It is difficult to find a type of merchandising opportunity that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles haven’t been a part of, and with Heroes in a Half-Shell’s collaboration with Adidas to make a collection of rare sneakers, one more can be ticked off of the list.
Initially posted by KicksFinder in July 2023, with more details provided by other publications later, the “Shelltoe” collaboration is a special variant of Adidas’ long-running Superstar line, in collaboration with TMNT’s original creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.
The Shelltoes, set to arrive in early 2024 to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the comics, feature a green upper with a white sole and the toe is decorated with a turtle shell design.
There is also the delightful touch of two red bandanas, a reference to the identical appearances of the original graphic novel Turtles before Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael had their more distinct colour schemes and personalities.
The muted greens and the oozing pizza insole also contribute to that original aesthetic, and point the shoes far more towards being a collector's item rather than another merchandising opportunity. The $130 initial asking price places it in Air Jordan-level prestige sneaker territory too.
However, to understand what makes this so different, we need to look back at why TMNT is one of the most unlikely commercial juggernauts in history.
From Underground Heroes To Everything
Of course, most people who lived through the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s will have probably seen the Turtles’ green faces and iconic bandanas on basically everything you can slap a turtle-shell logo onto.
Even in the UK, where a moral panic over the word ‘ninja’ led to several of the main characters’ signature weapons being censored and the very name of the show altered, the Teenage Mutant
Hero Turtles were an unstoppable force in popular culture.
It is, therefore, often surprising to people who are familiar with the cartoon and little else, that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were initially written as a complete joke in the underground comics world.
Mr Laird and Mr Eastman were both relatively young newcomers to the comics world, making a pittance from various local magazines when they met up in Massachusetts and struck up a working relationship and a friendship so strong that both moved to New Hampshire together.
In late 1983, the first ever drawing of a masked anthropomorphic turtle wielding nunchucks was drawn by Mr Eastman, purely to get a laugh out of Mr Laird, who then added the words “teenage mutant” to “ninja turtle”.
All of this was a parody of a lot of Bronze Age comic conventions at the time, with the teenagers being a reference to Teen Titans, the mutants X-Men, the ninja from various pop culture sources and the concept of silly animals being seen in characters such as Cerebus the Aardvark Rocket Racoon, particularly since turtles are not known to be fast animals.
Much of the initial backstory was a parody of the comic Daredevil and the fact that four ninja turtles trained to use Japanese weaponry were named after Renaissance artists was seen as part of the joke.
Given the speculative nature of the market TMNT is set to enter in 2024, part of the reason for their success was that the series premiered during a peak in the speculative comic book market, particularly for independent works compared to the mainstream limited editions popular with collectors later.
This early momentum helped the first issue to sell its entire run of 3,275 copies in a matter of weeks, with the secondary market offering enormous markups for the debut.
The momentum ultimately also led to the licensing agreement that would turn the Ninja Turtles into an outright phenomenon, as Playmates Toys would not only develop a gigantic merchandising run but also sublicense the rights of the trademark to make a TMNT cartoon.
This cartoon, with its iconic theme song, lasted for ten seasons from 1987 until 1996, with a softer tone than the original comic but one that led to a much larger and younger fanbase.
It is because of this cartoon that not only do these new Adidas crossover sneakers exist, but also that they are far from the first, given how many official and unofficial pieces of Turtles footwear exist thanks to the cultural footprint of the series.
By the 1990s, the merchandising empire of the Ninja Turtles was incomprehensibly large, with not only live-action feature films and TV series but even a rock concert tour. In total, the merchandise sales made it the third-biggest toy franchise in history up to that point.
However, what makes the Adidas collaboration interesting is the return to the roots of a franchise that aside from a few years in the late 1990s, has never truly vanished from the pop culture zeitgeist.