If you frequent this website with any amount of regularity, you already know that I am a big fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
I have spent years writing about them, and it’s for good reason: they’re incredible. In my opinion, they have been a part of the best action figure line in history. They have also been incredibly popular in virtually every for of media, from comic books to the big screen, the Turtles have been virtually unstoppable for the past thirty four years.
But every work of art is not without its blemishes, and for many, that is the oft-maligned live-action television show Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation from Saban Brands back in 1997. This show was originally meant to be a third sequel to the massive 1990 hit film. But when those plans hit a snag, it went to Saban and became a series in the same vein of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (Including a crossover with the Power Rangers in Space series). This show, despite its quality (or lack thereof), has been shredded by fans with the rise of the internet. Snarky online personalities and jilted fans the world over seemingly hate this show for several reasons. And the tip of that spiteful spear seems to be the infamous introduction of Venus de Milo, the fifth turtle.
Okay, so, a little backstory, Venus, also known as Mei Pieh Chi, makes her debut in the first episode of the Next Mutation as the Turtles long-lost sister who was raised in China shortly after their initial mutation. Venus is a Shinobi that is very much a novice magic caster/healer that is constantly learning and increasing her abilities as the series progresses; while in reality, Venus is a creation of Fox Television head Margaret Loesch and TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman. Since her creation, Venus has been the redheaded stepchild of the TMNT and it’s hard to imagine why, especially nowadays when people seemingly and rightfully want women to have more inclusion in the stories told in popular culture.
Over the years, fans have drug Venus’ name through the mud. Yes, her origin story is admittedly more than a little weird (seriously, the Turtles just forgot that they have a sister!?), but when the property in question is called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, asking for a bit of levity from fans is almost automatic. Many people have thrown around the term Mary Sue without really understanding the meaning of the word. While Venus is very smart and adept at magic, she is by no means an expert in her craft. She is always training and honing her abilities and striving to become more. That is an incredible role model for a child.
Also, going back to her origin story, fans have almost unanimously gritted their teeth and shook their fists towards the sky at the fact that her inclusion in the series came with the revelation the Turtles weren’t blood related. I think that Turtles fans are also actively ignoring the fact that virtually every episode of The Next Mutation shows the Turtles and Splinter referring to themselves as a family and brothers despite not being genetically related (again, levity). I understand that some people hated this revelation because it was seemingly put into place to create a supposed love triangle between Venus, Leonardo and Raphael, but nothing ever came of it.
Personally, I have the theory that people have a massive case of the “nerd-rage” because they feel they have to because TMNT co-creator Peter Laird unfairly despises the very notion of Venus de Milo, or a fifth turtle in general…even though he and Kevin Eastman created a fifth turtle named Kirby for a proposed TMNT 4 film. So is Peter Laird opposed to the idea of a fifth turtle, or just someone else’s idea of a fifth turtle?
Finally, we do have to discuss the overall silly tone of the Next Mutation as a whole. As much as I do like the show, I have to acknowledge the silly, campy and over-the-top nature of the show. There are way to many one liners (“Certified Turtle-fied!”), cheesy sound effects and Troma Films-calibur acting. But, keep in mind, this is a show from Saban Entertainment; Do you remember Saban shows like VR Troppers, Power Rangers and Masked Rider? They were bad. Like, really bad. I know that nostalgia is king nowadays, but go back and watch those shows, you may love them, but any married couple will tell you that love takes work, and watching those shows, sometimes, takes work.
With all of this being said, I would suggest you go on YouTube or Netflix and watch an episode of Next Mutation called Who Needs Her. The episode features Venus fudging up a spell that traps the Turtles in a force field and locking them together. As she tries to free them, they start lamenting her inability to cast magic correctly/ In an odd twist, Venus decides to let the Turtles stay trapped in their magical confines and leaves their home.
Over the course of the episode, the Turtles learn that they judged Venus too harshly and come to the realization (thanks in part to clips of previous episodes) that Venus has never turned her back on someone in need before and that she left because of them. That is a heavy lesson in bullying that this show just dropped on kids. A lesson that I think we could learn from today.
Venus was created as a way to give young girls a hero to watch on TV. A foot in the door of a franchise that is, to this day, seemingly a boy’s club. She may not have stuck the landing, but Venus is a character is a hero that loves a family that was once foreign to her. She never turns her back on those in need and is constantly trying to learn and grow as a person. Those are ideals that every hero, child, viewer or reader should aspire to. While she may never make a comeback seeing as how her character is seemingly owned by Hasbro Entertainment, when a Venus-like character is inevitably reintroduced to the Turtles canon, we should all be open to her potential and appreciate her humble beginnings. Beginnings that were just as much of a long-shot as the Turtles own humble beginnings in the indie comic scene.
Oh, also, I am aware that Shinobi is just another word for “ninja”.