21 Ridiculous (and Seriously Problematic) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Figures of the '90s

21 Ridiculous (and Seriously Problematic) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Figures of the '90s

Oh, those poor Ninja Turtles. And April. ESPECIALLY poor April.
Oh, those poor Ninja Turtles. And April. ESPECIALLY poor April.
Image: tmnttoys.com, 16bit.com, FigureRealm.com, Transformersland.com, and bitz-buttons.com

Damn, they made a lot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys over the years.

I’m not even talking about the dozen or so toylines that have come out over the last 23 years. I mean just the original TMNT action figures released between the late ‘80s and late ‘90s, for an entire decide. With that many products to move, the toymakers at Playmates had to think up dozens of variations for kids to buy, and they did not lack for ideas—good, mediocre, bad, extremely bad, and bizarre. Grab a disgusting pizza, and set sail down the sewer for a radical tour of the most mind-blowing turtles the ‘90s had to offer.

Rob Bricken was the Editor of io9 from 2016-18, the creator of the poorly named but fan-favorite news site Topless Robot, and now writes nerd stuff for many places, because it's all he's good at.

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Safari Michaelangelo, “Adventurers”

Safari Michaelangelo, “Adventurers”

Illustration for article titled 21 Ridiculous (and Seriously Problematic) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Figures of the 90s
Image: tmnttoys.com

Let’s just get right into it, shall we? The draw of TMNT’s small “Adventurers” collection was that the three figures came packaged with a collector’s coin of no value whatsoever. The premise of the 1995 toys was that Arctic Donatello, Deep Sea Diver Leonardo, and Safari Michaelangelo were all hunting for their own “Kowabunga Collector Coin.”

But let’s focus less on that and more on Safari Mike, whose packaging dubs him “The Jungle Jivin’ Judo Dude.” His bio hits the white—er, green?—imperialism hard, as the party dude must battle “wild and unruly natives” who, if they get “truly restless,” he shoots with his functional water gun. It’s just no good all around.

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April the Ninja Newscaster and April the Ravishing Reporter

April the Ninja Newscaster and April the Ravishing Reporter

Illustration for article titled 21 Ridiculous (and Seriously Problematic) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Figures of the 90s
Image: FigureRealm.com and actionfiguresandcomics.com

Apparently, the original April O’Neil figure wasn’t as much of a hit as Playmates would have liked, and in 1992 the company couldn’t decide whether to target the reporter’s next figure at boys or girls. So it decided to release both, a fighter who can stand side-by-side with her turtle friends, and a total babe with rooted hair a la Barbie. Ironically, the Ninja Newscaster is wearing less clothing than the Ravishing Reporter, although only the latter has “Vital Babetistics” that mention her Lipstick Nunchaku and Katana Curling Iron.

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Crazy Clownin’ Mike, “Bodacious Birthday Turtles”

Crazy Clownin’ Mike, “Bodacious Birthday Turtles”

If you knew someone was having a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-themed birthday in 1992, and many kids were, you could give them one of the Bodacious Birthday Turtles, which included Leonardo as a normal partygoer, Raphael as a magician, and Michaelangelo here as a horrifying Bozo/Pennywise-from-It clown hybrid that is a crime against both man and god.

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Doctor El

Doctor El

Illustration for article titled 21 Ridiculous (and Seriously Problematic) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Figures of the 90s
Image: Transformersland.com

Playmates exec #1: What fun animal haven’t we made a mutant of yet?

Playmates exec #2: Plenty, sir. There are dogs and cats—

Playmates exec #1: No, those are pets. Pets are boring. We need something familiar, but a bit different.

Playmates exec #2: Hmm… like an elephant?

Playmates exec #1: Yes! Exactly! Now, what’s the theme? What are elephants associated with?

Playmates exec #2: Trunks?

Playmates exec #1: So what, like he’s going to wear swimming trunks? Try again.

Playmates exec #2: Tus—

Playmates exec #1: Don’t you dare say tusks.

Playmates exec #2: (coughs) …they live in Africa?

Playmates exec #1: Okay. There’s something there.

Playmates exec #2: I’m pretty confident every way we go from here will end up being some level of racist.

Playmates exec #1: Not… not if he’s an African native! Like a Zulu warrior or something?

Playmates exec #2: Definitely too racist.

Playmates exec #1: But Safari Mike and the natives were OK.

Playmates exec #2: First, that was on the packaging, not the figure itself. Second, I told you that was racist, too. I tried to block the production. Remember?

Playmates exec #1: I’ve got it! He’s a witch doctor!

Playmates exec #2: Christ. I can’t take this anymore. I quit.

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“Kowabunga Crackin’ Turtle Eggs”

“Kowabunga Crackin’ Turtle Eggs”

Illustration for article titled 21 Ridiculous (and Seriously Problematic) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Figures of the 90s
Image: FigureRealm.com

With kids clamoring for any TMNT merchandise they could get their hands on, the designers at Playmates were probably quite pleased with themselves for thinking outside the box with this 1994 gimmick, where children could turn a crank and have the Turtles burst out of their eggs. While it’s a decent idea in theory, there’s something incredibly disturbing about watching the TMNT get born into the world as fully dressed, fully armed teenagers. Plus, the egg sets the scale way off so it feels like these turtles should only be action figure-sized when they take their first breath in the real world, and thus never actually grew up, they just… enlarged.

Of course, the real issue is that when born, the turtles’ legs are spread wide apart and they have pained grimaces on their faces, as if they spent all that time developing in these eggs desperately waiting to take a shit.

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“Star Trek Turtles”

“Star Trek Turtles”

Illustration for article titled 21 Ridiculous (and Seriously Problematic) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Figures of the 90s
Image: tmnttoys.com

Honestly, of all the bizarre Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures made in the ‘90s, the time they got mashed-up with classic Star Trek characters is one of the most memorable. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t guard against it, though, and take time to celebrate these preposterous little miracles. Created solely because Playmates had both the TMNT and Trek toy licenses in 1994, the line had Leo as Kirk, Michaelangelo as Scotty, Raphael as Bones, and Donatello as Spock, complete with pointy ears, which are very disturbing to see on an anthropomorphic turtle. Still, the wildest thing about this entire toyline is that Leonardo’s favorite Trek character is Captain Pike. Madness!

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Farmer Don and Farmer Mike, “Farmer Turtles”

Farmer Don and Farmer Mike, “Farmer Turtles”

Illustration for article titled 21 Ridiculous (and Seriously Problematic) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Figures of the 90s
Image: mutantooze.org

Playmates exec #1: I’m worried children might be falling out of love with the whole ninja thing. So I’ve decided to test the market with two Teenage Mutant Farmer Turtles. What do you think?

Playmates exec #2: I told you I quit. My last day is Friday. Stop bothering me.

Playmates exec #1: I think kids are really going to go for them!

Playmates exec #2: Why on Earth do you think kids who are into teens, mutants, and ninjas are also into farming? That Venn diagram doesn’t exist.

Playmates exec #1: What if I told you they came with tractors kids could use to pretend to grow wheat?

Playmates exec #2: What if I told you to go to hell, Dave? (storms off)

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Warrior Winged Leonardo and Warrior Winged Donatello, “Warriors”

Warrior Winged Leonardo and Warrior Winged Donatello, “Warriors”

Illustration for article titled 21 Ridiculous (and Seriously Problematic) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Figures of the 90s
Image: tmnttoys.com

Having researched classic TMNT figures extensively for this list, I have read the words radical, bodacious, tubular, and awesome so many times I have died a little inside. That said, I have to admit the storyline to the toys’ weird spin-off “Warriors” line from ‘95 is indeed radical. It’s got a truly wild premise where badass versions of Shredder’s normally imbecilic goons Rocksteady and Chromedome (that’s Chromedome in the middle) have thrown the world into such chaos that Leonardo and Donatello have not only turned evil but got so evil they grew dragon wings. The only turtle left to save the world is Michaelangelo, who for some reason has become an awesome-looking robot. Where was this damn cartoon?

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Make My Day Leo, “Disguised Turtles”

Make My Day Leo, “Disguised Turtles”

Illustration for article titled 21 Ridiculous (and Seriously Problematic) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Figures of the 90s
Image: bitz-buttons.com

I think we all know what the problem here is, yes?

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Dimwit Doughboy Rocksteady, “Mutant Military”

Dimwit Doughboy Rocksteady, “Mutant Military”

Illustration for article titled 21 Ridiculous (and Seriously Problematic) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Figures of the 90s
Image: toyriffic.blogspot.com

Although Rocksteady was always one of Shredder’s main goons, there’s something unsettlingly bleak about imagining the rhino-man in the trenches of World War I. Since “doughboy” was a popular nickname for American soldiers, Rocksteady could be presumed to be fighting for the Allied Powers against Germany and its cohorts… except that his “Vital Doughtistics” (sigh) list his favorite commander as “Field Marshal Mutanto.” No member of the U.S. armed forces has ever held the title of field marshal, but plenty of Germans did, which means Dimwit Doughboy Rocksteady is possibly a double agent. I’m also a little worried that “Mutanto” is a play on “von Bulow,” as in Karl von Bulow, who was retroactively deemed a war criminal for his massacres of civilians. This Rocksteady is just not cool all around...

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Sumo Michaelangelo and Sumo Raphael, “Sumo Turtles”

Sumo Michaelangelo and Sumo Raphael, “Sumo Turtles”

Illustration for article titled 21 Ridiculous (and Seriously Problematic) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Figures of the 90s
Image: tmnttoys.com

Playmates exec #1: (staring hard at exec #2) …

Playmates exec #2: (staring hard at exec #1) …

Playmates exec #1: …

Playmates exec #2: …

Playmates exec #1: …

Playmates exec #2: …

Playmates exec #1: THEY’RE FAT

Playmates exec #2: Oh for fuck’s sake

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Beachcombin’ Mike, “Super Spittin’ Turtles”

Beachcombin’ Mike, “Super Spittin’ Turtles”

There were plenty of action figures in the ‘80s and ‘90s that shot water like a water gun. Usually, it was an action feature with an accessory like a weapon, or was supposed to represent a superpower, e.g. He-Man snake villain’s Kobra Khan and his “poison spray.” Very few toy companies decided to represent their figures simply spitting at things, but one of those companies was Playmates, which in 1992 released Lifeguard Leo, Sewer-Cyclin’ Raph, Spike’N Volley Don, and Beachcombin’ Mike, all of whom enjoyed hocking loogies in addition to their summer activities. But Michaelangelo is particularly upfront about this, as his bio reads: “Beachcombin’ Mike spits in the eyes of danger. He spits in the face of fear. Let’s face it, the boy loves to spit—and spit he does!”

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“Mutant Masters”

“Mutant Masters”

Near the end of Playmates’ original toyline, it appears by 1996 the company was getting a little desperate in thinking up new ideas for the Turtles. So I have to give them credit for giving the TMNT the elemental magic of Captain Planet but also putting them in Mobile Suit Gundam armor. (Wind Warrior Leonardo’s armor straight-up includes Gundam Wing wings, while Fire Warrior Raphael is unequivocally equipped with a classic Gundam shield.) What’s weirdest about the figures, though, is that after you take off their removable shells to put on their armor, the Turtles inside turn out to be ripped as hell, which is honestly a little unsettling.

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Bandito-Bashin’ Mike, “Wacky Wild West Turtles”

Bandito-Bashin’ Mike, “Wacky Wild West Turtles”

Playmates exec #1: (bursting into office) Saddle up, because the Turtles are going to the Wild West!

Playmates exec #2: (sighs) Dave, this is not a good idea. It’s my last day. I’m not involved in this shit anymore, there’s no reason I need to hear about this crap.

Playmates exec #1: (ignores him) First up—Crazy Cowboy Don!

Playmates exec #2: A cowboy? Just a cowboy?

Playmates exec #1: Yeah.

Playmates exec #2: He’s not doing anything racist? Nothing with Indigenous peoples?

Playmates exec #1: No, he just shoots Foot soldiers and ropes cattle.

Playmates exec #2: (relieved) Actually, that sounds fine.

Playmates exec #1: Then there’s Sewer Scout Raph!

Playmates exec #2: Scout?

Playmates exec #1: Like Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett.

Playmates exec #2: Okay… and does he have any connection to Native Americans?

Playmates exec #1: No, he just explores the frontier.

Playmates exec #2: That’s—wait. He doesn’t have a “coonskin cap,” does he?

Playmates exec #1: Well, he has a living raccoon on his head, but it’s his friend.

Playmates exec #2: Wow, Dave. You’re two for two. I’m actually impressed. Who’s next?

Playmates exec #1: Bandito-Bashin’ Mike!

Playmates exec #2: Aaaand there we are. I’m just going to take a stab in the dark here. Is Mike wearing a sombrero?

Playmates exec #1: Yes.

Playmates exec #2: Does he have an oversized black mustache?

Playmates exec #1: Absolutely.

Playmates exec #2: Maybe a mariachi-style guitar?

Playmates exec #1: No.

Playmates exec #2: Okay, that’s something, I guess.

Playmates exec #1: His cactus pal does, though.

Playmates exec #2: (picks up phone) Security, please!

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Rappin’ Mike, “Rock’N Rollin’ Turtles”

Rappin’ Mike, “Rock’N Rollin’ Turtles”

Illustration for article titled 21 Ridiculous (and Seriously Problematic) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Figures of the 90s
Image: Transformersland.com

In 1991, the second live-action TMNT movie hit theaters. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze was a hit, arguably with the help of a guest spot from Vanilla Ice, who was enjoying the height of his popularity. We don’t know whether Mike and Ice ever bonded on set, but Ice must have been hurt when he saw this figure later in the year and discovered that Mike was following in the clock-carrying Flava Flav’s footsteps instead of his. Mike’s also appropriated some hip-hop jewelry with his multi-finger rings (which say “MIKE” and “RAPS” on them), but I daresay he might be blazing a trail by also wearing a full briefcase record player like a necklace.

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Cave-Woman April, “Cave Turtles”

Cave-Woman April, “Cave Turtles”

Illustration for article titled 21 Ridiculous (and Seriously Problematic) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Figures of the 90s
Image: TheCollectionary.com

April made few appearances in the multitudes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toylines, so it’s nice to see her here, especially since she was given her own dinosaur to ride—a raptor, actually—along with the boys. What gets me is that somehow, even though she’s living 100 million or so years in the past, she’s still a journalist. “Being a reporter during the Mesozoic Era isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but Cave-Woman April accepts the challenge and chisels her reports in stone for the rock tabloid, The Prehistoric Times.’ Once she’s out and about, Cave-Woman April roams her barbaric beat, in search of the next late-breakin’ news feature. Her last headline was ‘Fire discovered!’”

Given that there are only five people on this ancient Earth who can read—the four Turtles and Bebop, the latter of which wants her dead—who’s buying the Prehistoric Times? What’s her circulation? Who’s advertising in it, and does she have anyone editing her? Is it a dinosaur? It’s all dinosaurs, isn’t it?

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Mutant Raphael, “Universal Studios Monsters”

Mutant Raphael, “Universal Studios Monsters”

Illustration for article titled 21 Ridiculous (and Seriously Problematic) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Figures of the 90s
Image: FigureRealm.com

This TMNT figure may be forgotten, but he is awesome. Unlike the easy combos of Turtles and Universal’s classic monsters—e.g. Don as Dracula, Leo as the Creature From the Black Lagoon—Playmates had to extend the pool to turn Raph into one of the Metalluna mutants from the 1995 sci-fi flick This Island Earth. While absolutely cheesy, it’s a pretty decent movie for its time and subject matter, but it still ended up the fodder for Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie. I never knew this figure existed until I researched this article, and now I want one so damn bad.

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“Warriors of the Forgotten Sewer”

“Warriors of the Forgotten Sewer”

Illustration for article titled 21 Ridiculous (and Seriously Problematic) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Figures of the 90s
Image: tmnttoys.com

Much like the bonkers Warriors line, Playmates decided to throw more spaghetti (admittedly, pizza is more likely) against the wall and see what stuck. What stuck is a very small 1994 small toyline where Leo, Don, Bebop, and Rocksteady went into some dark Conan the Barbarian-esque fantasy world. Leo is the Conan analog, Ron has turned into a pretty awesome-looking dwarf, Rocksteady seems to be a gladiator of some sort, while Bebop gets to a surprisingly badass dark knight. They’re all just really cool in an expectedly weird way, and I wish there’d been more of them. Because now I can’t stop imagining a Shredder/Skeletor mash-up, and he looks awesome.

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Bride of Frankenstein April, “Universal Studios Monsters”

Bride of Frankenstein April, “Universal Studios Monsters”

Illustration for article titled 21 Ridiculous (and Seriously Problematic) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Figures of the 90s
Image: 16bit.com

Alas, the Universal monster mash-ups were not as kind to April as they were the Turtles. Making the sole female character of the toys into the sole female monster in Universal’s collection makes sense in an obvious, unexciting way but it’s her bio where things go off the rails. First, it says her favorite activity is “getting married,” implying that she’s getting married constantly. Then it says her least favorite thing is Frankenstein, her traditionally intended groom (and a real blow to Mike, who ended up as the monster). Instead, Bride of Frankenstein April intends to marry Dr. Frankenstein by force and electrocute him if he tries to back out. On the plus side, this figure proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that no matter what April has going on, she always looks good in yellow.

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“Apollo 11"

“Apollo 11"

Illustration for article titled 21 Ridiculous (and Seriously Problematic) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Figures of the 90s
Image: retrotortugas.blogspot.com

On the 25th anniversary of their historic moon landing, the astronauts of Apollo 11 finally got the ultimate recognition for their incredible feat—namely, four anthropomorphic turtle toys aping arguably the most impressive technological feat of the 20th century while denigrating it by reducing it to an inane search for lunar pizza ingredients. I’ll let the Turtles speak for themselves:

Why is Lunar Leonardo going to search the moon’s poles? “Because of the temperature shifts in the polar regions of the moon, it may be cold enough there for cheese to exist. And that would translate to out-of-this-world pizza!” What delusion is Moon Landin’ Michaelangelo suffering under? “This space boy’s diggin’ the dirt, searchin’ for lunar sauce. That’s right! He’s got a hero hunch that beneath the surface lies a space pool of the richest, ripest tomato sauce in the Milky Way.” Has Touchdown Donatello untethered himself from reality? “…he’s heard rumors about there bein’ pepperoni ‘round the polar parts of the moon.”

These three dimwits aside, Retro Rocket Raph seems to have a good turtle head on his shell… at first:

He’s studied the space missions of history - and the one that he’s most inspired by is that hallmark of American scientific conquest: July 20, 1969 - Apollo 11's awesome moon landing. Hey, this masterful mission was about a lot more than just bringing back moondust to the Earth. This was a time of overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles, of conquering a dream that man dreamt of for centuries. This was a time of heroism and national pride. And now, Retro Rocket Raphael is ready to take off his super circulating space helmet and salute those courageous guys who risked their very lives for nothing more than a week’s pay and a little glory. Ever since that momentous moment, Retro Rocket Raphael has always wondered, in those craters, somewhere, perhaps under some common chunk of moon rock, maybe there’s an anchovy or two. An anchovy unlike any other more earthly anchovies. A big anchovy! Ripe and ready for pizza topping!

As a taxpayer, this is not where I want my money going.

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Chief Leo, “Wacky Wild West Turtles”

Chief Leo, “Wacky Wild West Turtles”

Illustration for article titled 21 Ridiculous (and Seriously Problematic) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Figures of the 90s
Image: CollectorArchive.com

Playmates exec #1: (bursts into office) I never got to tell you the fourth Wacky Wild West Turtle!

Playmates exec #2: (silence)

Playmates exec #1: Are you ready for it?

Playmates exec #2: (silence)

Playmates exec #1: I saved it for last because I wasn’t sure you’d like it.

Playmates exec #2: (silence)

Playmates exec #1: Chief Leo!

Playmates exec #2: (long silence)

Playmates exec #1: Whew! Okay, let me read you the official bio because I’m really pleased with myself for this. (clears throat) “Those smoke signals mean war when Chief Leo hits the wild frontier. He’s not a Cherokee or Apache; this Mutant maverick is in a tribe all by himself - the Turtle Tribe! And Chief Leo’s got all the Native American instruments to make him a traditional wild west warrior. Don’t sneeze at his feathery ceremonial headdress or he’ll skewer you on his sewer spear. Watch the paleface Foot run for cover when Chief Leo pulls his fiery arrows from his quasi quiver.” What do you think so far?

Playmates exec #2: (silence)

Playmates exec #1: So, what do you think? Any notes?

Playmates exec #2: (silence)

Playmates exec #1: I’m shocked, Phil. I thought for sure you’d find something to object to.

Playmates exec #2: (silence)

Playmates exec #1: Phil? ... Phil?

Playmates exec #1: (realizes he’s been talking to an empty chair in an empty office, and exits) Phil? Anyone? Hello?

Playmates exec #1: (wandering the halls) Where is everybody? And why are all the lights off?

Playmates exec #1: (he searches the entire office) Am I all alone? Oh, wait. Duh, it must be Saturday! I must have accidentally come in on the weekend. Phil doesn’t even work here anymore.

Playmates exec #1: (calls the elevator) Glad no one was here to see me. That would’ve been embarrassing.

Playmates exec #1: (10 minutes pass, the elevator does not come) Stairs it is, I guess.

Playmates exec #1: (tries to open door to stairs, but it is barred from the other side) That’s weird. And I bet it’s a fire hazard, too.

Playmates exec #1: (Dave starts checking the various emergency doors with increasing speed and fear; none of them will open. He tries to open the windows but discovers they’ve all been sealed shut. He starts trying to break the window glass, but even heavy furniture bounces harmlessly.) Oh my god. Oh my god! I’m trapped!

Playmates exec #1: (calming himself) Wait. Breathe, Dave. Breathe. People will be in on Monday. They’ll come back to work. It’ll be fine. Just got to hang here out for a couple of days. No big deal. I should just go to my office and try and get some work done for a while.

(Three weeks later)

(Phil has collapsed into a corner, emaciated almost to the point of being unrecognizable. The water cooler has been overturned and is empty. Three turned-over pots lie on the ground with soil strewn around them, indicating Dave has been eating the office plants for sustenance... and they’re long gone.)

Playmates exec #1: I’m dying, Phil.

(silence)

Playmates exec #1: It’s my own fault. I know what I did, and it was wrong.

(silence)

Playmates exec #1: Racist stereotypes have no business in children’s toys, even if those stereotypes are applied to anthropomorphic animals with martial arts skills…

(silence)

Playmates exec #1: This is what I deserve. I accept it

(silence)

Playmates exec #1: (coughs weakly)

(silence)

Playmates exec #1: I only thank God I never finished those Civil War Turtles designs.

(silence)

Playmates exec #1: (exhales slowly, finally, and passes on)

(screen fades to black)


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Rob Bricken was the Editor of io9 from 2016-18, the creator of the poorly named but fan-favorite news site Topless Robot, and now writes nerd stuff for many places, because it's all he's good at.

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mattthecatania
Matthew Catania

This listicle format is evil.