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.
April O’Neil Character Model (Seasons 1-5), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003). While April had several “casual” outfits, this was the first and thus the one that appeared in her artwork and tie-ins. Why they made such a key design include a belly shirt / crop top, I’ve never really understood, since it never really quite felt consistent with the character, and its prominence made for some awkwardness, such as the moment when she wore it to her job as a lab assistant.
TMNT (2003) Episode 2.21: “April’s Artifact” (May 1, 2004). Normally, shredding a female character’s clothes and forcing her to take a mudbath means that producers are pandering to the male gaze. This being 4Kids, however, it feels more half-hearted than anything else. I wish the sticks had been part of her regular design, though, or had appeared more often.
TMNT (Vol. 4) # 14 (Feb. 2004). Pencils by Jim Lawson. April’s lack of hair, by the way, is due to having had it shaved off in preparation for a medical procedure. It is now growing back. The other woman is, of course, Renet.
TMNT (Vol. 4) #22 (June 2005) Cover. Art by Michael Dooney. The photos and drawings here are meant to be April at several stages of her life.
TMNT (Vol. 4) #22 (June 2005). Pencils by Jim Lawson. This issue gave us our first and only look at April and Robyn’s unnamed mother, seen here.
TMNT (Vol. 4) #22 (June 2005). Pencils by Jim Lawson.
Some alternate looks for April from the 4Kids cartoon. The second one comes from “Same as it Never Was”, the series’ bad future episode, while the last one comes from the show’s sixth season, Fast Forward, in which characters character designs were altered to be flatter-looking and more angular. I also find it rather funny how the design where the bun would make most sense is the one where she doesn’t sport it.
Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #22 (April 2006). Pencils by Scott Cohn.
Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #27 (Sept. 2006) Cover. Art by Chris Allan. This issue, dealing with the aftermath of Volume 4 #22, is the only issue in the volume to focus exclusively on her, which is disappointing.
Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #27 (Sept. 2006) Frontispiece. Art by Michael Dooney. April’s costume here is a reference to the events of volume 4, in which she briefly dons a version of the costume once used by super-hero Nobody after learning her origin.
Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #27 (Sept. 2006). Art by Chris Allan, whose Mirage April, it turns out, is pretty much identical to his Archie April.
Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #31 (Jan. 2007). Pencils by Andrés Ponce.
TMNT Film (2007). April sports a variety of looks in the film, and this AMV does a good job of showcasing them. I hadn’t noticed until I first saw the CGI pilot a few weeks back, but one can pretty much draw a straight line from that version of the character to this one. Just change the art style to make her adorable, and presto.
TMNT Movie Prequel: April (March 2007) cover. Art by Santiago Bou, who manages to make an already questionable outfit look even worse by adding boob socks.
TMNT Movie Prequel: April (March 2007). Pencils by Andrés Ponce. In addition to the usual comic book adaptation of the film, Mirage released five prequel issues, each focusing on an individual character and showcasing how they got to where they were at the beginning of the film.
Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #43 (Feb. 2008) cover. Pencils by Jim Lawson. This is the issue where Casey and April get engaged. The actual wedding has not been shown.
April O’Neil Character Model, TMNT: Back to the Sewer (A.K.A. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles season 7) (2008). Like most major characters, April’s design got tweaked to better resemble her film design. The most obvious change is in the hair color; similar shades would later be used in the IDW and Nick versions of the character.
Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #55 (Feb. 2009). Pencils by Jim Lawson. The April robot shown here is meant as a call-back to the look from her very first appearance.
TMNT (2003) Episode 7.13/ TMNT: Back to the Sewer Episode 1.13: “Wedding Bells and Bytes” (Feb. 28, 2009). The last regular episode of the series married off April to Casey Jones. I’m including the dress she wore because it’s pretty.
Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #56 (March 2009). Art by Paul Harmon, who’s shading was reminiscent of volume one in a way that the art in the book at the time rarely was.
TMNT Smash-Up (September 22, 2009) “Cover”. Pencils by Jim Lawson. Image obtained from TMNT Entity. This was a mini-comic included with copies of the videogame of the same name. Like with the game, the versions of the characters seen here are not meant to represent any single incarnation of the turtles.
TMNT Smash-Up (September 22, 2009). Pencils by Jim Lawson. …that said, the videogame itself largely drew from the designs introduced in the recent film, while this mini-comic opted for something entirely different.
Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #65 (Dec. 2009). Pencils by Dan Berger.
Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #65 (Feb. 2010). Pencils by Darío Brizuela.
Tales of the TMNT (Vol. 2) #68 (March 2010). Pencils by Jim Lawson.
TMNT (Vol. 4) #31 (Oct. 2010). Pencils by Jim Lawson.