Yesterday I lost one of my all time favorites. Donatello from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was killed off by the comic book writers at IDW. A swift and powerful sledge hammer strike from Rocksteady split his shell in half exposing his insides and ending his life. I just want to say a few words in honor of one of greatest, most underrated characters in cartoon/comic book history.
If you’re like me, then you also understand just how fortunate we are to have grown up during the absolute greatest era in cartoon history. There was no shortage of selection for you during the 80’s and 90’s. We came along at the right moment in time where the art of keeping children entertained had been perfected. They had it down to a science. Whatever your toon of choice was, there was also a board game, action figure, doll, comic book, cereal, fruit snack, candy bar, trading card, t-shirt, lunch box, key chain, water bottle, etc. to go with it. But unlike previous generations, we were also blessed to have been raised during the golden age of video games. So it was like normal fun, times no sleep…or sunlight. Which in retrospect explains alot.
I was a fan of alot of characters and shows during that era, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was my drug of choice. I remember the first time I ever saw them. I was a kindergartener around the age of 5 or 6 and my mom had taken my brother and I to Pizza Hut after school. Fast food lunches were always exciting growing up because the kids would always benefit from my mom and aunt’s weird fixation with the idea of collecting “Happy Meal” toys. The Beanie Baby episode of ’97 nearly tore our family apart. But, I digress.
Whilst ordering, I recall looking over the counter and seeing a promotional glass case with five colorful VHS tapes inside. It wasn’t exactly love at first sight, but there was some mild interest drawn. Besides, I was still going through my Ghostbusters/Denver the Last Dinosaur phase. We finished our meal and, of course, got the first tape of the series to go. I stared at that tape the entire car ride home. The cover featured 4 giant anthropomorphic karate turtles and some sort of evil samurai. “Cool.”, I thought. We put the tape in the VCR as soon as we got home and things quickly started to escalate from there.
From the moment the opening theme song began with that uncategorically iconic first sound of what I could only describe as a space guitar, I was hooked. Between the bright colors, the loud action, the vibrant voices and the brotherly camaraderie, they had painted a colorful world that I would fanatically kill to be a part of. Sure, this wasn’t the first cartoon to feature a kick ass team of good guys beating up bad guys. But these guys were different. THEY WERE SO MUCH FUN! No one else I had seen before looked like they were having as much fun kicking ass as these guys did…and who doesn’t enjoy fun?!
When presented with a group of characters, it’s human instinct to attach yourself to one specifically. Who do you like? Which one’s your favorite? Which one do you want to be? Personally, I tend to lean toward underdogs. I relate to the overshadowed and usually choose the road less traveled. Intelligence excites me and I LOVE a good redemption story. So, naturally, my favorite ninja turtle was Donatello.
He was the brains. The nerd. The corny soft spoken dork of the bunch…like me! I used to jump from couch to couch pretending my backpack was a shell and spinning my wiffle ball bat around like a maniac mimicking his moves. He is most popularly defined by his superb intellect, but the most redeeming quality about him was the fact that even though he knew he was especially smarter, he never called attention to it. He was never condescending. People with high IQ’s can easily go the way of arrogance and patronization, but not Donnie. He was very blue collar in that sense. He just genuinely enjoyed building and inventing for the betterment of the team. Never asking for credit or even acknowledgment. He was just a good dude. He was the least intimidating, yet somehow the most important member of the team. His weapon allowed him great leverage and reach. He was the most tech savvy, yet simply fought with a bo staff. Mind you, he could’ve built himself a complicated light saber chainsaw, but had the humility to go out there everyday with, let’s face it, a broom stick. His ability to improvise with what I can only assume was a minimal budget made him essential. Think about it! Without him there would be no Turtle Van, no Turtle Coms, no Turtle Blimp. Nary even a Pizza Thrower!
Oh yeah, and good luck going to and fro from Dimension X. You think Michelangelo’s gonna be able to figure out how to reverse engineer advanced alien krang technology? Raph would lose his patience within the first minute and no Leo, you won’t be able to fearlessly lead your way through an interdimensional portal without some basic working knowledge of quantum string mechanics. Your most important battles are against technologically superior enemies. Trust me, you need him more than he needs you. My point is that they would be significantly less effective without Donatello. Come to think of it, they wouldn’t have stood a chance without him.
You love Leo for his leadership. You love Raph because he’s a badass. You love Mikey because he’s the life of the party. I love Donatello because I respect him. He was vital, under valued, and not since Prince has someone had the balls to so brazenly rock purple. He spoke softly and literally carried a big stick. You could say that Donnie was perceived as the “Ringo” of the group and the marketing team promoted him like he was. Most of the merchandise featured the other 3 with Donatello being an after thought.
I’m sure this won’t be the last time we’ll get to see Donnie. It’s not uncommon for prominent comic book characters to be killed off mid-run, only to be brought back somehow by ridiculous means later on. They’ll probably resurrect him down the line as some sort of cyborg, which would be fitting. He probably already has a clone of himself incubating somewhere in the Turtle Lair with an activating agent that’s set to kick in once he kicks the bucket. I mean, i’m not even really that upset either. I understand it was probably time for them to mix it up. They’ve never killed off any of the turtles before and we’re a quarter of the way into year 31, so going somewhat extreme makes sense, at least for the short term. In a way, it’s kind of nice to see him get a little attention for once. Not the ideal circumstance, but it’s better than nothing.
So, as is the case for most funerals, let’s not so much mourn the deceased, but celebrate the life that was had (and will most likely reawaken in the future). Donatello was my favorite thing in the world at the most pure and unadulterated point in my life. So, in my mind, he’ll never really die. His legacy will endure through retro plastic action figures and vintage youtube clips. I suggest we all wear purple this Friday and have a slice of jellybean and anchovy pizza to commemorate our fallen soldier, Donatello: a brother, a son, a genius, and the greatest teenage mutant ninja turtle in the history of my life. My hero in a half shell…turtle power.