The original party robot
Released in 1989
You know you’ve made when your enemies decide to build a robot in your image, with your personality downloaded to its CPU. This is the epic origin to Metalhead, the robotic, heroic turtle; and that’s not even the condensed version.
There is very little difference between the Metalhead figure we got in 1989 and his animated counterpart that debuted in season three of the ’88 animated series. While there was a character called “Metalhead” in the comics from Mirage, they are similar in name only. While the comic book Metalhead, from 1988, was also a robot, he was modeled after a human, and had long hair that could harden to steel and be used for self-defense or going mobile. The Metalhead from the cartoon however, he was trouble from the word go. Metalhead could easily brush off any physical attack that the Turtles could throw at him. Even Splinter was unable to defend himself from Metalhead’s wrath.
But how does his figure stack up? Well, surprisingly well, actually. While he is modeled after the Turtles themselves (complete with a yellow “bandana”), there’s no way of you ever confusing him with one of the green teens. He’s obviously a robot, and his sculpt and paint job follow suit. The core of the figure is painted a shiny, metallic gold which, while on its surface might sound ostentatious, really helps convey the fact that this guy is made out of metal. I just hope that the character is actually made of gold; otherwise, he’ll fold like a cheap suit under his own weight or a quarter of a ton. The rest of the figure is molded with a gray plastic with green and yellow accents. All over the figure are exposed wiring, rivets, display panels, air vents and hydraulics at the joints. This figure is sports probably one of the most visually comprehensive/dense designs this early in the line. Metalhead is not just a robotic turtle, but a metallic hodgepodge of thrown together parts that somehow works to create “living” being bent on protecting the turtles from his creator, Krang, and the villainous Shredder.
Spoilers: Donatello reprograms Metalhead.
One thing that I can’t help but think about this figure is that he is somewhat wasted potential. For an action figure line that is arguably most known for its multiple lines of variant figures, why didn’t we get another Metalhead figure? I mean how many different Shredders did we get between 1988 and 1996? Even Bebop and Rocksteady had multiple variant figures. How many April O’Neil figures were just an added blue stripe on top of her yellow jumpsuit, not to mention the various versions of the four turtles; all of this and not one “Heavy Weapons Metalhead”?
Actually, now that I say that, not only do I sound kind of whiney, but it really hit me that, thanks to Metalhead’s design, we probably would’ve just gotten a palate swap of colors, some added accessories, which isn’t much different to what we would see later in the line.
When comparing this figure to the one released in 2012, which is unfair, you really see the difference in the two figures, outside of the obvious differences in sculpt, there seems to be a difference in style as well that is felt in both animated series. The Metalhead from the ’87 series had a more thrown together look that reflected the scattershot style of the old series that somehow worked. With the newer Metalhead figure from 2012, while I do prefer the streamlined design of this newer figure, it looks more manufactured where the Metalhead of ’89 looked constructed by hand. And that is the big difference between the two series. In the ’88 action figure line, it seems to be that Playmates tried what they thought might work, while in 2012, they tried what, according to statistics, would work. One is not better than the other, and I’m not hating on either, but I just think that it’s a great baseline for showing what both of the best lines of TMNT figures are going for. But like so many other characters in the history of the Turtles, there’s no telling what we would have today, if we didn’t have Metalhead.
Turtle Trivia: Metalhead shows up as a boss character in the Turtles in Time video game for the Super Nintendo. However, instead of reprogramming him for good, the Turtles defeat the robotic menace, resulting in a massive explosion.