Ninja Turtles Ripped Off Marvel (So Marvel Tried To Rip Them Back)
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles went from a quick parody drawing (the pre-internet equivalent of a s**tpost) to an '80s-'90s cultural phenomenon. When that happened, Marvel Comics had every right to feel a little miffed -- not just because they no longer had the monopoly on crime-fighting mutants, but also because the TMNT straight up lifted their origin story from a Marvel comic. In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 (1984), we see a kid saving a blind old man from being run over by a truck carrying radioactive canisters, one of which hits the kid in the face ...
The canister then falls into a sewer, where the radioactive goo inside spills out and causes some turtles to grow giant, stand upright, and start talking like surfer dudes.
Of course, you already know that those turtles went on to fight the Shredder and make millions of dollars for Pizza Hut (both through advertisement and personal consumption) ... but have you ever wondered what happened to that kid who got smacked in the face for his heroism? Turns out the accident blinded him but heightened his other senses and made him develop sick ninja moves, as seen 20 years earlier in Daredevil #1 (1964).
Yep, it's the same scene seen from two different angles, and there are other similarities: Daredevil has a sensei named Stick? The Turtles have a rat dad named Splinter. Daredevil fights a ninja order called the Hand? The Turtles fight the Foot. Bullseye stabs Elektra through the chest on a rooftop? Leonardo stabs the Shredder through the chest on a rooftop. (If you think that's brutal, wait till you hear about the time Leo talked Hitler into suicide.)
When the earliest TMNT comics started making some noise, Daredevil writer/artist Frank Miller reportedly chuckled and said, "If these guys could draw better, they'd be a real threat." (Presumably referring to the artists, not the turtles themselves.) Within a few years, those poorly drawn turtles would be more famous than Daredevil ever was, and Marvel wasn't so amused anymore. In 1986, they decided to retaliate by releasing a spoof of their own spoof, only instead of turning Daredevil into a turtle and calling it a delayed reaction to the radioactive canister, they went with another slow-moving animal species. The result had the catchy name of Adult Thermonuclear Samurai Elephants.
Many readers thought the ad above was just a gag, but no, it was a real comic Marvel was working on. Writer Roger Stern agreed to write the script, but for whatever reason, Marvel was having a hard time finding an artist willing to draw elephants holding swords for 32 pages. After some well-known names passed on the project, the art chores ended up falling on the multi-talented Maddie Blaustein, who was also a writer, editor, and voice actress (she would go on to voice Meowth on several Pokemon seasons and movies). This might explain why it took Blaustein over a year to complete the comic, by which point Marvel was late to the TMNT-spoofing party. Every possible four-word combination ending in an animal name had already been slapped on a comic book cover:
In order to sell the Adult Thermonuclear Samurai Elephants comic, Marvel changed the name to Power Pachyderms (a play on a completely unrelated comic, Power Pack) and marketed it as an X-Men self-parody. The story followed four circus elephants who are irradiated by a gene bomb and turn into Dumbo-fied versions of Cyclops, Wolverine, Colossus, and ... Elektra, clearly just because they wanted a sai enthusiast to stand in for Raphael when they were still aiming this comic at confused moms looking for TMNT stuff.
That was the Power Pachyderms' first and last appearance to date, which is impressive considering that pretty much every other obscure Marvel team has 200 cameos and a Disney+ series in development. The lesson here: plagiarism doesn't pay off. Except when it does. Okay, fine, there's no lesson.
Top image: Marvel Studios, New Line Cinema