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.