Since their debut in the pages of Mirage Comics way back in 1984, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been a pop culture cornerstone. They've appeared in countless animated shows, live-action and computer-generated movies, video games, and more.
The latest iteration of the iconic characters is in Nickelodeon's Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which redesigns the characters and their universe. Each episode is split into a pair of eleven-minute segments which emphasize rapid-fire jokes, slapstick comedy, and hyper-kinetic action. It's definitely a stylistic departure from more traditional incarnations of the half-shelled heroes, but the essence of the brand is still undeniably present.
At New York Comic Con, we got the chance to speak with co-producer and character designer Andy Suriano about this new take on the classic heroes, and he spilled plenty of details about the cartoon's influences from the established lore of TMNT, as well as queues taken from other corners of pop culture, from Hollywood, to anime, to Franco-Belgian comics, and even the 1960s television version of the caped crusader himself, Batman.
The Inspirations For Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
One of the more differentiating aspects of this new series is the inclusion of a hidden city beneath the streets (and sewers) of New York City, complete with an added layer of mysticism and magical powers. Michelangelo, in particular, has a particular affinity for the mystic arts, adding a new layer to his character. Says Suriano:
"We want to tell fresh new stories, take the turtles to places they haven’t been before. They’ve gone to outer space, they’ve done so many cool things, but we’ve added a new element, the mystic ninja element, and the hidden city, which is under New York City. Kind of Big Trouble in Little China. There’s this supernatural element to it we haven’t seen before, and we’re exploring that."
Of course, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles also borrows from a ton of other sources, and a single glance at the art shows that the series is aesthetically distinct from any past version of TMNT. Suriano explains:
"We pulled from 1970s science fantasy books and covers and art. And we obviously pulled a lot of anime reference, you’ll see a lot of that, especially in our action sequences. Design-wise, there's a lot of Franco-Belgian comics from back in the day. André Franquin and stuff like that."
Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Is Inspired By 1960s Batman
This new take on the turtles has nearly 35 years of lore from which to gather ideas, something for which Suriano is exceedingly grateful. "Every iteration has something to pull, which is cool. We can strip-mine the greatest hits, so to speak."
One notable source of inspiration outside of the Turtles mythology is the classic 1960s version of Batman. Adam West and Burt Ward starred as Batman and Robin for three seasons on the ABC network, as well as a feature-length film. Around fifty years later, they reunited (along with Catwoman actor Julie Newmar) for Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, an animated film which continued right where the original series left off. The film was successful enough to warrant a sequel, Batman Vs Two-Face, which was released following Adam West's death in June of 2017. Speaking to the inspiration provided by Batman '66, Suriano said:
At its core, it was all just fun. It was super fun. I remember watching it as a kid. I didn’t get the campiness. I just saw Batman, in costume, fighting bad guys. It would be the same sound effect bubbles when he punched someone from the comic books. So that translation from book to screen was so cool to me, growing up. We’re just trying to capture, or instill a little bit of that fun, that whimsy, to it. It’s whimsical.
Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a funny series, full of wacky jokes for children and adults to enjoy, but the stories are still played completely straight if viewers are willing to invest in the logic of the fiction being created in the series.
Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is currently airing on Nickelodeon, and has already been renewed for a second season.