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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: A Turtle-y Awesome Guide To Every Version Ever

They're the world's most fearsome fighting team. They're heroes in a half-shell, and they're green. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of the most enduring brands in popular culture. From the unlikely beginnings in a satirical indie comic to the biggest cartoon in the world. And by reinventing itself multiple times, it's stayed a favourite with generations of kids. As we await more news of the latest reboot (this time a CGI animated movie) we thought it was time to take a look at how we got here.

Mirage Comics (1984- 2014)

The heroes in a half-shelf first started life as an independent, self-published comic series created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in 1984. The title was originally intended as a satire of the superhero comics genre as a whole, and in particular, series that were popular at the time. Most obviously the turtles shared an origin story with Marvel's Daredevil, with the radioactive ooze giving the awesome foursome their mutant powers. The Foot Clan is a play on Daredevil's ninja foes The Hand, and Splinter comes from Matt Murdock's sensei Stick. The original black and white comics were darker and less kid-friendly than subsequent screen adaptations but many of the key ingredients of the franchise were there from the very first page. The Turtles have also had many other comics published, including a more kid-friendly line based on the TV series published by Archie Comics during its original run. As of 2011, the turtles appear in a monthly comic from IDW that continues in the style of the originals, as well as appearing in various mini-series, one-shots and crossover events, featuring characters and franchises such as Ghostbusters, Batman and Usagi Yojimbo.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987-1996)

The turtles first graced TV screens in a 5-episode miniseries in December of 1987, before its first proper season aired starting the following October. The show featured a more kiddie tone than the comics, but that didn't stop it from attracting controversy: famously even the title was considered to be too much in the UK, where it originally aired as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. Despite (or maybe because of) the best efforts of moral crusaders, it quickly became a phenomenon, making the toys the thing that every kid wanted to find under the Christmas tree. It also gave us the iconic theme tune- which believe it or not was written by future Two and a Half Men/Big Bang Theory creator Chuck Lorre. 

TMNT Video Games

Video games and the Turtles have a long history, with their first game appearing back in 1989 with the imaginatively titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the Nintendo Entertainment System. The same year saw the debut of their first Arcade game, a side-scrolling beat 'em-up that would remain the template for many of the games that would follow. 2022 will see the release of The Cowabunga Collection, a  compendium of many of the previous games as well as Shredder's Revenge, a brand new but retro-styled game from Tribute Games and Dometu.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Live-Action Movies (1990, 1991, 1993)

The move to the big screen came pretty quickly, with the aid of iconic costumes created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop. A shade darker than the TV cartoon (but still suitable for its young fans) Steve Barron's movie was co-produced by Hong Kong Studio Golden Harvest and went on to hold on  to the title of music successful independent film of all time until the Blair Witch Project came out in 1999. The movie was followed by two sequels Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret Of The Ooze and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles In Time, but the first one is definitely the best. The movies also span off a live-action TV series Ninja Turtles The Next Mutation (1997-98) which introduced the first female turtle, Venus DiMilo.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Legend Of The Supermutants (1996)

Also known as Ninja Turtles: the Anime. This two-part OVA (original video animation) is truly a version of the Turtles as you have never seen them before. It features an incarnation of the turtles who are able to transform Powers Rangers style (or Sailor Moon, if you prefer) into armoured heroes, with the aid of a McGuffin called the Mutastone. They're not just mutants, you see- they're SUPER MUTANTS. Made to promote a toyline, that like the anime, never made it outside of Japan, making this a fun footnote in the franchise's history. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003-2009)

Produced by 4Kids Entertainment, this incarnation is distinguished by having a much closer involvement for the original creators. Mirage Studios is credited as a co-producer and Peter Laird consulted on its development, meaning it is closer to the tone of the original comics than any other adaptation. The series was well-received with both young audiences and longtime turtle-heads and ran for seven seasons. The series concluded with the TV movie Turtles Forever in which the radical reptiles come face to face with both their 1987 versions and their Mirage comics selves, teaming up to thwart Shredder's dimension-hopping plot.

TMNT (2007)

The turtles first appearance in CGI animation came in the form of this movie, from the short-lived Hong Kong-based animation studio Imagi. An effort to take the characters back to their roots, the movie was closer to the Mirage comics (or the 2003 series) than the 80s cartoon. Despite falling into relative obscurity in the years since release, it was actually a modest box-office success. Plans to create a sequel were only cancelled because the rights to the franchise changed hands. The movie featured an all star cast including Sarah Michelle Gellar as April O'Neil, Chris Evans as Casey Jones and Laurence Fishburne as the narrator.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012)

The first CGI TV series was the first TMNT property produced by Nickelodeon, after parent company Viacom acquired the rights in 2009. In contrast to the much darker 2003 series, Nick's series skews younger and is more reminiscent of the 80s original. Original voice actor Rob Paulson, who voiced Raphael in the 1987 series returned to the fold, but this time voicing Donatello. In the episode Trans-Dimensional Turtles, the 3D turtles meet their 1987 versions, who appear in both two and three dimensions.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)/ Out Of The Shadows (2016)

The reboot of the live-action franchise got flack from fans long before it was even out, when the plan to make the Turtles aliens instead of mutants leaked. Luckily this idea was scrapped, but the two movies directed by John Lieberman and Dave Green and produced by Michael Bay are completely lacking the charm of the 90s movies- and the designs of the turtles themselves are the stuff of nightmares. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Summer Shorts (2016/2017)

For a brief, but glorious time Nickelodeon released a series of animated shorts (the majority over the summers of 2016 and 2017) that feature a range of styles and subjects. The creatives behind the shorts included Jhonen Vasquez (Voltron), Matt Youngberg (DuckTales)  and Kevin Eastman himself

Rise Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2018-2020 )

Rise is arguably the most radical reinvention in the franchise's history, and for some long time fans it's a reboot too far. But write it off on sight and you'll be missing out. Eschewing 2012's CG for vibrant and stylised 2D animation, the series is more overtly comedic in tone but also does a better job than any other incarnation so far of making the turtles seem like a real family unit, with Splinter as their grumpy but affectionate Dad. A movie version is promised on Netflix some time (hopefully before 2022 is out), but sadly it seems likely that it will serve as a series finale as Nick seems to have nixed the series after only two seasons.

Batman Vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2019)

As well as meeting in the pages of comics, the Dark Knight and the Heroes In A Half-Shell have also met in this animated adaptation. Despite the 'versus 'in the title promising a showdown, the Turtles and Batman are actually- of course- on the same side. Their meeting occurs when the Turtles come to Gotham City to on the trail of Shredder and The Foot Clan. It turns out the Clan is teaming up with Batman villain Ras Al Ghul and The League Of Assassins. 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Next Chapter (2023)

The Ninja turtles are being reinvented yet again, but this time as a CG animated feature from the minds of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg.  There are also plans for small-screen spin-offs that will focus on the franchises' villains. Age-wise Rogen and Goldberg are in the sweet spot to have grown up with the original TV cartoon, so expect a healthy serving of nostalgia. Jeff Rowe, co-director of The Mitchells Vs The Machines is helming which bodes well for a film that could get both the humour and the heart that have made this franchise such an enduring one.

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