The carefree, innocent days of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon are squarely behind us. From here until the finale, we’ll be in the era known as the “red sky” seasons. Why are they called the “red sky” seasons?
Oh, I don’t know. Take a guess.
But before I talk about TMNT, I want to talk about Batman: The Animated Series. That show was a legit game-changer. And yeah, I know, you’re all probably sick and tired of hearing 30-somethings on the internet jerk off about how colossal and stupendous Batman: The Animated Series was, but I’m not the guy in charge of history. That’s just the way things are. When that show debuted, right out of the gate it was so far ahead of the competition that every action cartoon had to make a mad sprint to try and catch up.
And that’s how we got the “red sky” seasons of TMNT. All of a sudden, a cartoon that once featured alien Elvis-impersonator clones, an Italian mobster that tickled children with feathers and a magnet that could attract antiques… was now trying to be dark, gritty and edgy. Just like Batman.
Don’t believe me? Here’s an actual television trade magazine advertisement for the premiere of TMNT season 8:
And just because contrast is fun, here’s a piece of advertising from 3 years earlier:
Keep in mind that the “red sky” seasons were not a reboot of the series. This was the SAME SHOW.
I actually love these seasons. After 7 years of essentially the same formula, these seasons break up the monotony and inject a little life into a show that had, quite frankly, gone stale somewhere around season 4.
Season 8 is something of a transitional season between the “classic” era of the show and the segment of the “red sky” seasons we recognize best (the Lord Dregg episodes). Shredder and Krang are still the main adversaries in this season (though they’ll sit out half of it) and artifacts from the goofier tone of the “classic” era still pop up from time to time (Fourth Wall jokes, primarily). So despite the rather jarring change in aesthetics, season 8 manages to ease audiences into the new status quo that will truly kick off with season 9.
Now, without further ado, let’s get onto season 8. All eight episodes of it.
“Get Shredder!” (written by David Wise)
Stranded on Earth without the Technodrome, Shredder and Krang want to find a way to return to Dimension X and get it back. Their troubles compound when Drakus (alias Berserko), the former ally of Krang who designed the Technodrome, shows up for revenge. When Krang is taken hostage by Drakus, the Shredder forces the Turtles to rescue him or he’ll blow up the Channel 6 Building.
Okay, right off the bat you’ll notice that the show has a new theme song and title sequence. I never was too fond of this one, even if it is more fitting of the show’s new tone and direction. The animation is just recycled clips from episodes mingled with inexplicable clips from the first live-action movie. The song is just a slower, less exciting version of the original theme with some slightly modified lyrics that are supposedly more, uh, serious (“When the evil Shredder attacks; Turtles… FIGHT BACK!”).
Not much else to say about the title sequence. However, if I had to hazard a guess about the random live-action footage, I’m going to suggest that it was put in there because most kids saw the movies as being the “more serious” incarnation of the brand. At least the first film was. So by splicing in clips from that movie, it was shorthand for “this show is now going to be more like the movies”. Clever. Well, not really.
But if the message that this season was going to be more serious failed to be imparted by the theme song, then this opening episode gets the point across without mincing words. “Get Shredder” is pretty grim. There is no levity whatsoever; even the characters who were previously comic relief goofballs are now utterly devoid of humor. In fact, the script seems to go so far into trying to be “serious” that I think at times it intentionally loops back around and becomes a satire of the new direction. I mean, you’ve got Michelangelo pinning the Shredder to the ground by his neck, shaking his fist at him and saying “Cowabunga, dude” in the same gritty, furious inflection you’d use to say “Prepare to die.”
And you know what? This episode’s freakin’ great. It’s fast, focused and full of action from beginning to end. The Turtles are given the runaround throughout the whole story, as first they try to track down Shredder, then get caught up in Krang’s feud with Berserko, then have to retreat when Raphael gets injured, then have to save Krang from Berserko and get him back to Shredder before the Channel 6 Building is blown up with everyone inside it… and THEN they have to stop Berserko and his war machine, the Annihilator.
Even if this episode had WANTED to be funny, there just wasn’t enough time!
Most of the characters get a slight makeover in terms of appearance, personality or a little of both. The Turtles, as you’ve noticed, are more angular and their bandana eyeslits are sharper and meaner. Their personalities are the same, but their various manias are toned down (Michelangelo doesn’t mention pizza once all season). The cast seems aware of the new direction and there are times when hearing them deliver very serious dialogue can be… awkward. Like when Shredder blows up the Channel 6 Building and the Turtles think their friends are dead, Leonardo calls Shredder a maggot and begins trying to hack him to pieces.
It’s really fuckin’ weird, but also kind of exhilarating. This is something NEW! We haven’t gotten this sort of stuff in the show before! While it may seem off key, considering this was a very silly comedy show just a season ago, at over a hundred episodes I’m grateful for any new ideas.
April has ditched her yellow jumpsuit and donned a leather jacket (perhaps inspired by April’s garb from Archie’s TMNT Adventures comic, where she swapped the jumpsuit for the jacket early on). The rest of the Channel 6 crew is present, but their silly comedy relief routines are eliminated completely. When the Channel 6 Building is destroyed, Burne declares war on the Turtles, intending to use his media influence to brand them menaces to society. This arc will run only about halfway through the season, but it was a nice idea.
It’s the villains, though, that steal the episode. Shredder for the rest of the series will be voiced by William E. Martin. He’s better than Townsend Coleman, but not as good as Jim Cummings (who voices Berserko in this episode, making me wonder why he didn’t just do Shredder, too). Martin sounds closer to James Avery than Cummings or Coleman (though Dorian Harewood was still the best impersonation), but he puts a much crueler edge to his tone. He kind of speaks too slowly, though; dragging out his insults like he’s endlessly growling. Not my favorite substitute Shredder, but he’ll suffice for the rest of the series.
More to the point, the Shredder is a badass in this episode. He’s introduced during a firefight at a chemical lab, where he tries to blow up a unit of police officers with a makeshift bomb. He gets into multiple battles with the Turtles and holds his own in each of them, besting them in one-on-one combat and only getting taken down when they attack him all at once. And yes, he cold detonates the Channel 6 Building in an attempt to kill everyone inside it. It was a great moment, really surprising, and the best way of telling the viewers that TMNT wasn’t going to be silly anymore (well, not TOO silly).
Berserko (real name Drakus) kind of steals the show from the main villains, but his history with Krang works him into the series mythology surprisingly well. Much like Shreeka from season 6, Berserko was one of Krang’s partners in crime when the alien brain still had a body and ruled over Dimension X. And just like Shreeka, Berserko was betrayed by Krang and exiled. Keeping with the darker tone of the season, however, it is revealed that Krang straight up destroyed Berserko’s home planet and all of Berserko’s family (so his former partner could never build a machine to rival the Technodrome). So yeah, Krang murders families in this show.
The animation is also really slick. Maybe not too flashy (though there are some great-looking moments, like Leo and Raph fighting the robots in Berserko’s base), but it is consistent and error free. The storyboarding goes for a more cinematic approach and the action has a lot of punch to it. With there only being 8 episodes this season (and in the remaining seasons), I suppose there was more time and budget to spend on each episode. The care shows and these last three season will mostly look pretty good, with errors few and far between.
I want to try and do the entire season in one article and already I’ve written three Word pages on just this first episode, so I’d better move on or we’ll be here all day.
“Wrath of the Rat King” (written by David Wise)
Using Berserko’s tech, Krang reestablishes contact with General Traag in Dimension X. The Technodrome is trapped in a black hole, but Krang can still access the fortress’s ultimate weapon: The Shockwave. Meanwhile, the Shredder enlists the aid of the Rat King to hunt down and destroy the Turtles, who are now public enemy number one thanks to Burne Thompson and Channel 6.
The first thing that might catch your eye about this episode is that it picks up immediately where the last one left off. The “red sky” seasons are a return to serialized storytelling for TMNT as each episode leads into the next. While there had been the occasional multi-parter here and there for the past few years, dedicated episode-to-episode continuity had been abandoned midway through the second season.
With Berserko in custody, the Turtles try to retake his old base in the abandoned Hall of Science, where the Shredder and Krang have holed up. However, they find that the fortress isn’t as easy to invade as the Technodrome and have to retreat. What follows is a pretty bad showing for the Turtles as they get beaten left and right throughout the episode; first by Shredder, then by the Rat King, then by Shredder and the Rat King working together. In fact, the Turtles take it on the chin pretty hard throughout the “red sky” episodes, particularly during seasons 9 and 10 when they go through their super mutations.
There’s more background on Krang’s time as Warlord of Dimension X offered in this episode. We learn that the weapon he used to conquer his home dimension was a portable death ray device called the Shockwave. Not only is it described as his most powerful weapon, but Traag claims that only the true Warlord of Dimension X may be allowed to use it as though it were some sort of symbolic totem like a crown (Krang even claims the Shockwave is his “by divine right”).
I love all these little tidbits about Krang we’ve gotten over the years. Never once do you SEE any of this stuff, not even in flashbacks. Krang’s history as Warlord of Dimension X is only ever described and when you add all the pieces together, you get this fuckin’ boss image of Krang in your mind’s eye: That giant, ferocious t-rex alien that can regrow lost limbs, armed with the Shockwave, laying waste to the Neutrinos and other alien races all across Dimension X, manipulating others like Shreeka and Berserko to work for him only to be betrayed, commanding Traag, Granitor and an army of Rock Soldiers…
And so far as I know, no artist has ever visualized this. And that’s fine, because nothing will ever top the mental image we’ve all probably had in our noggins for twenty years.
This is also the last episode to feature the Rat King and the only episode to feature his redesign (pretty much just a new coat and hat). His lunacy is played up to excess, but in a more dangerous way. He storms the Turtles’ lair and straight up tries to wipe them out with the weapons Shredder has given him. The Turtles, Shredder and Krang all remark throughout the episode that the Rat King has gotten stronger and more terrifying in his insanity. He eventually double-crosses Shredder and tries to steal the Shockwave for himself, only to be defeated by the Turtles and… sent to jail?
Whoah, for real? A recurring bad guy in this show actually got captured and sent to jail? First time for everything.
By the way, you know how the Turtles beat his army of mutant rats? They use the retro-mutagen ray-gun that they stole from Shredder. Yeah, they did that last season in “Revenge of the Fly” and I totally forgot they walked off with the weapon at the end of the episode. Wise is really giving a damn this season, as both lead writer and story editor. He’s actually paying more attention to the continuity of this show than I am. This has never happened before.
Lastly, the Channel 6 arc continues as Burne slanders the Turtles and turns the public against them. It’s all played very seriously, with even Vernon making nasty news reports about the Turtles without even a smidgen of his usual sniveling comedy routine. April begins to strain her relationship with Burne and Channel 6 in this episode, and that will actually have lasting consequences later in the series. Jesus Christ, consequences? In THIS show? Things really have changed.
“State of Shock” (written by David Wise)
After being experimented on by a Government sanctioned mercenary agency called Dark Water, a soldier named Alex Winter is transformed into Megavolt: A hideously deformed ninja with the power to transmute energy into matter. Out for revenge, Megavolt tries to install a perpetual energy machine in his body to become invincible. Meanwhile, the Turtles come to blows with Dark Water after Megavolt’s ninjas frame them for his crimes.
Jeez, just re-read that episode synopsis if you have to. Isn’t that a little… dark for this show? A mercenary agency that’s a pastiche of the controversial Blackwater group, performing hideous experiments on a soldier to turn him into a killing machine, only for it all to backfire? Merely a season ago the Turtles were fighting a billionaire industrialist slug-man and robot theme park attractions.
“State of Shock” is something of an odd-man-out in this season, featuring a story unconnected to the two major arcs (Shredder’s story and one involving H.A.V.O.C., which will kick off next episode). Despite that, it continues the storyline involving the Turtles being fugitives from the law and enemies of the public, so it still fits into the ongoing narrative. April rather stupidly begins to doubt the Turtles and thinks they’re in cahoots with Megavolt’s ninja gang. How many years has she known them? How many times have they rescued her after she’d been kidnapped? The benefit of the doubt, April; I think they’ve earned it.
The Channel 6 crew begin to taper off into oblivion beginning with this episode. Irma makes her final appearance and she doesn’t do much but act as a sounding board for April’s dialogue. Vernon and Burne will hold on for a couple more episodes, though Vernon has already been reduced to just a talking head on television and nothing more. I know when I started these reviews I expressed my loathing of the Channel 6 crew, but they’ve grown on me. Oddly, I think I tolerate them more as an adult than I ever did as a child (couldn’t STAND them, back then).
As for Megavolt, he’s a one-shot villain with a name better suited to the Darkwing Duck adversary. His powers and appearance are kind of dumb, but his origin, as mentioned, is some pretty dark stuff for this show. Tony Jay provides his voice and it’s surprisingly distinct from the voice he’d use for Lord Dregg next season. Also, I don’t get why he has a ninja gang working for him. There’s nothing about his background or appearance that intimate ninjas; I think they were just added so they could frame the Turtles and perpetuate the public enemy story arc for the season. They really don’t fit.
“Cry H.A.V.O.C.!” (written by David Wise)
Sick of being browbeating by Burne’s anti-mutant campaigning, the Turtles consider joining the Highly Advanced Variety of Creatures, an organization dedicated to mutant rights. However, the more they learn about H.A.V.O.C. and its leader, Titanus, the more the TMNT suspect that the group is up to no good.
The H.A.V.O.C. three-parter in the middle of season 8 isn’t one of my favorite story arcs and puts the season in sort of a lull. The theme of the arc works well with the whole “the public hates the TMNT” thing the season has been pushing, so it isn’t completely disjoined from everything else, but it’s just pretty boring, is all.
Titanus and his minions are all pretty bland villains with a scheme that’s nothing we haven’t seen before (Titanus kidnaps people and turns them into mutants to amass an army). Their designs, voices, personalities and even names are all Comic Book Villain 101 stuff (the fast one is called Overdrive, the guy with heat powers is called Magma, laaame). There’s no hook to these bad guys and they cannot carry a three-parter on their own.
I suppose the funniest part of the episode comes after the Turtles are invited to join H.A.V.O.C. and receive a tour of their secret compound. When it comes time to decide whether they should accept the offer or not, Leonardo shuts down their decision pretty handily by suggesting a group called “H.A.V.O.C.” can’t be very trustworthy.
There are also more errors in this episode than most others this season (the animation has been typically pretty consistent). Bandanas are miscolored, voices are mismatched, characters appear in places they shouldn’t, etc. There are some good looking moments here and there (the cops trying to arrest the Turtles at the start), which is probably why the mistakes stand out more.
And speaking of mistakes, Michelangelo breaks the Fourth Wall for the first and only time this season, contemplating that if the Turtles split up then the show will only be 15 minutes long next week. I wonder how that one slipped through? I guess the Fourth Wall jokes were just a force of habit on Wise’s part and he couldn’t help himself.
“H.A.V.O.C. in the Streets!” (written by David Wise)
Titanus has created a new mutant: Synapse, a creature of pure energy. While the Turtles struggle to defeat the villain, H.A.V.O.C. constructs a flying fortress called the Sky Platform with the intention of raiding a military base.
Have you ever read an Iron Man comic where he fights Living Laser? Of course you haven’t, BUT IF YOU HAD, then you’d know exactly how this episode plays out. The Turtles struggle to defeat an energy being until the climax, when they realize they can trick him into a radio transmitter and broadcast him into outer space. That’s, like, the number one way to dispose of energy monsters in superhero stories.
So yeah, Synapse isn’t a very interesting villain and the fight with him makes for the bulk of the episode. The animation on his energy transformations looks pretty sharp, but personality-wise he’s just another cackling “I’ll destroy you, shellbacks!” type of bad guy and we’ve had plenty of those.
There’s a lesson in the episode, where Michelangelo’s goofing off keeps messing up missions and the Party Dude has to learn to be serious to save the day. I’m not really sure why that message was called for, but it helps pad the episode.
There’s actually a subtle throwback to the season one episode, “A Thing About Rats”, which was Michelangelo’s first spotlight episode in the series. In that episode, Michelangelo tricks the Shredder into blasting his own super computer by standing in front of it and taunting “Hit me with your best shot” before diving out of the way. Here, Mikey does the same thing and tricks the H.A.V.O.C. mutants into blasting the Sky Platform’s main engine. He even says “Hit me with your best shot”.
Vernon makes his final appearances in this episode, and doesn’t even get a speaking part. Burne will have a voice-over in “Cyber-Turtles”, but this is his last on-screen appearance in the series, too. With the destruction of the Channel 6 Building and Burne’s campaign against the Turtles being such a major aspect of the season, it’s a little odd that those characters disappear midway through. It’s probably for the best, as most of the Channel 6 crew had lost their luster with the “red sky” revamp and Burne was never going to catch on as a J. Jonah Jameson type.
“Enter: Krakus” (written by David Wise)
Titanus succeeds in stealing the flux transformer, a device that can open a doorway into the future. He plans on swelling the ranks of H.A.V.O.C. with mutants from 2066, but before the Turtles can stop him, they’ll have to deal with an overzealous time cop named Krakus who thinks ALL mutants are criminals.
Krakus is voiced by Brian Cummings and man oh man, I LOVE it when that guy voices cartoon characters. It always ends up sounding like the Walt Disney Home Video announcer has flipped the fuck out. “And coming soon to video cassette, The Lion King 2: Simba’sssBLAARGH! Mutant scum! I’ll destroy you all!”
Anyway, as the finale to the H.A.V.O.C. three-parter, “Enter: Krakus” is much more interesting for its title character than the lame villains we’ve been following thus far. We learn that Titanus and H.A.V.O.C. hail from 2066, a time when all mutants are arrested on sight, and have come back in time to take over the world. Krakus follows them, and we eventually learn that his father was saved as a boy by April O’Neil, which facilitates his eventual change of heart toward mutants.
Krakus goes through a bunch of different appearances throughout the episode. He starts off as a futuristic cop in high tech armor, then loses his armor and becomes a guy in a sweat shirt that punches people, then uses Titanus’s mutant ray to turn himself into a huge Rock Lord-looking thing. His dilemma about turning himself into a mutant to save April is brief, but interesting; he needs to save her so that he can be born, but by mutating himself he’ll automatically become an outlaw in his home time.
I don’t think we ever see Krakus again, which is a shame, especially since some different time travelling characters begin to show up during the Lord Dregg episodes and he could’ve easily been included with them. On the bright side, Titanus is banished to prehistoric times and we never have to suffer through H.A.V.O.C. again. Wise tries to keep the door open for the group’s return, even having the Turtles close out the episode by swearing to round up the last of Titanus’s mutants who are still on the loose.
They never do and that’s fine because we never hear from any of those losers ever again.
“Cyber-Turtles” (written by David Wise)
Krang and Shredder steal a powerful gem called the Firestar to merge Earth and Dimension X into a single universe for them to rule. When the aliens who once possessed the Firestar start destroying New York to get it back, the Turtles will have to become the Cyber-Turtles in order to stop them. Meanwhile, April enlists the aid of Casey Jones to get the Firestar back from Shredder.
Oh yeah, weren’t Shredder and Krang supposed to be in this season?
While season 8 is the last season where Shredder and Krang are the main adversaries, the truth of the matter is that they only feature in half the episodes. The middle section of season 8 forgets about them entirely. Heck, they’ll appear in nearly as many episodes of season 10 as they do in this one. So as the final year with Shredder and Krang as the main villains, they almost aren’t the main villains at all.
“Cyber-Turtles” features a couple farewells in it. Most notably, this is the last appearance of Casey Jones and Wise sends him off on a perfect note. He’s portrayed as extremely formidable in this episode, shoving Rocksteady over, getting in a sword fight with the Shredder and even smashing Krang in the face with a baseball bat (fuckin’ awesome). While he’s still hyper violent and spoiling for a fight, his mania is toned down a bit so he can use more stealth and cunning (at April’s urging).
Seeing him paired with April throughout the course of the episode made for a B-plot almost as exciting as the A-plot. I’m guessing Wise got around to seeing the movie, where April and Casey were an item (or at least he read some of the comics), and while there’s no romantic angle shared between them in this episode, the decision to team them up was probably inspired by the recent flick.
The other farewell in this episode is a big good bye to toy-shilling. This is the last episode of the series deliberately written to promote an action figure: The Cyber Samurai series from the Playmates toyline. You won’t be seeing any more action figures, vehicles or playsets ever again in this show. Truly, the end of an era.
The Cyber Samurai Turtles got a huge marketing push; possibly the last time Playmates ever forced the TMNT media outlets to prostrate themselves for toy sales. In addition to this episode, the Cyber Samurai toys were shilled in a promotional comic called CBS Action Zone and in a proper five-issue storyline in Archie’s TMNT Adventures comic series. By 1994, the Turtles were rapidly falling out of style, so Playmates pushing the heck out of this toyline was likely their last ditch effort to improve sales. Doesn’t look like it really worked.
As for the episode, the Turtles use the Cyber Samurai armor to grow into giant mechs. The aliens use their own Cyber Suits to turn into giant mechs and what we get is basically the Turtles trying to be the Power Rangers (before ultimately crossing over with the Power Rangers a few years later, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves). There is a LOT of citywide destruction in this episode, as the aliens and the Turtles knock over skyscrapers and kill I don’t know how many people.
“Turtle Trek” (written by David Wise)
Shredder and Krang succeed in opening a portal to Dimension X and make their way back to the Technodrome. The Turtles pursue them, but will have to rely on an ex-captive of Krang’s, the alien Gargon, to guide them through the hostile terrain of Dimension X.
Like last season’s finale, this one tries to change things up a bit. It isn’t a race to stop Shredder and Krang from reactivating the Technodrome; the villains achieve their goal at the start of the first act. Instead, it sees the Turtles having to find their way through Dimension X and reach the bad guys by the climax.
You get to see a lot of cool stuff in this episode, most notably an actual military assault on the part of the Rock Soldiers as they invade a village and raze it to the ground. You very, very rarely got to see the Rock Soldiers acting as conquering army, so this was definitely a treat; a reminder that Krang is an actual Warlord and commands an army that does army stuff.
There’s also a very small moment in the last act where tempers among the Turtles come to a head and Leo and Raph slip into their familiar antagonistic relationship from the movies and comics. Raph questions Leo’s leadership, Leo challenges him to put up or shut up and they come seconds away from throwing down. This sort of thing, common in every other incarnation of the TMNT, never ever happened in this show. So seeing the Fred Wolf versions of Leo and Raph briefly take on the aspects of their other incarnations, while just for one short sequence, was very cool.
The theme of the episode is trust and karma; Splinter tells the Turtles at the start that they needn’t focus on defeating Shredder, but merely doing good, and in time their deeds will be rewarded. They give Gargon the benefit of the doubt when they spring him and ask for his help in finding the Technodrome in Dimension X, but along the way they start to doubt whose side he’s really on. This facilitates all the bickering between the Turtles that almost gets them killed. It’s a sloppy lesson, but it still makes for a more remarkable season finale that does things differently than most others.
Of course, since Shredder and Krang sit most of the episode out, they don’t put up a very good fight. They reactivate the Technodrome early on, but wait for Gargon to lead the Turtles into an ambush before actually trying to bring the battle station to Earth (Gargon inevitably betrays Shredder and saves the Turtles). Ultimately, the Technodrome is dragged into a pit by a gargantuan plant-monster and is finally destroyed once and for all.
We also see Bebop and Rocksteady (and General Traag) for the last time. Bebop and Rocksteady didn’t get much to do this season, though they’ve been surprisingly competent the whole way through. Shredder tells them to do this or that, they do it, and they never once screw up. While it was nice to get a break from them sabotaging their own schemes with their stupidity, it left them feeling extremely bland. While Shredder and Krang were just menacing enough to thrive in the more serious “red sky” seasons, Bebop and Rocksteady just couldn’t hack it.
And so that’s the end of season 8. I think much of this season was pretty good; at least 5 of the 8 episodes. Even the H.A.V.O.C. three-parter wasn’t terrible, at least not by this show’s standards. I suppose I was more disappointed that Shredder and Krang are absent for half of the season and the whole “Burne turns the public against the Turtles” arc, which was pushed for the first part of the season, ends up fizzling out by the last few episodes and ultimately goes nowhere.
Next up is season 9, when the elements we recognize as the “red sky” era REALLY kick in: Lord Dregg! Carter! Super mutations! Love them or hate them, here they come.