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The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are a group of teenage mutant turtles who have been trained in the way of the ninja by their sensei, a martial arts master called Splinter, who is actually mutant rat. This group of four brothers, named after four Italian Renaissance masters, have become a household brand of modern pop culture and the main representatives of a franchise that now includes comic books, TV shows, feature films, video games and lots of related merchandise. But, although they are popular among children, are they really superheroes? Keep reading to find out!
By our wider definition of a superhero, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are certainly superheroes because they use their powers – gained through mutation – and their ninja skills to fight against crime and evil.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (often shortened to the TMNT or Ninja Turtles) are four fictional teenaged superhero anthropomorphic mutant turtles. Named after Italian Renaissance artists, they were trained by their anthropomorphic rat sensei in the Japanese martial art of ninjutsu. From their home in the sewers of New York City, they battle petty criminals, evil overlords, mutated creatures, and alien invaders while attempting to remain hidden from society. They were created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. The characters originated in comic books published by Mirage Studios and expanded into cartoon series, films, video games, toys, and other merchandise. During the peak of the franchise’s popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it gained worldwide success and fame.
Now that we’ve given you a short introduction, let us discuss the topic of this article in more detail.
Who are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and what are their powers?
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are a group of four fictional anthropomorphic turtles that appear as the protagonists of the franchise named after them. They were created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in comic book form, but have since appeared in TV shows, films, video games and more.
There are four turtles that comprise the group:
- Leonardo, nicknamed Leo, is most often the leader of the group. He is often depicted wearing a blue bandanna. His signature weapons are two katana. Leonardo is the eldest brother. He is the most skilled, the most serious, the most spiritual, the most disciplined and the most in-line with Splinter’s teachings and thoughts. He is named after Leonardo da Vinci. He is the only Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle whose name has more than one “O”, instead his name having two “O’s”.
- Raphael, nicknamed Raph, is the second oldest/mid-middle-child of the turtle brothers. He is usually depicted wearing a red eye mask; in this regard, he is the only turtle to retain the colour in all media, whereas the others each received a different colour (initially, all the turtles wore red masks, but the colours were later changed to differentiate them). Raphael wields twin sai, the points of which are usually sharpened, as his primary weapon. Raphael is most famous for his temperamental personality, being short-tempered, aggressive, sullen, maddened, and rebellious. He is portrayed in most interaction as speaking with a Brooklyn accent. He is named after Raffaello Sanzio.
- Michelangelo, nicknamed Mike or Mikey, is the comedian of the group. He is usually depicted wearing an orange eye mask. His signature weapons are dual nunchaku, though he has also been portrayed using other weapons, such as a grappling hook, manriki-gusari, tonfa, and a three-section staff (in some action figures). Michaelangelo is the most naturally skilled of his four brothers but prefers to have a good time rather than train. He often coins most of their catchphrases, such as “Cowabunga!”. He is named after Michelangelo Buonarroti. His name was originally spelt Michaelangelo by the original creators, possibly misspelling his name sake’s name wrong due to the name “Michael” and how the name “Michael” is spelt.
- Donatello, nicknamed Don or Donnie, is the technical genius of the group. He is usually depicted wearing a purple eye mask. His primary signature weapon are his (2) effective bō staffs. In all media, he is the smartest of the four turtles. He is listed as 4′ in height on the original action figure release. Donnie often speaks in technobabble with a natural aptitude for science and technology. Because of this, Donnie’s ninja skills are the lowest of the four turtles. He usually relies on gadgets over combat skills. He is the middle of the turtles and third-in-command. He is named after Italian sculptor Donatello.
The Turtles live in the sewers of New York City with their sensei Splinter, an anthropomorphic rat they consider to be their father. Their best friend is the TV reporter and journalist April O’Neil, but they also frequently collaborate with the mysterious vigilante Casey Jones. Their arch-enemy is The Shredder, the villainous ninjitsu master who leads the Foot Clan; his underlings include the mutated delinquents Rocksteady and Bebop, but also a large number of ninjas that comprise Shredder’s clan. Along with the Shredder, the Turtles have often fought the brain-like alien Krang, as well as the mad scientist Baxter Stockman.
What makes a superhero?
In a recent article, we have analysed different types of superhero characters based on the source of their powers and we have deduced that there are four groups of superhero characters based on that criteria:
- Superheroes who are inherently superhuman (non-human sources) – these characters draw their powers from non-human sources, whether it is their origins (gods, monsters, demons, angels, etc.) or their heritage (they come from a different location and stem from a species that is superior to humans). These characters are inherently superhuman – regardless of how they look (they are often human-looking or humanoid) – and would always fit into the category of a superhero.
Examples of such characters are Superman (a Kryptonian alien), Wonder Woman (a demigoddess), Thor (an Asgardian god), Martian Manhunter (likewise an alien), Aquaman (an Atlantean ruler), Venom (a cosmic symbiote), and others.
- Superheroes who use magic (magical sources) – these characters draw their superhuman powers from magic, either being magical beings themselves (wizards, witches, demons, warlocks, etc.) or learning how to use magic through learning. These characters can also be human or non-human and would also generally fit into the narrower definition of a superhero, although we can debate whether magic is a “superhuman ability” per se. These characters have to actively use their skills to fight evil in order to be classified as a superhero (this is why Gandalf, for example, is not a superhero).
Examples of such characters are Zatanna, Scarlet Witch, John Constantine, Etrigan, Doctor Strange, and others.
- Superheroes that became superheroes through mutation (mutational sources) – this is a very broad group of characters that contains elements from some other types, but is distinctive in the way that these characters were usually just normal humans who were either born with a mutation that gave them special powers or were exposed to some external source (mutation, radiation, toxins, genetic experiments, etc.) that gave them superhuman abilities. A lot of modern comic book characters are like this and they represent one of the largest portions of superhero characters.
Examples of such characters are Captain America (Super Soldier serum), Spider-Man (radioactive spider), the X-Men (mutations), Hulk (radiation), the Flash (Speed Force), Green Lantern (Power Ring), Dr. Manhattan, and others.
- Superheroes that use science and technology (scientific sources) – these characters aren’t superheroes according to the narrower definition, since they are just ordinary humans with peak abilities that possess absolutely no superhuman powers. Yet, they are extraordinary and they are superheroes according to the broader definition of the term. Most of these characters have a lot of money and can afford the lifestyle.
Examples of such characters are Batman, Iron Man, Lex Luthor (when he’s not a power-hungry supervillain), Rorschach, and others.
We now know everything we needed to know before giving you a definitive answer. So, are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles superheroes or not?
If we consider the narrow definition, the Turtles aren’t really superheroes because they don’t really have any superpowers. They are anthropomorphic turtles, but that didn’t really give them any special powers, aside from some additional strength. Their “powers” stem from their knowledge of ninjitsu, but we all know that martial artists aren’t really superheroes. But is that completely true?
In all of our former articles dealing with such issues, we have considered the wider definition of a superhero, citing the aforementioned narrow definition as incomplete and incorrect. Based on the wider definition, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles definitely are superheroes. Why?
First of all, they have all the necessary heroic traits. They are the protagonists of the franchise with firm moral values, they embody the positive values in life and they use their skills to fight against that crime. On top of that, they are not just regular John Does, meaning that they satisfy all the necessary criteria.
As for their powers, their mutations did increase their strength and they do draw some of their powers from their mutations, but the focus of their powers are their ninjitsu skills, which make them such great fighters. In that aspect, we would consider the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as superheroes that draw their powers from “scientific” sources, with a combination of certain mutational sources.
And that’s it for today. We hope you had fun reading this and that we helped solve this dilemma for you. See you next time and don’t forget to follow us! Cowabunga!