Alright, now that we’ve gotten that anime thing out of the way, we can get back into season 5 of the Fred Wolf Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. This chunk of six episodes is positively bursting with either recurring characters or characters selected from the Playmates toyline.
Since I love the episodes that feature such characters, I’m looking forward to these six episodes. Let’s see if I’m not let down…
“Michelangelo Meets Bugman Again” (written by David Wise)
After a comic book author blows Bugman’s secret identity, the superhero quits and goes into hiding. But when a villain called the Swatter unleashes an army of genetically engineered termites on New York, Michelangelo must convince Brick Bradley to resume his crimefighting career and stop the insect menace.
You know, there are two sides to David Wise. There’s the David Wise who recycles old scripts between gigs and churns out thrice-reheated dreck like “Poor Little Rich Turtle” and “The Big Zipp Attack”. And then there’s the David Wise who writes episodes like this; episodes that are really, really funny. Wise tends to run hot or cold in terms of quality, either being really good or heinously awful. “Michelangelo Meets Bugman Again” is of the “really good” variety.
As a sequel to “Michelangelo Meets Bugman” (and with one of the better titles), it seeks to answer a weird bit of discontinuity from that first installment; how Bugman, a seemingly fictional comic book character, could also be a “real” superhero at the same time. The answer Wise concocts takes things in a satirical direction, as it’s revealed that a talentless writer named Jerry Spiegel simply followed the real Brick Bradley/Bugman around and wrote comics about his true life exploits. Once Brick’s secret identity was blown, he slapped the publisher with a lawsuit and his comic got cancelled (thus compelling Spiegel to begin stalking the Turtles for new ideas).
It’s just such a crazy idea and Wise gets the absolute most out of it. When Spiegel fails to keep on the TMNT’s trail, he takes on the ridiculous identity of the Swatter to lure them into a trap… where he proceeds to fanboyishly grill them on all the details of their personal lives. Wise doesn’t overload the script with too many conflicts and the three simultaneous challenges are all given appropriate time to develop. In addition to Spiegel hounding the Turtles, there’s a swarm of skyscraper-eating termites attacking the city; a problem only Bugman can solve with his insect telepathy. The scene where April asks a scientist at the “Designer Genes” laboratory just WHY he would create skyscraper-eating termites is a pretty stupendous moment of self-awareness.
And that leads organically into the third conflict; Michelangelo having to convince Brick Bradley to resume being Bugman. As it turns out, after being hounded by fanboys, Brick sought inner peace at a meditation center and, since anger is the source of his Bugman transformation, he can no longer be a hero. That leaves Michelangelo to spend the last act desperately trying to piss Brick off… though ultimately it’s April who succeeds in getting his goat. Dan Gilvezan absolutely kills it as Brick/Bugman and the scene where he drops his zen guru bullshit and loses his cool is a hilarious bit of voice acting.
And as with the first Bugman episode, Wise infuses this script with plenty of comic book references. Jerry Spiegel is, of course, named in honor of Jerry Siegel, the co-creator of Superman. Potentially troublesome for the homage is that Spiegel is portrayed as an uninspired hack writer who steals all his ideas, but I wouldn’t look too deeply into it. Getting a little more obscure is the name of Spiegel’s publisher, Juliette Shmooze, who takes her name from DC Comics editor Julius Schwartz. There’s also an ending where the Turtles chortle at the idea of there ever being a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book. I wonder what Eastman and Laird thought of that? (Just kidding; we all know they never watched this show.)
The only issue I have with this episode is that Townsend Coleman conspicuously fills in for Peter Renaday as Splinter and Vernon. Coleman’s Splinter is serviceable, but his Vernon is just the worst. It’ll really distract you when you hear it.
That aside, “Michelangelo Meets Bugman Again” is one of the best of the season and possibly the funniest script. We never do see Bugman after this, which is a shame (he could’ve solved the conflict of “Landlord of the Flies” in all of 4 seconds), but the fact that he got to come back for an encore appearance is more than most guest characters on this show can say.
“Muckman Messes Up” (written by Francis Moss and Ted Pederson)
After a new kind of mutagen transforms a pair of garbagemen into the nauseating Muckman and Joe Eyeball, they blame the Turtles and swear revenge. When it becomes evident that their radioactivity weakens the Turtles, the Shredder manipulates the two slobs into working for him.
I didn’t have the Muckman toy as a kid, but I remember wanting it. I always liked the characters that weren’t just mutant animals, but weirder stuff, like whatever the fuck Pizzaface was supposed to be. As a result, I kind of have a soft spot for this episode, which I remember liking as a kid, even if it isn’t very good. Or good at all, really.
Muckman and Joe Eyeball are characters elevated exclusively by their voice actors. Townsend Coleman and Rob Paulsen play them as parodies of Jackie Gleeson and Art Carney from The Honeymooners. It takes a while for their impressions to grow on you, but they really nail the dynamic and it makes their palling around a lot of fun. Outside of that gimmick, though, these are some pretty lousy guest characters. Their powers consist of radioactive “goo” (the show’s terminology, not mine) that weakens mutants and the ability to throw an inexhaustible supply of moldy crud at people. They’re played for a gross-out factor, as they eat expired food and wallow in filth. I’m not surprised they never made a comeback.
There’s this really weird non sequitor scene in the episode, too, that I just have to comment on. At one point, Muckman and Joe Eyeball have the Turtles subdued with their radioactive goo and Splinter comes to save them. Shredder orders Splinter to surrender by… cold whipping out a handgun and pointing it at the Turtles like he’s about to execute them:
I imagine the script called for a laser gun, but the overseas animation studio drew a real handgun by mistake. There’s even a pistol-cocking sound effect, making the moment all the weirder.
The episode is full of other things that make even less sense, but aren’t as funny. The big problem is that Muckman and Joe Eyeball’s radioactive goo is said to weaken mutants. However, only the Turtles are affected. Bebop, Rocksteady and Splinter are all capable of hanging around the slobs and their goo to no ill effect.
And the concept of just what the fuck mutagen DOES is really put to the test in the third act. Shredder has Splinter dangling over a frothing vat of mutagen (he calls it mutagen in the dialogue, so it’s not acid), awaiting his impending doom. Splinter proceeds to kick over the vat, washing Shredder and Krang away in a flood of mutagen. You know… MUTAGEN. The stuff that turns you into a monster if you so much as get a drop on you? I guess Shredder took an antidote between scenes.
There’s also a ton of animation errors to accompany the mistakes in the script. You’ve got the usual: Characters appearing in two places at once, a door opening on the side without the hinges, voices attached to the wrong character, and just bad animation in general (like When Rocksteady plows through that door at the beginning). I really liked this episode as a kid, but I think I was just blinded by consumerism.
“Napoleon Bonafrog: Colossus of the Swamps” (written by Dennis O’Flaherty)
After hiring Big Louie to steal a tank of antifreeze, Shredder uses a muta-shooter ray to transform Napoleon Bonafrog into a gargantuan monster. Then, using the antifreeze and Napoleon’s strength, Shredder plans to free the Technodrome from the Arctic. The Turtles, of course, try to save their friend.
So I know what you’re thinking: “Why have Genghis Frog and Napoleon Bonafrog gotten spotlight episodes, but not all four Punk Frogs as a team?”
That’s because, of the four Punk Frogs, only two of them ever received action figures. And take a wild guess which two those were. For whatever reason, Playmates didn’t see fit to give Atilla the Frog and Rasputin the Mad Frog their own toys, so instead they had the cartoon promote Genghis and Napoleon as solo characters. The bio on Napoleon’s toy obtusely references both “Big Bug Blunder” and “Colossus of the Swamps”, saying that Napoleon left Atilla and Rasputin behind in the swamps to join Genghis in the big city as a crimefighter (not… exactly what happens in the episodes, but close enough for a kid’s toy package).
For those of you who owned the Napoleon Bonafrog toy, you might recall that he looked absolutely nothing like his cartoon counterpart. Like the Turtles, all four Punk Frogs looked identical save for some coloring and accessory choices. The Genghis Frog toy already captured the cartoon look of the Punk Frogs, so to make Napoleon stand out, Playmates gave him a radically different appearance (calling him a “toad” in his bio in spite of his name). Superficially, this episode seems like a way of justifying Napoleon’s toy look, what with him getting transformed into a “monstrous” new version of himself, although the actual execution falls short of pulling it off. Though he certainly looks meaner, he still doesn’t look like his toy:
The other returning character in this episode is Big Louie from “The Big Cufflink Caper”. He’s one of the many mobster characters that this show was drowning in, but one of the better ones for actually appearing in multiple episodes. I think he kind of distracts the plot (trying to get revenge on Shredder for double-crossing him), but he does facilitate the best laugh of the episode. After getting the antifreeze, Shredder pays him with a gargantuan diamond called “The Star of Hoboken”. I don’t know why I laughed as hard as I did.
You’ll notice Jim Cummings fills in for James Avery as the Shredder in this episode. He’d fill in for him quite a few times. I have mixed feelings about Cummings as the Shredder. I think he plays a very good Shredder, don’t get me wrong, but he sounds next to nothing like Avery. Personally, I think Dorian Harewood did the best Avery impression, but I don’t think they hired him to fill in beyond season 3.
As for the plot of the episode, it’s kind of annoying of the first two acts; just Shredder and Big Louie fighting over Napoleon and chasing him around the city while the Turtles do nothing. The third act is when the episode starts to get pretty funny, as Napoleon complains about constantly being zapped and turned into a monster, even acknowledging the stock footage and how it keeps ripping the same shirt. Shredder replies with “Shut up and mutate!” before zapping him again.
Overall, I think “Colossus of the Swamps” doesn’t work as well as a spotlight on Napoleon as “Big Bug Blunder” did for Genghis. Since Napoleon spends most of the episode as a lumbering brute, he doesn’t really get to develop a unique voice the way Genghis did in his spotlight. It’s an episode with fun moments, though, even if they’re mostly in the last third.
“Raphael Versus the Volcano” (written by Carole Mendelsohn)
Through a series of implausible misunderstandings, Raphael thinks he only has 24 hours left to live. He decides to spend his last day on Earth as “The Green Defender”, a reckless superhero with nothing to lose. Meanwhile, the evil botanist Willy Banelli plans to use a volcano to destroy all the plant life on Earth.
It takes almost 20 minutes for the volcano in “Raphael Versus the Volcano” to become relevant to the plot. I just thought you should know that up front.
Anyway, even though it takes almost the whole episode for all the plot threads to coalesce into something that allows the title to make sense, “Raphael Versus the Volcano” starts out better than it ends. The majority of the episode follows Raph as he thinks he’s dying and proceeds to jump into stupidly dangerous situations with no regard for his own life. The situations can be pretty funny (a fire at a dynamite factory, for instance) and the reactions from all the officials providing commentary on his reckless idiocy tends to be the best part.
We have yet another one-off mad scientist as the villain and I’m as sick of these guys as you are. What’s interesting about Willy Banelli is that his voice casting is totally counterintuitive to his character design. He was drawn to look like this generic, portly little poindexter in a suit, but Rob Paulsen plays him as a lounge singer. It’s sort of a muted Sammy Davis Junior impression, as best as I can approximate, and it’s actually really amusing. Not enough to save the bad guy from total obscurity, but it adds some pizzazz to what would otherwise be another boring mad scientist retread.
As was pointed out to me in the comments section at my site, TMNT Entity, Michelangelo was the only Turtle in this series NOT to take on a costumed crimefighting identity for an episode. Leonardo took on the persona of D’artagnan in “Four Musketurtles”, Raphael takes on the persona of the Green Defender in this episode, and Donatello will take on the persona of the Dark Turtle in the season 7 episode “Night of the Dark Turtle”. Odd that Michelangelo, the self-proclaimed superhero fanatic, was the only Turtle NOT to become a superhero.
“Landlord of the Flies” (written by Gordon Bressack)
Baxter Stockman returns, now with the telepathic power to control swarms of flies. Teaming up with Shredder, he overruns the city in an attempt to draw out the Turtles.
“Landlord of the Flies” is sort of this weird hitch in Baxter Stockman’s personal chronology. There’s no explanation as to how he escaped from the other dimension last time we saw him and his alien computer sidekick is nowhere to be seen. Likewise, he seems to have regained his intelligence, which was eroding in his last few appearances.
Next time we see Baxter, he’ll be right where we left him in the episode before this one, and his alien computer sidekick will be present, too. That makes this episode an anomaly that doesn’t really work with all the other Baxter episodes. Then again, he’s banished to another dimension by Donatello in the final minutes of the episode, so it doesn’t clash too incongruently, I suppose (though where his alien computer sidekick is, who can say?).
That aside, this is also one of the better Baxter Stockman episodes. As much as I liked the alien computer, it’s good to see Baxter as a solo villain again. While he’s subjugated by the Shredder in the first act (with the promise to make him human again, of course), he spends most of the story plaguing the Turtles under his own autonomy. His newfound power to control flies also elevates him back into being a serious threat rather than a nuisance and the Turtles struggle to overcome his attacks.
There are some problems with the episode, though. There’s this really weird moment where Bebop and Rocksteady go out on their own to help Baxter defeat the Turtles, because they want Krang to restore their humanity, too. Since when have Bebop and Rocksteady EVER wanted to be human again? Heck, in “Plan 6 from Outer Space”, when Krang made them holographically appear human, the pair expressed disappointment, as they genuinely liked their mutant forms.
There’s also a major screw-up in the storyboarding between Act 2 and Act 3. Act 2 ends with the Turtles pinned between a several cars as Bebop and Rocksteady prepare to open fire on them. Act 3 begins with the Turtles out in the open, allowing them to dodge the fire and take refuge in the pile of cars (the pile they were SUPPOSED to be trapped in). This sort of thing has happened before in this show, and the likely culprit is a pair of boarders each assigned to a different act, followed by a director that didn’t go over the boards thoroughly to make sure the acts lined up.
“Landlord of the Flies” is a favorite Baxter Stockman episode of mine, even if it doesn’t really fit in as snugly as it should. The continuity in this series was an afterthought, anyway, so it’s not like it’s that big a deal. Baxter will only make one more appearance in the series after this one.
“Donatello’s Duplicate” (written by Jack and Carole Mendelsohn)
When Donatello creates a clone of himself to do chores around the lair, the clone rebels and joins an alliance with the Rat King and Pinky McFingers. Together, they plot to overthrow the city with an army of clone rats.
Well, the “evil doppelganger” episode had to be done sooner or later. It was the one stock cartoon plot this show hadn’t resorted to yet. To give the Mendelsohns some credit, their script actually managed to avoid the “But which one is the REAL Donatello?” “You’ll have to shoot us both; it’s the only way!” cliché typical of these episodes. So a gold star for that.
Barry Gordon gets a chance to have some fun with his Donatello voice, utilizing it for both a clone and a rat that gets enhanced with Don’s intellect. The clone is more egomaniacal than megalomaniacal and Gordon really makes him sound like an insufferable jerk.
A lesser moment of voice acting comes from Cam Clarke as Pinky McFingers. For whatever reason, they recast the part; in “Raphael Knocks em Dead”, McFingers was voiced by Peter Renaday. Renaday appears in this episode as Splinter, so it wasn’t a case of the actor not being available to record; they just arbitrarily reassigned the role. While Renaday’s McFingers was a rather good Edward G. Robinson impression (to go with the Edward G. Robinson-esque character design), Clarke plays him with his “generic thug” voice and doesn’t even attempt consistency. Seriously, this is the voice Clarke uses for bank robbers and henchmen, not something suitable for a recurring villain.
And on the subject of recurring villains, my favorite, the Rat King, makes a small appearance in this episode. He’s written out of the dynamic early on, as McFingers double-crosses him once the Donatello clone joins up. However, this is also one of the few episodes to make use of the Rat King’s status as a “neutral” character (according to the back of his action figure packaging); rather than fight the Turtles, he helps them find McFingers as a means of revenge. Just about the only other time the Rat King was shown behaving in a “neutral” sort of way was in “Return of the Fly”.
“Donatello’s Duplicate” is one of the lamer scripts, but the animation from the unidentified Japanese studio is pretty slick. There are some nice, brief moments of weapon use that look flashy instead of clumsy and the characters are more expressive than usual. And they make April look pretty cool on her Channel 6 motorcycle:
So that wraps up this batch. I’ll say that I wasn’t all that disappointed with these; they were a pretty good selection all around. The next bunch will see recurring protagonists Casey Jones and Rex-1 stop in for an episode each, while recurring villain Mad Dog McMutt makes his first appearance. There’s also some crap in there with an ice monster and some lame-o named “Wally Airhead”, so we’ll see how that goes.