The ’80s were a wild time for cartoons. Driven by toy sales and draconian advertising laws that restricted toy adverts aimed at kids, this wild west mentality led to some of the best and most beloved kids’ Saturday morning classics like Transformers, G.I. Joe, He-Man, and on the tail end of all of that was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Adapted from a dark adult superhero satire, the Saturday morning staple was a far cry from Eastman and Laird’s original black and white boom masterpiece. The show became a cultural phenomenon, not least for its unbelievable line of toys, some of which are still to this day the best, worst, and weirdest tie-in toys ever made. TMNT has always been one of my favorite properties, so I’ve collected together 9 of the most abjectly awful, strange, and fantastic Ninja Turtles toys for your perusing pleasure.
Crazy Clownin’ Mike
Who doesn’t want a terrifying action figure that looks like some kind of John Wayne Gacy inspired acid trip? Well, Playmates thought it was exactly what fans were looking for when they launched the “Bodacious Birthday” line. Alongside John Wayne Mikey it starred Raphael the Magnificent who was apparently a Zatanna fanboy magician, and Party Reptile Leo who had a horn you could toot… yup. Mikey also came with really creepy extendable legs which I honestly still can’t comprehend almost 30 years later.
Though he looks like that one guy you made out with at a house party and had to spend the rest of the night avoiding, Genghis Frog was actually raised by Shredder as part of his “Punk Frog Gang.” Genghis is likely the most well known member due simply to this wild figure, which ironically didn’t even include his signature axe. The evil TMNT analogs were named after famous dictators and world leaders, but as this figure showcases they were actually just a super meta knock off of the main cast inside their own show.
Get ready for some real cool/useless crossover shit right here! Li Yang A.K.A. Panda Khan was never actually in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, but because his creators Monica Sharp and Dave Garcia were close buds with Mirage Studios. He first appeared in Colleen Doran’s A Distant Soil #6 and later went on to crossover with TMNT and Usagi Yojimbo. This weird ass never-in-the-show figure is a great example of the strange nature of Mirage and Playmates’ relationship in the ’90s.
Another of the wild creatures created just to sell toys, Monty Moose is… a moose who fell in some of Shredder’s ooze runoff and ended up becoming a mounty. My favorite thing about this figure is undoubtably his big muscles and sabre. He also has a creepy gun-wielding beaver buddy called Bob just in case this whole thing wasn’t weird enough for you.
“This likable, lickable lad won’t roll over and play dead, cuz he’s armed to the teeth! Yes, that bone can break bones, if used just right.” I can’t really do any better than that classic copy from the original Hotspot toy, tbh.
This is easily one of the most horrifying action figures ever made, with a backstory just as gross as his plastic visage. Pizza Face was Shredder’s personal chef… cos you know every villain has to have one of those. And one day he baked himself in a magical mutagen oven in an attempt to gain cool bad guy powers but alas, he just ended up with a pizza cutter peg leg and a creepy-ass axe.
Yankee Doodle Raph
I mean… what can I really say about this? America is really on some wild shit with this Civil War themed figure, which came from a historical line that included a bunch of just as problematic guys including a very offensive stereotypical appropriation of indigenous culture. Here again we have some brilliantly absurd copy from Playmates that has to be read to be believed: “So let the drum and fife play loud and play proud. Yankee Doodle Raph can’t be stopped, cuz he marches over all borders with good on his side!”
Why are all these toys so horrifying? And why do I love them more, the more aesthetically displeasing they are? I guess 30 years in this wild fandom has done its damage. Wyrm has one of the most ghastly backstories of any fictional character I’ve ever come across. After falling into Shredder’s magical garbage can, this unassuming garbage man turned into a living pile of worms and trash. He’s also according to pretty much any stuff written about him super lonely cos he’s so gross. Real depressing shit, man.
I love this figure with my life, tbh. Space Usagi is a rare and radical piece of Turtles merch from Stan Sakai’s classic comic. This figure was created due to the close relationship between Sakai and the Turtles’ creators, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. We could’ve actually seen a Space Usagi show, but due to the rabbit-centric flop Bucky O’Hare no toy companies would finance the series. That means this is our only Space Usagi figure, and once again he never actually appeared on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look back on some of the strangest toys that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had to offer. Did I miss some of your faves? Probably, because there were literally hundreds of these things. If you do enjoy these corny-ass listicles that I love writing so much, let us know so I can write even more for your hungry eyes.