When it comes to villains of the TMNT franchise, there is always talk about the various mutants and of course the Foot Clan. After all, in a show about mutant ninja turtles, there are going to be themes that get repeated in the rogues gallery to guarantee that the heroes have challenges that are meaningful and appropriate as they develop their skills. However, there’s one group of villains that has always been present in the TMNT universe, and yet is often overlooked as a threat. While the Foot keeps busy with Shredder’s demands and the mutants have the turtles locked up in a super-powered free-for-all, the Purple Dragons keep crime going strong on the streets of NYC.
The Purple Dragons exist in every TMNT incarnation, and their purpose is always the same: To control crime in the city. Often led by the powerful Hun (though he has suffered his fair share of betrayal), the gang does its best to maintain its reputation and keep the streets as dirty as possible. They’ve been known to bribe police officers if it means keeping their numbers up and a blind eye to their activity. Occasionally, they will have dealings with Shredder and his team. Most often, they work with the ninja master when called upon; however, in certain iterations they have been his direct subordinates. In the 1987 animated series, Bebop and Rocksteady were chosen from a gang that was assumed to be the Purple Dragon equivalent of that version. In the 2003 animated series, Hun served as Shredder’s second-in-command for some time, and even took over for him briefly.
However, the gang’s most well known act of violence – and the one that keeps them on the radar of the heroes – came during an encounter with one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ allies. As a young boy, Casey Jones’ father owned an auto shop in Purple Dragon territory. In retaliation, a small faction from the gang (led by Hun) burned the shop to the ground, killing Casey’s father in the process. They took his mother and sister hostage, and then while trying to rescue them Casey was beaten senseless – and nearly died himself. It was that even which led the man to become a vigilante, and ultimately allowed him to meet the turtles, April, and take part in a much larger battle raging around him.
There was one distinct variation on the Purple Dragons, however, that showed a very different side, and one that allowed the gang more depth than perhaps they needed or ever had before. In the IDW version of the TMNT universe, the Purple Dragons shifted for a period from a violent gang to a neighborhood watch determined to keep mutants and ninjas from causing trouble. Led by a young woman named Angel Bridge, the gang took cues more like Casey Jones’ (whose father had been Hun in this version, and led the violent gang with Angel’s father, Brooklyn), and acted as vigilantes. In doing so, they were able to shake off the negative impact of the old gang for a while, and create a truly unique existence for the Purple Dragons.
Even with variations, the Purple Dragons have mostly been bad news for the turtles and their allies. Though they don’t present the same threat level individually as Shredder or mutants, as a gang they manage to maintain control over the streets of NYC, and more often than not give Shredder another foothold into the world of organized crime. With their influence, the seeds of evil continue to grow, and present plenty of new challenges for the turtles – challenges that must be dealt with if they ever want to create a truly peaceful world for themselves and their family.