Back in 1988, a toy company called Playmates released the greatest action figure line in toys history. I know that may sound trite or just plain wrong to many of you that read this, but in my opinion, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first action figure line has stood the test of time better than TMNT figure line to come since the 80’s. Not only does this include action figures released later on by Playmates (whether they be based on animated series or feature films), but by other toy manufacturers like Herocross, Dreamex, ThreeZero and a host of others. While it may seem ridiculous to some to mention Playmates Toys in the same sentence as other, more respected companies, I believe it to be essential. Sure, the first line of figures in the storied history of TMNT toys may seem much more like kid stuff than the pretentiously overpriced –because-they-know-it-will-sell from companies that rhyme with MECA. They may seem like Technicolor byproducts from the decade that birthed them, but there is a lot to be said of a company that isn’t afraid to put personality first, than people that bank on nostalgia and looking to internet message boards to find out what’s popular enough to sell. While the ’88 Playmates line may have been developed from a cartoon series designed to sell a product to children, so were Transformers, G.I. Joe, He-Man and Thundercats. Our childhood was manufactured by people who knew how to sell us a product. But it is also remembered fondly by us, the fans. Fans that may have grown up to be a collector who wants to keep a piece of their childhood alive. Some of us may have children of our own now. Maybe they love the Turtles as much as we did. Some of us are protective of our memories. Some of us prefer to share them with friends and family of a younger generation, which is the point of these writings.
Believe it or not, I’m not trying to force my opinion upon you. I want you to like what you like and to collect what you want. But I want you to know where it started, or at least, where it started for me. What will follow my current ramblings is more than a series of reviews of figures from another time, for me it’s something of a time capsule. That may sound overdramatic, but it seems to me that some people forget where their figures came from. For every one-sixth scale figure of the cool, but rude Raphael, there was one figure that perfectly personified who that character was released back in 1988; a toy that perfectly combined the elements of its comic book origins and the modern characteristics of its day. A toy, an honest to god action figure that is responsible for so much more today. For without the TMNT series released in ’88, we wouldn’t be talking about a new animated series coming in 2018. I understand that nothing would be here without the comic from a couple of guys from Maine, but without what came in 1988 from a California-based toy manufacturer, it can be argued that the Turtles would’ve been nothing more than an indie comic flash in the pan. Gone before many of us knew it even existed.
So, without further ado , I hope you enjoy what is the first part of many insight into what figures were released in the greatest action figure line in toys history (in my opinion). While the figure line from Playmates became infamous for the amount of action figure variants released between 1988 and 1997, it’s my goal to highlight the incredible personality and creativity that the line should be known for. All I ask from you, the reader, is that you can separate yourself from your cynicisms. Yes, we all know that the TMNT were and are a merchandising juggernaut that has had its hands in everything from action figures to cereal bowls, but so did Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Batman and Catholicism. I ask that you go back in your own memory as you read this, to a time when the Turtles were all you needed.
To the reader: This writing is merely a guide to the basic series of the Playmates line of TMNT figures release in 1988 through 1997. I won’t be focusing much on variants and vehicles, but they will be highlighted to some degree. As well as figures that came later that do fit in with the playmates line. For fans of the old school line of TMNT figures, this is for you.
Before we begin, it should be noted that despite the whimsical nature of this attitude-ridden figure line, these toys came with some serious standards before ever hitting the toy shelves. Almost every figure came with seven points of articulation; Two at the hips, shoulders, wrists and one at the neck. Very few figures strayed from this, so much so that, to me, it’s considered a luxury (if not a bit odd) when a figure came equipped with hinge joints at the knees or ball joints at the shoulder; but, as we’ll find out later, this change up in joints completely fit in with the character own mutation (say, Ace Duck or Walkabout).
You’ll find that I’m going to mention sculpt and personality a lot in these reviews because the figures sculpts positively oozed (pun intended) personality. Mostly with the ad guys in the line, they came covered in details that were actually part of the figures mold. Rat King is possibly the best/creepiest example as he practically leaps out of his blister packaging covered head to toe in rats and spiders. And it doesn’t stop there. Pretty much all of the figures have dynamic poses based around the knees and feet. Almost every figure has one foot or the other arched as if they’re about to leap into action. Some people that try to detract from this series often talk about how these figures are too difficult to stand properly for display. But, be honest, when you were five r six years old, playing with these figures, display was the furthest thing from you mind. Just because you’re tastes are different as an adult, doesn’t mean that the quality of these figures has taken a nosedive.
Finally, these figures came with a plethora of accessories and weapons that perfectly complimented the individual character of the figure in question, and, in most cases, came with weapons and gear that became a part of that characters identity in regards to pop culture. The Turtles had their signature weapons, Bebop had his drill bit machine gun, Scratch came with a bag of money from his latest bank robbery, and April came packaged with a video camera…that house a handgun. It’s these examples of attention to detail that is sorely lacking in some figures that came after this first line.
And don’t worry; I won’t forget to mention the sidekick characters (Screwloose, Fish Stix and Joe Eyeball), as well as that iconic packaging.
With all of that being said, let’s start at the very beginning with the world’s most fearsome fighting team…
(They’re really hip!)