Thursday, September 17, 2020

D&D is Everywhere II

My relationship with comics is pretty spotty. I collected a few when I was a kid – mostly Star Wars and Dr Strangeand would sometimes read my friends' superhero comics. For the most part, though, I didn't have a serious exposure to comics of any sort until I was in college. Consequently, I completely missed out on the arrival of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when it appeared in 1984. I eventually became aware of it through the 1987 children's cartoon and immediately dismissed it, as I am prone to do. But some college friends, who had read the original Mirage Studios issues, informed me that the comics were little like the TV series and that I shouldn't be so quick to judge them. Later, another friend of mine, who was a Palladium RPG fan, showed me his copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness, which was based on the comics and published in 1985. I wish I could say that it did anything to give me a better appreciation of the Ninja Turtles but it didn't.

That wouldn't happen until 2012, when my then-young children started watching a new computer-animated TMNT series. Initially, I was skeptical; my memories of the goofy '87 series made it almost impossible for me to have an open mind. Despite myself, I would catch little glimpses of the show from time to time and I liked what I saw. It wasn't anything deep or important but it was fun and filled with lots of little references and homages that I appreciated. 

The episode that really won me over, though, was in the second season. Entitled "Mazes & Mutants," it featured the Turtles playing a roleplaying game. Now, I'm usually very wary of mass media portrayals of RPGs; they're almost always reveal that the people writing them have no idea what playing an RPG is actually like. "Mazes & Mutants," though, was pretty good – not perfect, mind you, but much better than most. The moment when I fell in love with the episode was when I saw this:

The cover is quite clearly based on my beloved 1977 Holmes Basic Set rather than any of the letter versions. That's amazing unto itself, since the Holmes set has largely been forgotten by pop culture, which tends to fixate more on the 1983 Mentzer edition (and, for good reason, given how well it sold). Still, seeing that image warmed my heart. 

The episode also features a moment when we see the Turtles hunched over a large graph paper map.
I'm probably letting my delight at the box cover art to color my perceptions, but doesn't that map look a little like Zenopus dungeon from the Holmes Basic Set, at least stylistically?  


  1. Holmes was my introduction to the hobby, around 1980. I still think the Zenopus dungeon is the best sample dungeon ever written.

  2. My memory could be playing tricks on me, but pretty sure there's a scene in the original comics where they sit down to play an RPG at the end of some issue/story.

    1. If you can find evidence of that, I'd love to hear about it. Media depictions of RPGs are an interest of mine.

  3. Someone in the TMNT production was a fan of Holmes D&D! That map is definitely inspired by Holmes' sample dungeon.

  4. It does indeed.

    I got into TMNT with the original B&W comics (and the original RPG). The cartoon/exploitation of the IP was one of the first things to jade my younger self regarding crass commercialization of artists: here was something that had NOT (originally) been a toy (like the stupid Transformers, GI Joe, He-Man, etc.) that was then TURNED INTO a friggin' vehicle to peddle merch to children and their parents. Still makes me a little sick to this day, though I believe (or at least hope) that Eastman and Laird made a bundle on the deal.

    *sigh* I suppose it WAS a ridiculous premise. But then, so is D&D, right?

  5. Holmes was also a fan of the comics. So it's nice they returned the compliment in a way.