The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are a group of antropomorphic 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?
What makes a superhero?
In a recent article, I have analyzed 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 this article. I hope you had fun reading this and that we helped solve this dilemma for you. See you next time, and if you have something to add, don’t forget to comment below! Cowabunga!