Without giving away enough information to make me blush, I'll say that I not only lived through the Eighties but have conscious memories of that period. With that in mind, you can probably guess which stories and toys shaped my young mind.
Everybody talks about Star Wars. No denying those movies and toys were a major impact. Everybody talks about their Star Wars toys. There's another franchise, though, that we hardly talked about. Until now, that is.
Maybe I should start at the beginning.
My kid got a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle in a Happy Meal last month. It was Leonardo, only with wooden swords instead of metal ones. At first I was mad at this desecration. Leonardo, after all, was my favorite. After a bit of thought, though, I figured this was a good thing. With wooden swords maybe he'd be able to actually use his swords against something other than a robot. Maybe the writers wouldn't be as shy about him thwacking somebody if it wouldn't cause dismemberment. Musashi used a wooden sword, right? Anything Musashi did is by default awesome, so this time I will not play the curmudgeon.
The toy itself seemed innocuous. Father and son now shared a story (sort of). Everything was fine.
Only it wasn't. That little piece of plastic was actually a harbinger, a green idol sent by the capitalist cabal into my home in order to shape my dreams.
I started thinking about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. A lot. I joined a crowd of internet zombies, shuffling and stumbling towards the latest manufactured bit of zeitgeist.
I noticed art on Facebook. A friend posted a link to an awesome tribute website. It might have been eerie, these synchronicities, but I knew better. A movie was coming. The promotional wizards were hard at work, weaving digital incantations atop their glass towers, binding our collective will to the latest moneymaker.
Sometimes, you fight the wizards. They can lead you astray. Remember Jurassic Park? The promotion sorcerers, like drug dealers, just want your money. They don't care if you're satisfied afterwards. They don't care if the product leaves you wanting.
Well, this time I had a way to give in without seeing a Michael Bay movie. This time I could act on the compulsion in my own way, without going to the cinema. (Of course, my willpower really didn't matter anyway. I don't have anyone to watch the kids, so movies are out...)
I remembered that the Ninja Turtles were the product of a comic book, not just the cartoon. So I scoured the internet and found that intersection between my childhood interests and my adult interests--an RPG about the TMNT.
It was put out by Palladium. I have a lot of friends who like Palladium, so I don't want to diss it. But the system never really hooked me. There are aspects I like but whenever I imagined using it I realized that I would have more fun using my old standby.
It was a simple production, slim and battered, with the grainy black and white illustrations that were so common in the early days of role playing. Truth is, I miss them. All the game books today compete with video games and free digital content, so they have glossy pages full of color.
Color illustrations have always been problematic for me. Executed correctly, they are beautiful. But fall short and they look tacky. In my opinion, the last decade of gaming has produced more tacky than beauty.
There was a simplicity to the early RPG art. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles exemplified this. Given the vaguely goofy subject matter, the stark black and whites gave it a bit of class. This is a story, after all, about bipedal turtles using martial arts. One of the villain-groups in the book are psychotic teddy bears with telepathic powers. If they'd been rendered in color, I probably would've laughed at them. But draw them darkly, without color, and they are the stuff of nightmares.
The psychotic teddies were also a playful reminder of the Eighties zeitgeist. In case you were wondering, their name was the Terror Bears. I'll let you make the connection.
As I flipped through the Turtles role playing game, I saw grisly battle scenes, horrific mutants, and, of course, insane scientists. I was reminded strongly of another franchise I loved: Werewolf: The Apocalypse. The TMNT had to have an impact on this game, both in style and content. Even if TMNT wasn't a direct ancestor of Werewolf, at the very least it primed kids like me to play the game. Like TMNT, the original Werewolf had anthropomorphic animals, evil scientists, giant robots, monstrous freaks...a hodgepodge of different genres and stories set in a gritty urban dystopia.
But the potent incantations of the promotional sorcerers cannot be bought off so easily. A battered old copy of a twenty-year old RPG wouldn't dispel them. Besides, this wasn't the original TMNT. It was fun to see how different the RPG was from the cartoons, but it still wasn't the original. This was Palladium's interpretation.
Like Livingstone, I had to find the source of it all.
So I set off to the internet again, card in hand, searching, ever-searching...
(To be continued...)