The Mighty Mutanimals – Inception and Cancellation
With the unparalleled success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, including a popular television cartoon and two comic series, Archie Comics wanted to capitalize further. In the Spring of 1991, a mini-series was created starring several of the turtles’ most notable allies. So Dreadmon, Jagwar, Leatherhead, Mondo Gecko, Ray Fillet, Wingnut, and Screwloose became a new mutant hero team called the Mighty Mutanimals.
With the limited success of the mini-series, Archie Comics printed a new book for the Mighty Mutanimals in April 1992. All of the mutant characters had their starts in either the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures comic or the 1987 cartoon. Mondo Gecko was a friend of Michelangelo’s, while Wingnut and Screwloose first served as villains in the TV show. The Mighty Mutanimals ran for nine more issues until 1993, when low sales caused the book to be cancelled, and the new heroes were relegated back to the comic from which they came. In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures issues 48-54, the team was given a 7-part backup series to finish their own storyline, though.
This new series marked the beginning of the “Megadeath” Arc, and was combined with the “Future Shark” trilogy of the TMNT comic to round out the Mutanimals’ story. Unfortunately, the writers felt the way to do this was to have the evil Gang of Four assassinate the members of the Mutanimals one by one, until no one remained, even though it happened during a time travel story, and everyone could have remained alive at the end. The creators wanted to set a particular tone for their characters, and avoid having these mutants become second string, forgotten to the annals of comic lore. (However, the deaths of Jagwar and Dreadmon were actually planned out well before the cancellation, and they were to be replaced with Slash and Metalhead.)
During their limited stories, the Mutanimals had several allies make appearances, beyond the ninja turtles and their rat master, Splinter. Other friends of the team included Mondo Gecko’s girlfriend, Candy Fine; Raphael’s special vixen lady friend, Ninjara; the evil turtle Slash; GlubLubs; Kid Terra; and Merdude. Of all these characters, Slash was the most notable, as he was supposed to be a Mutanimal. However, he too was killed off shortly after the Mutanimal massacre, leading to an even greater lasting impression of the team in TMNT lore.
The success that this new team was predicted to have led to Mirage Studios even creating a TV pitch in 1992. The new cartoon would see Ninjara added to the team as a female member, and the Mighty Mutanimals would battle Krang as he tried to take over the universe. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would have occasional guest appearances, but would stick to their own series so that these new mutants could have their day in the sun. While a character/animation bible was created, there was very little interest from Ruby-Spears Productions, and the pitch never became anything more than just that. While no one will ever know for sure, a television show may have been just what the Mighty Mutanimals needed to stay alive (with the TMNT audience already built in), both economically and literally.
The Mighty Mutanimals as a TMNT spinoff had something special. They were the best of the best from the turtles’ rouge and ally galleries, and had several factor that the turtles were missing, like different creations and drastically conflicting personalities. They provided a sense of adventure that was sometimes missing from the 1987 cartoon and the Archie Comics TMNT incarnations. While the Mutanimals may have never achieved the same success as their all-reptile counterpart, they were also arguably never given the chance to succeed. The book wasn’t given a chance to do anything amazing, and the TV show never got off the ground, so how was this new team supposed to succeed in the first place? Ultimately, the Mighty Mutanimals simply become another part of the cast of TMNT characters, where they will always remain. Stay tuned next week for a look at all the members of the team, and what they brought to the Mutanimals during their short lives.