My good friend and Sigma 6 aficionado Monte Williams made an offhand comment over at Poe Ghostal that “most vintage Ninja Turtle sculpts look horrid today”…

Which brings us to this. While there is no doubt that Playmates vintage TMNT lines had some soft sculpts at times (Mostly on the turtles themselves) I don’t think Monte’s statement holds true. Which is why today I’m proud to present to you:

Top 10 Vintage TMNT Sculpts that hold up in 2009
Note: This is a top 10 list in name only. The order is sort of random and more just based on when I pulled these guys out of their dusty old tomb.

10. Leatherhead – The original TMNT comics Leatherhead is one of the most conflicted characters in it’s history. A huge imposing brute who’s doesn’t fit in anywhere. The original 1980’s TMNT cartoon however presented a different Leatherhead all together. Sure, he was still a giant Crocodile, but his personality was that of New Orleans Cajun Chef Justin Wilson, complete with “I guar-on-tee” catch phrase. (Fun side note, years later “The Batman” would rip off TMNT and have Killer Croc be the exact same)

The vintage TMNT Leatherhead figure is woefully undersized, but packs a lot of sharp detail. His shirt is ripped, his pants have holes and his entire body is covered in scales. His tail has a nice crisp set of sculpting, plus he has a hat, bushy eyebrows and a knife tied around his arm.

His accessory belt, although unpainted packs a ton of details as well including several crawfish.

9. Triceraton – Although they never appeared in the vintage TMNT cartoon, the Triceratons were one of the early villains introduced in the Playmates toyline. A creation of Peter Laird’s, I’m not sure if they were forced into the line from Laird or if Playmates just wanted a toy-like creation but the Tricertons certainly fit.

Not only does this figure have tons of sculpted details like little raised bumps all over, but it has a nice detail in the armor, ripped pants and an expressive face. There are even little raised Triceraton logos on different parts of the outfit. These Triceraton figures actually look like they were ripped straight from the pages of the black and white TMNT comic.

8. Metalhead – When you need a easily dispatchable foil, make a robot clone! It’s super villain 101 and that’s exactly what the Shredder did when he made Metalhead. The robotic turtle has an incredible design and appears much like he did in the cartoon. He perfectly emulates the turtles look, straight down to how his feet are posed but every angle on his body is squared.

All over Metalhead’s body are little buttons wires, bolts and nuts. It’s an impressive display of design that could easily be overlooked because the figure is cast in mostly gray. But the sculpting is there and it’s done quite well.

He also has a translucent brain that’s sculpted and if the sun shines through it, his eyes light up. This in addition to vac-metallicized chest and shell. This is one helluva toy by 1980’s standards but holds up strong even in 2009.

7. Usagi Yojimbo – Stan Sakai’s samurai rabbit has appeared in every version of TMNT. Making appearances in both the cartoons as well as the comics. Although the vintage TMNT Usagi figure isn’t as detailed as some of the previous figures I’ve mentioned his entire body is well sculpted with hair.

His armor although largely inappropriate for the character is also well sculpted with raised beads all over it. The Space Usagi figure is even MORE sculpted and an impressive figure in it’s own right (One that’s always eluded me)… And although the figure looks little like the character (See the real Usagis next to him) he’s still a well sculpted figure.

6. Fugitoid – Our mascot and one of Peter Laird’s most prized creations, Fugitoid is another early entry into the vintage Playmates TMNT line. He never appeared in the cartoon despite being one of the TMNT’s most trusted allies in the comics. However he made an appearance in the toyline very early on.

This figure keeps the basic design of Fugitoid, but since the real Professor Honeycutt lacks almost any detailing on his sculpt, Playmates amped up the toy by adding tons of sculpting to him. His chest opens revealing the working insides of the robot and although they’re a little soft, they’re quite good. This figure is just pretty from head to toe, with a C-3P0 meets Spacely Space Sprockets design. Even his back is full of sculpted details of wires and buttons.

All over his body is wires, buttons and little compute bits of circuitry. While the design itself might be a bit dated (It’s channeling Jack Kirby) the sculpting isn’t. This figure is painted brightly, but if you let say the McFarlane team paint this figure, it’d probably be heralded as one of his nicest. It’s that well sculpted.

5. Tokka – A figure from the 1990’s, Tokka comes from the TMNT II: Secret of the Ooze movie. Although Tokka’s body is a reuse from the Slash figure from a year or two earlier, the design has been tweaked and shows just how versatile the vintage Playmates line was.

His shoulder pads (Mine is missing one, hey I played with my toys!) are nicely made but soft in sculpt. His face however is practically identical to his on screen counterpart and his shell is full of life even after sitting in an old toybox of mine for 15 years. His skin is full of raised bumps and little wrinkles and he even has a shading wash!

These are just 5 examples of how well sculpted the vintage TMNT from Playmates line was. These figures offer way more sculpting than even some of the 2009 GI Joes or DCUC figures. Compare the unique sculpting on Fugitoid from 1989 or Leatherhead from 1990 to DCUC or MOTUC sculpts of today and you’ll see they not only hold their own, but surpass them in many facets.

Tune in later this week for the exciting conclusion!

6 Responses to Vintage TMNT Sculpts Part One

  • Michael says:

    I have all of these figures still. I remember it took me a while to find Leatherhead after I had saved the money to buy him. I loved those toys when they were in stores. I was about 8 when Playmates started releasing TMNT figures. Every now and then I feel tempted to track down the later characters I missed. I never got Sandstorm, Mona Lisa, Half Court, Android Body Krang, or Scratch. I could also use a new Monty Moose as mine is broken.

  • Lee says:

    Usagi was an action figure to start out with. Him and Panda Khan were figures made for the sake of selling figures, and had no basis on anything. Usagi was only worked into the cartoon and comics later on. It’s detailed in a book on the “Ninja Turtles” franchise published in the early ’90s.

    So I guess my point is, the figure’s armor isn’t “inappropriate.” That’s how he was originally designed.

  • Actually Lee, Usagi was based on Usagi Yojimbo, longtime friend of Peter Laird’s Stan Sakai created the character decades ago and allowed them to work it into the TMNT storyline in the cartoons and toys. They had already worked together in a comic crossover.

    It was based off of something, obviously that TMNT Franchise book wasn’t very well researched.

  • Lee says:

    Huh. You’re right. There are sites confirming the earlier “Usagi Yojimbo” comics. Sorry about that. Anyway, I tracked down the book I was citing, and it’s called “Turtle Power: The Unauthorized History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

    So does Panda Khan have a prior history too?

  • No worries.

    Panda Khan was also a real character. Created by Li Yang. Khan was also supposed to be in the original TMNT toon, similar to Usagi, but it never came about. Khan isn’t as famous of a character as Usagi, but did appear in a plethora of comics.

    Here’s a good link about Khan and his connection to the TMNT:

  • Err, that should read his real name is Li Yang and was created by Dave Garcia.

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