Superhero Origins: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

A tale with a rich story and beloved characters, artists Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird originally developed their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles idea from little more than a joke sketch. Influenced by other comic book characters, such as Daredevil, the TMNT became best known as comical characters, even though the original comic series was gritty and mature. Join as we explore the comic book origins of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

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Superhero Origins: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

They strike hard and fade away into the night! Welcome to and today we will explore the comic book origins of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

As with most comic book characters, there are often re-imaginations and different versions to a character’s past. We have chosen to primarily follow the storyline which unfolded in 1984’s Eastman and Laird’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” issue #1.

A tale with a rich story and beloved characters, few fans would suspect that artists Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird originally developed their Turtles idea from little more than a joke sketch, as well as their appreciation for the “Ronin” and “Marvel New Mutants” comic book series.

Influenced by these works, their characters borrowed story elements from superheroes like Daredevil. Namely, his encounter with a toxic chemical spill, his old mentor, and a deadly ninja clan called “The Hand.” As such, they were introduced within a colorless, gritty and violent story of revenge and honor. Specifically, it centered on the origin of an old mutant rat named Splinter, and his four likewise mutated turtles.

The tale began in 1960s Japan, where Splinter once lived as the pet of master Homoto Yoshi, the finest warrior of the Foot Clan, whom he studied from his cage.

Unfortunately, Yoshi was pitted in fierce competition with a fellow clan member named Oroku Nagi, and the two fought for everything, including the love of a woman. This came to a head when Nagi beat the woman out of jealously and anger. Enraged, Yoshi took it upon himself to kill his rival, an action that shamed him in the eyes of the clan and forced his escape to America.

After arriving in New York City, Yoshi was soon pursued by Nagi’s younger brother, Oroku Saki, who had become the clan’s deadliest warrior and leader of its American branch. Taking on the identity of ‘The Shredder”, Saki tracked down and killed both Yoshi and his wife.

Surviving the onslaught, Splinter was forced to wonder alone, until he eventually witnessed a canister of toxic waste fly from a truck, and knock a bowl from a boy’s hands into the sewer. Finding four young turtles, Splinter gathered them up from the ooze that had spilled from the canister, before discovering that they had all gown larger, intelligent and able to speak. Serving as their surrogate father, Splinter and taught them his knowledge of Ninjitsu, and gave them names from a renaissance art book he had found in a storm drain.

When Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael turned thirteen, they completed their training under four separate weapon skills, and Splinter finally tasked them with avenging his master. To do so, he sent Raphael to infiltrate the Foot headquarters and deliver a challenge for a duel that would restore Hamato Yoshi’s honor.

Arriving as requested, Shredder examined the creatures from a far off rooftop, and pondered their connection to Yoshi, before sending in his ninjas to destroy them. Emerging victorious from the battle, the turtles were injured, and Shredder used the opportunity to finish them off. However, he underestimated them, and was stabbed in the torso by Leonardo.

Defeated, Shredder was offered his honor if he ended his own life. Refusing, he pulled out a bomb, before Donatello struck him off of the roof with a bo staff. With their mission complete, the turtles returned home, having slipped away into the night as full-fledged ninjas.

An overnight sensation following the release of this comic, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were quickly given a family friendly animated series in 1987, and a live action film franchise in 1990. While the origin tale remained similar, changes were made to make the Turtles appeal to a younger demographic. This was accomplished by giving them a lighter tone, catchphrases, love of pizza, unique personalities, and individualized bandanas, as they had all wore red in the comic covers.

In 2003 and 2007 respectively, the Turtles re-emerged in an all-new series and animated film, before their animated continuities and the original comic versions were united for the television film “Turtles Forever.”

A phenomenon, the Turtles have since starred in countless comics and media, and will once again re-introduce themselves in Michael Bay’s 2013 film. This promises to not only reintroduce the classic heroes to a new generation, but present fans with an all-new, if controversial, origin tale.

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