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.
As the TMNT franchise approached its fifteenth year, it seemed as if there wasn’t all that much to celebrate. The first cartoon was over. Attempts at a fourth film had long since been abandoned. Mirage wasn’t producing any new material, and Image series, lasted only twenty-three issues. The turtles had returned to television in 1997, in the live-action Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation, but that only lasted one season and appears to have little to recommend it. It also didn’t feature April, which is why it doesn’t factor here.
If this fall into semi-obscurity had one benefit, is that it allowed Peter Laird, now older, more media-savvy, and completely in charge of the turtles, to have a greater say in what his characters should look and act like. In 2001, the turtles returned in a very low-profile way, as Mirage Studios released the first issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles‘ fourth volume, with Laird as writer and Jim Lawson as artist. Ignoring the stories told in the Image run, he moved the action forward more than a decade, showing the turtles as adults. It would be the only regular turtles fans would get until 2002, when a company called 4Kids entered the scene.
Note: If you can help fill in the gaps in the data–the artist for the Palladium April image (which I think may have been by the Paulo Parentes Studio) and the year for the CGI pilot, for example–it’d be much appreciated.
The year 1992 marked the end of the Mirage TMNT‘s guest creator era: after three years of mostly non-canonical stories by a bevy of creators, Mirage staffers once again took reins of the book, with a new focus on featuring a more stable tone and in moving their characters forward. This latest phase in the book culminated with “City at War”, a thirteen-part mega arc which featured the return of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird to active creative duties and ended on the book’s last issue. It also gave April some much-needed focus, as the writers had her decide to move to California in order to recenter herself.
Perhaps not coincidentally, this era of greater focus on April also saw the beginning of the end of depictions of her based on her issue #4 redesign, as the physical features she had sported since then–by no means limited to skin color–began disappearing. What one may draw from this is unclear, and the fact that there’s only one artist drawing the character for the duration of the era doesn’t help.
The years from 1993 to 1996 saw waning interest in the Ninja Turtles. The third film received a tepid reception. Mirage’s second volume of TMNT, which debuted shortly after the end of the first one,would prove short-lived, its final issue hitting stores on October 1995. The Archie series, TMNT Adventures, ended that same year. After seven seasons of sausage-making, Fred Wolf retooled the original cartoon for its eighth season in order to deal with a shifting children’s television landscape; old characters were written out, new characters were written in, and the series’ aesthetic got a face lift, but none of these changes were enough to stop the series from ending, after ten seasons and 193 episodes, in 1996. By January 1997, the flow new material featuring the TMNT had slowed down to a trickle, and existed mostly in the form of a comic series published by Image, continuing the adventures of the Mirage versions of the characters…but that’s something for another entry.
Note the first: While I’ve tried to be comprehensive as possible here, any help obtaining any relevant images I might have missed is much appreciated.
Note the second: Despite not having much in the way of comments, I still plan on moderating any discussion with a heavy hand, should it become necessary.
The year 1987 brought us our second ever incarnation of April, one that, while visually faithful to the character as originally depicted, was at odds with what had become the norm. As the new franchise’s popularity continued to expand, two more new incarnations were introduced: April as seen in the films, who like most things in the movie was conceived as an amalgam of her comic book and cartoon incarnations; and April as seen in the Archie comic books, who was ostensibly the cartoon version, but like most things in the book quickly became her own distinct character. While the people over at Mirage were still depicting their version of the character as a Woman of Color, by 1990, it was White April who had become the norm.
Note the first: While I’ve tried to be comprehensive as possible here, I have not been able to obtain several relevant images, most notably, images of film adaptations after the first one, and of the colored reprints of the Mirage books released during this time period. Any assistance in obtaining them is appreciated.
Note the second: Unlike the first time around, I will be allowing comments here. That said, as always, please keep common courtesy in mind, and note that I will moderate with a heavy hand, should it become necessary.
ETA: I*just* realized that I hadn’t actually enabled comments. Fixed.
[Content Note: Ableism, ableist slurs, hostility to consent]
With Nick’s TMNT long since having crossed the line from being “occasionally problematic” to “actively immoral and loving it”, I haven’t felt the need to try and dissect the series in any great detail recently. The problems are the same as they’ve ever been, they’ve been discussed, and there’s really nothing new to say about them.
And then came the April Clone.
In the episode “The Kraang Conspiracy”, the turtles and April discover that series baddie The Kraang, who need April (or more specifically, her genes–because why else would a girl be valuable?) in order to further their plans, have attempted to clone her many times over. While incapable of furthering their plans, these clones are, with one exception, still perfect reproductions of April…all except for one. That single clone, which the episode and Michelangelo eventually end up calling April Derp after the most frequent word in her vocabulary, is set against the turtles, whom she keeps on the ropes until she is eventually, and accidentally, killed by April, whose powers are unleashed by the stress of the situation.
Determining when a character has been whitewashed is, in theory, a rather simple task. Specifically, its a matter of asking oneself:
- Was Character X established as a Person of Color in the original work?
- Has an adaptation of that work changed Character X so that they are now White instead?
If the answer to both is “yes”, then whitewashing has occurred.
Of course, reality has ways of taking the simplest of tests and adding a whole bunch of complications along the way. For example, what if the answer to sub-question one is “yes and no”? This is the case with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ April O’Neil, a character who had no established heritage aside from her last name of Irish origin, and whose looks could change rather drastically between appearances, because apparently, her creators–Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird–had different ideas, and never definitively settled the question while they were working together.
Because people are complicated, there are a lot of differing opinions about this matter, most with at least some evidence backing them up. Hence, this series, chronicling the many looks she’s had, beginning with the moment of her creation and taking us all the way to 2014, where she is set to appear on the big screen once again, this time played by Megan Fox. The idea is not to argue for any particular conclusions–although I do have my own opinions on the matter–but simply to allow people to come to their own. Plus, I like timelines, I really like seeing the visual evolution of a concept, and I think that April’s is, in particular, really interesting.
We begin this first section in 1984, the year when Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird for the second issue of their surprisingly successful comic book, and go all the way to 1987 when she was set to make her debut in the cartoon that changed the franchise forever.
Note: While comments for this series are closed–I do not feel that I am capable of moderating the particular discussions on race that this has the potential to lead into–feedback, either in the form of factual corrections or whatever thoughts you’d like to share, can be sent via the Contact Form at the bottom of the post.
You know, given my burnout on Batman, I wasn’t all that hyped up about the third cartoon series in ten years. While the hype indicated that this one, at least, reflected some unconventional choices—Katana as a regular character, loads of emphasis on Alfred as a former spy-master, new takes on E-list villains—still, it’s Batman.
Well, two episodes in, and I’m interested. There’s plenty of room for polish—the latest episode, for example–but the way the show is building up its overarching stories and characters is currently reminding me a lot of Scooby-Doo!: Mystery Incorporated—I understand both shows share a producer–and that can only be a good thing.
- I’m unsure what to make of Magpie’s design. While I have no problem with “sexy” costumes when they make sense for the character involved, I’m not sure this particular one passes this particular test. Sure, there’s a lot of Catwoman in Magpie, and Selina was always one of those characters partly defined by their sexuality, but just like it annoys me when Ms. Kyle’s zipper is left open to her navel, I feel there’s a space between “sexy” and “bustier and kinky boots”. It feels like an unwelcome encroachment of an unwanted design element into a realm where it’d previously held little influence.
- Given my continuing frustrations with he latest TMNT‘s lack of female characters, the fact that the second episode of the show features four different women playing different roles within it makes me supremely happy. It doesn’t pass the Bedchel Test, sadly, and my gut tells me that such prominence will prove an outlier (although three of the four women are coded as “recurring”, so who knows) but still, it’s nice to see.
- On that note, Barbara looks adorable.
- Also like TMNT, Batman has that CGI-show problem of looking like it’s taking place in an empty city. It’s slightly better than TMNT is, but only just. Here’s hoping it doesn’t limit this show like it does that one.
- As someone who’s put in a lot of thought into the concept and history of gun censorship in cartoons—I’m a frequent contributor at TVTropes’ “Family Friendly Firearms” page—I was quite interested on what approach the creators would take after the Aurora massacre convinced them to tweak their firearm designs to be less realistic. And this one is particularly interesting, because you can sort of tell what the original weapons were supposed to look like. In any case, the weapons have altered in a way that doesn’t annoy me too much–a couple in the first episode are given weird un-weaponlike colors, but they still work.
- There’s a weird dissonance when it comes to the way Batman’s acting. There’s a certain callousness to his actions that feels at odds with his level of experience. Like, it feels to me that earlier Batman should be a kinder gentler, Batman, yet this version is putting people into comas, electrocuting them, and telling them it’s their own fault when they agree to become subjects of unethical experiments—as if coercion weren’t a possibility.
- Professor. Pyg and Mr. Toad, from the first episode, have been turned into eco-terrorists. While it kinda works, I also kinda wish they’d taken a different approach when reimagining the characters. I’m tired of seeing the only people concerned with the environment being either terrorists or jokes.
Thanks to a variety of circumstances, I had managed to avoid directly consuming the twin phenomenons that are the Twilight series and My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic for the majority of their lifespans. Twilight never interested me except as something to dissect, and although I was interested in My Little Pony based on good word of mouth, I believed that it wasn’t available by legal means in my neck of the woods.
Last week though, circumstances changed when it came to both: dad rented Breaking Dawn Part. 1, giving me both the opportunity to watch it without having to spend three to six dollars and an impetus to watch the final movie in theaters. Better yet, I realized that another channel besides the unavailable The Hub carried Friendship is Magic, meaning I could watch two episodes per day if I so chose. So, throughout the week, I caught six random episodes of ponies, and watched vampires decapitate one another on Saturday.
It’s weird. Twilight, when taken as a whole, is an incredibly problematic work. As a work of cinema, breaking dawn has little to recommend it when it comes to pacing, character development, tone, plot, originality, camera work, visuals, etcetera, etcetera. Meanwhile, My Little Pony was created/developed by the woman behind the excellent Super-Best Friends Forever shorts on DC Nation, has a devious sense of humor, likeable characters, a nice aesthetic, and, according to others, a certain something that makes it appealing to groups outside of its original intended demographic. And yet, after watching them both, I can say without reservation which one captivated me more, and it’s not the that most people in my circle would consider good.
I’ve mentioned that I tend to appreciate interesting concepts coupled with flawed execution more than I like the opposite. Generator Rex may have squandered every opportunity it had to be awesome, but in the end, it was a show about a world in which every organism in the world had been infected by a virus that could randomly mutate them into random monsters at random moments, which meant that I was willing to forgive a whole lot of bullshit if it meant not missing the moment when all that promise was realized (it never did).
The power of that sort of premise, to me, is it’s ability to suggest. Now matter how comprehensive the show is, there will always be tons of stuff they won’t be able to cover, which allows my imagination to step in and fill in the gaps.
As relates to Twilight, my lack of familiarity with most of the story helps immeasurably. Breaking Dawn is a story about characters with a history; they have had specific interactions that have led them to become the people on the screen. Given the series, the canonical version of that history probably isn’t all that all that interesting, but in any case, my ignorance of it allows me to set it aside in favor of whatever I put my mind to. I can think of Alice and Bella as besties, or that Bella and Edwards’s relationship is actually based on mutual respect for one another. As far as I know, the Volturi, the awesomely campy cabal of vampire baddies in hoods that form the locus of conflict in the second movie have done nothing to make me doubt their competence. It makes it much easier to root for the characters, who are generally played by actors, who if nothing else, are very pretty and don’t take me out of the action–that’s the director’s job.
Sure, the first part, dealing mostly with Bella’s wedding, honeymoon is rather boring . But it’s an interesting kind of boring. It’s boring I’d never seen attempted before and features Ashley Greene as Alice and a cameo by Anna Kendrick, whom I’ll always have time for (I can’t believe I missed Pitch Perfect). The second part, on the other hand, deals with vampires all over the world (a lot of them with superpowers that come in addition to the standard vampire deal) choosing sides for the conflict that may ensue due to Bella and Edward’s half-vampire kid. It features the good guy vampires reuniting form a war council, which is a trope I have excessive amounts of love for, and actors like scruffy Lee Pace (love) and Rami Malek, who steals every scene he’s in as Benjamin, a vampire who is basically also the Avatar. Basically, there’s pretty people and oddball accents galore, culminating in a battle scene that ends in a way I think is both a cop-out and brilliant. By the end, when the credits start rolling in a really retrospective-y way that highlights, again, the history the actors have with each other, I was getting a little misty, not because I cared about Bella or Edward, but because I was saying goodbye to a ‘verse, that, with a little love and tender care, could have been something special. I may never get to see that spin-off movie where Alice and Benjamin travel across the world being awesome, but a guy can dream, can’t he?
Ironically, Friendship is Magic, which I feel is supposed to be about the power of imagination, doesn’t manage to press those buttons. Although the world-building is solid and surprisingly well thought out, and I have little doubt, way more coherent than Twilight’s, the episodes themselves feel too pat to elicit curiosity. Coupled with (as far as I’ve seen) rather predictable plotting, it does little to elicit my attention. It’s not a bad work, but its one that is clearly not aimed at me, and that’s fine.
Wherein Ian Delves Into Sexism in Media, OR Why the Pilot Episode of TMNT (2012) is Highly Problematic
(Content Note: Objectification of women. Abstract descriptions of racism, fat hatred, dehumanization. Words…so many words.)
So I wrote about my thoughts on the first two issues of Nickelodeon’s new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show. Then I went to The Technodrome.com, home of the largest TMNT fan community on the web, and shared my opinions in their forums there, particularly those on how disappointed I was at what I considered their treatment of April O’Neil sexist.
The comments were not particularly well received. This was not particularly surprising.
As someone who’s been part of the board for years, my impression of the TMNT fandom as represented by the board—and people there can correct me if I’m wrong–is that when it comes to gender, a vocal plurality of the believes that the status quo is acceptable, that a work is not sexist if there’s at least one woman in it who is not “useless” and/or can kick ass in some way, and that it’s a subject that never needs to be brought up ever, lest Venus de Milo be suddenly legitimized as a character. Or something.
As a feminist, I disagree. As both a fan of the TMNT and someone who believes that sexism helps makes works worse than they would otherwise be, I have an interest in doing what I can to help make it not be that way anymore.
(Content Note: Rape and Rape Culture)
On episode 91 of their House to Astonish podcast, Paul O’Brien and Al Kennedy discuss the return to Amethyst to comics and her debut in Sword of Sorcery #0. The bulk of their review is spent discussing a scene in the protagonist Amy Winston stops the attempted gang rape of Beryl, an unpopular girl whom she’d met earlier that day, by three of their high school classmates. Kennedy, in particular, considered this scene as the low point in the issue, being utterly unnecessary, disruptive of the book’s general feel, and yet another example of comic book writers’ use of rape as a source of cheap drama.
To quote the Slacktiverse, I think it’s more complicated than that. While I am like Kennedy rather sick and tired of the way rape and sexual assault is usually presented in fiction–as something that doesn’t exist beyond the actual act, is often presented in an misinformative manner, and is at times fetishized–I’m not sure altogether sure that the scene shown here was an example of what he refers to.