Monday, December 22, 2008

The Action Figure Conundrum




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.'"

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ixnay on the Hardcover



On Monday, Comic Book Resources reported that next year would see a hardcover release of the first 15 issues of the original TMNT comic book. Well, it seems someone there was either misinformed or spoke too soon. I have been informed by a reliable inside source that this is only half true. Mirage will collect the first 15 issues of the original TMNT comic book, but it will be as a trade paperback and not as a hardcover.

While this is disappointing news, it is not particularly surprising. And while this will be a great opportunity for fans to get these issues without paying the generally high price of one of the old collections on eBay, I must say I have my doubts about the overall quality of this book. The binding and paper quality on the old book (above, left) was absolutely perfect and it makes for the perfect reading experience of these fantastic stories. However, the printer Mirage has been using for the last seven or so years has been less than impressive with the quality of their collected books. The cover of my copy of the collected TMNT movie prequel and adaptation comics came unglued the first time I cracked it open. This Volume 1 collection will be about three times the size of that; you might want to mind your cover.

And remember, you'll have to order this from your local comic book store as Mirage continues to refuse to sell books in bookstores, even though it would result in a hella lot of sales for them.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Look Ahead: TMNT Comics in 2009



Comic Book Resources has the low-down on some of next year's TMNT comic book releases:
Next year is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the first “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" series. The original first eleven issues and individual character solo one shots, long out of print, are being collected in hardcover for May publication from Mirage.
This will be accompanied by an Official Handbook To The Mirage Universe style book, profiling Turtle and spinoff characters in all their various forms.
The “Forever War" story from the Archie "TMNT Adventures" comics will be published and completed, written by Steve Murphy who wrote the originals under the pseudonym of Dean Clarrain, with art by Chris Allan.
A Donatello mini-series to close out the yearly individual Tales series is entitled "Brain Thief."
Archie Comics will also reprint the original three-issue mini-series from Michael Dooney in their manga trade size with all new colouring.
Even factoring in Mirage's continued refusal to put their books in bookstores (very stupid), all of this is very good news! The biggest question mark is the Donatello mini-series. The series itself is a predictable part of the '09 plans, but hopefully it'll actually be about Donatello (unlike the Michelangelo series) and also hopefully it'll actually be good (unlike both the Raphael and Michelangelo series).

Thanks to both Jake Black and Will Tupper for the heads-up!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

TMNT Flashback: Fuzzy Slippers




One cold December 26th, about 10 or so years ago, I was wandering through a mall where I found a pair of fuzzy Michaelangelo slippers very out of place on a shelf in one of the department stores. I'm pretty sure they were a return and I doubt they were purchased that same year (TMNT stuff had very much disappeared from stores by this time). But no matter, they looked to be in new condition and it being the day after Christmas they were dirt cheap. With a cold winter chill finally hitting California today, it seemed a good time to break them out.

My bunny Owen approved. :)

First Details of New TMNT Video Game Emerge



The first details of next year's TMNT video game from Ubisoft, revealed to be in development last year by Steve Murphy on The 5th Turtle, have started to emerge.

There is a blurb in the new Nintendo Power and GoNintendo is reporting a few additional details from a producer at Ubisoft.

Props go to StealthNinjaScyther, Tansut, and The Ninjinister on the Technodrome for finding the links.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Hasbro CEO listens to fans, becomes CEO of the year



Web site MarketWatch, part of the Wall Street Journal Digital Network, has named Hasbro's Brian Goldner as their 2008 CEO of the year.

ToyFare magazine has also released an interview with Goldner, where he talks about his involvement in turning popular Hasbro properties Transformers and G.I. Joe into blockbuster movies.


Here are some choice quotes from the interview:

How much do you consider the opinions of hardcore fans of the franchise when making decisions for the films?
GOLDNER: The hardcore fans are an integral part of the thought process. From the very beginning as we thought about "Transformers," we thought about a lot of the characters fans would want to see and the story that we should tell. ...

Was there any particular fan feedback on the first "Transformers" that you took into account for the sequel?
GOLDNER: ... So what we did is, we focused in on some of those things that the fans told us from a very early stage that they wanted to see in the next movie—of course I won't tell you which ones they 
are.

But you guys are paying attention.
GOLDNER: Constantly. And I think what's great about our creative teams, our filmmaking teams is, they get it. They absolutely understand how to strike that balance, and they want to strike that balance and understand the core fan feedback. Because at the very heart, that's the thread that will hold the franchise together forever, if you'll honor that. And then of course, they also are great filmmakers and in their own right they also have the ability to reinvent the brand in a completely unexpected way.

Meanwhile, Gary Richardson, CEO of the Mirage Group, which oversees the whole of the TMNT franchise, continues to make business decisions based solely on increasing the size of his own wallet in lieu of listening to what it is that fans want or building the company/property into something that actually makes an effort to be profitable outside of letting people give them money to slap pictures of Ninja Turtles on boys' pajamas.

It is not believed that MarketWatch considered Mr. Richardson for its CEO of the Year title. It is actually a stretch to believe they know he exists.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

TMNT Flashback: Vending Machine Stickers



tOkKa writes in with info and a tale about the above vending machine sticker display:

This is mangled, damaged, and old.. but it's the only one i have. Mike's cards are prolly in better shape, maybe someday he'll post his. ::

So the story goes ..

..back in the day ( some day ..A day long ago ) ..Mikey's dad ran a vending machine operating company, even Mike himself was involved and working for the little operation at one point.

I also remember something about a unicorn and a bass playing dinosaur..anyways- - .

When he was a kid, his dad got in some surplus of extra kids' vending prizes. A big trash bag filled with stickers and vending card inserts of his favourite heroes.

12 million years ago, as a gift .. Mikey gave me a small bundle of stickers and this insert ( goes in the front of the machine to show the kids what they are getting for their hard earned quarter or 1/2 dollar nowadays ;/ ) ..i coulda sworn these cards actually had a technical name, but i just can't remember.

The card here shows 12 of the designs of 15 stickers.

The designs not shown on the insert are Mondo Gecko, a classic group shot from Ryan Brown's style guide of the time, and the 1988 TMNT Logo and it sez ' Heroes in a Half Shell ' respectively.

I'm not positive .. but i think there are silver and gold versions of each sticker. Unless my mind is playing tricks on me like it normally does, that would mean their are 30 stickers to this collection including the variants.

Don't hold me to this tho'.. i'll have to double check my dwindled collection cuz i used a number of them over the years since he gave 'em to me and i don't even know if i have at least a full set of 15 anymore. I think i do tho'.

Miguel's like family to me, so actually ..this was a weird but cool & special gift.

And since I happen to have easy enough access to all 15 of these stickers, I went ahead and scanned them:

I don't think it's the case that each one was made with both a gold and silver background, but I can't be certain about that. I do know that I really love these things!

For a most awesome and complete collection of TMNT images and other cool stuff, be sure to visit tOkKa's Flickr stream!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Tales of the TMNT #58 Color Cover



Ryan Brown has revealed the finished, colored cover for Tales of the TMNT #58 via his Wild West COW-Boys of Moo Mesa blog.

Tales #58 concludes the story began in Tales #52. Cover and interior pencils are by Dario Brizuela and the cover colors are by Steve Lavigne.

You can check out the cover, in full, here.

Dude-abunga, cows!