When the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toy line rolled out, Poe wondered whether it was too soon for a revamp - after all, the toys had just barely caught the end of the '80s and really came into their own just before the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, the kings of mid-90s toy aisles. So why were they part of the newest retro boom?
While the cartoon and the Archie comics (the two ways most folks know the Turtles) were products of the '90s, the characters had been around much longer than that. The comic began as a parody in the early '80s, and that's what was fueling this return.
Much darker than what most folks know, the original TMNT comic was not a land of cartoon animals and pizza-lovin' surfer dudes. It was dark and complex, and the new cartoon is trying to emulate that.
While the original toy line receives the credit (or the blame, depending on who's doing the dusting) for inspiring my love of collecting anthropomorphic toys, the new version is much more reserved. There are some crazy designs, sure, but not many animals. One of the few that we did get was big mutant alligator Leatherhead.
Fans of the '90s cartoon probably know Leatherhead as a villainous gator with a Cajun accent. But much like the evil overlord Kang was inspired by the original black and white comics' Utroms, Leatherhead had a much different genesis than most folks realize.
Not just a handbag with claws, Leatherhead is the only other creature known to share the same origin as the TMNT, for he too was mutated by the same ooze that transformed the Turtles. Once an unwanted baby pet crocodile that was flushed down the toilet and into the city's sewers, Leatherhead gained size, strength, intelligence and a more humanoid shape after coming into contact with the strange Mutagen, and then spent most of his life living in the TCRI building with the Utroms who had discovered and befriended him. Having become separated from them when their building was destroyed, Leatherhead has been desperately trying to build a Transmat device so that he can be reunited with his alien friends!
This new figure is much more in line with the character's comic origins. At 4 3/4" tall, Leatherhead is barely bigger than the Turtles, not the big hulking behemoth he could have been. Articulation is sparse, even by Playmates' standards, with peg joints only at the neck, shoulders, wrists, tail and hips. Push the button sticking out of his side and his tail swings, much like Mattel's Whiplash. It's a decent feature, aided by the big spiked ball that you can attach to the end of his tail, and the button isn't too blatantly out of place, but it would have been good to see Playmates drop this feature and spend the extra money on tooling some better articulation.
The sculpt is quite good for this line. Leatherhead's scaly hide is detailed very well all over, which would pretty much be the "make it or break it" factor for this guy - it's not like he's got a distinctive costume to worry about. His clothes, such as they are, are simple and secondary; we're here for the big green alligator!
If there's one real problem with the figure, it's his head. Significantly less detailed than his cartoon counterpart, Leatherhead's leather head looks cartoony and out of place. A sterner, more realistic head probably would have served him better. The packaging claims that Leatherhead's eyes change from human to reptilian, but that's not so. Of course, the packaging also claims that he's a crocodile, so what does it know?
Right now, Leatherhead is hard to find; I guess Playmates thought no one would want him, since he's packed one per case. I wouldn't recommend spending a lot of time or energy (or money) looking for Leatherhead, but if you do manage to find him at the store at a normal price, he's probably worth the purchase.
Do you prefer the old Turtle cartoon or the new, darker version? Tell us on our message board, The Loafing Lounge.