The year 2009 brought about a seismic shift to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: after twenty-five years as a mom-and-pop property–albeit a ridiculously successful one–the intellectual property was sold to Viacom, and more specifically Nickelodeon, an entity that would not, and did not, waste any time capitalizing upon it. Only an entity like Nick could have been able to take a cartoon series that lasted six years and almost a hundred and fifty episodes and make it seem like a footnote in TMNT history, but that’s precisely what happened; with the turtles once again in comic book stores, tv screens and movie theaters, the last few years have been like 1991 all over again.
However, this is not, in fact, 1991, a time when Eastman and Laird were willing, if not always happy, to let almost anyone play with their toys: Nickelodeon appears to keep the turtles on a much shorter leash. Even when characters like Karai get radically reinvented, it feels like a boundary exists; the turtles must not pass this point. They can’t be radical, just Radical (TM). Therefore it is not surprising to see that April is once again and three times over, a white woman.
More interesting for the purposes of this series is the fact that IDW Publishing’s license to create and publish TMNT books gave them the ability to reprint the old Mirage and Archie material, and that the company has thus been making books that were out of print for decades available once again. More interesting still, the reprinted Mirage material, much of it originally in black and white, is being recolored, meaning that various colorists have been tasked with looking at the various looks of April O’Neil and drawing conclusions about just what it was the original creators intended, and deciding whether or not they’ll stick to that original intent.
So yeah, lots to cover here. One note before we begin, though: these images are organized in more or less chronological order, and while that’s easy enough to establish with the books, I’ve had to rely on some educated guesswork when it comes to the images relating to the cartoon and film. So there’s that.
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.
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.
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.
- Clearly, the film takes place in a world in which Neon Genesis Evangelion never existed. While actually mentioning the resemblance would have left a bad taste in my mouth, I would have still appreciated some nod to it.
- That said, I wish that in some respects, it had been more like Evangelion, particularly as it pertains to the world-building, which is where I had the most problems with the film. First and foremost, I find it inconceivable that any sort of competent authority would have taken such a blasé attitude to the study of Kaijuu as The People In Charge do here. I mean, how the heck does “Kaijuu research”–which would be necessary regardless of whatever measure is taken against them—get reduced to a two-man team? THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF ANY ANTI-KAIJUU MEASURE. And yet it takes years to figure out they’re clones? NERV would be so disappointed.
- From what I understood, there was nothing inherently special about the Jaegers—they were just equipped with enough firepower to take down most Kaijuu. So if it’s about having the right weapon, why not diversify? Why not have plasma-cannon equipped planes, or maybe a killsat placed directly above the seam? Or heck, any sort of non-Jaeger scout-units, so that they don’t have to go in blind every single time and waste their only effective defensive measure trying to figure out what their up against?
- I’m unsure what to make of the relationship between Raleigh and Mako. Part of me wanted it to be platonic, because genuine friendships between straight opposite-sex people are still so rare in film, but another part of me wanted to support the idea of having the only romance in a film be interracial. What I got in the end, though, just let me unsatisfied, cause it read to me like a romance arc, with the lack of a kiss in the end suggesting that they wimped out about making it explicit for some reason. Then again, there’s a good chance that I may be misreading things, so I don’t know.
- Given the Tumblr hype for this film and the good things I’d heard about what it’s approach to diversity, I was, in the end, rather disappointed on that front. As fantastic as Rinko Kikuchi and Edris Alba are on their roles, and as much as their characters are totally the emotional core of the film which isn’t to say I found either of them terribly interesting: theirs are the sort of characters whom I feel are made worth paying attention to by their actors– their inclusion feels like an oasis in a film that otherwise leaves me parched. As nice as it is it to see a woman of color in the female lead role, it’s hard for me to give cookies to the film when Mako is the only woman in the film (the other female Jaeger pilot is essentially a named extra). In the end, the two characters end up feeling like exceptions and exceptional. Just where are all the female Jaeger pilots/pilot candidates?
In the end, my biggest issue with the film is this: it does nothing that others haven’t done before or better, and what it does is for the most part boring. I feel that given the premise and the actors and the budget, Pacific Rim is a film that I feel easily had the potential to be another Speed Racer (I love Speed Racer) and yet falls short, landing instead on “merely okay”. I’m glad it exists, and that it was given a shot, and hope there are films that improve on what it does. I’m glad that it found an audience, and hope that further increases the profiles of the people involved in it, particularly Keiko Minuchi, whom I hope to see in lots more stuff. But I just can’t share in the enthusiasm.
Lately, it’s been hard not to feel ambivalent about Superman. I love the guy and what he stands for, but given how it at times feels like my ideas of what makes the character work are the complete opposite of DC’s, I haven’t been happy with the character for a while. And yet, I don’t feel sadness or even disappointment, because the Superman-sized void in my feels has been more than capably filled by other fiction. If I’m in the mood for larger than life, physics-bending superheroics, Gurren Laggan and its galaxy-sized robots has me covered. If I want stories about an alien whose the last of his kind, adopts Earth, and inspires regular people to themselves become heroes, I’ve got Russell T. Davies’ Doctor Who to keep me satisfied. Superman, in comparison, often brings thoughts of “good idea, but…”
So in the end, I wasn’t all that excited during the run-up to Superman: The Man of Steel. If it worked, great. If it’s didn’t, eh. I’d been mostly unspoiled, so I’m not sure what to expect, except that it seemed very heavy on the Krypton—rarely a good sign, when I’m concerned, since I tend to feel that where he was born says very little about who he is, and therefore focusing on it is a good way to start off on the wrong foot.
In any case, let’s start with the good. Lois Lane is great, and Amy Adams is fantastic in the role (I’m so happy she got it). The character’s a bit drier than she tends to be portrayed as on the screen, but she works supremely well, particularly given the one big change in the film. And all the characters are well cast and give good performances, elevating the material. General Zod, is, I feel, as good a portrayal as the character is going to get on the screen.
As for the rest? Honestly, it was all a bit boring. The first few minutes are spent establishing Krypton’s backstory, and through it all I was “get ON with it”. It’s kinda necessary for the plot, but then, I don’t care for the film’s plot, which is all about how Clark became Superman–or rather, it would be if there were a difference between the two sides of the character.
One of the things the film does differently from past versions of the story is to essentially do away with Clark’s double life. Arguably, it also does away with Superman as we know it, leaving us with the story of Kal-El, who wears a costume and has Diane Lane as an adoptive mother, and is still unsure about what he wants to do. With the Daily Planet‘s staff serving as satellite characters to Lois (which isn’t at all a bad thing, except insofar as they were shunted aside for most of the movie), the film is centered in Kansas in a way that feels weird.
Like I said, I have Ideas about Superman, and in the end, what I got from the film is that their take on Clark wouldn’t have become Superman if he hadn’t found about his heritage, which feels wrong. I’ve always been partial to versions of the story where Clark becomes Superman before finding out about Krypton, because it makes clear that there’s no correlation between the two things. Clark being Kryptonian has no bearing on who he is, and if he had no super-powers, he’d be Lois Lane, except less impressive because of male privilege. Here, however, the heritage and the heroism are connected to an uncomfortable degree. Yes, he’s seen helping people as Clark, but throughout those scenes, it doesn’t convince me that he gets any emotional satisfaction from it, which I feel Superman should always feel. It doesn’t help that this version of Jonathan Kent—one half of the couple that made him what he is–is far too willing to make Clark feel guilty about helping people. The film seems to agree with him, which again, makes this feel like the story of someone who is not Superman. Yes, people shouldn’t be expected to harm themselves for the sake of others, but part of what makes Superman Superman is the fact that a) he totally would, without hesitation, and b) he’s clever enough not to need to, most of the time.
As for the action…meh. While there are a few nice bits—I like that his initial fight with the Kryptonians is mixed with the rescue of the soldiers also with him—it’s all very generic-looking. This has been done before, and frankly, I’m tired of it. Again, Lois comes off better, with the scene where she—helped by Jor-El’s post-mortem A.I.–escapes Zod’s ship being a highlight.
In the end, I don’t feel this was the Superman film to sell people on the character—at least, if I didn’t also think that what I like about Superman isn’t what other people like about him. In any case, if nothing else, I feel it placed the characters in a very good position for an excellent sequel, so here’s hoping. But until then, there’s always Doctor Who.
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.