Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) has always been a bit of a boys’ club. The franchise originated in 1984 as a comic made by men, for men (or you know, mostly for themselves, since it was essentially just Daredevil fanfic). It then became a cartoon targeted at little boys in 1987—and the trend has gone on strong since. Ninja Turtles has always had a smattering of female characters included in its cast, from scientists to time travelers to news reporters, and while they have played integral roles in the turtles’ world, they have also often been objectified, subjected to the male gaze, and largely relegated the role of damsel in distress. But that’s changing with IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. This TMNT ‘verse is incorporating and developing female characters in a big way. IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has a cast rich with strong, compelling, developed female characters, and it is fantastic. Click through to check out this nerd’s top ten female characters of TMNT.
1. April O’Neil
Okay, April goes without saying. I mean, she’s the fifth turtle for goodness sake. In the IDW ‘verse, April is a scientist pursuing her college degree and saving the world on her days off (no big deal). As an intern at Stockgen, she names and discovers the mutated Turtles and eventually becomes their most reliable and stalwart ally. Though she rarely sees any battle action in this incarnation, April is always working behind the scenes to support the Turtles. Whether it’s building teleportation devices with Donatello, solving mysteries, or pursuing an ancient evil society bent on destroying the world, April O’Neil’s got it on lock. In case you were wondering, she is still too good for Casey Jones.
2. Oroku Karai
Can we talk about IDW Karai for a minute? Let’s talk about IDW Karai for a minute. She’s the baddest bitch in the IDW TMNT verse, and let’s just be honest, the most stone cold version of this character to date. Every other Karai has been swayed by Leonardo at one time or another, usually when he plays the honor card or presents a compromise that works to both of their advantages. This Karai? She’s not havin’ it. Shredder’s granddaughter has her eye on the prize; complete and total control of the Foot Clan. After Shredder’s disappearance, she ran the Foot Clan with an iron fist, keeping the clan together amid the chaos of an alien invasion. She can also kick Leonardo’s butt, so props for that. IDW Karai is a ruthless, evil kunoichi, and she’s gonna rule the Foot Clan someday (if the Turtles ever succeed in taking Shredder out, anyway).
3. Angel Bridge
Angel never gets enough love. She’s such a total bad ass woman of color who is basically the Batman of the TMNT universe—what’s not to love? This incarnation of Angel has been updated from the little sister the gang never had to an independent, capable woman who is perfectly capable of kicking butt all by herself. After being ousted as the leader of NYC’s most powerful gang, the Purple Dragons, she became a formidable vigilante (with the help of Donatello’s scientist pal Harold). She dons a suit of power armor to become Nobody, a character originally introduced in the Mirage series as a foil to Casey Jones’ A-Team fever dream vigilante escapades. As Nobody, Angel works to clean up the streets of New York, keep the Purple Dragons in check, and show snooty scientists that you can get shit done even if you don’t have a college degree. Together with her new mutant BFF Alopex, Angel is nigh unstoppable.
Alopex was one of the first new female characters introduced in the IDW TMNT verse. Entirely new instead of a reboot, Alopex has had one of the most compelling character arcs in the series thus far. Alopex began her life as an arctic fox, who was brutally mutated by the Shredder to serve the Foot. She came into the world furious, deadly, and just a little bit naive—like a baby with a full set of knives for teeth. As the series progressed, she went from a fiercely loyal Shredder lackey to a cautious alley of the Turtles, to Angel/Nobody’s partner in cleaning up the streets of NYC. Raphael also seems to be a little bit into her (but don’t tell anybody). Could she be the next Ninjara? Who cares. There’s nothing better than female characters becoming BFFs and kicking butt together. Alopex is a bad babe in her own right, and she is only going to become more crucial to the Turtles’ fight against the Foot and Krang as the series goes on.
Kitsune is an ancient Japanese witch who is responsible for the Foot Clan and Shredder’s rise to power. She can often be found slinking around the Foot Clan dojo and advising the Turtles’ greatest nemesis on matters such as total world domination…and how to contend with unruly granddaughters. Without her, the Shredder wouldn’t be anything more than a cranky old loser and I’m pretty sure everyone in the IDW TMNT ‘verse would have lived happily ever after. But then who would stop Krang and the Utrom alien invasion? I guess every evil cloud has its proverbial silver lining. As the role of the mysterious ancient evil organization Pantheon unravels, Kitsune’s power is only going to be more apparent. Keep an eye on this one, nerds. She’s trouble.
6. Lindsey Baker
Lindsey is a soft spoken scientist who developed the mutagen that mutated the Turtles and later had the misfortune of being captured by Old Hob and forced to work for him in services of the mutant rebellion. Lindsey is one of the best in her field; intelligent, capable and calculating. Despite the fact that between the main run of TMNT and the Mutanimals mini-series she has been kidnapped on multiple occasions, she always manages to remain calm and collected and find a solution to her whatever dilemma she’s been thrust into the middle of. Did I mention that she’s also the first canonically queer character in the TMNT franchise? Like, ever? Because she’s the first canonically queer character in the TMNT franchise ever.
7. Sally Pride
For a mutant created through horrific process of experimentation, Sally Pryde is surprisingly well adjusted. Co-created by Paul Allor and Andy Kuhn, Sally debuted in their Mutanimals mini-series. Hopefully we’ll be seeing her again in the main run! Sally was trained as a combat pilot, so she can drive anything, anywhere, anytime. As I read the Mutanimals mini-series I thought to myself, damn, why can’t we have any ladies on this team of mutant vigilantes? And then Sally appeared. Bless you, Paul Allor. Sally pulled the Mutanimals’ collective butt out of the fire at the end of their mini-series, and I sincerely hope each of them kissed her furry cat-lady feet in turn to thank her for it.
Null is a boss to be feared; she’s literally Satan in a pencil skirt. The CEO of Null Corporation, I’m sure she’s raking money hand over flame-red fist. Introduced in the Mutanimals mini-series by Paul Allor and Andy Kuhn, Null is a female iteration of another Archie TMNT character of the same name. Her predecessor was ultimately responsible for the demise of the original Mutanimals team, and Null was perfectly happy to attempt to do the same when the Mutanimals started to interfere with her bottom line. Utterly ruthless, Null will not take no for an answer. She’s got her villain game down, and the Mutanimals were lucky to make it out of her clutches alive.
This mutant is two of my favorite things: adorable and totally brutal. Co-created by Sophie Campbell and Tom Waltz, Koya a big buff bird who can rip a man’s throat out by just snapping her fingers. Unstable, wild, and painfully loyal to the Shredder, Koya ain’t nothing to mess with. I mean, she has literally attempted to eat all of the Turtles. She throws herself wholeheartedly into battle, and even when she doesn’t win, whoever crossed her isn’t going to walk away unscathed. Unfortunately, Koya’s been woefully underutilized since the Northampton story arc, but cross feathered fingers that we’ll be seeing more of this Big Buff Bird Babe in action soon.
10. Renet Tilley
Renet is a female character the IDW verse could do with seeing way more of. This classic character was reintroduced for the Turtles in Time mini-series in 2014 and returned in the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2014 Annual, but we haven’t seen her since! IDW Renet unfortunately still reinforces the tired ditzy blonde trope, but the Turtles and fans alike adore her nonetheless. She’s basically the ninth Doctor if he was a lady—and going to school to be a timelord—what’s not to love about that? Despite the fact that she’s learning to control space and time, she’s still a highly reactive character, always stumbling into dire situations and dragging the Turtles along for the ride. In the breakneck epic that is IDW TMNT, Renet is always just the breath of fresh air the series needs.
I feel like it’s important to have a shout out to Mrs. O’Neil, who did not suffer a complete emotional break upon discovering her daughter’s entire social circle was entirely comprised of deadly talking vigilante mutant animals.