Vital to every iteration of the Ninja Turtles mythos, Splinter is always present as the turtles’ master and moral center.
The original ninja sensei was released as part of the first wave of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures in 1987.
Splinter’s design has been fairly consistent since his first appearance in the first issue of Mirage Comics’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: a humanoid rat wearing a gi.
The first toy of Splinter is one of only a few in the line that features soft-goods clothing. The gi fits well over Splinter’s body and is held in place by a rubber belt that clips in front.
The gi flares out a bit in back, and Splinter’s tail can cause it to flare a bit more depending on how it’s positioned. The hem of the gi is cut in a zig-zag pattern to make it look ragged. The neckline also has a portion cut out in the back to let Splinter’s hunched and furry upper back poke through. It’s a great fit for the figure and makes me wish Playmates did more soft goods for this toyline.
A gray overspray gives splinter’s muzzle a bit of color depth and also gives the appearance of graying hairs. His nose is painted black and has a tendency to get scraped over time.
The entire eye socket is painted white, which makes for a bit of a strange affect. I always thought it made Splinter look a bit like a zombie.
The first release of Splinter had a hollow rubber head. Later issues (like this one, released at the very end of the Playmates line) had a hard plastic head.
The whole robe can, of course, be removed. Underneath we see more painted and molded details, including Splinter’s ankle wraps and more gray overspray. The sculpting of the hair is very good and carries over the whole figure.
The cloth gi tended to get lost pretty quickly, so most second-hand Splinters I saw as a kid looked like this.
Like many of the first-wave TMNT figures, Splinter came with a brown weapons rack. Once the weapons were separated from the rack, Splinter’s arsenal included a bow and arrow, two-piece sword cane, and a pair of shuriken.
In the animated series, Splinter was almost always depicted walking with a wooden cane, so the sword/cane feels like his most important or iconic accessory. The L-shaped handle, along with his wrist articulation, lets him hold it pretty naturally.
The sword pulls out of the cane easily. It’s a pretty thin piece of plastic, so as you can see, mine has acquired a stress mark over the years.
Splinter is somewhat less articulated than the turtles themselves, but can still get some good slashing poses with his sword cane.
The bow has a thick handle in the middle that easily fits into splinter’s hand.
It’s not a very convincing stance for a bow, and the arrow is molded into the notch, so you need a bit of imagination for this accessory to work.
Still, it’s not hard for me to picture Splinter standing atop a water tower taking potshots at the Foot Clan like he did at the end of the 1990 movie.
The two shuriken are the same cookie-like ninja stars included with several of the other first-year figures. You can stick Splinter’s thumb through the center hole to approximate him holding them, but otherwise he doesn’t seem designed to use them in any specific way.
Splinter has swivel joints at the hips, shoulders, tail, neck, and wrists. The lack of ball joints makes him a little bit less dynamic than the turtles, but this seems appropriate for an elderly sensei. The wrist swivels go a long way in helping him hold his accessories well, and the tail can be used to balance him for kicking poses like this one.
Splinter is probably the most “plain” of the first-wave TMNT figures. He’s molded in a neutral position and his weapons aren’t flashy. The wildest thing about him is the purple of his gi.
It’d be tempting to call this figure boring, especially compared to some of the later offerings in the Playmates line.
But I think that’d be missing the point of Master Splinter. He’s the anchor point of the Turtles mythos; he is always calm when everything else is spinning out of control around him.
Splinter was probably not the first figure most kids reached for on the shelves. I certainly didn’t crave him the way I did figures like Metalhead or Mutagen Man. But he’s an important part of the toyline’s story environment. The turtles can fight the Foot all day long, but with Splinter comes stakes. He can be kidnapped by Shredder; he can be rescued by the Turtles; he can face down his fated foe at night beneath the Sewer Playset’s telephone poles or atop the Technodrome, and he’ll always look at peace while doing it.
There are few other figures in the 1987 line like Splinter and I think that’s what makes him so special. No TMNT shelf looks quite right without him.