My, How You've Changed: the Evolution of April O'Neil

by Jenn Frank

Thursday April 14, 2011

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April O'Neil by Dave Rapoza

When I was a child, I and the other latchkey kids played long games of Imagination on the playground. The games would last for days or even weeks, all these arcing time/space operas with good guys, villains, damsels, and shopkeepers.

But most of the players were girls. And so, when we embarked on a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles narrative in the summer of 1990, one boy was cast as Michelangelo, another girl volunteered to be Shredder, and all the rest of us alternated turns as April O’Neil.

It’s as if none of us realized that, in a game of Imagination, any girl on the playground was permitted to play the part of a Ninja Turtle. That’s true. But we all certainly wanted to be April O’Neil, too, because April O’Neil was a badass. She was no-nonsense, competent, and always talking about “a big scoop!” She was tough but lithe; her only weakness, foolhardiness. If she had been used less as a prop on the Saturday morning cartoon, she might have been a kind of contemporary, “real”-world She-Ra.

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I had (and still have) a 1988 April O’Neil action figure, which was the second version of April produced by Playmates. This version had flat helmet hair, a yellow jumpsuit with blue piping, and a handgun concealed inside a camcorder. Also, she still had those killer white boots.

April O'Neil1988, second version

She was redesigned later that year, this time with cuter hair and uncanonical orange details on her jumpsuit, along with those horrible orange boots (what). And while the action figure’s blister card was awfully inconsistent (this YouTube video cites no fewer than 15 minor idiosyncrasies), April O’Neil’s “biography” on the back of the card was left unchanged.

It describes her thusly:

April's stats

VITAL NEWS:
Accessories: Camcorder, Gun, Wireless Microphone, TMNT portable Computer, Ninja Star
Birthplace: The Valley
Height: 5’5”
Weight: 115 lbs.
Age. A young 25

April’s a determined tv news journalist, always prepared for the late breaking news feature with her camcorder strapped ‘round her arm. Her eagerness, however, gets her into trouble and makes her a big pain in the shell for the Turtles, who always end up saving this damsel in distress.

Still, Aprils no air head and is a valuable member of the Turtle Team. Being a pretty human has its advantages, like getting into places the Turtles can’t. When the situation calls for more than a news flash. April’s ready with a trusty gun, which is secretly locked inside her camcorder.

I like that she was described as “no airhead” and a “pretty human.”

But by the time new! improved! versions of April O’Neil were produced, I had already aged out of my interest in TMNT. Imagine how startled I might have been, in girlhood, to discover this newer incarnation of April:

April, revised

OK, fine. I do like the updated accessories a lot—what kid would’ve been just thrilled to clip that old gray briefcase into April’s little plastic hand? I ask you—and I especially love her new handgun, which is massive. The fingernail polish is a nice touch, if a bit matchy-matchy. Also. I appreciate that Revised April is sensible enough to wear a watch.

Nice try on the supermodel hair, I guess, except that April O’Neil is now permanently frozen in a gust of wind. (Would we were all!) The fuchsia accents on April’s jumpsuit are, at best, alarming. But can we talk about April’s face? Let’s. Because she looks like she face-planted into a shelf at Sephora.

New April is depicted as follows:

Revised April's stats

VITAL NEWSTISTICS:
Accessories: Crook Catchin’ Camcorder, 52mm News Makers’ Special, Leg Holster, Babe Belt with Detachable Microphone and Tape Player
Favorite Headline: Ace Reporter Wins Another Award.
Favorite Turtle: What? You don’t know?
Weight: 105 lbs Without pad and pencil.

When news happens April is there—live! She’s the gutsiest gal reporter to ever cover the big city. April will do anything to get a scoop, even walk into Shredder’s hideout. Nothing can stop April from getting the story, not even the Foot Clan. Of course it helps when you’re best of friends with the Turtles. But when the Turtles are not around she has her news makers’ special and crook catchin’ camcorder to help her uncover the facts. And if the bad guys think they can intimidate her, they best be warned. She’s the master of the tossin’ tape player and no one can scream for help louder. So keep an eye out for April, cuz when she’s around news is bound to happen.

A couple notes:

  • I like the repeated use of “Newsmakers’ Special” as a squirrely euphemism for “gun”
  • Also, “gutsy” as euphemism for “headlong into trouble”
  • What, please, is a Babe Belt? Is that when a utility belt is pink?
  • A HUNDRED FIVE POUNDS?

I mean, there is nothing wrong with losing ten pounds, if that’s what you want. But at 5’5” and 115, no matter whether you buy into BMI, O’Neil was not exactly shattering the scales with her elephant thighs.

Ninja Newscaster April

Here’s “Ninja Newscaster” April, all geared up for step aerobics. Her off-kilter smirk is winning, for sure, but the real draw here is supposed to be those baby-blue ninja accessories, pictured on the right.

Her updated biography reads:

Ninja Newscaster stats

VITAL KICKTISTICS:
Accessories: Samurai-style Camera, Brodcastin’ Bo, Cool Katana Blade, News Makin’ Nunchaku, Scoop ‘em Sai
Favorite Headline: Ace Reporter April O’Neil Fights Foot with Foot
Weight: 105 lbs. We think. She won’t tell us.

April O’Neil’s here to bring you all the news that hurts. She’s 105 lbs. of pure ninja. And that means the Foot will never make headlines as long as April, the Ninja Newscaster, files her reports. Sided with the Turtles, this seasoned Foot-fightin’ sister has the power of the press on her side—and this time, it kicks, chops and punches. Using her samurai-style camera and broadcastin’ bo, April’s always sure to get an interview with the Foot Clan—even if it hurts them. She’s hot, heroic and headstrong. She’s ready for rad reptile reporting with her newsmakin’ nunchaku and scoop ‘em sai. So stand back and watch April prove she’s the one and only ninja newscaster—the world’s first judo, ju jitsu jammin’ journalist!

There are a couple things I like about April’s reinvention. She has all the Turtles’ weaponry at her disposal, she has a Shredder-style gauntlet, and those arm bandages are also pretty cool. No longer content to be a “pretty human” or “the gutsiest gal reporter around,” Ninja Newscaster April is “hot, heroic and headstrong.” She’s the best of everything, all rolled into one lady! I guess.

Catalogue of complaints:

  • What is a Samurai camera? I’m staring at it, and I still don’t get it. This isn’t even wordplay.
  • That eye-catching leopard-print leotard is, um, kind of the opposite of “ninja.”
  • A HUNDRED FIVE POUNDS, YOU THINK?????

Listen, toymakers. April has already lost enough weight; you don’t have to suggest that she’s still ashamed of what a fat cow she is. “Oh, haha! She won’t tell us her weight! That’s a thing girls do!” Well, this lady isn’t afraid to tell you: I’m four hundred pounds, three feet tall, and shaped exactly like a steak fry. There.

And now for Strumpet O’Neil, for April Under (the) Cover(s), for Foot-Kickin’ Leggings McGee, for April-for-the-Girls, it’s…

APRIL, The Ravishing Reporter!”

Ravishing Reporter

Ravishing statistics

VITAL BABETISTICS:
Accessories: Ninja File Sai, Lipstick Nunchaku, Compact Ninja Star, Katana Blade Curling Iron, Kowabunga Camera, Make-up Brush Battle Bo
Favorite Headline: Beauty Queen Chokes on Crown
Weight: 99.9 lbs. wearing chains

Flash! This just in: April is the world’s most ravishing reporter. What does that mean? That means you’re dealing with the gutsiest glamour gal to ever say, We’ll be back after these messages.” April’s one cool chick. She’s got the power of the bob ‘n wave—thanks to her real rooted hair. And what she lacks in brawn, she makes up in brains. This smart sister is super chic and turns heads wherever she goes. She never has a bad hair day when she’s armed with her katana blade curling iron. It’s bad news though, if this ravishing reporter hears a whistle in the wind from a flirtatious Foot fiend. She’s got a detachable skirt that lets her kick low and high. And no kiss is as deadly when April aims her lipstick nunchaku at a Foot face. Why would a bodacious bylinin’ babe like this be interested in a Mutant Turtle? Well, as one source reported, “Cuz they’re just so cute!”

Just, oh, my God, to everything, ever.

Look, I get that this happens. Over time, you sex up the female characters a little—you have to! You’re an executive! It’s your job!—because that’s what Little Girls Want. And anyway, that’s how you make female cartoon characters Relatable. You give them huge boobs for everyone to identify with.

If Masters of the Universe had been around just a little longer, She-Ra would be scampering around Eternia in her tiara and spandex hotpants, going, “Tee-hee! Swift Wind is totally the best horse! The best horse.” OK.

But 99.9 lbs? Really?

(Photography and additional reporting by Derek Dziak)

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Pitch a fit

  1. Damn. “Vital Babistics.” #RealTears

    Isaiah · Apr 14, 09:03 PM · #

  2. That’s 99.9 pounds WITH CHAINS. Presumably that note is meant to let us know that she’s only SO HORRIBLY FAT because of that added weight.

    Nick · Apr 14, 10:15 PM · #

  3. “Babe Belt”? Where does one find a “Babe Belt”?
    This is ridiculous. I too used to play TMNT on the playground and Loved being April. But in our version of play April wasn’t a boob-enhanced, big-haired drag queen that weighed the same as a fifth grade boy.

    — Rebecca · Apr 22, 05:24 PM · #

  4. Well-written but incomplete. Will there be a part 2?

    — Ninjinister · Apr 22, 10:58 PM · #

  5. Thanks, ninjinister! But yeah, no, probably not?

    It’s a good idea. Maybe someone else could expand? But my interest in April flagged around age 11ish so I’m not as personally interested (or invested!) in contemporary representations, or in Movie April, or in Comic Book April—just Cartoon Action Figure April 1988 – 1993. Besides! These are all the April figures Derek brought from the comic book store, so I’d feel like if I discussed anything else I’d need it right in front of me first. (So’s I can marvel at the boxes myself, natch)

    jenn · Apr 22, 11:22 PM · #

  6. According to some old source material I have lying around (notably “TMNT and Other Strangeness”), April is a very different character. Some excerpts:

    Age: 27, Weight 115, Height 5’8”. Disposition: Cheerful, friendly, and concerned about people. Hard working. Level of Education: Master’s Degree. Occupation: Computer Programmer. Skills: Hand to hand combat, athletics, swimming, running, carpentry, cooking, dancing, pilot auto/truck, antiques, history.

    Source here

    This stuff is circa 1987. After the cartoons came out, the Turtles’ creators (Eastman/Laird) said their comic had been completely ruined by the cartoon producers.

    — Donny · Apr 23, 11:28 AM · #

  7. One thing you might want to check out is the Archie Comics version of the character. The TMNT comic went from adapting the cartoon show to running for a good sixty issues doing original stories, and as part of it, April got swordsmanship training from Splinter and became something of a badass. She usually ran around in a leather jacket and jeans, and got her own three-issue miniseries at one point.

    — Thomas Wilde · Apr 23, 12:10 PM · #

  8. In the original comics, April sort of looked like the woman from Flashdance, and had the same sort of “arc welder by day, club dancer by night” feel to her character. She served as the Turtles’ guide to the world above, and saved their bacon by reprogramming the KILLER ROBOTS that had run amok in their city.

    Plucky girl reporter was a step BACK from her original bad-assitude!

    — Space Hobo · Apr 24, 08:47 AM · #

  9. None of this really matters, because no one bought April action figures unless they were collectors or future perverts.

    Horacio · Apr 25, 09:40 AM · #