Yes, This is Still Partly a TMNT Site: “The Unconvincing Turtle Titan”

We should become super-heroes!–Michelangelo

Written by: Marty Isenberg
Original Air Date: May 3, 2003
Teaser Narrator: Michelangelo
Introduces: Silver Sentry; Doctor Malignus; Crazy Manny

Synopsis:

Teaser: A swinging and roof-hopping Mikey, dressed in a cape and cowl, explains that he’s in the middle of a super-hero team-up with Silver Sentry, an obvious Superman analogue–even if the Sentry doesn’t really know it yet.  Mikey notes that the audience may be thinking that it must be hard for a non-superpowered turtle to keep up with someone with flight and super-speed; as he suddenly realizes he’s run out of roof, he explains that that is precisely the case.

Theme song.

The turtles are sneaking around the streets of Manhattan as part of a training exercise on the way of invisibility.  As they do this, Michelangelo comments how the city streets seem to be safer after they defeated the Shredder, and notes that they may have actually done something for the greater good…a statement that earns him the ridicule of his brothers. Mikey begins to defends his stance, until a speeding police car passing them by forces them into hiding.

After making their way to the rooftops, the turtles arrive at the scene of the action–a fire at the top floor of a seven-story apartment building.  As the firemen fight the blaze, a girl in the top floor cries out for help.  Mikey wants to help, but he’s stopped by his brothers, who say that a) they’ll get spotted if they do b) the firemen should have it covered, and c) if they don’t, the flying figure approaching the scene will.  It’s the Silver Sentry!

Swooping in through the sky, Silver Sentry saves the trapped little girl and sets her down safely.  Then, using his super-breath (Silver Breath?), he douses the conflagration, to the cheers of bystanders.

The danger now past and the Silver Sentry gone, Michelangelo explains that he wishes they could be like the super-hero, able to help people without having to hide.  The suggests that they become super-heroes themselves, saying that they could “go out on nightly patrols, thwart crimes, help the helpless, rescue the…rescueless”.  His brothers are having none of it, though.

Later, back at the lair, Splinter is instructing his sons on the Invisible Flying Dragon move, a move that seems to consist of somersaulting when your back is turned to your opponents so that their back is turned instead.  Leonardo, Raphael, and Donatello all successfully demonstrate it, but when it’s Mikey’s turn, they all realize that he’s not paying attention at all, and is instead doodling on a sketch pad.

After the turtles discover just what he is drawing, a depiction of the turtles as a super-hero team, they mean-spiritedly begin ridiculing his ideas.  Placed on the defensive, Mikey asks what’s so stupid about being able to help people without having to hide, or about getting credit for the good they do.  Splinter steps in and diplomatically explains to Michelangelo that while his ideas are laudable, he is ninja, and his place is in the shadows.  He instructs his sons to return to their training, but Mikey declines, taking the elevator to the surface to clear his head.

Inside the turtles’ warehouse garage, Mikey goes over the steps necessary to be a super-hero.  Step 1: “Secret origin story”: Already covered.  Step 2: “Cool mode of transport”: Mikey dismisses the turtles’ collection of vehicles as too limited, and settles for a grappling hook and rope lying on the warehouse floor.

Step 3: “Go out on patrol”: Outfitted with his new tool, Mikey observes as a woman’s purse is snatched.  Despite a mishap with the grappling hook, he manages to stop the thief, only to get purse-smacked by the victim.   He decides to move on to Step 4: “Work on an appearance that doesn’t instantly freak out the people you’re trying to protect.”

Cut to the 2nd Time Around store.  Hey, April!  Long time no see.  Anyways, Mikey self-deprecatingly explains his situation to April, and asks if he’s being dumb.  She, being the awesome big sister that she is, says the he isn’t, and that he’ll help him create a costume.  After a couple of misfires, they settle on this:


Not exactly Spider-Man (or even The Pack) on the classic costume scale, which is probably why it got changed twice during the series’ run.  Still, it does manage to convey “homemade” very effectively.  One does wonder, however, just where April got a shell shield from.

Back outside, Turtle Titan is watching over the streets when he notices a young man standing still in the middle of a busy intersection.  He’s apparently in a trance, complete with glowing yellow eyes (although it’s not clear if the characters themselves notice that detail).  T.T. swoops in to rescue him and takes him to an alley.  There, the rescuee snaps out of his trance, takes a look at Michelangelo, and runs away scared.

Mikey hears a window break, and spots a man breaking into a store called “Crazy Manny’s”.  He goes in after him and spots the intruder removing cash from the register, uncognizant of the super-hero announcing himself loudly ten feet away.  He has the same yellow eyes as the pedestrian in the latest scene, although again, it’s not clear if Mikey actually notices.  Turtle Titan pushes the would-be robber against the wall, and notices that he’s the same man as seen in a poster on the wall–Crazy Manny himself.

Manny snaps out of his trance, and he and Mikey have a conversation that really doesn’t go anywhere, as neither party understands what the heck is going on.  T.T. notices a small robotic bug drop away from Manny and into the floor, but before he can do anything about it, he’s forced to escape by the approaching police.  The robot bug makes its way to the streets, and we see that its eyes are cameras, allowing a shadowy guy who is obviously up to no good to watch the action from a far.  He talks about how his bugs seem to be working well, but that he’ll need one more test to determine their effectiveness before his true plan can begin.

Back on the roofs, Turtle Titan notices an out of control bus wildly zig-zagging through the streets.  He makes his way inside and finds its only occupant, the driver, who, like Manny, pays no attention to the turtle hero and is concentrated solely on driving.

Turtle Titan notices something familiar on the back of the driver’s neck: it’s the same robot bug that Manny had on him.  This time, Michelangelo manages to remove and destroy the device, causing the driver to snap out his trance.  However, this is not enough to stop the bus, since the driver had cut the brakes.  Worse still, the bus is headed to the river!

As the bus races towards watery oblivion, the driver opens the door and jumps towards freedom.  Turtle Titan tries to follow suit, but ends up proving Edna Mode right yet again, as the closing bus door causes his cape to become stuck.  Before he can head into the drink, however, he notices that the bus has begun flying.  It’s Silver Sentry, who is now carrying the vehicle.

After the superhero deposits the bus back atop terra firma, a star-struck Michelangelo introduces himself to his idol.   Immediately realizing that “Turtle Titan” is more “fanboy” than “seasoned veteran”, he counsels the turtle to call it a night before he gets hurt.

As S.S. begins to fly away, Michelangelo again catches his attention by  telling him about  the mind-control bug he’d found.  Mikey gives Silver Sentry the bug he’d retrieved from the bus driver, and Sentry correctly identifies as the creation of on Dr. Malignus, who is apparently his archenemy.  Using some sort of super-vision (signal-vision?), S.S. tracks down the signal that is still transmitting into the bug and identifies its source: Malignus’ HQ, located at the other side of the river.

Sentry picks up Turtle Titan and carries him into the air.  Michelangelo is excited about the prospect of having his first super-hero team up, until he realizes that Sentry is not carrying him across the river.  As Not!Superman deposits the turtle atop a rooftop, he explains that while he appreciates the help, they will in no way be having a team-up: Malignus is just too dangerous.  He cautions Michelangelo to “keep [himself] safe, and out of sight, while I deal with Malignus”, causing the ninja turtle to reply “I took this gig so I wouldn’t have to hide in the shadows!” to the departing super-hero.

Despite this setback, Michelangelo is undeterred; after watching Silver Sentry arrive at the warehouse HQ, he decides to follow the super-hero on foot.   After he finally reaches his destination, he climbs to the roof (complaining all the while about the heavy shield continuously clanging against his arm–a nice touch) and enters the building through the hole Silver Sentry made, and into a darkened lair.  “Hellooo…?  Any  nefarious twisted evil-doers in the house?” the would-be super-hero calls out.  “Just the one,” answers a voice, as the lights inside the lair turn on.  It’s Malignus.

Turtle Titan demands to know what Malignus has done with Silver Sentry. The super-villain answers by indicating a corner, where the super-hero can be seen hovering silently, his eyes glowing yellow.

Dr. Malignus gloats as he watches a mind-controlled Silver Sentry begin kicking the crap out of Turtle Titan.  Michelangelo does his best against the flying brick, but given the power disparity, the fight is not going his way– Sentry easily breaks his shield and grappling hook and, and throws the ninja turtle out of the warehouse.

Temporarily out of the hero-turned-villain’s sight, Mikey hides, and concludes that if he’s going to stop Malignus and rescue Silver Sentry, he’s going to stop trying to act as a super-hero and more like a ninja.

Unfortunately, Silver Sentry is still too strong.  After knocking Mikey down with a couple of well-thrown oil drums, he moves in for the kill.  Before he can punch the ninja turtle into the pavement, however, Mikey executes the invisible flying dragon move, which allows him to fly towards Silver Sentry’s exposed back and remove his mind-control bug.

Now back to his senses, Silver Sentry thanks Turtle Titan for his aid, and tells him that he’s earned his super-hero team-up.

Silver Sentry breaks into the warehouse for Malignus.  Before he can catch the villain, Malignus detaches himself from his cables, as the platform he’s standing it, which is also an elevator, begins descending into the sewers. He doesn’t get too far before he’s punched unconscious by Michelangelo.  “Who needs a shield and grappling hook anyway?” the turtle quips.

As the police take Dr. Malignus away, Silver Sentry thanks Turtle Titan for his help, telling him that he’s welcome to team up with him any time.  T.T., after telling Silver Sentry that his actual name is Michelangelo, declines the offer, saying that he’s realized that the limelight isn’t for people like him.

As Mikey returns to the lair, he is again the subject of some ribbing by his brothers (although it’s notably more good-natured than it was before).  Mikey responds by turning on the TV, where a reporter is interviewing Silver Sentry on the subject.  The turtles are surprised to hear the super-hero state that he couldn’t have succeeded without the help of his “friend and ally” Turtle Titan, and ask their brother if that’s indeed him that Silver Sentry mentioned.  Mikey’s reply is a shrug: “I’m a turtle, not a titan.  Now, who’s up for some training?”

—-

At first glance, this episode would seem like the kind that is often uncharitably  termed “filler”:  it doesn’t follow up with the established Shredder arc (although it does acknowledge it), it’s set between two weightier stories, and the characters featured won’t reappear in a significant capacity until season 3 (in the case of Silver Sentry–Malignus won’t appear again until season 7).   However, this assessment would be incorrect.  This episode is important, because it shifts the viewer’s perception of the turtles’ world in significant ways.

First and foremost, there’s the revelation that the world is not only inhabited by comic-book super-heroes, but that that has apparently been the status quo for some time (specifically, some thirty-five years, as we eventually learn).  Weirdness, while not an everyday thing, isn’t a completely foreign concept either.

Back when the show first aired, this particular shift garnered its share of detractors, who viewed brightly-clothed super-heroes in the vein of the silver age DC Universe as clashing with the supposedly more realistic universe Goldfine and Co. had been establishing so far.  However, the creators didn’t agree, as super-heroes eventually became a regular feature of the series, eventually congealing into the series own version of the Justice League.

The conceit also helps draw a line demarcating how the turtles’ view of themselves and their activities.  They might occasionally fight crime, but it’s a rather specific sort of crime, and it doesn’t make them the Justice League or any other sort of “team”.  This stance is a rather significant departure from their depiction in previous adaptations, and even in latter ones–note that a large part of the TMNT movie revolved around the turtles as an actual crime-fighting team.  It also, sets them apart from Gargoyles‘ protagonists, whose journey is precisely the transition from “people protecting their home” to “people protecting the world”.

Now, speaking purely in practical terms, this stance doesn’t have too much of an effect on things: we eventually see the turtles fight all sorts of crime and commit all sorts of heroic acts, some even altruistically. Plus, given their continuing association with Casey Jones, who could easily be considered a super-hero (albeit one considerably firmly in the  more realistic “vigilante” side of the line), their objection to Mikey’s ideas seem a tad hypocritical–the difference is in no way as large as they think it is. Still, it’s a crucial element of the series, particularly in the third season finale and its fallout, which would make no dramatic sense if the turtles viewed themselves as altruistic super-heroes.

In its simplest form, the message of this story–don’t try becoming something you aren’t–is a pretty standard application of a pretty standard aesop.  However, the episode manages to avoid sounding like a cliché,  partly because in application, the message is “don’t try to help people”, and then by subverting the message, as Turtle Titan eventually becomes a part-time member of the Justice Force, and manages to inspire a legacy that lasts for at least a hundred years.  So who was right?  It’s debatable.

In any case, while I was initially dissapointed in finding out that this episode would be “filler”, subsequent viewings have improved it in my eyes.  It’s fun, has an interesting conceit, and helps give Mikey an interesting new dimension.

Random stuff:

  • Throughout the episode, Mikey as Turtle Titan has several mishaps involving his grappling hook.  Although it’s never really been confirmed, it’s always been my suspicion that this is a subtle jab at how the old cartoon eventually replaced the turtles nunchaku with this non-weapon, particularly when you consider that Mikey-as-Turtle-Titan doesn’t actually carry his trademark weapons.
  • While the teasers so far have always implicitly addressed the audience, this marks the first time that the fourth wall and the show’s status as a show is actually addressed, as Mikey reassures viewers that they have not tuned into the wrong show.  While the teasers’ canonicity has always been dubious–a  couple of them directly contradict events within the episode (“Adventures in Turtle-Sitting” being the most obvious case), it casts Turtles Forever‘s own fourth-wall moments in a rather different light.
  • The vehicle dealer, Crazy Manny, will eventually have another small role in the episode “The Golden Puck”, raffling off jetskis at a hockey game.
  • This is April’s first appearance since  “Nano”, way back in episode 5–a fact that I initially found rather surprising, given how ubiquitous she was in the original cartoon.  Although at this point I was more than ready to see more of her, I initially considered it (and still do) a good sign of the writers’ restraint–seeing too little of a character is usually better than seeing too much, in my book.  Incidentally, the character is made to look especially lovely in this episode: the following might be my favorite shot of the character ever:

  • I’ve mentioned before how the creators have so far done an excellent job at creating a world that feels as multi-cultural as the real one, and Silver Sentry is one of the better examples.  As an obvious Superman stand-in, the most obvious thing would have been to make to make him similarly caucasian, particularly since the plot would be exactly the same.  Still, given some Americans’ reaction to the idea of an African-American President, one wonders how those same Americans would react to having the strongest person in the world (at least at this point) be black.  I smell story fodder.
  • The episode’s idea of wanting to good openly was coincidentally re-used in the Peter David-penned comic book series adapting the cartoon.  There, it was Raph who wanted to be public in his activities, and, from what I remember, his attempt to do so resulted in a man going crazy and trying to go at him with a rifle.
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5 Responses to Yes, This is Still Partly a TMNT Site: “The Unconvincing Turtle Titan”

  1. Supermorff says:

    Cool review, as always. It’s been a while since I saw the episode myself, but from your synopsis I might suggest that this episode highlights another aspect of Mikey’s character: that he’s the most naturally gifted ninja of the four brothers. He executes the Invisible Flying Dragon perfectly, on his first try, without any training.

    I have a personal feeling that this may be intricately connected to Mikey’s goofiness. I mean, if you’re that talented without trying, why would you bother to exert yourself?

  2. Ian Perez Zayas says:

    Interesting… while I do believe the series highlights Michelangelo’s natural talent, I hadn’t thought about it being a point made in this episode (which doesn’t mean it’s not observable, as you point out). Thanks for the thought.

    As for the connection between Mikey’s lack of discipline and his talent…almost definitively. After all, the series as a whole suggests that Mikey will consistently defeat any other turtle but Leo, something that became reinforced with his Battle Nexus victory; if he knows this–and he does–then its hard to see how it doesn’t affect his demeanor.

    Still, I would not say that the level of talent he displays has come about “without trying”; while he’s less prone to internalizing Splinter’s lessons in the way Leo does, that doesn’t necessarily mean he hasn’t internalized them at all. If Michelangelo is the second-best fighter in the foursome, it’s because of a combination of both natural talent and training; what’s more, I feel the series has made clear that unless he does step up his training and acquire some discipline, he will never surpass Leonardo.

  3. Supermorff says:

    Oh, yeah, I absolutely agree. Mikey, I think, trains as much as he needs to get by, and the rest is natural talent. Leonardo is far more dedicated – he doesn’t just train to get by, he trains to be the best that he can possibly be, and that’s why he’ll remain ahead of the layabout Mikey.

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