The GeeksverseLimiting Foundations

Limiting Foundations
Published on Saturday, March 31, 2012 by

I may not like the idea of the Turtles being aliens, but there is one benefit of the concept.

I’ve talked before about stories needing solid foundations on which to build, which help strengthen and support the story. Stories can have good foundations and still be limited.

I’m sure you’ve all heard about the new direction that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie will be taken, right? It’s just Ninja Turtles now and they are aliens.

Now, as bad of an idea as it is, it does solve one issue with the TMNT foundation (4 pet shop turtles get covered in ooze and become humaniod), it allows for the introduction of new Turtles.

Now new characters should never be introduced unless there’s a good story related reason for it. And “there’s four, so five will be better” is not a good reason.

But having the ability to introduce new characters is a good idea. And it should be done in a way that fits the ongoing story and doesn’t damage anything that came before it.

With the Turtles, Eastman and Laird were limited to just the four ninja turtles because the origin story set up the four turtles from the pet store. This is fine, if you can keep the stories fresh and exciting using the same 4 characters. Most books that are limited in growth (can’t add new members) do this by changing up the supporting cast or putting the characters in a new situation (taking them out of the city and putting them in the woods for example).

In his blog, Turtles co-creator Peter Laird talks about the different ways they added new turtles to the ranks. The solutions were either other dimensions or a concept like the Super-Turtles. He knew that the origin story was limited, the foundation was limited to just the four.

And many times, the brilliant idea to explain this extra Turtle was that, instead of there being just four pet shop turtles in that glass bowl in the origin story, there were really FIVE.

Sigh.

Over the years, I have made no secret of my distaste for what I consider to be the weak, facile, creatively bankrupt idea which can be summed up like this:

“If FOUR Ninja Turtles are good, then FIVE (or more) Ninja Turtles MUST be better!”

The phrase “creatively bankrupt” is what I mean. There was no way to add a fifth Turtle (if wanted to) into the origin story. You can see what Laird thinks of the “there was really 5 turtles from the pet shop” idea. It’s creatively bankrupt.

Like most people I don’t like the idea of the alien Turtles. But I agree with what Laird says about the idea:

However, as I have pondered this further, I have realized that in one way it IS truly a genius notion.

The way it’s genius? It allows for easily added, and non-creatively bankrupt, new Turtles of all shapes and sizes. Villanous turtles? No problem. Female turtles? Done.

For this we’re just talking about the ability to add new characters to an existing property, not whether it’s a good idea or not. Super hero teams are open ended to allow for new characters all the time. The X-Men is an example of the non-limiting foundation. They can always (and did to great reward) add new mutants at any time they want. The Fantastic Four is a limited foundation because of the origin. The Four is always going to be those specific four people. New members can join, but they are always outsiders.

Let’s take a look at the Thundercats cartoon. The original, from the ’80s, had them crash land on Third Earth. We had the six Thundercats for awhile, but then the creators wanted to add some new dynamics (and the only way to do that is change the situation or add new characters). Because of the foundation having them crash land on the planet, three new Thundercats were introduced and in a way that didn’t retcon or damage any existing stories. These three just crash landed on the opposite side of the planet, that’s why it took so long to find them. Simple and more importantly it worked creatively and storywise. The other thing it allowed was the ability to add new ‘Cats through similar circumstances. Yes, the “crash landed somewhere else” idea would get very old, but it was a simple solution to the problem of not being able to add new characters.

Why is that so important? In alot of stories, it’s not. But in a show that is meant to sell toys? It’s extremely important to be able to add new characters.

The second season of the new Thundercats cartoon is now on. The second year of the new toys are coming. But what do they use for characters? We get another Lion-O and Panthro but they have to look to the flashback episodes for new characters to make, you can only make the Thundercats so many times especially when they don’t change, or have reason to wear different outfits.

Because of this the new Thundercats is extremely limited. The origin has them crashlanding on Third Earth but hundreds of years in the past. They’ve been living on the planet for generations. Their whole race except for Lion-O, Tygra, Cheetara, Panthro and Wily-Kit & Wily-Kat were killed.

Could new Thundercats be added? Yes, there is always a way, but in this case it would be more creatively bankrupt. Others that crash landed on the planet? Sure, but where have they been for hundreds of years? Others arrive from space? Sure, but how did they get to Third Earth and how were they able to find the ‘Cats?

Limited foundation stories can still be good, but they are and will be limited. I love the Turtles, but we will always have the four. They are still good stories, but sometimes it would be nice to see a new dynamic.

I don’t like the idea of making them aliens. But I do like the idea of opening the foundation a bit to allow more growth.

8 Responses
    • Additional turtles have been added before. Venus came from somewhere,perhaps they could bring her back without the aliens. Tokra and Spike are memorable turtles.

      I understand your point about being able to expand the line up from a merchandising stand point. However, the history of the toys, comics, and cartoons seem to point out that it is possible without making the Turtles themselves aliens.

      The Archie Comics TMNT comes to mind, it was full of Mutianimal characters. Some were cool. Some were stupid. Some were unfulfilled potential. However, the mutagen made all sorts of zaniness possible. Many of the Archie comic characters were also in plastic, or the toys were included in the comic. I’m not sure which way they went.

      The cartoon brought in aliens and other worlds fairly well. The Rock soldiers and Nutrinos from the original run and the 200x cartoon tournament episodes worked well.

      I don’t mind aliens in my Ninja Turtles but I wish the Teenage Mutants didn’t have to become turtles. I don’t even like IDW’s age of the brothers, although they have already included new, improved mutants.

      • Laird has this to say about Venus: ” It was in large part this brain-dead notion that led to the creation of the execrable “Venus de Milo” character in the blessedly short-lived live action TV series  “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation”.”

        Basically he sees her in the “creatively bankrupt” vein.

        •  I respect Eastman and Laird. They were great creators turned empire that exploded from the small press to house hold name. They also thought killing Shredder early was a great idea. Later they realized they needed him. They’ve made mistakes over the years. I’m with Jason Thees that more mutagen is a better answer to avoid “bankruptcy” than making them an alien race. The concept lends itself to more natural pairings.

          I’m fine with retuning products to avoid creative bankruptcy.  The new Joe, Transformers, and arguable Turtles all do that. Alien Ninja Turltes? I’m not sure it’s the right answer thus far. Perhaps it will work as a concept, but I’m arm-chair-quarter-backing this one as a mistake so far. Perhaps it will be better than I, and most of the internet, seem to expect.

    • I get what you’re saying, but I don’t entirely agree. Like Big IV said, there were other memorable characters. In a world where you suspend disbelief enough to think four turtles could mutate due to ooze, it’s not to hard to buy someone duplicating the experiment for their own purposes. Or what happened to all the other ooze? There was more than canister on the truck.

      And as for the Thundercats, we’ve only seen a very small part of the world. There was only one Thundercat city? Wouldn’t be too hard to believe there was another somewhere else. Wouldn’t be too hard to believe that another group of ‘Cats escaped the siege, either. There was a lot going on. We saw Lynxo early on, maybe he bailed out of the tower, and met up with Bengali and Pumyra, and executed a GTFO maneuver. 

    • Thinking about this defense of the alien ninja turtles has me wondering why M. Bay and company didn’t just option Battle Toads instead of Ninja Turtles. That would give them a green, fighting alien race with less defined back story to muck about in. It would still provide opportunities for toys, video games, and other products to flood the market. That’d be neat. It’d make more sense to me than making the Ninja Turtles more alien than mutant. 

    • http://www.sequart.org/magazine/10872/turtle-power/
      M. Greer’s article is interesting. He explores the fan boy rage a little bit differently with a nice look at the history of TMNT. I won’t spoil the ending, but I thought I’d provide the link.

      I still don’t like aliens as a concept…but I’ll go see the movie either way. 

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