Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Figure Fraction: NECA Ninja Turtles - The Greatest Toy Line That Never Was?

Hey everybody, Geddy Cahoon here with my second Ninja Turtles related post in as many days. So I guess at this point, it's no secret that I'm going on a bit of a Ninja Turtles kick these days. And why shouldn't I be? What with the new cartoon coming out, the figures being cheaply available at all major retailers, and the sheer amount of love these guys receive from collectors and kids across the board, the TMNT one isn't a bad bandwagon to jump on.

Today however, I don't want to talk about Playmates' Ninja Turtles, or the new cartoon, or any of the new stuff. Instead, I want to talk about 2008. I want to talk about NECA, and Mirage Comics, and a fantastic toy line that died due to, effectively, corporate greed. Of course, I'm by no means an action figure authority. Me calling this the "Greatest toy line that never was" is obviously just a highly subjective opinion. And almost all serious action figure collectors have lamented about the failure of this line at one time or another. But in my current TMNT-Centric state, I felt compelled to write about it anyway.

Hit the jump to hear my extended thoughts on NECA's failed attempt at bringing collector-grade Ninja Turtles to the mass market.

Aah NECA... Over the past few months, I've become quite enamored with this lil' company (Though they're really by no means "little"). They produce some top-notch action figures of movie characters among other things. Their Evil Dead II line, a line they admittedly produced not for profit, but out of sheer love for the film, was what really made me appreciate what the company can do. You can find NECA's stuff in droves at Toys R Uses and most secondhand shops. Their Cult Classics line was responsible for bringing high-quality figures of characters like Beetle Juice and Ash in his S-Mart uniform from Army of Darkness to store shelves at affordable prices. Basically, NECA is pretty damn awesome, and you undoubtedly own a figure or two of theirs' if you're a serious collector.

When you see this logo, you know it means quality.

Anyway, NECA is an established, well-known name. When word broke that they had acquired rights to produce TMNT figures, I'm sure the reaction was quite positive (I wouldn't know; I got really into collecting shortly after this line died). Even better was the fact that these figures were to be based on the original incarnation of the Turtles: The Mirage comics. Created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in 1984 as a spoof of popular "gritty" comics of the day, TMNT was actually bloody, over the top, and highly violent. The Turtles are basically raised from birth to be Splinter's personal revenge/killing machines. It's... A tad different from the famous 80's cartoon, to say the least.

Just a tad.

The turtles are very serious, and they actually use their weapons, obviously. They were comedically "dark" and "edgy," and obviously the whole concept and design of the main characters were supposed to be ridiculous. The thing is though, the designs kind of work. They're corny, but they're fun. And I definitely think that the look of the characters in this comic are cooler than the way the turtles ended up looking in the original cartoon/toy line. So NECA decides they'll be making their usual brand of high-quality figures, with the designs of the Mirage TMNT. On top of how great that idea is in theory, the figures looked like this:

Oh sweet Jesus...

God. Damn. Even if you're not a Ninja Turtles fan, you can't deny that these things are first rate. NECA really delivered here, and honestly one could definitely make a valid argument that these are NECA's finest work. The articulation is awesome. The paint work is top-notch. They really do look like they were ripped straight from the comics. Obviously, fans of the Turtles rejoiced over these things, and I can confidently say that if these HAD made it to stores, I would've picked them up whether I was a huge TMNT fan or not. 

Collectors waited with baited breath for these things to finally come out, and at NECA's standard price range of 15-17 bucks, these would've been a steal. There was also even more awesomeness on the slate: A fantastic looking figure of The Shredder, a neat looking Foot Soldier, a variant Shredder, a small brain thing that looked like a cross between Krang and the Utroms from the comics, and an April O'Neil that was even pretty great looking.

This Shredder would've undoubtedly been the line's high point.

The line looked liked it was going to be a home-run, and quite honestly, I could see this Shredder becoming one of my favorite figures ever if it had had a wider release. Unfortunately... It wasn't meant to be. None of these guys ever hit retail. The first set of figures were released - In extremely limited quantities to online retailers and at conventions. That's it. Big Bad Toy Store however, actually has the Shredder, Foot Soldier and April set still listed on their site, but it's been out of stock for years (EDIT: After doing some research, Big Bad Toy Store couldn't have possibly had these in stock EVER. The figures shown in the pictures here and at the conventions were handmade/handpainted prototypes. They were never even molded. I don't know why they're listed on the BBTS site). I don't know why they don't just remove the listing - it's not like any more are coming in. 


While the Turtles themselves can be found on eBay and whatnot for jacked up prices (Seriously jacked up - The carded Turtles go for AT LEAST $70 each), Shredder, his Soldier, and his variant are pretty nonexistent in terms of being available for sale online. April was released as a Comic Con Exclusive and can be found relatively easily, but what's April without the Turtles? It makes me really upset, because these are amazing figures. To be deprived of them is something of a sin. The worst part? No one, except NECA, knows exactly why this line died.

There are a couple of theories as to why this didn't work out. The two most prominent, or at least the most prominent I've heard in my minor internet sleuthing, are as follows: 

Number One - NECA rested the fate of the line on how well the April figure sold at Comic-Con, assuming that it would be an appropriate gauge of fan interest. When people didn't respond well to April, NECA killed the line out of fear that the line overall wouldn't sell. I'm not sure how well I buy this theory. First off, NECA aren't idiots. And only an idiot would assume anybody - ANYBODY - would want an April figure without the rest of the fucking Turtles getting their own wide release. That's like releasing a Zordon figure, in extremely limited numbers, and only releasing the rest of the Power Rangers if Zordon sells enough.

The Zordon figure, seen here inexplicably resembling Captain Picard.

NECA considers action figures "art," and they're first and foremost concerned with giving their customers the best product possible. I really don't think they'd fail to pull the trigger on an entire line just because of the lukewarm response to an ancillary character, especially since they already had everything produced and ready to go. The second theory sounds a lot more likely to me.

Number Two: The second, more believable theory (To me, at least) is that Playmates Toys, the primary owner of the TMNT license, didn't want competing Ninja Turtles toys on the shelves at big stores like TRU. They threatened NECA with some sort of legal action, and NECA decided to cut their losses - TMNT wasn't worth a nasty legal battle. 

Sorry fellas, you ain't worth shit!

In my opinion... That sounds a bit more likely. Honestly, can you blame NECA for not wanting to go to court just to provide some great figures to collectors? NECA is a great company when it comes to that kind of thing, but there's a fine line between generosity and stupidity. NECA ain't stupid.

At the end of the day, this line would've been amazing. NECA delivered some of their finest work, and I think serious collectors everywhere would have bought these guys. Greatness aside, I think the saddest part about the line's failure is that it's just a testament to corporate greed. Ultimately, everything these companies do is for money. Playmates doesn't care if the Ninja Turtles are important to people who would've loved these figures. All that matters at the end of the day is profit, and they can't have anything inhibiting that. Sometimes it's good to get a reality check like that, but it's unfortunate that it had to come in the form of the killing of what could've been one of the greatest toy lines ever.

Speculation about corporate shenanigans and company stupidity aside, two things are certain: These toys are arguably the "Greatest Toy Line Never Made" - They're hyper-articulated, beautiful, and cool. And even though this line didn't make it, NECA's Turtles will continue to drain the wallets of collectors on the secondary market for years to come.

That's it for today! Be sure to leave a comment or like the NWC Facebook page to tell us what you thought.  I think I'll be done with the Ninja Turtles related posts until I get a camera or the new cartoon debuts, so if you hate TMNT with a passion and enjoy this website, you're off the hook for now. I really enjoyed talking in length about these figures that have become something of a Holy Grail in the collecting world - They've achieved a somewhat mythical status (A guy I know who owns an action figure/collectible store simply said "Good luck" upon my announcement that I was interested in these figures), and I am determined to track them down! ... The four Turtles, at least.

Thanks for reading, and let's all keep collecting action figures well beyond the age it's generally considered socially acceptable!

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