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Jan 11

PARTNERS IN KRYME – “Turtle Power”

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#648, 28th July 1990

You can trace the Ninjafication of Western pop culture back to the 70s martial arts boom and then specifically to Shogun, a mass market “Horrid Histories” for Japan. All its Ronins and Samurai and whatnot caught on to some degree but pubescent boys took the Ninja particularly to heart. Here was a figure whose silence portended mystery and power, whose cold-blooded mastery of the night could strike fear into the powerful, who honed in secret deadly skills which the mundane world mocked at its peril. The Ninja was as potent an archetype to small boys in the 80s as the superhero had been in the 30s and 40s – no surprise the two concepts quickly met.

Frank Miller, a hot writer-artist at Marvel, was given perennial third-stringer Daredevil to retool around the time Shogun hit. His root-and-branch reinvention relied heavily on ninja chic – Daredevil continually grappled with his ninja adversaries The Hand and acquired a sexy ninja kinda-enemy-kinda-girlfriend. The series made Miller a superstar. Along the way the Ninja obsession proved infectious: Chris Claremont, Marvel’s hottest writer and the man who had reinvented their mutant superhero X-Men franchise, got the bug and suddenly Canuck brawler Wolverine was off learning the ways of Bushido and matching claw with throwing star. Mutants and ninjas, in comic form, were now entwined. Cue Turtles.

My friend Sam was into Miller, X-Men and Daredevil, and was savvy enough to pick up early issues of a black and white comic about mutant turtles which came off like a parody until you got into it and realised it was more a geeked-out homage, the work of kids too excited about the stuff they were taking the piss out of to do it effectively. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – four shelled nerds given ninja training by a rat, living in the sewers – the comic might as well have been called Teenage Teenage Teenage Teenagers. And it sold, and sold – even the fifth and sixth printings doubled in money. So other writers and artists started doing the same thing.

Some were enthusiastic, some just dollar-eyed. TMNT is that rarest of ideas, something strong enough to go viral twice. Initially it sparked a black and white comics boom (Sample Title: Pre-Teen Dirty Gene Kung-Fu Kangaroos) – by the time the film took off the characters had already made their creators potloads of cash, and then the whole thing exploded again, culture-wide this time. And so here we are at Partners In Kryme, the record I’ve been avoiding discussing.

My fondness for the Turtles phenomenon – the first time I could ever say, even slightly, “I was there” when something went from cult to household name – doesn’t extend to any actual Turtles product. The comic got bogged down in self-important story arcs; the cartoon and film seemed dumber; the characters – look, the honest truth is I can’t tell them apart. And this single? There are interesting things about it, for sure. It’s the first Number One specifically aimed at kids and only kids for a very long time, which suggests something about the shrinking of the singles market at this point. And it’s a hip-hop record, which feels significant – an acknowledgement that rap was already the native pop tongue of 9 and 10 year olds.

But, bless it, for anyone else it’s not very good. The main problem is that the MC raps like an action figure: dynamic out of the box but ultimately lacking in articulation. His enthusiastic, lumbering, one-paced flow can’t carry a whole song: if “Turtle Power” had been a posse cut it might have worked a lot better. The bits I remember – “this lethally evil force”, “I was a witness get me a reporter”, “Tonto came pronto when there was danger” – are all in the first verse, before the song gets into a lengthy recap of the film. It’s energetic even if it’s not competent, but even its bouncy, plasticky synth jabs get exhausting well before the end.

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Comments

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  1. 51
    pink champale on 6 Jan 2011 #

    #48 oh god, not at all saying that (or calling you a nazi!) just saying that “says nothing” it’s a bit like the terrible idea that seems to have taken root (and can be blamed on trendy educationalists/thatcher according to preference) that nothing is worth knowing unless it is directly related to your own experience – kids should read stuff that’s ‘relevant’ not stuff that’s good, i don’t need to know where brazil is because i’m never going to go there, etc. But yeah, this isn’t quite the same as not liking music that doesn’t move you.

  2. 52
    Kit on 8 Jan 2011 #

    #15/#16 – in the ’00s Craig McLachlan started playing in a front-room-of-a-pub free entry 80s cover band called… Mullet. They did a reunion gig a few weeks ago, the advert for which spruiked their wares as being tongue in cheek and ironic, which I’m not sure was ever clear in their original intent.

    #29 – surely Daredevil was by a long chalk the LEAST overly earnest Marvel comic of the time, given the dominance of Claremont’s influence, and the rest of the bullpen being populated with the likes of Bill Mantlo?

    Tom has it right that the ostensible parody was more enthusastic absorption (a pattern of influence that interestingly extends to the stream of Adjective Adjective Adjective Animals that followed), though re “bogged down in self-important story arcs” – I’d think of that more being Eastman & Laird’s rare returns to the title, especially the long (13-part?) run at the end of the original B&W series. By the time of the cartoon popularity and film explosion, they were instead letting the comic be an outburst of lunacy like Mark Martin doing massively time-twisty 20 Nude Dancers 20-esque kid stories, Rick Veitch doing three-parters and Big Daddy Roth homages, colour Corben one-offs, Michael Zulli getting to do ludicrously elaborately-rendered samurai tales (not least out of charity while Diamond were refusing to carry a thousand copies of his own comic)…

    oh, this record? Despite having fond memories of Hi Tek 3 feat Ya Kid K, I managed to never encounter this, and the lack of video link means I remain perhaps blissfully ignorant. That may have been my first aural exposure to Back To The Planet, though, which seems fair.

  3. 53
    Izzy on 8 Jan 2011 #

    Oh wow, that Back To The Planet record! Those vocals! The embarrassed production flourishes!

    I’d always given them the benefit of the doubt by assuming they had some other target in mind, but just weren’t skilled enough to paint out their metaphor properly. But no, they were actually enraged by the turtles all along.

    I wonder what they’re doing now?

  4. 54
    will on 8 Jan 2011 #

    Like everyone else, they’ve probably reformed.

    I quite enjoyed the whole turtle phenomenon myself. Now, as then, the idea of four crime-fighting pizza-obsessed mutant turtles named after renaissance painters has an endearing daftness to it.

  5. 55
    Jimmy the Swede on 8 Jan 2011 #

    I’m sorry but this lot were never the same again after the brilliance of “Happy Together”.

  6. 56
    glue_factory on 8 Jan 2011 #

    Re:54, I saw a poster for a Back To The Planet gig in the Hootenanny, Brixton last year. Price on the door, £2.

  7. 57
    Nixon on 9 Jan 2011 #

    Back when I was 17, this was my ex-girlfriend’s favourite record. She played it for me the first time I ever went up to her bedroom, presumably hoping it would set the mood (it didn’t). This was in 1997.

    This story doesn’t go anywhere, I just can’t ever listen to Turtle Power again.

  8. 58
    MBI on 11 Jan 2011 #

    @55 You didn’t like “Elenore”? Or “Ninja Rap”?

  9. 59
    anon on 14 Jan 2011 #

    In Back to the Planet’s defence, the original version of “Teenage Turtles” came out in 1991:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EeGVgh3gYtA

    (although the clunky lyrics are unchanged)

  10. 60
    DanielW on 3 Feb 2011 #

    Detested the bloody turtles. Detested this. Utter dreck, even “Hanky Panky” would’ve been preferable to this.

    Never seen the film this is from and I don’t intend to.

  11. 61
    DanH on 28 Jan 2013 #

    My main memory of this, at 6 years old, was mentally calling these guys out for calling Raphael the leader when it was clearly Leonardo.
    :-)

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