Editor’s note: This article is the first in a new series called “Horsemen for Hire” that we will be adding to the website. These features will take a look at the many lines and toys that Four Horsemen Studios has helped develop for other companies over the years.
If you are a fan of Four Horsemen Studios, you are very likely aware of the work we have been doing with Super 7 on their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles line, but did you know that this is actually not the first time we have gotten the chance to work on Turtles? Way back in 2007 we had the chance to help develop some Turtles figures for NECA, which in and of itself was incredibly impressive since no one except for Playmates had released any TMNT action figures at that time! Making this project even cooler was the fact that these particular toys were not based on the animated series or even the live-action movies. These NECA Turtles were actually inspired by the original Mirage Comics where the Turtles got their start!
Why Do The Turtles All Have Red Masks On?
With the stranglehold that Playmates had on the Turtles back in the early 2000s, we never expected to have a chance to work on this property, and it was somewhat of a bucket-list project when it came to the studio. The fact that there were so many toys based on the cartoon, but none that captured the look of the original comic art, was also an exciting aspect of this project. Being able to have a hand in bringing something brand new for Turtles collectors to enjoy was a great feeling, and we dove headfirst into the project by sculpting a number of key TMNT characters.
The first figures that would be released by NECA were, of course, the four Turtles themselves. Because these were based on the comics, each of the Turtles wore a red bandana, which confused some fans who only knew of this property from the cartoons and movies. For those mediums, the Turtles had been given different colored bandanas to help differentiate them for kids and to help sell more toys, but we brought these back to the comic roots with the all-red look!
This set of Turtles were released in 2 different waves as individual packages and as a 4-pack set. The pack out of accessories, including extras hands, baby turtles, stands that connected to make a street-lamp diorama, and other parts, differed between these releases. Some included many extra parts and others were stripped down to only include the essential weapons for the Turtles. NECA also released a set of these figures in black and white as a tribute to the look of the original comic panels, which were always presented uncolored.
Beyond the Turtles
In addition to the four brothers, we also developed a number of other figures that were intended to be released in this line. Unfortunately, the only ones that would see the light of day, for awhile at least, would be the April O’Neil SDCC exclusive set from 2008 and a pack with multiple Mousers. The April O’Neil set also came with a pair of Mousers.
It would be another 8 years before the other figures we sculpted for this line, including some foot soldiers and a comic-inspired Shredder, would be made available to fans as a New York Comic Con exclusive in 2016. Sold at the convention as a 4-pack, this set included Shredder, an Elite Foot Clan Soldier, and a pair of normal Foot Clan Ninjas with different heads. The set also included a number of weapons and Krang! With this release, old school TMNT comic fans were finally able to somewhat complete their display of the first Four Horsemen Studios-designed Turtles toys. While we would’ve loved to see this series continue so we could get to comic-accurate versions of Splinter, Casey Jones, Triceretons, and more, we are thankful that we even had a chance to work on what we did – and of course we now know that many years later we would get another crack at the Turtles in what we hope will be an expansive line!
Finding These Toys Today - and Be Wary of Bootlegs
The original sets of NECA Mirage Turtles are now quite hard to locate and they command fairly significant prices on the secondary market. Whether you find these figures loose, in individual packages, or in the 4-packs, the original group of Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo will set you back a bit for sure! So why then do you sometimes see sets of these sell very cheaply, and where did the set of Mirage Turtles with cartoon-colored bandanas come from? Those are bootlegs.
Like many toys and collectibles that become valuable, the rising price on the original NECA Turtles has led to opportunistic bootleggers rereleasing these figures. We have seen bootleg versions of these toys available with the original red bandanas, and with those bandanas painted in the cartoon-accurate colors, which NECA never actually did for these toys. How can you spot a bootleg auction versus an authentic one? Well, the bandanas are certainly a tell-tale sign! If they are cartoon colors, they are bootlegs! If the set of Turtles sports the red bandanas, but the price for the set is a fraction of what others are asking, that is also a sign that you may be dealing with bootlegs. In other instances, sellers will blatantly confirm that those figures they are selling are not the original, legitimate releases! As toy makers ourselves, we obviously suggest against anyone from buying bootleg releases, and this information is presented here simply to make you aware of that fact that these versions do exist if you want to avoid them.
A good 13 years after we worked on these TMNT comic figures, it is wonderful to see them still getting love from fans and NECA alike! As recently as March 2020 the company announced a new figure using one of those comic sculptures - a Shredder figure that would be included in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Loot Crate! This figure features the same sculpture as the Shredder that was released in the NYCC set, but with a "silver and blue" deco that matches how he looked emerging from the shadows in the old Mirage Comics' panels!
Note: Images courtesy of NECA Toys
Published on 03.27.20