The Mighty Mutanimals was a brief run of comic books published by Archie Comics in 1991. The core members of the team were introduced in the Archie TMNT Adventures monthly title, and a crossover storyline involved all the Ninja Turtles and Mutanimals characters fighting together to stop an alien invasion from the evil insect queen Maligna and her alien bug bastard army.
The Mutanimals began with a three issue mini series, then progressed to their own monthly series with issue four and was cancelled at issue nine.
The three issue mini series was jam packed with great action, great art and exciting characters such as Jagwar, Man Ray, Leatherhead, Dreadmon, Wing-nut and Mondo Gecko. Bad boy Slash would be a temporary member in the original team and Ninjara was to be part of a planned animated show.
I bought the original 3-issue Mutanimals mini series back when it was first released along with the monthly TMNT Archie Adventures, it was an exciting time to be a turtle fan with the live action movie out the previous year and loads of toys still in stores.
The subsequent issues from #4-9 switched artists and the action shifted down a gear into a ponderous meditative vision quest that was somewhat at odds with what had just immediately preceded it. The art was more simplified and cartoony, not bad in any way, just different and the tone was off in contrast to the mini-series.
Compare this exciting image on the left of Scul and Bean (big orange bug dudes) fighting the Mutanimals to the image on the right from the later issues of the Mutanimals mostly standing around talking, or reading a newspaper… rather than doing interesting exciting things like those cool covers tease. Note also the lack of any background at all, suggesting the art was rushed. Comics are a visual medium, like in film the rule is SHOW don’t TELL.
The book may have wandered off the solid path of enviromentalism and big action it started on and meandered onto a poorly written cliched existential story that went nowhere, but the concept and characters were solid enough for a proposal to be put forward for an animated series and toyline.
The Mutanimals animated series was to be headed by production house Ruby-Spears with Playmates having first option on the potential toyline to tie in with the show.
The Mutanimals had a good launching point with a TMNT/Mutanimals comics Archie crossover, and promotion/advertizing via the Archie Comics group – but their follow up was some lacklustre comic book issues and the potential animated series with tie in toyline getting put on the kibosh.
No doubt Playmates had less than zero interest in competing with itself in a toyline featuring TMNT side characters that had *already appeared* in the core TMNT vintage toyline and Wolf-Murakami animated show.
Rights issues may have been a potential problem also. Never the less, concepts for a toyline with figures and vehicles and an animated show were put forth, as detailed over a series of blogs at the Lavigne/Brown blog Cowabunga Cartoon Classics with various bits of proto-production art designs posted there and the concepts for a Volcano playset and some vehicles.
The idea of an animated Mighty Mutanimals was ripe and ready, hell Street Sharks spawned their own spin off with Extreme Dinosaurs and this was the era when companies and animation studios were churning out animated toy shows in a production line manner – like boxes of cheap nasty crackers.
Many of the Mutanimals characters featured distinct appearances in their comic book, Archie Comics Profile Sourcebook and spin off animated model sheet appearances as envisioned by Ryan Brown that are unique and different to their sometimes uninspired model modifications for the Wolf-Murakami show.
In the core TMNT show many heroic characters were misused as “villains”, as their show appearance was timed to roughly coincide with the toy release. In the Mutanimals characters such as Wing-nut, Leatherhead and Mondo Gecko are heroic friends of the Turtles, but are portrayed as very different uninspired one note characters in the Wolf-Murakami turtles show.
One example being Man Ray who was a forthright hero in the comics, and the proposed cartoon version being a villain was objected to with the character model colors and design being modified to the generic “Ray” character in green.
The Mutanimals toyline never got the go ahead beyond the concept stage, which meant that the potential show (due at the end of 1993) was dead in the water. The Mutanimals comic book ended with issue #9 and never returned, leaving fans to ponder what could have been. A few back up Mutanimals shorts appeared in the ongoing Archie TMNT, but it was too little, too late.
If the Mighty Mutanimals show had been made I can only imagine it would be somewhere along the lines of similar toy based shows for kids of the era such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Toxic Crusaders, Street Sharks and Biker Mice from Mars. It likely would have been aimed at an audience of 7-11 year old boys and received, perhaps two seasons at best as the weekend toon and syndie market was so crowded at the time, with many production companies losing money from the toy-toon bubble economy and heading into other ventures.
The short run Mighty Mutanimals comic also featured other original character designs such as Merman and Armaggon, some of whom would go on to be featured as toys and in other TMNT media. Armaggon for example was used in the SNES Turtles Tournament Fighters game (1993), appeared in the NICK era TMNT show with his own storyline and also appeared in the Platinum Games turtles game as a boss battle based loosely on the IDW era of Turtles media.
WE’RE LOOKING FOR A FEW GOOD MUTANTS
The core concept and design of most of the Mutanimals characters started out as character sketches intended for the toyline. A few of these designs were made in the Playmates toyline such as Mondo, Man-Ray and Wing-Nut.
Most of the toy design characters were to be featured in the mainline Wolf/Murakami show, often in one note appearances that were contrary to their character design or bio, and some of them would be featured in licensed merchandise such as Turtles Tournament Fighters on SNES and Genesis/Mega Drive or Slash in Turtles in Time.
Slash featured in the Super Nintendo conversion of Turtles in Time. Tournament Fighters on SNES featured Archie characters Wing-nut, Armaggon and War, while the Genesis version had Man Ray.
A few of the characters such as Dreadmon and Jagwar inexplicably never appeared in the toyline, and only appeared in the Archie Comics but not the animated show – while more obscure miscellaneous characters like Dirtbag, Merman and Scumbug did make brief appearances.
NECA recently announced that Dreadmon and Jagwar (Archie exclusive characters) would be getting their first ever official action figures some time in 2022/2023
WILD WEST C.O.W BOYS OF MOO MESA
What did get the greenlight for an animated show and toyline was Ryan Browns Wild West C.O.W. Boys of Moo Mesa. The show ran for 26 episodes split into two seasons.
Archie Comics did a couple of mini-series tie ins and the C.O.W. Boys property featured in a lusciously animated colorful arcade game from Konami modelled on their large four player cabinets and used the Sunset Riders style of gameplay and level structure
C.O.W. Boys also featured on miscellaneous bits of merchandise like story books and kids birthday party supplies. The small toyline had some colorful characters with nice scuplts that were from Hasbro rather than Playmates. A stand out design is the single vehicle of the line called “Iron Horse”
The COW Boys made it hooome on VHS video, and received some commemorative happy meal style toys in the late nineties when the show was rerun on one of the various Disney channels.
Whether the Mutanimals creators passion for environmental awareness would have made it into the show is debatable. Would the show have been closer in tone to the Wolf-Murakami Turtles, or to Captain Planet? It’s anybodies guess. Perhaps somewhere in the middle tone wise. Likely it would have been a show I would have loved as kid, but not really enjoy revisting as an adult.
The Mighty Mutanimals Archie mini-series ran its course, the animated series never got off the ground beyond some basic pre-production concepts, such as the Volcano base Playset and Cuddly the Cowlick playset/carry case, some vehicles and the animation models.
The Archie Mutanimals last story appeared as a back up in the main Archie TMNT Adventures book, where the brief few pages threw in a bunch of poorly conceived knock off X-Men villains, who executed the Mutanimals with guns. It was a bittersweet nonsensical ending not really worth reading today.
THE NICKELODEON AND IDW MUTANIMALS
The Mighty Mutanimals were finished and seemingly gone for good in the 90’s.
But they would return in 2015 as not one – but two new distinct teams – debuting in the NICK animated show mid-2015 and in the IDW ongoing comic (from IDW TMNT#53 onward) at the end of 2015
The core Mutanimals team of the NICK era was Slash, Leatherhead, Monkey Brains and Pigeon Pete, with later season additions of Mondo Gecko and Muckman.
As in all versions of the Mutanimals team each character had their own solo stories in an earlier season arc, and the genuine surprise of a new Mutanimals team was a welcome one for old fans and something fresh and new for younger fans. Their biggest showcase in the NICK shows was TMNT – S03 E16 – Clash of the Mutanimals.
Also appearing in the NICK TMNT show were new versions of old Archie characters. The giant humanoid alien shark Armaggon, and a new version/homage of Verminator-X called Verminator Rex who is a mutated honey badger cyborg rather than a cat this time around.
The IDW Comics Mutanimals team was comprised of Man Ray, Mutagen Man, Mondo Gecko, Herman the Crab, Pigeon Pete, Old Hob, Slash and sometimes Mikey, with a couple of other characters floating in and out of the team for various story arcs such as lioness Sally Pride.
As well as the core mature IDW TMNT ongoing book, (its own continuity) IDW also published a NICK show based comic tie in for a younger audience. These brief issues featured some Mutanimals specials with very simplistic stories for kids, and some very beautiful art.
Fortunately the ongoing mature age TMNT IDW book kept the Mutanimals mainly focused in the core series, so the chance of them spinning off and being cancelled prematurely was negated. The IDW comic that started in 2011 is still going in 2022 up to the now current #126.
Each version of the Mutanimals team varied its roster with key members like Mondo and Leatherhead appearing on all three of the Archie, IDW and Nick teams. Certain side characters like Slash, Mike or Raph and others would join the Mutanimals as a temporary member for a particular battle or storyline.
Like The Outsiders or X-Men, the Mutanimals are the left overs that don’t fit into society, that don’t play nice with others leaving them on the fringes as unwanted hideous freaks and troublemakers. They are a family of rejects that come together in each version with some core purpose or mission, united in their misery and isolation.
*Mutanimals pin up lead image by Fernando Leon Gonzalez
*Reference on cancelled Mutanimals animated show
*Mutanimals Adventures IDW pin up by RYAN JAMPOLE from collected edition of TMNT Amazing Adventures: Robotanimals #1-3
*Mighty Mutanimals series covers #1-9 by Archie Comics (original run) and reprinted later by IDW Publishing
*Ninjara/Alopex comparison Joshdancato DeviantArt
*Full article on the Mutanimals spin off animated show that never happened at http://tmntentity.blogspot.com/2011/06/mighty-mutanimals-cartoon-that-almost.html
*Animation model sheets for TV show concept of Mighty Mutanimals (and brief article) posted at Lavigne/Brown Blog http://lavignebrownart.blogspot.com/search/label/Mighty%20Mutanimals
*Ray Fillet / “RAY” Trivia TMNT Wolf-Murakami
*TMNT vintage toys Wave 3 image from Virtual Ninja Turtles Museum
*Turtles in time SNES screen cap Slash from VGBosses 24/7