Now that the Michael Bay produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie has had a successful opening weekend, there is already talks of a sequel. Anytime the Turtle see success you have to worry about the inevitable knock offs. The knock-offs have been happening since the beginning of the Turtles creation and the pop up at almost ever iteration. The only question this round is when will the first one show up and what will it be? To let you know what we have to look forward to we should look back at the original batch.
When I discovered the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back in the mid-80s as a kid in Tulsa, Oklahoma, they were already on issue #3 of the original Mirage Comics series. I was picking up my weekly comics at the famous “The Comic Empire‘ when I spotted it:
The name alone sold me. I knew this would be something different. I took it home, read it and loved it and have been a TMNT fan ever since. Unfortunately that’s not where my tale ends… my love of the Turtles and funny animal comics in general take me down a darker path.
The success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, along with other tiles such as Cerebus, Grendel and Nexus triggered the famous “black and white explosion” in comics in the mid 80s. Every small press imprint came out of the woodwork and tried to get in on the speculator market happening in comics. As with any great success comes the imitators and that’s what we are here to talk about today. The knock offs.
For some reason I’ve always been attracted to the knock-offs, the parodies and the bootlegs in my collecting, so when these imitators started to pop up at my local comic book shop was was an easy mark… and the further away they got, the later they jumped on the band-wagon the worse these got. And here’s the crazy thing, these books are parodies… of a parody book. TMNT was a parody itself of other comics like Daredevil and Ronin. Last holiday season I was back home in Oklahoma and was looking through my old comics and these popped out at me… laughing at me and how I spent my young, hard earned allowance on… dreck like this. *sigh* I wish I had that money instead of these taking up space in a closet.
The premise for parody is simple: an age, an affliction, a martial art and an animal. BINGO! Now you have a TMNT parody book. As you can imagine the more that came out the more that the law of diminishing returns applied. If “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” then Eastman and Laird should consider themselves flattered for life.
I suspect I have even more than just these hiding in my longboxes (I know for a fact there were even more out there at the time), but this will give you a good sampling of what I thought would be a good way to spend my time and money. Back in 1985-1986 most black and white independent comics went for $1.50. A lot of us thought that price for a single issue of a comic was outrageous….now we yearn for those days.
The crazy thing about these comics is that there are some big names in the comics industry, people still involved in the industry that did work or got a start working on some of these titles.
The first one, which is probably the best one and the longest running:
This one was actually published by Eclipse Comics, which was one of the more established independent small press companies. They took on and published the “Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters.” I remember this one as being fairly clever, some good parody/comedy… and I think I have the entire run. ARBBH ran from 1986-1989 and was published by three different publishers. Even Ty Templeton did a few issues of one of the spin off titles. That’s right, you heard me. This parody of a parody had a spin-off mini-series (that was a parody of Frank Miller’s ‘The Dark Knight Returns.’ That’s a lot of layers to this weird onion. The fun fact of this one was that the four characters were named after action heroes: Clint (Eastwood), Chuck (Norris), Bruce (Lee) and Jackie (Chan). At one point this comic had a fan page with a forum. It has since left the internet. Shocking.
At this point you might think I’m joking about all of this, but I assure you I am not. Even Marvel attempted to get in on the craze:
The title doesn’t follow the TMNT parody naming rules, but only because they were able to tie it in to sound like a parody of one of their existing Marvel titles “Power Pack” and a cover that parodies the original cover to X-Men #1. The premise is still intact with a quartet of funny animals, who share an origin with the Hulk is as much a parody of TMNT as it is as the X-men. The issue is FULL of Marvel parodies and painful puns. This one came out a little later than the others on my list. This one hit the newsstands in 1989. Better late than never?
Let’s get back on track with the offerings of the mid-eighties:
‘Geriatric Gangrene Jujitsu Gerbils‘ issue one came out in 1996 from a company called Plant-X productions. The gag in this one is that they are OLD instead of teenagers. GET IT? I believe this one lasted all of two issues. As far as I know I only own issue one. Their names are Geezer, Duffer, Zeke, and Codger.. BECAUSE THEY ARE OLD! If you are a glutton for punishment this first issue is available to read on line along with some snappy commentary here.
And the hits keep on coming:
“Naive Inter-Dimensional Commando Koalas.” See… now they are hardly even trying anymore. There’s no age reference in this title, and “inter-dimensional” is not really an affliction. But look! That first knock off team, the Black Belt Hamsters are in this one. I’m sure THAT will give it more street cred. Right?
“Mildly-Microwaved Pre-pubencent Kung-Fu Gophers” shakes up the formula slightly in that it swaps the age and the affliction in the title. You might be ready to dismiss this sill knock off that written by George Macas and penciled by Jim Molina. But what if I told you this book was inked by Jill Thompson, with a cover by Phil Foglio? MMPPKFG was published by Just Imagine Graphix, in1986. I don’t remember a lot about this one except it was pretty bad. If you don’t want to take my word for it, you can even read along with the first issue through the magic of the internet! Good luck!
Now Blackthorn Publishing enters the fray with “Pre-Teen Dirty-Gene Kung-Fu Kangaroos.” This one picks up the nod to Eastman and Laird by putting creator Lee Marrs name above the title. Lee Marrs has the distinction of being one of the first female underground comix creators.
You will notice that this title doesn’t feature an appearance from those other knock offs. This issue takes a huge kanagroo jump beyond all the other imitators by featuring “an extraordinary sort – but critical appearance of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles creator Peter Laird! I don’t know what kind of naked pictures that Mr. Marrs has on Mr. Laird, but I think if he was involved that makes this issue part of the TMNT cannon. Actually this issue features 2 panels of Donatello giving one of the Kangaroos directions. PTDGKFK only ran 3 issues and issue one is available on Amazon for under $3.
“Cold-Blooded Commando Chameleons” broke the title rules again with no age in the title at all, but I assure you everything else is stock parody for TMNT. The CBCC were a mercenary mutant team of lizards created by William Clausen and Michael Kelley in 1986. This comic from 1986 ran 5 issues and was pretty sporadic and is our SECOND TMNT parody title from a publisher we have seen already on the list, Blackthorn Publishing. I guess they were desperate for one of these parodies to take off. Someone is actually trying to keep this title alive with a Faceboook page claiming that it is headed for both the large and small screen. With only 46 likes on the Facebook page I don’t get the sense Hollywood is really breaking down their door. This issue can be had on Amazon for a mere $0.50.
If you think Michael Bay is the worse thing that could ever happen to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles then pick up a few of these gems and have a read. Those that forget history are doomed to repeat it.
Don’t let that happen to you.
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