Saturday, October 1, 2011

TMNT Universal Horror Figures!


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 Sometimes I feel envious of children who grew up in the 1980s. They had some of the best cartoons (Thundercats, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Transformers) that lead to some of the coolest toy ever crafted. I was born just late enough in the 80s to be able to catch the tail end these shows (when they had all hit there re-run stages) and was just able to get a few of the leftover toys from each line before they hit the 'collectors market'.  Mostly though, I am a child of the 90s. And while we might not have been able to match the sheer volume of 'destined to be classic' cartoon / toy lines of the prior decade we did spawn something that is arguably greater than anything to ever come before it.

I am of course talking about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Unless you lived through the early part of the 90s it is hard to really explain just how big of a deal the turtles where. It was a marketing machine the likes of which had not been seen before. Toy isles did not have just simple sections dedicated to turtles figures, they had entire isles of nothing but. This spilled out to anything and everything in-between. From breakfast cereals, toothpaste, pillows, blankets, action figures, forks, spoons, clothing and anything else you could slap one of the four turtles on and color green. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles owned everything in there path.

Of course this posed a few minor problems for the company who produced the figures, Playmates Toys, as the series only consists of four turtles and the obvious other bad guys and secondary heroes. You can only make so many versions of Donatello before even the most rabid eight year old will pass up owning one. So Playmates came up with an interesting solution to this problem, they started making really weird versions of every character that really did not tie in with anything but gave us all reason to beg for that nineteenth Leonardo figure. This is where a line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figures based off from classic Universal Horror Movies of the 30s and 40s came from. If this induction isn't worthy of the Halloween Countdown I do not know what is.

This spin off line of figures is officially known as the Universal Studio Monsters: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line and were released in the later part of 1993 to early 1994. The original set would include Wolfman Leonardo, Count Dracula Donatello, Michelangelo as Frankenstein, and Mummy Raphael. April was also available as 'The Bride of Frankenstein' but I never owned that one. Later on in 1994 and updated version of this line was released that featured even more characters, such as a Leonardo figure made up to look like the 'Creature from the Black Lagoon' but today we are going to focus on the original four figures. These are actually my own personal figures from when I was a kid. Considering how rough I was with my toys in the later years it is amazing that they have lasted this long. So if you wonder why some of them seem a little extra nicked up its because they survived being played with and subsequently moved around in storage from 1993 up until just a couple days ago.

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Leonardo kicks off the pack of Universal Monsters and the first thing that becomes apparent here is that this is not the turtles simply dressed up in Halloween costumes. No, this is the turtles quite literally interpreted as these classic horror movie icons. Leonardo represents the Wolfman... or in this case Wolf-turtle and wow, what an interesting figure he makes. He has sculpted green turtle fur for starters. If you are not impressed with that surely his mutated hoof feet will catch your attention. As if that wasn't enough, he is wearing a tattered blue pair of pants and white glow in the dark shirt. Yea, glow in the dark shirt. As you will see with each and every figure in this set they all glow in the dark. Some more so than others but each Universal Monster TMNT figure has something that glows. On top of that just look at how hulking of a stance Leo has here. It's early to call him my favorite figure of the bunch but Wolfman Leonardo packs a really solid one two punch that's going to be tough to beat.

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Of course Count Dracula Donatello makes a fantastic case all his own for being the figure to own in the set. It is not to often that you get to see a vampire turtle and apparently someone at Playmates realized this was probably going to be there only opportunity to get to make one. Thus Dracula Don is jam-packed with more detail than you can shake a stick at. When the first thing you notice about a vampire turtle is the fingernails then you know detail has been attended to. Seriously, just look at those vicious pointy things. Donatello looks like he could rip the head right off any other action figure stupid enough to stand in his way. Just look at those fangs too, which (as well as the white cufflinks and undershirt) are his glow in the dark features. It's a little lax in the glowing department but this fact is more than made up for by his freaking vampire cape! I love that cape. It is enough to elevate Dracula Don from a simple action figure to the stuff of legend.

I used to stage gigantically epic battles between all my figures when I was a kid. Every night was a struggle between good and evil. Every battle always started off the same, the "good" figures would be lounging about in their fortress (ie: the right hand side of my room) while the "bad" figures would form some elaborate plan to invade the good guys when they least expected it (there fortress was the left hand side of the room, for those keeping score at home). When shit finally got down, it would happen in the "neutral zone" (also known as my bed). Battles this big required different figures with different positions and there was always one or two "leader" figures on each side of the battle who would command everyone else from high elevation points. Dracula Don was one of the leader figures for the bad guys. His most useful skill was the ability to transform into a bat (I literally had a fake rubber bat that I would use) and do recon work on the good guys. He was and still is one of my favorite TMNT figures that I own.

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Not to be outdone is Michelangelo, who has transformed into Frankenstein's Monster! Mikey makes another very strong attempt at being the coolest figure of the set and I would not argue with anyone who picked him above the rest. Frankenangelo here features the least about of glow in the dark material, with only his fingernails and some ankle and knee bolts dedicated to the holy glowing substance. What I really like about Frankenangelo is the fact that he has an entirely different head and neck placement than any other TMNT figure I have ever seen. It is literally on the same level as his shoulders, thus giving him this awesome hunchback appearance. Not to mention the very important inclusion of neck bolts, something that every Frankenstein inspired character should have. Hes a very sturdy figure too and I'm not just talking about his overall tough appearance (though he does look like a badass!) but the fact that he is the one in a million TMNT figure that just happened to have flat feet. Thus giving him the ability to stand on his own without some sort of outside support.

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Rounding off the set of original TMNT Universal Horror Figures is Mummy Raphael. Mumraph... wait, I don't think we can call him Mumraph. That sounds a little to close to Mumm-Ra and there will only ever be one Mumm-Ra. Mumphael (which has a better ring to it, don't you think?) is just completely covered in glow in the dark shit. He is almost 100% glow in the dark material and while it most definitely makes him the most glowie glowing figure of the bunch that does not necessarily elate to him being the best figure of the four. There just isn't that much detail on him. But what I do like are the couple little patches where the cloth is peeled back reveling patches of dirty brown lumpy looking turtle skin. Another thing I am not to found of is the bizarre tilt on Mumphael's head. I had to take about twenty thousand photos and re-position his feet at least thirteen dozen times to get a shot of him looking forward. For some reason he was molded with a head that faces strangely up at all times. Leonardo's Wolf-turtle  figure does the same thing only to a much lesser degree.

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This is the best I could do for getting a photo of them actually glowing in the dark. It was not an easy task as not pictured is more blacklights than most people have actual lights in there house. Plus over the years a lot of the stuff that makes them glow has sort of warn off. Just know that many moons ago back in 1993 these suckers glowed. I love these Universal Studio Monsters: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures. It feels like such a strange crossover and I am honestly not quire sure why it happened but am very thankful that it did! I am proud to give these little guys there proper time to shine and could not think of a better place to do it than here in the month of October and during the Halloween Countdown!

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