Despite the obscene amount of variant covers offered by IDW for their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 30th Anniversary Special, there was no question which one was the coolest. Drawn by Ozzy Fernández and inked by Tony Kordos, the Heroes Haven wraparound variant cover, featuring the turtles and their allies about to do battle with the franchise’s most popular villains, was pure nostalgia porn. The Shredder, Baxter Stockman, the Technodrome, the Rat King, Casey Jones and –ing Ace Duck, all in one official image, and all in their most iconic looks? It seemed too good to be true. And it was, because lost in the shuffle was one character who most definitively should have been there : April O’Neil, the property’s most prominent female character and arguably the most iconic character in the franchise after the turtles themselves, is nowhere to be seen in the cover (*). Without her, the image felt incomplete; worse, it meant that the cover featured some twenty male characters and no women .
And so, despite being lucky enough to be present at the event where this limited-distribution cover would be first sold—Puerto Rico Comic Con—I wasn’t sure I’d get the cover. Not only was April’s absence pretty much a deal-breaker, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about having to spend twenty dollars on a book I already owned, fantastic art or not. Fortunately, I didn’t have to, as cheaper prints of the image were also available for sale—prints where April O’Neil was very much present and prominent.
Something was up.
I’d originally intended to ask the people there on Heroes Haven’s behalf—which included the artists for the cover in question, there to promote their work—just why April was absent from the cover. Now aware of the print, I had an idea of what the reason was, and a quick conversation seemed to settle it: apparently Nickelodeon, who owns the turtles and has to approve every bit of licensed art, had asked that she be removed. A post located on Fernández’s Facebook page makes the same claim.
I had my awesome print, and two new questions:
1) If the claim is true—and I have no reason to doubt that it is—why had Nickelodeon asked for April to be removed from the cover?
2) Was this the only time it had happened?
There’s reason to believe that this wasn’t a one-time deal. A few weeks back, IDW released the cover image for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures Volume 8, the latest in their trade paperback collection of the comic book series originally published by Archie during the early nineties. Again, April was nowhere to be seen, despite the fact that the stories collected in the book all prominently featured her. The absence was glaring enough that it made me think back to previous covers, only to remember, rather effortlessly, that she had, in fact, been absent from all of them (**). One of the most well-known characters in the franchise, and one who was more prominent in the collected stories than many of the (male) characters who did show up in the covers, and she appeared to have been neglected multiple times by multiple artists. And while the reason for April’s absence is self-evident in some cases—either she wasn’t prominent in the stories collected in the book, such as with Volumes 2 and 3, or the scene depicted in the cover didn’t include April in the original story, such as with Volumes 1 and 7—no single explanation that I could see existed to explain all the absences. The cover for Volume 5, for example, depicts a scene from the book which originally featured April along with the turtles; why, then, isn’t she there in the reproduction?
Before Puerto Rico Comic Con, it was impossible to say why this was the case: there were too many potential whats, whos and whys, and too little available information. Is April’s continued absence the result of a mandate, or had different artists with different biases all independently realized that they didn’t care to feature her in their covers? Had April just been unlucky enough to fall victim to a series of what are essentially coincidences? Now, at least, some light has been shed on the situation—enough to make it clear that we need more.
(*) It’s also worth noting that April is not just absent from the Special’s covers; she is absent from the covers, absent from the stories, and absent from the pin-ups. If the book were a person’s first taste of the TMNT, that person would have no idea that a character called April O’Neil ever existed, or that she is nearly as old as the turtles, being introduced in the very second issue of the original comic book.
(**) She’s not the only one, as so far only one of the series’ handful of prominent female characters has ever appeared in a collection cover. See if you can spot her.
(With special thanks to Daggerpen.)
When the people behind Arrow cast The Killing’s Bex Taylor-Klaus on a recurring basis as The Canary’s best friend and confidant Sin, comic book fans called foul. The comic book character that inspired Taylor-Klaus’s role, Dinah Lance’s adopted daughter, had been a woman of color, born and raised in a village in Asia. The TV character was not.
If recent events are any indication, it may appear that the producers heard the criticism, but did not listen. Leer el resto de esta entrada »
The stars aligned in 2002, and production began on a second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series. Two things stood about about this effort at the time: 1) it would actually come to fruition, and 2) unlike the first cartoon, it planned to take many of its characters and storytelling beats directly from the Mirage comic books.
If there ever was an opportunity for April to appear with something resembling the look she sported through most of Mirage Volume 1–or as a Woman of Color, period–this was it. While the producers seemed to feel no particular need to adhere to characters’ comic book looks–as best seen in the Shredder, who now sports a full suit of armor–they also seemed to feel a certain commitment to racial diversity in the show, if the reversal of Baxter Stockman’s whitewashing and the various original characters of color introduced in that first season are any indication. If, like other people in the past, the showrunners saw Mirage April as a woman of color, it seems it seems reasonable to surmise that they would have at least been amenable to at least discussing the idea of depicting their version of our favorite gal-pal in a similar manner. The fact that the primary audience for this show would likely not be familiar with April from the original cartoon meant they could have done so with a minimum of uproar.
And yet, this didn’t happen, and there are several possible reasons why. It may be that, like many people, the producers at 4Kids never interpreted April as being anything other than a white woman. It might be that Peter Laird, who definitively sees April as a white woman, and who had something akin to a veto power when it came to the show, stepped in and insisted that the TV version follow suit–which frankly, I’m kind of okay with, being as he helped create her and all. It might be that the decision was made by people outside the creative circle. Or, in what seems to me the most unlikely possibility, given the show’s output, they might have interpreted Mirage April as a woman of color and consciously decided to whitewash her without requiring any additional input. I’ve asked Laird for context, but, unfortunately, he turned out to be less than forthcoming. Still, no matter the details, in the end, another generation grew up knowing that April O’Neil is white, making future interpretations where she isn’t even less likely.
Buoyed by the new interest in the turtles brought about by the cartoon and its merchandising tie-ins, Mirage decided to publish a second iteration of Tales of the TMNT as a companion to the Laird / Lawson TMNT Vol. 4. The second book, an anthology title featuring the work of several creators, hearkened back to the guest creator era, as various people put their stamp on the turtles, including some new faces like Tristan Huw Jones, who attempted to weave together several disparate plot strands into his own mini-universe within the universe. It was also the first time since 1992 that we’d see how Mirage April looked under different artists.
Hollywood loves a remake, and eventually a fourth TMNT film, titled simply TMNT and serving as a pseudo-sequel to the first three, was produced and released. Done entirely in CGI, it featured an April that was less Lois Lane and more Lara Croft, and was voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar. While a success in some respects, it was not successful enough to merit follow-ups. It did, however, influence the larger turtles-verse, as various other incarnations would begin to draw from its visuals.
In 2009, Peter Laird, by then sole owner of the franchise, decided to sell the turtles to Viacom, and specifically, Nickelodeon. A new era was set to begin.
From the very beginning, the most important question this latest iteration of the Spider-Man story had to answer was: why? With the Sam Raimi films still fresh in people’s minds, why did we need another version of the origin, and the Green Goblin, and Peter Parker’s romantic woes? The producers’ argument, as seen in the Amazing Spider-Man, is that this new version would allow us to see things we had not seen before: Gwen Stacy as the primary female character; George Stacy, who in the original books had been a rather prominent character for years; mechanical web-shooters, which many consider important for reasons I’ve never found entirely convincing; rogues not seen on the big screen before; an emphasis on Peter’s father; and some new actors who were just as good if not better than the ones we’d left behind.