Sunday, March 25, 2012

A question

(Note: I wrote another really long answer to the following comment/question, much longer than the HTML rules allow in one comment space, so I'm going to turn it into a separate post. -- PL)

"An American Mar 25, 2012 03:40 PM
Peter, I'm so glad you commented on this. Could you go into detail specifically what it is about making them aliens instead of mutants that matters?"

It seems people are having trouble pinning down exactly what it is about it that changes the essence of who the turtles are, while those in support of it are stating that it doesn't change anything other than possibly the name. (They state that only a couple of the storylines had anything to do with them being mutants, and unlike X-MEN it doesn't play into who they are or the conflicts of the characters.)

Can you express in words what many of us are having trouble doing, why it's more than just a meaningless backstory that's almost never brought up in the series?"

That's a tall order, but I'll see what I can do. I predict, though, that my answer won't be satisfactory, as this whole issue is extremely subjective.

Before I get into it, I have to say that in my opinion, the bit in your question re: the X-Men betrays some fairly specious reasoning. You could make all of the X-Men aliens and you'd have essentially the same set of conflicts, only instead of people hating and fearing them because they're mutants, people would hate and fear them because they're aliens. Bigotry of that nature is very adaptable.

And I have to say that -- at least as I see it -- the Turtles being mutants, and ninjas, and turtles is inextricably woven into the nature of who they are and what their lives are like. (Truth be told, I never really thought the "teenage" part was all that important... thought it helped to make a cool name for the property.) And to claim that the Turtles' backstory is "meaningless" and has been "almost never brought up in the series" is really pretty preposterous.

Okay, now to try to answer your question… 

There is the fact that the origin of the Turtles as set forth in the first issue of the TMNT comic book is the same basic origin story (with a few details changed) which has been used in the comics, both animated series, as the basis of all four movies, and all the toys and merchandising, for close to twenty-eight years. Obviously, this origin story has worked pretty well… so why change it? To use the old saying, "Why fix what ain't broke?"

When Kevin Eastman and I decided to do that first TMNT comic book back in 1983, we knew we had to figure out a way to explain why the characters were teenagers, mutants, ninjas, and turtles. It seemed like a preposterous combination of elements, but we bent our minds to the task and quickly came up with what was, to us, a satisfactory solution. It was quirky and weird and required a healthy measure of suspension of disbelief… but it WORKED. And it worked WELL.

And there was something about it which is not easy to define, something nutty and joyful and funny and possessed of a strange but compelling creative energy. That energy has sustained the idea through its much-longer-than-expected life.

(I also think that a big part of the Turtles' appeal is something that is an understated but key part of their backstory -- much like Spider-Man, for example, they are "accidental heroes". Random elements of fate played a huge part in how they came to be what they are… and there is something about that which is very attractive. I am not sure why.)

It's true that the new owners of the TMNT property can do pretty much whatever they want with it, including mess around with the origin story. They can decree that the TMNT aren't mutants, but aliens -- no, wait, they're robots or androids -- no, they're humans with psychic powers who can project the image of anthropomorphic turtles -- no, they're new creatures created by bioengineering -- no, they're cartoon drawings brought to life by a magic crystal -- no, they're ancient super-evolved prehistoric turtles from Earth's past who have been hiding from humanity in a pocket of fifth-dimensional spacetime -- and so on, and so on…

It may be that changing the origin story -- however that is done, and IF it is done -- might be a good thing for the future of the property. I assume the new owners want to keep and use the name "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" -- it only seems logical -- so if they can come up with a new story which doesn't hew to the way WE did it way back in 1983, but still retains enough of those key elements (ninja, teenage, mutant, etc.) to have the name of the property continue to make sense, and if that new origin story is something that the public responds to more positively that they did to the original, then more power to them. 

As I think I have stated elsewhere, I have never said our ideas for the origin story were necessarily the best. They worked really well, though, and served as the basis for an INCREDIBLY successful property for the better part of three decades as of this writing, but maybe there's something better. Who knows? I guess if we wait, we will see. -- PL


  1. Thanks for responding to my question!

    To me, a large part of the appeal was that I could relate in a way to the turtles because they were very human. They were very American, and they were very much teenagers. Even though they were turtles which was kind of like a super power, they were raised in America, with TV, with pizza, skateboards, slang, etc. (the comics were probably different)

    If they are aliens and not raised completely in America then they lose all of that. They cease to be "one of us" and there's no "connection" to them. We always thought of us as being a PART of the ninja turtles when we watched them. The turtles had to hide from the world because they were different on the outside, but they were NOT different on the INSIDE! That's the key I think.

    The other part of the appeal, I think, is that, like Batman, they are self-made heroes in a sense. They look different, but it was their training from birth in the art of "jiujitsu" and the ninja that made them powerful. They weren't from another planet, they were one of us and if they did it maybe we could.

    If the origin is that they are an alien RACE but were birthed on earth and everything else the same, then I'm fine with it. Otherwise, the connection to the TMNT that I had is lost.

    Plus, what about splinter??? Is he an alien, too?

  2. Peter, I'm not sure if you've addressed this, but what are your feelings about articles like this one:
    that make it seem like you are behind the origin change 100%.

    This whole thing is getting ridiculous. I'm waiting for them to ask the kid that played Yoshi in Turtles 3 to chime in with his opinion on Alien Turtles before this whole thing is over and done with...

    - Kevin McGill Jr.

  3. I think that changing X-Men and making them all aliens would change the themes of the story. If people feared the X-Men because they were aliens, that would be commenting on xenophobia versus racism. X-Men comments on fearing those living right among us, (people of another race living down the street who were here all along or for a long time). Making them aliens would switch that to a fear of foreigners coming here, which IS a (slightly) different message that would change alot of other things about X-Men and is precisely what TMNT fans don't like about this change.

  4. Maybe, just maybe this issue is the fact that the origin story not only worked for the Turtles, but a certain other blind super hero for 20 years prior to that?

    Of course something like this is protected under parody, but I've noticed especially over the last few years a fair few websites, such as Cracked, "revealing" the TMNT/Daredevil connection like it was some kind of big secret.

    Maybe Viacom are trying to avoid those comparisons.

    That wouldn't make radically changing the origin less stupid, in my opinion, when you could just alter the circumstances of the accident!

    1. Additional note: Fox have a Daredevil reboot in the works, too, which I guess could end up getting released around the same time.

  5. *sigh*The thing you and a lot of people i've read about, lately have missed Mr. Laird is,...Aliens can be mutants, mutants literally mean a genetically altered DNA sequence.

    But anyway just to post this up since I believe this is something that'd be cool to see since I'm actually one of the few fans I know who's actually waiting to hear how they're doing the origin, here's an origin by some random guy I found on the net:
    "-Ch’rell(The Utrom Shredder from TMNT 2003) is a ruthless space warlord, who conquers colonies, then experiments on and tortures their survivors till they join him or die.(Giving him some Krang like edge)
    -Splinter, after an attack on his homeland (I'm think Usagi Yojimbo-esqe) that killed his master, with a small unit attacks Ch’rell on his flagship, the Technodrome.
    -They have a fight, where they end up crashing on earth after the pilot is killed(yeah it's cliche but if done right it could work) during an FLT jump, the fight and resulting crash nearly fatally wounding Splinter,but his desire for revenge drives him on to find his enemy.Just as Splinter gives up his searching the wrecked Technodrome for Ch’rell, he finds 4 baby turtle humanoids from a colony Ch’rell attacked, trapped in mutagen filled pods and decides to save them.
    -The mutation part comes in here, from them being test subjects of Ch’rell as infants, thus giving them improved physical development, in terms of agility and strength then most people of their race.
    -Splinter raises them in the sewers of earth, teaching them what is their near equivalent to our ninjitsu, improving training and weapons from historical records of ninjas on our earth to take revenge, not only for his master but also, their home as well.
    -Over the years they train, Ch’rell has kept himself disguised and becomes the publicly respectable businessman, Oroku Saki, but is known in the underground as the ruthless crime boss and leader of the foot clan, The Shredder.
    -The Foot clan is an already existing Yakuza styled crime syndicate, that Shredder took over a few years before, making there be vocal older members who dislike his ideals.
    -All of that leads into of course April O’Neil trying to find the connection between Saki and the Shredder, thus one day running into the turtles, after hearing reports of vigilantes “dressed” like turtles,all the while Casey Jones trying to bust the Shredder’s operations his way.
    -Shredder is experimenting on local wildlife and humans (so you can have shout-outs to things like Bebop and Rocksteady) as well as rebuilding the Technodrome all for the old villain motivation of "TRYING TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD!"."

    Thats it.... You got an Utrom responsible for creating the turtles, just happens this Utrom is shredder, Splinter's master killed by Shredder so he seeks revenge, The Technodrome, alien origin and a few other things.
    The guy also left the side note "Them being aliens actually gives them a reason to buy all of those weird pizzas from the 87 series again due to their foreign taste buds."

    But don't mind me I'm just an Unknown

    1. UnknownMar 28, 2012 03:49 AM
      *sigh*The thing you and a lot of people i've read about, lately have missed Mr. Laird is,...Aliens can be mutants, mutants literally mean a genetically altered DNA sequence."

      "Unknown", I can't speak for all the other people you've read about lately, but I didn't "miss" that aliens could also be mutants. That's pretty obvious, and also irrelevant -- Michael Bay said that the Turtles would be "from an alien race", and that's what has many fans up in arms. It doesn't matter a whit that they might also be mutants from an alien race -- the point (which you seem to have missed) is that Bay's statement directly implied that he plans to take an origin story (which has worked well, in a few slightly tweaked ways, for many years) and toss it out in favor of something that he thinks it better/fresher/cooler/"edgier"/whatever. I guess we'll have to wait and see to be able to ascertain whether he's right or not.

      As for the "origin by some random guy" you found on the Internet, "Unknown", all I can say is that while it's not always easy to fit square pegs into round holes, with a large enough hammer and the right amount of mutilation of those pegs with a sharp knife, it CAN be done. And the result will probably resemble the tortured mess you reproduced in your comment.

      But maybe something like that is just what the world is waiting for.

      Hard to say.

      I just know that it's nothing I am waiting for. -- PL

    2. I didn't miss anything either, I'm simply not working off implications of a statement, just what it is or isn't true Mr.Laird. At this moment The extent to which their alien origin is going to effect the original orign story is unknown.

      As you said in your original statement when it was announced, I'm actually chilling(been a fan since before I could say or spell Pizza) and I'm looking at serious pro-active or at least entertaining speculating on what the writers are possibly doing (Appelbaum & Nemec, they co-wrote Mission Impossible 4 & a lot of episodes of Alias), not just mindlessly bashing it or loving it because it has the TMNT label.

      I'd have a feeling that people might be a bit more accepting if it were announced to be something like that weird origin I posted. Even if not if the writers and directors were more present then Bay has been I think you wouldn't have had this much concern pop up about it.

      -Once again
      Just an Unknown.

      P.S. Unknown is due to the fact that google for some reason or another can't figure out how to properly display my name(aka glitch)

  6. Hey Pete:
    Never read your blog until tonight when I got on a "turtle bender" and watched the original 1987 cartoon second season and the Turtles Forever movie. I grew up with the cartoon from the 80s, read the first collection of the first four issues way back in the late 80s and enjoyed the first two films immensely. Thanks for bringing Ninja Turtles into my world. Now a quick thought or two on TMNTs. I think it all worked so well because (at least in the early comics) you have teens, who already have enough issues as it is, being trained as combatants, crime fighters and killers. It was such wonderfully rich ground for good stories to come from and it was so gritty it just felt believable. I think you add in the fact they are mutants and you get to what the new Alien Turtles will lack. These are four kids, if you will, who are the only four of their kind. The only four there ever was and the only four there will ever be (theoretically). How much more hardcore does that make their lives? I recently saw some fan art where Leo was blind, Mikey and Don dead, and Raph had gone off the deep end. Stop and think about it. You just lost not only half your family, but half your species and people are still hunting you down while you are fighting the good fight. I don't think that is something any of us really can wrap our minds around, but we want to. We've all felt alone and can identify with that and imagining how hard it would be for these turtle teens is a good draw-in. I think that's why mutant turtles are better than alien turtles. Besides the whole "We're the last of our people left" thing has been so overplayed, but the "We were all there ever was," not so much.