properly since Mary Shelley.
Like so many villainous characters before him, Metalhead eventually moves to the side of the angels and ends up working as the Turtles’ servant. This brings up a whole host of concerns. Is Metalhead an indentured servant? Is he working for the Turtles against his will? Does he have a USB port? Metalhead only made one other appearance in the series, and although his toy was pretty cool, this poor confused robot still needs to end on our “Sucked” list.
3 RULED: APRIL O'NEIL
The First Lady of TMNT, April O’Neil has been friends with the Turtles since the beginning, and no mater what the genre or specific franchise, the Turtles can count on April’s support. In the 1987 cartoon series, April is an intrepid reporter for Channel 6 News. She discovers the Turtles’ existence after a series of thefts, and she becomes the viewers’ eyes and ears as she learns the Turtles’ origins.
Through thick and thin, April was there for the boys, providing vital information thanks to her connections and the Channel 6 News computers. But as anyone who grew up watching the Turtles’ cartoon can tell you, the real reason April O’Neil rules is simple: she can rock a yellow jumpsuit / white boot combination like nobody’s business!
2 SUCKED: VERNON FENWICK
It’s a real shame that a character who made his first appearance on the very first episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles also has to be the final entry on our “Suck” list, but that’s what a salmon-colored button down shirt and suspenders gets you.
The cringe-inducingly-named Vernon Fenwick worked with April as a Channel 6 camera man, and with the exception of once early on in the series, his personality is punctuated by laziness, cowardice, and a general clumsiness that permeates just about everything he does. He’s a character that’s meant to suck, and boy does he. A little underhanded, too ambitious for his own good, Fenwick could have been a stand-up guy, but instead, tries to pin crimes on the Turtles for his own self-aggrandizement. If ooze hit him, he’d turn into a weasel.
1 RULED: CASEY JONES
Finally on our list of supporting characters who ruled, we come to the crazed, hockey-mask wearing vigilante Casey Jones. He’s Dirty Harry with a golf club, pledged to bring his tough brand of justice to evil doers of all sorts: thieves, killers, jaywalkers, litterers, and what have you. It doesn’t matter where you appear on the Criminal Code, Casey Jones has your number, and he’s not making you wait.
Although the Casey Jones character plays a pivotal role in the comics, and makes multiple later film and television appearances, he’s only featured in five episodes from the 1987 cartoon. In one appearance, he faces off against the Shredder with a sword and holds his own, proving his mettle as well as his place among the greatest of TMNT’s fighters and characters.
Which characters do you think belong on this list? Let us know in the comments!