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The Turtles started as a parody 30 years ago and turned into an empire

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J. Caleb Mozzocco

The motivation behind the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film may have been purely mercenary, but it’s a good year to return the lime-hued heroes to the limelight: It’s their 30th anniversary.

In 1984, cartoonists Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird scraped together enough cash to self-publish a one-off, black-and-white comic whose patently ludicrous premise was also its title.

It was originally conceived as a deadpan parody of some of the most popular comics of the day, most especially Frank Miller’s Daredevil. DD was trained by ninja master Stick and fought evil ninja clan the Hand; the turtles were trained by master Splinter and fought evil ninja clan the Foot.

The plot of TMNT #1—a tersely narrated, deadly fight against a street gang and a battle-to-the-death with the Shredder, bookending an origin story also alluding to Daredevil’s—may have resulted from behind-the-scenes goofing by the artists, but their creations quickly changed, evolving as much as mutating. The one-shot became a series, which became a cartoon and toy line, which became a media empire.

That oft-reprinted first issue—most recently in IDW’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection Vol. 1 and Insight Editions’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Visual History—still hits like a nunchuk to the noggin, thanks to the surreal heroes and their violent, ’80s action movie milieu. If anything, the comics only become more striking with age, as the characters continue to spin further from their original orbit.

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