Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The “Other” Mutants of the Sewers

April 24, 2009

We have discussed the possibility of albino mutant alligators.  Could the mutation be a product of genetic defect or determined by environmental factors such as less exposure to sunlight?  Let’s look to some fictional sewer mutants for reference.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (aka TMNT or simply Ninja Turtles, and previously known in the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Ireland and Scandinavia as Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles) are a fictional team of four mutant turtles, who were trained by an anthropomorphic, talking rat sensei in the art of Ninjitsu.  From their home in the storm sewers of New York, they battle petty criminals, evil megalomaniacs, and alien invaders, all while remaining isolated from society at large.  The characters initially appeared in comic books before being licensed for toys, cartoons and film adaptations.  During the peak of its popularity in the late 1980s through early 1990s, the franchise gained considerable worldwide success and fame.


Leonardo — The courageous leader and devoted student of martial arts, Leonardo wears a blue mask and wields two katanas. He is the eldest of the four and the most skilled fighter of the turtles. “Leo” was named after the Italian polymath, scientist, engineer, inventor, anatomist, painter, Leonardo Da Vinci.

Donatello — The brilliant scientist, inventor, engineer, and technological genius, Donatello wears a purple mask and wields the bō staff. “Don” is perhaps the least violent Turtle, preferring to use his intellect to solve conflicts. He is named after the sculptor Donatello.

Raphael — The team’s bad boy, Raphael wears a red mask and wields a pair of sai. He has an aggressive nature and seldom hesitates to throw the first punch. He is an intense fighter. His personality can be alternately fierce and sarcastic, and often times delivers deadpan humor. Still, he is intensely loyal to his brothers and sensei. “Raph” is good friends with Casey Jones. He is named after the Italian painter and architect of the High Renaissance, Raphael Sanzio.

Michelangelo — Easy-going free-spirited, Michelangelo wears an orange mask and wields nunchaku. “Mikey” provides much of the comic relief. While he loves to relax, this Turtle also has an adventurous and creative side. He is the youngest of the four. He is named after Michelangelo Buonarroti. His name was originally misspelled “Michaelangelo” by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman – at the time they did not own a computer with a spellchecker.

Master Splinter — The Turtles’ sensei and adoptive father, Splinter is a mutant rat who learned the ways of ninjutsu from his owner and master, Hamato Yoshi. In the 1987 TV series, Splinter was Hamato Yoshi mutated into a rat instead of being just Yoshi’s pet.

Shredder — A villainous ninjutsu master called Oroku Saki. In every incarnation of the TMNT franchise, he has been the archenemy of Splinter and the Turtles. Shredder prefers to use his armor instead of weapons. He is also the leader of the Foot Clan.

April O’Neil — A former lab assistant to the mad scientist Baxter Stockman, April is the plucky human companion of the Turtles. April first met up with the Turtles when they saved her from Baxter’s Mouser robots. She embarks on many of the Turtles’ adventures and aids them by doing the work in public that the Turtles can’t. In the 1987 TV series, and subsequent three films, April was a television news reporter.

Casey Jones — A vigilante who has become one of the Turtles’ closest allies as well as a love interest to April. Casey first met up with the Turtles after having a fight with Raphael. Casey fights crime with an assortment of sporting goods (baseball bats, golf clubs, hockey sticks, cricket bat etc.) while wearing a hockey mask to protect his identity.

The “origin of the TMNT” refers to a series of events present in most TMNT fictional universes, which ultimately culminate in the mutations of Splinter and the Ninja Turtles. Most versions are similar to outline of Splinter’s tale in the first issue of the Mirage comics. Hamato Yoshi is slain by Oroku Saki and Splinter takes refuge in the sewers, where he discovers four baby turtles have been dropped by a young boy. One day Splinter returns to find the turtles crawling in a strange ooze, and their mutations into humanoid creatures begins.

Though most versions of the origin include these similar elements, many differences are present. Some delve deeper into the past, some have added minute details, and some have even altered the origins of the ooze or the identities of the characters. The most well known versions are those presented in the 1990 film and the 1987 cartoon series, although they are wholly irreconcilable with one another.

The Mirage version of the origin story lays out what would become the most common elements among the origin stories. It is recounted to the Turtles after their first successful battle. Vol. 1 #1

Decades ago in Japan, there existed a ninja clan known as the Foot. Among the Foot’s ranks was Hamato Yoshi, Splinter’s original owner. From his cage, Splinter enjoyed mimicking Yoshi’s movements, forming the basis for his knowledge of ninjustsu. Hamato Yoshi often clashed with a fellow member of the clan, Oroku Nagi, over the love of a woman named Tang Shen. When it became clear that Tang Shen loved only Yoshi, Nagi arrived at her home and savagely beat her. She was saved by Yoshi, who in a moment of rage, killed Nagi with his bare hands.

Knowing that the Foot Clan would not accept the murder of another member, Yoshi, Tang Shen and Splinter fled to New York City, where he founded a small martial arts school. Meanwhile, the Foot continued to train Nagi’s younger brother, Oroku Saki. Fueled by a thirst for vengeance, Saki eventually became a high ranking member of the organization, and was tasked with leading a branch of the Foot in New York. Once there, Saki adopted the mantel of the Shredder and lead the clan to the highest ranks of the underworld, specializing in burglary, espionage, and assasination. Yet the entire time, Saki sought the opportunity to avenge his brother by slaying Hamato Yoshi.

One night Yoshi returned home to find his appartment ransacked, Tang Shen lying dead on the floor. Yoshi then saw the Shredder, who, revealing his identity as Oroku Saki, promptly killed Yoshi with his blades. Alone and heartbroken, Splinter escaped into the sewers, rummaging for food to survive.

In 1969, a young boy was carrying four baby turtles home from the pet shop. A blind man was crossing the road when a truck labeled “T.C.R.I.” almost ran him down. A young man behind the boy with the Turtles ran out to save the blind man, bumping the boy with the turtles and knocking the jar from his hands. The jar broke when it landed in the gutter, and the Turtles were washed down a sewer drainage grate. As the truck swerved, the back doors flew open. A container of green radioactive goo fell out and was subsequently washed down the drain with the baby turtles. The turtles landed safely, until the jar of goo fell beside them, coating them with its contents.

Moments later, Splinter came across the babies, gathering them into a can. He didn’t realize he was coating himself with the green goo as he gathered them up. In very little time, Splinter and the turtles evolved and mutated into anthropomorphic beings with intelligence and emotion rivaling that of a human. Their mutation near completion, and educated, the rat named the Turtles after Renaissance artists – Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael. For the next fifteen years, Splinter raised and instructed the young turtles, his sons, in the martial arts in order avenge his master.

It is later revealed that the ooze was created by a group of benevolent aliens known as Utroms.

This origin is shared with the Image continuity and the Palladium source books.

The 1987 series deviates noticably from the Mirage origin, completely removing Tang Shen and Oroku Nagi, and actually turning Hamato Yoshi into Splinter. In the series, Splinter relates his origin not to the Turtles, but to reporter April O’Neil. Turtle Tracks

As in all versions, Hamato Yoshi and Oroku Saki were members of the Foot Clan in 1960s Japan. Here the Foot Clan is portrayed as a peaceful organization, Yoshi himself a quiet man who loved Renaissance art. He had a long standing rivalry with Oroku Saki, who always planned to overthrow Yoshi as leader of the clan. When a master sensei arrived, Saki planted a dagger in Yoshi’s dogi (fighting outfit), framing him in an assassination attempt. Dishonored, Yoshi was excommunicated by the Foot and fled to New York, where he lived homeless in the sewers.

In Japan, Saki turned the Foot into an army of crime, using their ninja skills for personal gain.

Far later in New York, a boy dropped a fishbowl of baby turtles down a storm drain. Yoshi found them and raised them as pets. One day he discovered the turtles crawling in a broken canister of glowing, purple ooze, and proceeded to clean them. Yoshi later realized that the ooze was a powerful mutagen, capable of turning any lifeform into the animal it last touched. As the turtles had last touched Yoshi, they became humanoid. Yoshi, however, had most recently been in contact with the rats, and thus became a half-man, half-rat mutant.
Then again, it ain’t easy being purple either…

As ever, Yoshi named his sons after Renaissance artists and taught them ninjustsu, although in the cartoon it was for protection rather than vengeance. Seeing his capacity to break boards, the Turtles began to call their master Splinter, a name which he willingly adopted.

The alterations in this origin story were likely due censorship placed on death within children’s cartoons. It also served to introduce the gimmick of the cartoon’s mutagen; its property to merge animal and human DNA was unique to the series and was used extensively in the origin stories for various mutants in the toyline. Whereas most versions depict the mutagen as a product of T.C.R.I., here it is created by Krang, who allowed Saki to dump it in the sewers in hopes of killing Hamato Yoshi.

This origin is shared with the comic series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, where it is again recounted to April.

From: http://tmnt.wikia.com/wiki/Main_Page

Leatherhead is a 12’4″ or 7′ mutant alligator or crocodile (depending on which version). He has appeared in all TMNT incarnations except for the movies and the live action series.

He first appeared in Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #6. Originally Leatherhead was nothing more than an infant alligator which had somehow found its way into the sewers. While in the sewers, Leatherhead was found by a group of TCRI Utroms who decided to bring the creature to their headquarters. During his stay with the Utroms, Leatherhead was exposed to Mutagen which caused him to mutate into a humanoid and intelligent being.

Living with the Utroms, Leatherhead ended up being separated from his “family” when the TCRI building self-destructed. The now homeless Leatherhead was forced to live in the sewers where he was continually attacked by a big-game hunter called Mr. Marlin. During one attack by the hunter, Leatherhead met the Turtles. Aiding Leatherhead in defeating the hunter, the Turtles decided to allow Leatherhead to live in their old home.

Eventually four Foot Clan ninjas encountered an eye-patch-wearing Leatherhead in the sewers. Fearing that Leatherhead would kill them, the ninjas tried to get on Leatherhead’s good side by promising to aid him in creating his Transmat Device. Accepting the help, Leatherhead and the ninjas set to work creating the Transmat, only to be interrupted by the Turtles. After a brief skirmish, the Turtles learned that the Foot ninjas were actually helping Leatherhead. Embarrassed by the incident the Turtles decided to aid the mutant alligator. Eventually the Transmat Device was complete, Leatherhead could finally reach the Utrom Homeworld. Unfortunately instead of teleporting Leatherhead, the device simply blew up in his face. This failure was too much for Leatherhead to handle and in a fit of rage, Leatherhead attacked his Foot assistants and vowed revenge on the Turtles, whom he blamed for wrecking his attempt to get “home.”

Leatherhead later resurfaced in Volume 4. He makes an appearance at Master Splinter’s funeral. He is then seen wrestling a mutated Raphael in the sewers before swimming off. It is unknown what his current relationship with the Turtles is, but Raphael’s comment that he hopes he didn’t hurt Leatherhead would make it seem as if they’re at least on good terms.

He has also appeared in two issues of Tales of the TMNT Volume 2. In issue eight, a mentally unstable and delusional Leatherhead is discovered by Raphael to be building another Transmat Device. Leatherhead seems to harbor an insane grudge against Donatello, and nearly kills Raphael when he mistakes him for Donatello. Once the Transmat Device was finished, it suddenly kicked into operation and causes three Utroms to appear; these Utroms blast Leatherhead with a ray gun, and take him away, destroying the Transmat Device as they leave.

In issue twenty-three, the Turtles are recruited by the Utroms to save Leatherhead from a renegade group of Utrom radicals called “The Illuminated,” the same ones who took him away in issue eight, in attempts to clone him into an army of mutants to aid in their world “cleansing” agenda. It is revealed that the Illuminated where secretly drugging Leatherhead, which caused him to subconsciously to build the second Transmat Device he was working on in issue eight, then wake up and remember little. It also caused his missing eye to heal and gave him a massive increase in size. The Turtles rescue Leatherhead, defeated the clones, and aided in the destruction of the Illuminated. Leatherhead returns to Earth with the turtles rather than going back to the Utrom home world. These events all take place between Volumes 2 and 4 of the Mirage series.

It is interesting to note that in the past, at several comic conventions, Leatherhead creator Ryan Brown has said he initially intended to kill the character off at the end of Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol. 1, #6 by having the gator-man tumble into the underground gorge with the evil big game hunter but Turtle’s creator Peter Laird nixed the idea opting to have Leatherhead survive and return to the sewers with the Turtles.

Brown returns to plot his creation after 19 years in the September 2007 issue of Tales of the TMNT. Out for a swim, Leatherhead encounters a group of aliens called Sigmurethites and attacks them. The alligator-man’s Utrom guardian Dr. X also appears in this issue in a female scientist’s exoskeleton.


Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol. 1, #6 – Leatherhead
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol. 1, #45 – Leatherhead, Too
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol. 4, #11
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol. 4, #17
Tales of the TMNT Vol. 2, #8 – Virus
Tales of the TMNT Vol. 2, #23 – Attack of the Replicants
Tales of the TMNT Vol. 2, #38 – Triptyche
Tales of the TMNT Vol. 2, #50 – World’s Deadliest
Tales of the TMNT Vol. 2, #58 – All Tomorrow’s Yesterdays (Adventures version cameo)
Tales of the TMNT Vol. 2, #62 – Adventures in Bunnysitting
Tales of the TMNT Vol. 2, #63 – Monster Island

After two children are found slain and half-eaten in the sewers Leonardo comes to believe that Leatherhead may have been responsible. Tracking down Leatherhead, Leonardo was surprised to find the mutant alligator unconscious and bound. Before he could free Leatherhead, Leonardo was attacked by King Komodo and his Monitor lizard minions, the actual killers of the children.

Engaging King Komodo in battle, Leonardo successfully managed to kill King Komodo’s minions, only to end-up being knocked unconscious with his hand bitten off. Waking up hours later, Leonardo managed to free Leatherhead and the two, with help from Michaelangelo and Casey Jones managed to defeat King Komodo.

Afterwards Leatherhead, his feud with the Turtles forgotten, introduced them to Dr. X, an Utrom left behind from when the TCRI building collapsed. Together with Dr. X and the Turtles, Leatherhead managed to assemble a new Transmat Device, unfortunately, energy projected from the device ended-up luring a group of Triceratons to Leatherhead’s lair.

Engaging the Triceratons in battle with the Turtles, Leatherhead managed to viciously maul several of them. Unfortunately, while battling the last remaining Triceraton, Dr. X and Leatherhead’s Transmat Device malfunctioned and transported Leatherhead and the unnamed Triceraton to parts unknown.

Leatherhead appeared in the 1987 series. In his first appearance, he forced the Punk Frogs as his slaves, but was thwarted by the turtles. He became a recurring villain from then on. In this series, Leatherhead has a Cajun accent.

Archie Comics: Leatherhead starts as an animal mutated by mutagen in all versions except from the Archie TMNT Adventures Comics, where he starts as a poor human named Jess Harley who lived in the swamps, and became transformed when the “witch” Mary Bones used the Turnstone on him. At first the Shredder lures Leatherhead to work with him until Leatherhead discovers that the Shredder is a villain. Leatherhead later becomes a wrestling hero at the Stump Asteroid and later a member of the Mighty Mutanimals. He and the other members of that group were killed before the end of the Archie Comics run with the Turtles characters.

Sometime before he was killed, Leatherhead appeared in a mini-series paired with Donatello. In the mini-series the brainy turtle and himself came equipped with extendable battle staffs and worked together to help save a young child in a savage land. In the mini-series he was very much the same character as portrayed in The Mighty Mutanimals comics.

Shredder's lies to cause the Gator to believe that the Turtles are his enemy.

Leatherhead appeared in the 2003 animated series. Instead of a villain, he was an ally to the turtles with a scientific mind like Donatello.

Leatherhead first made a shadowed cameo in “Secret Origins, Part 3” escaping from the TCRI building during the raid. He was first seen in the episode “What a Croc”, where he was helping Baxter Stockman and had built the Turtlebot which was like the 2003 version of the 1987 series Metalhead. Unfortunately for Stockman, the doctor accidentally allowed Leatherhead to know he once worked for Shredder; since the Utroms had adopted Leatherhead he immediately got angry. Eventually Stockman bombed the location and Leatherhead sacrificed himself to save the Turtles. Later in season 3 it was revealed that Leatherhead had in fact survived the ordeal, but had been taken captive by Agent Bishop. The Turtles soon helped Leatherhead escape. He reappeared in a number of subsequent episodes as an ally to the Turtles, including the raid on the Shredder’s building facing Hun.

Back to the Sewer: Leatherhead can be seen in Donatello’s memory in the episode “Identity Crisis”. Leatherhead appears in attendance for Casey and April’s wedding in “Wedding Bells and Bytes”. He is seen crying because weddings make him cry.

Video Game Appearances:

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project: Boss (Sewer Level) — Appearance is that of the action figure.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time: Boss (Train Level) — Before fight, says, “Oh goodie, fresh turtles for lunch.” Appearance is that of the Original Cartoon design. In the remake, Re-Shelled, Leatherhead no longer has the hat and looks more sinister and realistic.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Hyperstone Heist He appears as the boss of the first level. Appearance is that of the Original Cartoon design.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Battle Nexus: Boss character in the Turtles’ old lair, as well as Battle Nexus mode.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Mutant Nightmare: Leatherhead is shown in the background in a cutscene near the end of Episode 1. There is no reason given why he is there in space with the Turtles, Casey, and April. In reality, this is because the scene was taken directly from the cartoon, where he was with them for some time.

From: http://tmnt.wikia.com/wiki/Leatherhead

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