Mirage Stories: “The Golden Puck”
14 July 2016 2 Comments
“Just a puck? Just a puck!? It’s not just a puck! It’s a symbol. That golden puck comes from the beginning of ice hockey and carries us forward to the future of…ice hockey!” — Casey Jones
Written by: Michael Ryan
Original Air Date: April 10, 2004
Teaser Narrator: Casey Jones
Characters and Concepts Introduced: Slim, Jimmy, Jimmy, Mr. Arboost
Gargoyles episodes I could make comparisons to: N/A
- In Central Park, Casey and the turtles are watching a championship match between two teams playing Super-Slam Hockey, which is like regular hockey except with more potential for injuries. At stake is the championship trophy, the famed Golden Puck of the episode title.
- Before the Golden Puck can be awarded to its new owners, three armed men descend into the stadium in powered parachutes and steal the trophy before driving away. The turtles, after being convinced by Casey that this is indeed a job for teenage mutant ninja turtles, decide to give chase in snowmobiles intended to be raffled off after the match.
- The trophy thieves make their way to a subway train, where they manage to lose the turtles. Fortunately, the thieves’ leader, Slim, has left a matchbox bearing the name of the hotel they’re staying at.
- The turtles arrive at the hotel and, after making sure it’s abandoned, break into the thieves’ room. The trophy isn’t there, however, and worse, the thieves pick that moment to return to the room to pick up forgotten car keys. The turtles manage to exit the room before they’re discovered, but not Casey, who only manages to “hide” between the two beds. Only a timely distraction by Michelangelo gives him enough cover to make his escape.
- Outside the hotel, the thieves meet their employer, Mr. Arboost, a man of some means who decided to steal the Golden Puck after the Super Slam Hockey league declined to give him his own team, citing his criminal record. The turtles take this moment to steal the van containing the Golden Puck.
- Although Arboost’s people give chase, the turtles are eventually able to escape with the Golden Puck. Casey isn’t satisfied, however: this won’t be over until the thieves are taken down. They come up with a plan.
- Using the car’s radio, the turtles let the thieves know where the Golden Puck is going to be–back at the stadium where it all began. The thieves arrive via helicopter and find Casey, who tells them that they’ve fallen into his trap, and that, unfortunately for them, he’s not alone.
- After messing with Casey for a moment, the turtles come out of hiding and attack. Together with Casey, they defeat the puck thieves and leave them behind for the police.
Continuity and Mythology Notes:
- This episode can arguably (very arguably) be considered a very loose adaptation of issue TMNT (Vol. 1) #14, “The Untouchables”, which is a romp involving a missing golden cow, dear to Casey for nostalgia reasons.
There is a tendency, when talking about the original Mirage comics, to ignore the parts of it that don’t constitute the more or less coherent narrative known as “the canon”. Even after one sets aside stories which are officially not a part of continuity—things like “The River” or Michael Zulli’s take on the turtles—there are still a bunch of tales which the fans simply don’t consider when talking about “The Mirage turtles”—things like the short stories found in books like Shell Shock or Turtle Soup, or even issue #3 of the core series.
Issue #3 of the Mirage book is right there between two significant mythology-building stories—#2 introduces April, Baxter, and Mousers, while #4 introduces the Utroms and T.C.R.I.—but except for a subplot with Splinter, it’s essentially a side story, focusing on the turtles and April as they escape the police, who have mistaken April’s van with a getaway van used after a robbery that took place elsewhere that day. It’s farce, essentially, and the issue is very often ignored by TMNT fans, who very rarely clamor for its adaptation, or even speak about it.
This erasure is significant, I feel.
Sure, TMNT #3 isn’t a great story (although I’d argue that not many of the early Mirage stories are; their strength lies mainly in tone) and yet there are still reasons why it’s an important story in the history of the characters. At this point in the game, Eastman and Laird were still figuring out what TMNT is, and so the fact that they decided that the third TMNT story ever was going to be comedic in tone is worth noting. It not only speaks to their pliable outlook of the series, but it is solid evidence that the Mirage universe was never as uniform, tone-wise, as the some would like to suggest. Sure, early TMNT was grim and gritty and violent. But comedy was always as much part of its DNA as grit was.
Much like many early TMNT stories, “The Golden Puck” is silly—unabashedly so. It is a story about the turtles and Casey fighting a bunch of cowboys with laser rifles in order to recover a trophy for a bootleg version of hockey, for no other reason than the fact that Casey feels really passionately about it. It is also great fun. It moves briskly with several cool set pieces and elements. The villains are memorable, and pose just enough of a threat to carry the episode. The animation is almost excessively pretty at times. It features laser-wielding cowboys. It is, barring some iffy moments, as perfect a stand-alone episode as one could hope for. It is also a story that is often treated negatively by large segments of the fandom, which at worst actively disdains it and at best simply ignores it, in a way that I feel highlights some interesting shades in the way how TMNT is perceived.
In the end, “The Golden Puck” is a very Mirage TMNT story. Had it been published in 1986, it wouldn’t have been at all out of place among “Time Travails” and the like, and had that been the case, I feel people’s opinions on it would have changed dramatically, even if the TV adaptation were identical to what we got. That it isn’t recognized as such speaks to a limited conception of what the Mirage comics are, and an incredibly shallow analysis of the 4Kids series as an adaptation of the Mirage books, one that doesn’t go beyond “does it adapt stories / characters / situations from the original books?”—a rather restrictive way in which to view things.
Because really, that’s far from the only way an adaptation can be faithful to its source material.
One of the things that is most interesting to me about TMNT Adventures, the Archie-published comic book series based on the Fred Wolf cartoon, is the way it managed to capture the feel of the Mirage books even as it avoided its trappings. While less overtly “dirty” than Eastman and Laird’s books, they nevertheless managed to capture something far more important—the sense that it was a book where anything could happen, written by people willing to actually let anything happen, be it a trip to 1492, a battle with Dragons in Hiroshima, or intergalactic wrestling. Sure, it helps that they had actual Mirage people at the helm, but still, given the book’s particular context and circumstances, that it feels like a proper sister book to the Mirage comics while doing such drastically different things feels notable. The 2003 cartoon feels the same way.
Yes, 4Kids’ TMNT is a lot like the Mirage comics insofar as it adapts a lot of its key stories. It is also a lot like the Mirage series in the way it emulates its creative ethos, allowing itself to be taken in by writerly whim and tell whatever story its creators desired. Just like the comics went from being a Daredevil pastiche to mad scientist story to a comedy of errors to a combination of all those things, all in the space of four issues, one of the cartoon’s biggest strengths was the way it could change from episode to episode, or more significantly from season to season. Seasons 5 and 6 of the show were not adaptations of any pre-existing work, but the fact that they co-existed back to back—one a magic-focused story about Demons and Dragons, the other a light-hearted tale about THE FUTURE ™—says “Mirage” just as strongly as its adaptation of “Return to New York” did.
And so does “The Golden Puck”.
- One of the details that always stands out when watching this episode is the couple that is making out when they’re interrupted by the snowmobile chase. It’s a throwaway moment that wouldn’t have been at all notable were it not in the context of a Saturday morning cartoons, which are often reluctant to show physical displays of affection, and often only reserve them for very established couples.
- The aforementioned iffy moment occurs when the turtles decide to make Casey sweat by making him think they might not be showing up in time. It feels too mean-spirited, given the stakes.
- As mentioned, I really, really like the villains for this episode, to the point where I wouldn’t have minded at all if they’d become semi-recurring villains, appearing once every couple of seasons or so. I can so see them working as Gargoyles villains as well.
- If there is a criticism to be made of this episode and its lack of substance, it is that it does a disservice to the character as the only real Casey-focused episode. Hijinks episodes work, but the season really needed heavier fare to balance it out, and that it doesn’t remains one of the reasons why the show’s sophomore season is in many ways a mess. Still, the issue is a holistic one, not something that can be placed at the feet of this episode and this episode only.