Over 35 years ago, a couple of comic book geeks created one of the most successful comic book and cartoon franchises ever. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird created a universe where four extraordinary anthropomorphic teenage turtles stand watch over New York City and its citizens.
What was initially a grim and gritty comic book series from Mirage Comics, with a similar tone to Frank Miller’s work on The Dark Knight Returns and Daredevil, became a huge surprise hit to an entirely different fanbase than it was intended for: kids.
The concept behind the ninja turtles was conceived from a brainstorming session between the two artists which they fleshed out and raised funds for. It was supposed to poke fun at some popular comic book titles all of which leaned toward a darker and more serious tone. Thus, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were born.
Four young humanoid turtle brothers who were raised and trained in the art of ninja by a mutated sewer rat lurk in the shadows to protect the citizens of New York City from criminal elements, most notably, the Foot Clan.
These four turtles dwell in the sewers of NYC. If you’re familiar with how a sewer line repair gig is and what its environment looks like, well, you already have a pretty good idea what the turtles’ home looks like.
The small pack is led by Leonardo, a master swordsman. He fights crime alongside his brothers — the sarcastic and hot-headed Raphael, the dorky yet highly intelligent Donatello, and the nunchuck-wielding party animal Michelangelo. Splinter, their surrogate father, serves as their sensei who keeps them grounded.
Their archnemesis, The Shredder, leads an army of ninja assassins known as the Foot Clan, whose sole purpose is world dominion and make Splinter’s life a living hell.
Joining them in their battle against the dreaded Foot Clan are reporter April O’Neil and athletic vigilante Casey Jones.
Why It Still Rocks
For a franchise about a bunch of sewer inhabitants, TMNT is well-received by fans both old and new. While the original intent for the titular characters’ direction was akin to Batman, the transition to mainstream TV via a more kid-friendly cartoon series turned it into the icon that it is today.
Since it’s 1984 debut, the brand has been reinvented several times and enjoyed multimedia success. To date, there have been six television series (with another one in the works), five live-action adaptations and one CGI film, numerous toy lines and video games in different platforms, several comic book series, and tons of merchandise.
The great thing about it is that these four turtles are still as popular among today’s youth as it was to kids who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s. For a brand to remain that relevant to at least two generations, it has to be doing something right.
While there are plenty of reasons why the Ninja Turtles still rock, two main reasons come to mind.
Its ability to change with the times without changing its essence.
Reinvention is one of the keys to longevity. Artists such as Madonna and Queen enjoyed quite lengthy careers because they were bold enough to repackage themselves into something new yet still remain familiar with their audience.
The TMNT franchise is exactly like that. It is not afraid to change with the times. With each and every reinvention, rebranding, and repackaging, its loyal fanbase has raised its voice in protest. Of course, not all attempts have been successful. But they were bold enough to take a proactive stance and make themselves relevant to each generation of children.
As Ronald Reagan once said, the future belongs to the brave, not the light-hearted.
Its emphasis on upholding the right values.
Nothing hits closer to home than stressing the importance of family. Sure, they’re not perfect kids to Splinter. They disobey. They’re stubborn. They don’t get along well all the time. But when push comes to shove, you know they have each others’ backs and will do all they can to protect their father and loved ones.
They will fight for justice and look after those who can’t defend themselves. In a world where discrimination runs rampant, they see themselves as outcasts. But despite this, they still do their best to protect those that fear and judge them based on their appearance.
The core values that are found deep within the Turtleverse resonate louder than the action-packed fight scenes found in the comic books, cartoons, and movies.
It’s not bad that it’s also very fun, entertaining, and light-hearted which makes it perfect for the entire family. This just goes to show how much the franchise values family and deems it one of the most important things in life.
It is no doubt that TMNT is one of the most successful franchises in modern history. The question of whether it will continue to remain relevant to future generations is something we’ll just have to wait for. For now, it holds a very special place in pop culture and in the hearts of millions of fans, both young and young-at-heart. Cowabunga!