Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Brace yourselves people. Strap in tight, put on your nostalgia hat and your rose-coloured glasses - I'm gonna talk Turtles. I was just about young enough to join in the fun when the big Turtles craze swept across the UK. Suddenly everywhere you looked there were Turtles on everything from soap to lampshades to lunchboxes.

Like many others my age I was completely sucked in by the idea of four man-sized mutant turtles who took their orders from a big rat who did karate. It didn't take long for me to get tired of the constant re-runs of the cartoon though, so I turned to comics to get my Turtle fix. There was a big over sized book over here called 'Teenage Mutant Hero* Turtle Adventures' that reprinted stories from the fantastic Turtles series that Archie comics used to put out.

It was a great series and it's hard to single out one issue as better than the rest but a personal favorite of mine was #5. The issue that introduces the awesomeness that is Man-Ray.

This Turtles series had a thing about the environment. It's villains were always polluting rivers and chopping down rain forests while the hero's always had some kind of 'Captain Planetesque', environmentalist angle. Man-Ray was one of the best to come out of this mold.

We first meet him when he's just an ordinary guy. By day he's a mild-mannered Aquarium manager with a deep love for fishies. By night he's a tape-recorder packing hardcore environmentalist exposing the heinous deeds of evil polluters and other non-planet-hugging jerks. Unfortunately his planet-saving career is cut short when he is doused in a familiar slimy green ooze:The ooze mutates him into a big, blue manta-ray looking dude complete with a set of '24 inch pythons' that Hulk Hogan would kill for. As is so often is the case after you've been showered with chemicals and your body has been mutated beyond recognition he decides to dedicate his life to saving the planet.

This of course brings him into conflict with the Turtles arch-enemy The Shredder who for some reason in this issue has decided he wants to blow up the Statue of Liberty on the Fourth of July. Shredder's not normally known for wanton acts of terrorism but maybe he was just really pissed off that day. Luckily Man-Ray and the Turtles are both feeling patriotic and team up to stop him.

The highlight of the issue comes when Man Ray and Shredder finally come to underwater blows. You would imagine being a master of ninjitsu and all Shredder would turn the battle into a savage ballet full of skill and grace. As it turns out he's not at all adverse to a good, old fashioned groin punch:Just when you think the battle is turning Man Ray's way he falls for the oldest trick in the book. Being a buff mutated fish-man does not make him any less succeptible to the classic 'bully on the beach' maneuver. Where's Charles Atlas when you need him?Shredder escapes but the Statue is saved. Man Ray swims off into the sunset - only to show up in later issues as a fully fledged humpback-whale-riding, polluter stomping environmental terrorist.

I loved this series when I was a kid. I have many a fond memory of reading and re-reading it. The stories were lightweight, fun and at times really, really goofy. It never tried to be realistic or take itself too seriously. A comic I'd happily let my kids read - if they could wrestle it out of my greasy mitts that is.

*Over in the UK we're much too sensitive to be exposed to the word 'Ninja' so the powers that be had it changed to 'Hero'. Thank God they did. I mean if anyone says 'Ninja' to me I can't help but break their jaw with a flying jump kick before hacking them up with my katana!
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