The Heroes in the Half-Shell. The Green Dudes with Attitudes. COWABUNGA, DUDES!!!Indie comic book turned multimedia empire, starring the eponymous Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles.Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or TMNT) began as a comic book by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, who formed the idea from a napkin drawing one of them made while eating at a pizzeria. The first story began as a tale in the vein of Frank Miller's Daredevil, with the four titular ninja battling the Shredder to avenge the murder of Master Splinter's master, Hamato Yoshi. After a fierce battle, they successfully kill him. A surprise hit (often attributed to the unique name), the series continued with applying a Fantasy Kitchen Sink motif: with time travel, robots, and aliens introduced within the first ten issues. Despite their inauspicious beginnings, the series became so popular that an action figure deal was struck, and an animated series was created to accompany the toyline. The show became one of the most popular animated series of all time, which in turn led to movies and every type of merchandise under the sun, turning TMNT into one of the biggest cash cow franchises of the mid-eighties/early nineties.The major incarnations of the franchise are as follows:
The Mirage Comics (1984-1993, 2001-2010): Stories featuring the original incarnation of the turtles. These are notable for its semi-real time storytelling (stories written after 2001 featured the turtles in their thirties); its lack of a consistent Rogues Gallery; and alternating between "throw-everything-at-the-wall-to-see-what-sticks" and "heavily focused" approaches to storytelling. This incarnation comprises Volumes 1, 2, and 4 of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book, two volumes of Tales of the TMNT, and a multitude of one-shots and mini-series.
The first cartoon (1987-1996), with Fred Wolf at the helm: Resemblances to its source material are mostly superficial. The first cartoon featuring the turtles proved even more popular than the comics (and it definitely remains the most well-known TMNT incarnation among the general public), thanks to the distillation/flanderization of the four turtles to easily identifiable character types; the addition of villains Krang, Bebop and Rocksteady; the promotion of the Shredder from one-shot baddie to Arch-Enemy; gleeful breaking of the fourth wall; the addition of food addiction (pizza) and a catch phrase ("Cowabunga," although there were others), and a general comedic bent. The series ended in 1996, after ten seasons, 194 episodes, and one retool which attempted to make the series more dramatic.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures (1988/1989-1995/1996): Midway through its run, the original cartoon spawned its own comic book, published by Archie Comics. While it initially limited itself to adapting some of the cartoon stories, it eventually evolved into something as different from the cartoon as the cartoon was from the original comic book. This incarnation of the turtles is generally regarded favorably, with a notable contingent of fans clamoring for inclusion of its characters into future incarnations.
The original movie trilogy: Debuting in 1990, the first movie combined events from the comic book with the cartoon's humor. It went on to be extremely popular, breaking records for an independent film and even though reviews weren't glowing, praise was given to Jim Henson's Creature Shop for the costumes. The resulting two sequels cost more and made less, started to fall into self-parody and ended the series.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Legend of the Supermutants (1996). An Anime. It is a two-episode OVA which adapts (very freely) the Turtles into Japanese anime format, although they're mainly thinly-veiled ads for Takara's Japanese version of the Turtles toyline. Among the changes made, the turtles have the power to transform into "Super Turtles" for about three minutes (during which they look really manly), have an animal-themed armor each (like in Saint Seiya) and can fuse together to form the "Saint Turtle". Besides that, the bad guys also have transforming powers, and Shredder turns into a Dragon. For further info, visit Wikipedia or just see this video.
TMNT Vol. 3 (1996-1999): Published by Image Comics, this series was the official continuation of the Mirage continuity, until it was subsequently ignored by Peter Laird upon the publication of Volume 4. Mostly remembered for mutilating three out of the four turtles, and for a plot featuring a three-way struggle for leadership of the Foot involving Raphael, who had taken on the Shredder identity after finding his armor; Pimiko, the original Shredder's daughter; and Lady Shredder, a ninja of unknown origin dressed in the familiar armor.
Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation (1997-1998): A live-action Saturday morning show by Saban Entertainment (guys behind Power Rangers), aired on Fox Kids in 1998 shortly after the animated series ended. It lasted only one season before going belly-up. The new series added a new character, Venus de Milo, a female turtle with knowledge of the art of Shinobi (and playing the foil to the scientifically-minded Donatello). Many fans were antagonistic to the series, and Peter Laird was even more antagonistic to Venus.
The second cartoon (2003-2009): Mirage teamed up with 4Kids in order to produce this new cartoon, this time making sure it had a closer resemblance to the comic book it was based on. Nicknamed TMNT 2k3, the series featured faithful adaptations of most of the comic book's stories, contained major story arcs, and straightened up the original patchwork narrative and made it more coherent. Surprisingly for a show produced by someone with 4Kids' pedigree, it has avoided several of the tropes associated with Saturday Morning cartoons, such as Thou Shalt Not Kill and Status Quo Is God. It ended in 2009, after six years, seven seasons, and two retools.
Turtles Forever, an animated movie crossing over this incarnation of the Turtles with that of the first cartoon, and acting as a celebration of the franchise's 25th anniversary. It also serves as a Grand Finale for both the '03 cartoon and the franchise's pre-Nickelodeon era.
TMNT (2007): More than a decade after the original movies, the Turtles returned to the big screen with the 2007 release of the fully-CGI TMNT. Made as a tenuous continuation of the original movies, it received respectable reviews for the animation and character storylines, but was criticized for the main plot mysticism, some blurry character motivations (Leonardo in particular), and the marginalization of half of the turtles.
The IDW Comics (2011-): The first new incarnation of the Turtles following the purchase by Nickelodeon and published by IDW Publishing, it features elements from all previous incarnations before it, as well as heavily revised origins for the familiar characters.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014): Another reboot of the TMNT film franchise, with Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes serving as the production company. Where the previous live-action films used people in animatronic suits to portray the Turtles, this one uses CGI motion-capture.
Other media franchises: There are also other media franchises of the series, including food tie-ins (Ninja Turtles cereal, Chef Boyardee TMNT pasta, Ninja Turtles cookies, etc.); a Coming Out of Their Shells concert tour that first premiered at the Radio City Music Hall (with Donatello on keyboards, Leonardo on bass guitar, Raphael on drums and sax, and Michelangelo on guitar, as the story had a feel similar to Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, with its theme of the power of rock n' roll literally defeating the enemy, in the form of the Shredder (who only rapped about how he hates music), trying to eliminate all music); and a stage show at the Disney-MGM studios theme park in Orlando, Florida from 1990 to 1996. There was also a role playing game book released in 1985 to 2000 based off the original Mirage comics, and a pinball machine made by Data East in 1991.TMNT remains a pop-culture phenomenon to this day.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise has the following tropes:
Accessory-Wearing Cartoon Animal: The turtles walk around in everyday life clothes-less except for their ninja masks, belts, and generally some form of padding/supportive bandages on their joints/hands and feet.
Adaptation Distillation: The 4Kids series and the fourth movie. The first movie successfully blends the original comics and cartoon into a coherent whole.
Adaptation Personality Change: The characters are reinterpreted in every retelling, especially Michelangelo and Raphael. They typically fit the same archetype, but express it in different ways.
All were extremely flanderized in the 1987 series, except for Leonardo who was only mildly flanderized. Donatello went from being intellectual to being a Gadgeteer Genius, Michelangelo went from being mostly laidback to being a surfer dude obsessed with pizza, but most egregiously, Raphael went from being dark and violent to being snarky and constantly breaking the fourth wall.
Michelangelo: Mirage Comics - laidback, 1987 Cartoon - surfer dude, Film Series - jokester, 2003 Cartoon - prankster.
The Artifact: As the series became more kid-friendly it became fairly impossible to show Leonardo and Raphael slicing and dicing their non-robotic foes, as that would be bloody and gruesome. However, their weapons of katanas and sais are so iconic to them that they could never get rid of them. Thus more often than not, and particularly in the movies (which feature no robots) they'll just be seen fighting with their bare hands - their more effective weapons strapped to them untouched.
The title itself became this as the Turtles continued to age in the comics well into their thirties.
Avenging the Villain: The basis of the Foot's vendetta against the turtles, after The Shredder's death in the comic books. In the 4Kids cartoon, this becomes Karai's motivation during the fourth season, after The Shredder (here her adoptive father) is exiled to an icy asteroid.
Badass Pacifist: Donatello is known as the least violent of the four turtles and would rather use his intellect to solve conflict than his fighting skills. However, he is VERY competent in his fighting when it is needed.
Badbutt: Nearly as iconic to the heroes as Totally Radical is their application of Unusual Euphemism, at least in the 1987 series. "What the Shell" is one of the most uttered phrases in the 2003 series; at least as often as "Cowabunga" in the 1987 series.
4Kids series: "It's ninja time!" (Fast Forward only) "Goongala!" (Casey) "None of you will leave here alive!" (The Shredder), "Oh, crud." (Hun).
Nickelodeon series: "Booyakasha!" (Mikey)
Cephalothorax: Krang, after being stripped of his body when he was banished from Dimension X. Shredder designed and built a humanoid exo-suit for him when they teamed up.
Character Select Forcing: A few video games, be it due to combat (the original Nintendo Hard game, where Donatello was the only one with a decent range) or abilities (the Game Boy Advance version of Battle Nexus had some crystals accessible only by certain turtles).
City of Adventure: New York City, as well as Northampton, MA in the Mirage comics and 4Kids 'toon.
Color-Coded Characters: Since the original comic was in black and white, there wasn't much of this to begin with as each turtle was identified by their Weapon of Choice. Even the special colored issues had the bandana masks they wear all red. The original cartoon gave the turtles different color bandannas (which have since been used in every successive incarnation) and the action figures, different skin colors (ignored until the 2003 cartoon).
The Archie comic series Lampshaded this with a Truth in Television flashback story about the pre-teenaged Turtles all wearing red headbands and Splinter having difficulty telling them apart until they decide on color coding their masks a la Donald Duck's nephews. This crosses into Only Six Faces.
The newspaper strip, as it was also in black and white, took a page from the 1987 cartoon and the turtles here have their initials on their belts instead.
Most important is Miyamoto Usagi of Usagi Yojimbo, who has appeared in the Mirage comics, the Fred Wolf cartoon and the 4Kids cartoon; the Turtles have also made the occasional appearance in the Usagi Yojimbo comic books.
And Turtles Forever, a crossover between the 4Kids and Fred Wolf shows. Did we mention the Mirage comics?
The Raving Rabbidsnote Back when they were still part of — and outright hijacked — the Rayman series in the Smash-Up video game. They immediately became new Scrappies for the TMNT fandom.
There was a crossover with Planet Racers, another comic created by Peter Laird, in an episode of the 2003 series.
Because the brainchild of Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa did some of the issues of the original comic series, Cowlorado Kid, Moo Montana and Dakota Dude appeared in some of the Tales of the TMNT issues and made non-speaking roles in an episode in the 2003 cartoon.
Due to IDW owning the rights for TMNT comics as of 2011, the Turtles have also become recurring characters in IDW's yearly Massive MultiplayerCross Throughs, having appeared in 2012's Infestation 2 against the Cthulhu Mythos and in 2014's The X-Files: Conspiracy. No, the Turtles don't get to meet Mulder and Scully (though Mulder does get a one-panel cameo), but they do tangle up with Mulder's buddies The Lone Gunmen and the vampires from the X-Files episode "Bad Blood."
Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Michelangelo, in every incarnation, is the usually the goofball/slacker/fun-loving guy of the group, but when it comes down to having an actual fight....you don't really wanna be on the receiving end.
Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Repeatedly subverted by Baxter Stockman. In the Mirage comics, after making a large legitimate fortune with his Mouser robots, he then proceeds to use them to commit terrorism for kicks. In the 1980s cartoon, he tried using them legitimately but was rejected by every pest control company in town. In the 4Kids cartoon, he makes a huge legitimate fortune with them, and then starts using them to rob banks simply because he's a greedy bastard.
Cycle of Revenge: One of the most important themes in the original Mirage books.
Distinctive Appearances: The original comics run had the turtles effectively defined by their Weapon of Choice and nothing else, being they were in black and white. Even early color issues had them all with red bandannas, only after a few years did they get their distinctive colors. Various incarnations continue to play with tricks to make them stand out from each other: Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation played with the styling of the belts and bandannas (with Michelangelo having frayed edges and Donatello having a full cap), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) gave them all slightly different green skin pigments and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) did some more subtle things like Donatello's chipped tooth.
Divergent Character Evolution: In Issue #1, the turtles were barely distinguishable from each other, each with a similar personality, though Leonardo and Raphael show a few hints of some, but the turtles were defined by the fact they're a parody of Frank Miller style writing. Later installments started adding personality to all four of the turtles, with the adaptations adding colored bandanas to help recognize them without their weapons. The new show takes it even further by giving the Turtles their own body-types, allowing you to distinguish them from each other without the weapons or bandanas.
Dual Wielding: Three of the four turtles use their weapons in pairs, with Donny being the odd man out. Though since his weapon is a bo staff, it's justified (although his original action figure did come with a pair of bo).
The Future: Plays a significant part in several incarnations, particularly in the Mirage and Archie comics, which had several stories starring future versions of the turtles, and the second cartoon, whose setting for the entire sixth season was the year 2105.
Genre Savvy: All four of the turtles on occasion, depending on the situation. Michelangelo with his vast knowledge of pop culture usually is the one to reference how something they're dealing with is similar to a movie, tv show, or video game he knows about.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: In the episode "Fallen Angel" in the 4kids series, Leo (in disguise) asks Raphael "What is the deal with humans and clothes?" Raph's response? "You ever see a human in his skivies? Trust me, It's not a pretty sight." So what does Raphael do with his free time?
Have You Come to Gloat?: Happened in the comic. The turtles were being held prison by a crazed whaler who was essentally a Japanese Captain Ahab. When his first mate visits them in the brig, they start cursing at him and one of them shouts, "Come to gloat?" Subverted in that the whaler has actually come down to free them.
Hero with Bad Publicity: In the 80's cartoon, the turtles were once framed for a crime they didn't commit and nobody believes them, not even April and they have to prove themselves innocent.
Whenever the 2003 turtles are seen by humans, said humans usually end up running away screaming, notable occasions are when Raph returned a lady's purse only to be told to stay away from her and Mikey's failed attempts at being a hero as he's either given no thanks or mistaken for the perpetrator. In Season 4, Bishop creates a fake alien invasion to trick the President into thinking his organization doesn't deserve to lose all their funding, and afterwards, a news report depicts the turtles as malicious aliens.
In the 2007 movie, Nightwatcher AKA Raph was either feared or despised for fighting crime and when Leo discovers his secret identity, he gets called out for risking the safety of his keeping his family's existence a secret.
Highly-Visible Ninja: The turtles, of course. There are other ninjas present too (some of the Shredder's minions for an example) who stand out from the crowd.
Honor Before Reason: A trait seen in most incarnations of Leonardo. It goes both ways though- either he is commended or, if something goes horribly wrong, grievously injured.
Also Karai, whose loyalty to the Shredder conflicts with her strong sense of honorable behavior.
Love Triangle: Hamato Yoshi, Tang Shen, and Oroku Nagi (or, alternatively, Oroku Saki or Yukio Mashimi, depending on the incarnation) form one of these. Also, Stainless Steve Steel, Dr. Dome, and Battling Bernice.
The 2012 series is clearly building up to one between Donnie, April, and Casey.
Mecha-Mooks: Several, most notably The Foot Soldiers in the first animated series.
Merchandise-Driven: TMNT didn't start this way, but it moved in this direction once the toy line became hugely successful. Ironically, it was originally intended as a slightly Darker and Edgierparody of merchandise-driven cartoon series and comics. Then the creators realized it was becoming one, and just rolled with it, and now the series has become the archetype for such franchises. It's even had a parody or two.
Mistaken for Aliens: Occurs to the turtles a lot, once the existence of aliens is actually made known to the general population.
Mobile-Suit Human: The alien Utroms used robotic exoskeletons to hide among humans while stranded on Earth. Also used by the Kraang in the 2012 cartoon.
Monochromatic Eyes: Several incarnations of the turtles—but only when they wear their masks.
Mooks: Of all stripes, the most common and consistent being the Foot Ninja.
The Multiverse: Turtles Forever, a crossover between the 80s and 2k3 series, introduces the idea that all incarnations of the franchise exist in different dimensions. Destroy the core, that being the Mirage universe, and all will cease to exist.
Nanomachines: Used by Baxter Stockman in the Mirage comics during a murder attempt on April, and by the turtles in order to foil said attempt. Also used in the 4Kids animated series to form Nano, a sentient nanomachine colony.
New York Subway: A maze of subway tunnels and storm sewers make up the turtles lair and the labyrinth of entrances and exits.
Ninja Brat: The turtles are this in any flashback to their childhoods.
Powered Armor: The future versions of the turtles wore these for an arc in the Archie comic; the same armor also showed up in an episode of the Fred Wolf 'toon. Also, villains Baxter Stockman and Darius Dun have worn these on occasion.
The Professor: Tons: Donatello (when he's not a Teen Genius), Professor Honeycutt, Leatherhead, Glurin, Professor Obligado, Dr. Chaplin... Ironically, the one guy actually called "The Professor", from the 4Kids cartoon, isn't an example.
Race Lift: Baxter Stockman in the Fred Wolf cartoon and one-shot villain Skonk in the 4Kids cartoon, who were both changed from African Americans to Caucasians.
Secret Public Identity: Ananda of the Justice Force; her mother, Battling Bernice; "Stainless" Steve Steel, and Joey Lastic.
Sewer Gator: Leatherhead in all incarnations is an alligator who ended up in the city sewers and was exposed to the same mutagen as the turtles, resulting in him growing into Lizard Folk and becoming sapient.
Shout-Out: Their origin story in the original comics suggests the radioactive waste that mutated them is the same stuff that gave Daredevil his powers.
Splinter: At the last moment a young man leaped at the blind man and knocked him out of the truck's way ... a metal canister bounced out of the back of the truck and struck the young man near his eyes ... the strange canister bounced ... striking and smashing a glass jar which held four small turtles ... you four as infants!!!
Sixth Ranger: Usually April and/or Casey act as the brothers' fifth teammate; the Nick cartoon even subtly hangs a lampshade on April by having her wear a #5 sports jersey. In Next Mutation, it was Venus de Milo.
Super Strength: Although it's never really touched upon except in a few instances, all four of the turtles are obviously stronger than most humans. Though when they start battling other mutants, technology and aliens it starts to not matter as much.
Thou Shalt Not Kill: Used or averted, depending on the incarnation. The Fred Wolf animated series and its spin-off comic book use it; the original comic book, movies, and 4Kids animated series generally don't.
Time Police: Renet and Lord Simultaneous, who form part of a larger, if unseen, organization.
Though not necessarily true in the 4Kids animated series, it's been alluded to several times. Especially related to Mikey.
Outside of the Fred Wolf 'toon and movies, every turtle actually has their own favorite food. Leo's is sushi (or some other appropriately Japanese food), Raphael's is cereal, Donatello's is hamburger, and Mikey's is, naturally, pizza. This just doesn't reach Trademark Favorite Food levels and is usually barely mentioned, though in the GBA classic beat 'em up style TMNT movie game, each Turtle is healed by their favorite foods.
The fourth film gives Splinter one: Cake.
True Companions: The turtles + Casey and April form this unit, most notably in the movies and 4Kids cartoon.
Occurs with several of the characters throughout incarnations, due to a lack of specific dates or starting ages. The mutant ninja turtles are nearly always teenagers. Nearly all fans seem to agree (based on the average confirmed starting ages per post-comic continuity, if given any) that the four are fifteen, and gain a half-year per season or age in real-time (week-for-week).
The Mirage comics were notable in averting it. The Turtles started out as fifteen (but acted much older) and continued to age pretty much in real time until the present day where they're currently in their 40's and Splinter has since died of old age.
Video Game Adaptation: Several games were made for TMNT starting with the NES / Famicom game and ending with the latest Arcade game dated 2009!
Volleying Insults: Done playfully between Casey and Raph in the Mirage comics, in a scene which was later adapted for the first movie and 4Kids cartoon.
The first movie even turned it into a game with actual rules. Each insult had to start with the next letter of the alphabet from the previous one.