Last week, ToyNewsInternational.com released the above picture along with the following information:
Celebrate 25 years of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with figures designed after their original comic styling! These classic figures represent the origins of the Turtles and feature all their trademark style and accessories. Collect all 4 turtles, Shredder, Splinter, and the Foot, each packaged with a reprint of the original comic. Or choose from figures that recreate Playmates' original 10 figures, based on the classic television series, complete with classic accessories and detailing. Cowabunga! Blister card packaging.
On first read and at first glance, all of this can very easily sound pretty awesome. What hardcore TMNT fan wouldn't want comic-styled TMNT figures? But umm... wasn't that the point of NECA's turtle-y awesome figures, the first wave of which we saw earlier this year? That's what myself and many other fans were counting on. So how did Playmates change from Music Turtles to Comic Turtles and where is Wave 2 from NECA? Yes, this is quite the conundrum; so let's see if we can dissect it.
To start, we need to rewind about a year and a half, to when NECA acquired its license to make the comic-based TMNT figures. Playmates has closely guarded their action figure license for the TMNT ever since the line started in 1988. NECA only got their license through a bit of accidental luck and Playmates was not happy at all.
Playmates, who for the past two years, has been releasing variant after variant of Turtles figures based on the molds for the TMNT movie series. While these were fantastic figures (for me, at least) on their first incarnation, Playmates' refusal to move forward onto something new has become a source of contention.
This all came to a head last June when Steve Murphy revealed "Music Don" on his 5th Turtle blog. Unfortunately, all comments on the blog have since been removed, but the reaction to this figure was nothing short of outrage. So much so, that two days later Playmates responded through Murphy's blog with a rather juvenile statement that amounted to nothing more than, "Neener, neener, neener. We know toys better than you and this is what will sell, not the silly nonsense you're trying to tell us you want. Neener, neener, neener." To top it off, Peter Laird posted his own, "I know better than you," ramble of a post to his own blog one day after that.
Well, Playmates and Peter Laird must also know better than Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, for come spring, they'll be dropping all TMNT toys from their stores (if your Walmart still has TMNT toys, expect them to be on the clearance shelf come December 26th).
Now, it seems that at some point, Playmates finally recanted and decided that it might be a good idea to listen to what it is the fans are begging for (or, more bluntly, based on the complete lack of sales for all the crap currently in stores). Seemingly inspired by the HUGE success of NECA's comic-based Turtles, Playmates put into plans for their own comic Turtles (see the image above).
But are these actually inspired by any of the TMNT comic books? No particular style is evident aside from all the Turtles wearing red bandannas. Some have suggested that these Turtles resemble the Turtles from the cover of TMNT Vol. 4, #1, but those Turtles were drawn by master Turtles artist Michael Dooney. I would drool over Michael Dooney-inspired action figures any and every day of the week. But I don't look at these and see Michael Dooney's Turtles. I see Playmates' standard shiny plastic and unrealistic weapons (possibly borrowed from the existing TMNT movie Turtles). One of the great successes of NECA's Raphael figure is its ability to actually hold a sai correctly; the Playmates figure is clearly not capable of this. This begs the question: Exactly whom are these marketed for?
The reason the Turtles were given different-colored bandannas beginning with the original cartoon series and original toy series was to make it easy for the kids to all tell the Turtles apart. The most common "custom" NECA Turtle figure to appear on eBay is with the bandannas for Michaelangelo, Leonardo, and Donatello painted orange, blue, and purple respectively. How is it Playmates suddenly thinks the mass market-buying public is going to embrace four Turtles that are "all Raphael?"
In the wake of these Playmates figures, NECA seems to have completely dropped off the map as they've been nearly completely non-communicative with Mirage ever since San Diego Comic-Con back in July. It's being suggested that they are now peeved with Playmates for making these comic-based figures. While there's no way to be certain of what the situation with them is (they aren't talking), it is now December and we have yet to see the release of Series 2 of their TMNT line, which was to include April O'Neil w/ Mousers, Shredder, Foot Soldier w/ Utrom, and the Elite Foot Soldier and was to be released in "Fall '08." As it stands, we may not be able to get word on the status of these or any possible future figures until New York Comic-Con in February.
As you can see, it's a long and complicated situation. Here is how I would simplify it:
Playmates, being a mediocre toy company, found huge success with the TMNT line in the 1980s/1990s. This success was so huge that they have been hesitant to move outside of the formula that served them so well 15-20 years ago. When they finally decided to venture outside of this box, instead of bringing in fresh new minds to deliver something truly new and exciting, they instead used the same, tired old minds that insisted Music Turtles were the shiz-nit. The result is a sub-par product that doesn't at all fulfill the need of the hardcore fans they're trying to pretend to acknowledge. It doesn't help that Playmates has to win the appeal of Peter Laird with everything that they do.
For Mirage is equally guilty of being run by the tired old minds of Mr. Laird and Gary Richardson. With great respect to Mr. Laird, his heart clearly isn't into running the Turtles empire these days (as he indirectly reveals in his own daily schedule). There really isn't anything wrong with this (I'm sure anyone would feel the same after dealing with the same thing for 25 years and not having a lack of money to retire on), except for the lack of a fresh young mind to step in as a replacement. The same can be said of CEO Gary Richardson, who's not only lacking in delivering anything new or exciting, but whose shady business practices would be worthy of huge scandal were Mirage a publicly traded company. Mirage hasn't hired new talent in about 20 years and there's never been an effort to replace those that have left. Is that any way to run a successful company?
To answer that question, I will simply leave you with part of what Jim Collins has to say of what he describes as "Level 5 leaders," from his book, "Good to Great:"
... ambition first and foremost for the company and concern for its success rather than for one's own riches and personal renown. Level 5 leaders want to see the company even more successful in the next generation, comfortable with the idea that most people won't even know that the roots of that success trace back to their efforts. As one Level 5 leader said, "I want to look out from my porch at one of the great companies in the world someday and be able to say, 'I used to work there.'"