In the ’90s, most children knew the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from their TV show or traveling musical act. Or their toys, video games, or snack crackers. Maybe their clothing merchandise or gelatin dessert, but there was a whole other world of ninja turtles running parallel to ours no one knew about. The Archie Adventure Series’ Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a place where ninja ideas unfit for pasta shapes were sent to be rendered into nunchuck lubricant. Case in point: the Conservation Corps.
Playing into the milquetoast environmentalism that solved climate change in the 1990s, the Conservation Corps is how a grandmother might remember the Captain Planet episode where she had to be defibrillated. We first meet them when the turtles prank their ninja master with water balloons (impolite plus an unthinkable environmental crime) and see a news report about a massive oil spill:
They immediately decide to head over to try to help. The question of how four mutant turtles with ninja weapons are going to meaningfully assist in such an ecological disaster is left to the reader.
The alien, a generic Abin Sur nerd named Benevolence, arrives on Earth to help spread the good word of eco-friendliness. Unfortunately, he immediately crashes. His first act of environmental outreach is becoming a pile of burning, biohazardous waste. His second is sending out his “Enviro-Pods” to transform normal animals into ecological superheroes. They are: Water Buffalo, Firefly, Stone Hedgehog, and Green Horn (he’s a rhino).
It’s a foolproof plan. “Star creature, you have a one day lifespan and a brain that recognizes only threatening movement or edible poop. I give you the power of unlimited fire!” Anyway, the confused living weapons soon find themselves helping the ninjas with an oil spill. Which is lucky because, again, the turtles and Splinter brought four stabbing weapons, five sticks, and a rowboat to deal with a million gallons of crude oil in the deep sea.
Speaking of threats, a superhero team is only as good as their nemesis. The turtles had the fearsome Shredder and his Foot Clan, plus Krang, the Rat King, and a whole mess of memorable minor antagonists. So who do they need the Conservation Corps’ assistance to defeat? Who is the threat the turtles have to job against to get the Conservation Corps over?
Oily Bird. I’m not kidding. He’s a bird who got some oil on him, which somehow transformed him into a giant creature capable of controlling oil all over the world. How the Corps even get to the scene of the turtles’ fight with Oily Bird is wild in itself — they’re taken into the mouth of a transdimensional being named Cudley the Cowlick that appears as a giant floating cow head and spat out near Splinter and the boys. Being eaten and squirted across time by the living embodiment of cow judgment was the ’90s TMNT comics version of “yadda yadda.”
Oily Bird’s final gambit is to try to launch the Earth towards the sun by propelling it with an enormous oil geyser, but they manage to foil his incredibly unlikely plan with the power of teamwork. And when I say teamwork, I mean everyone took turns hitting him in the eye with weapons and rocks. There’s no clearer way to describe their plan than “Let’s go beat the shit out of that fucking duck.”
Cudley the giant floating cow head takes him back to the alien’s home planet of Danopaulus which sounds stupid and is going to sound worse when you learn the series creators are named Dan Nakrosis and Paul Castiglia. Ah, but Benevolence had sent out a fifth Enviro-Pod and there are only four present members of the Conservation Corps, so they say their farewells to the turtles and go looking for their lost “brother.” They don’t seem to have a choice here. It’s worth mentioning they call the drunk driver who rewrote their DNA this morning, “Sire.”
From there, the Conservation Corps got their own short comic series at Archie Comics. And if you go into these thinking there aren’t a bunch of short strips inserted throughout where Archie characters get terrorized by recycling fairies, you have made a terrible mistake.
In the first issue, the Corps are transported back to Danopaulus and we learn Benevolence attempted to warn his fellow citizens of the consequences of their exploitation of nature, but nobody listened. No one listened to his rants on window slits shouted from his space bed! “Limp right wing talking points,” they replied!
This is a species with intergalactic teleportation technology and orbs that turn any animal into a loyal, fuckable superman and they’re bickering about how clean air regulations might hurt the economy? This could have been a substantive take on what beings would do with unlimited muscled buffalo men, but no, they just do a cartoon fascism. They arrest Benevolence, the Corps, and anyone else opposing the empire. That’s the cliffhanger– sanctimonious knockoffs thrown in jail on a world that makes no sense. And they wrapped it up with an announcement for Conservation Corps trading cards. They really thought these guys were going places, huh? There’s also a couple of ads for something called Brach’s ROCKS. It was a candy named “ROCKS” that looked so much like rocks that 80% of its marketing was dedicated to explaining to the consumer it wasn’t, like, really rocks.
In issue two, Water Buffalo finally discovers the Corps’ lost brother, and it turns out it isn’t a brother at all! It’s a humanoid, female shark. With breasts. Some might say luscious ones.
Sky Shark is immediately suspicious of Water Buffalo and the whole Corps nonsense, but he takes her back to Danopaulus, where remember: Benevolence and the impossible animal superheroes have been captured by the government. Their evil plan? They’re going to convince the public that everything is fine through the use of devices generating subliminal messages that trick people into seeing beautiful landscapes instead of the blasted hellworld their planet has become. The villain is basically Space Reaganomics with a very dumb magic trick added.
I understand not everyone has the vision of “what if a shark had tits,” but you’ve got technology that can cause mass hallucinations and this is what you’re doing with it? You could have convinced the population to eat Brach’s ROCKS and then made Brach’s ROCKS out of factory runoff, wait, did I just figure out the Brach’s ROCKS origin story?
How is the government going to deal with Benevolence and his mutated animal squad? The same way the sister of a protagonist in an Ari Aster movie might do a murder-suicide on her family: with deadly, odorless carbon monoxide. Sky Shark and Water Buffalo locate the Corps and rescue them, but they’re not out of the woods yet because Sky Shark reveals she wants to fucking eat people. It’s played for… laughs?
Jesus Christ, someone who worked on this book was really horny for this shark. It’s very distracting, but with the help of the people who were inspired and not at all horrified by a bunch of talking animals, they rise up against the government and destroy the subliminal transmitters. But we’re not quite done yet. Remember Oily Bird? Someone named Malevolence turned him into a cyborg, and he’s now Robo-Oily Bird! The confrontation has to wait until issue three, however. We’ve got kids to scam with an ad for the Olympia Sales Club! Remember that? I can’t imagine being an adult in the early 90s and having every nephew, niece, and neighbor’s kid try to sell you stationary so they could get a Game Genie or copy of Mall Madness.
By issue three, things are getting real. The Conservation Corps must do battle against the first foe they ever faced, now souped-up with radicool robotics. “How did we beat the duck last time?” they think. “Oh, yeah,” they remember.
Even the zero Conservation Corps fans would expect this to be an issue-spanning epic battle, but it’s actually over pretty quickly. Robo-Oily Bird tries ’90s misogyny at Sky Shark, she asphyxiates him, and we’re out.
We learn that Malevolence is Benevolence’s brother, and the Corps return to Earth to prevent it from heading down the same path as Danopaulus. Based on everything we’ve learned, the simplest way to do this would be to lead a coup against governments around the world, but since it’s the ’90s and papa Archie likely wouldn’t approve of a comic promoting ecoterrorism, they’re going to encourage kids to sort their paper and plastic instead. Basically, the message is that we will only meaningfully fight climate change when it is a sexist duck.
But the issue’s only halfway through! Now we get a frame story where a horrifying-looking kid named Frankie is telling us all about how he met his pals, the Conservation Corps. Who’s Frankie? Why, he’s the human friend of the Conservation Corps, of course! Here, I’ll let him explain it. Well, not “it,” but literally all other things starting with dinosaurs.
Frankie tells us about a meteor crashing into Kearny, New Jersey and somehow reviving a T. rex skeleton, which reforms itself using a styrofoam cup. The champion-named Strannofoamus Rex then goes on a rampage across New Jersey, and we get some pretty funny reactions from around the country. You’ve gotta feel bad for New Jersey at a time like this — they get hit by a meteor, then have to deal with a rampaging dinosaur skeleton, and the White House is joking about nuking the place. Even the Corps doesn’t want to help. Our national policy for a New Jersey emergency is to pitch jokes to Jay Leno.
Of course, they eventually do show up to take on the ecological menace. Firefly wants to roast the bastard to death, and I can’t say I blame him — if I could light things on fire with my mind, that would probably be my go-to solution as well. But Water Buffalo, that wet blanket, points out that burning styrofoam is bad for the environment. Firefly had no idea– a troubling reminder that these powerful beings are only a few days old and just one of them knows not to eat people or burn toxic waste.
But no fire means, shit, then how are they going to deal with the situation? We will never, ever find out, because issue three ends on a cliffhanger. The cup dinosaur is killing New (ha ha) Jersey, Frankie is getting called away by his off-screen mother, and there was never an issue four. It was as predictable as it was not disappointing. The Corps were left frozen in the early ’90s forever.
I should mention that this was not a low effort production. In every issue of the Conservation Corps, well-known guest artists were called in to illustrate the characters in their own styles. Some of these are pretty fun, like Fred Hembeck’s art of the Corps playing golf.
This means the batch of guest art at the back of issue three is the last time anyone ever saw the Corps. So, how did Archie see these characters out? Did we get another scene of them with the Ninja Turtles? Maybe a fun illustration of them helping out at a local recycling program?
No, it’s a pin-up of Sky Shark by, I’m fairly sure, Amanda Conner. Statistically, this was the sexual awakening for at least one furry, right? I desperately want to meet the person who realized what they were into through a mini-series about environmentalist anthropomorphic animals who team up with the Ninja Turtles. On second thought, maybe I don’t.
8 replies on “Nerding Day: The Conservation Corps 🌭”
First Dennard and now Merritt K? This hotdoggin’ website is excellent at introducing me to awesome comedy writers I’d not heard of before!
I forgot about the cow, but I think Leo’s face in that “Cudley’s back” panel about matches my own whenever he showed up even as a kid.
Welcome! Great article, and thank you / go to hell for introducing me to the concept of a shark pinup!
Brach’s ROCKS were just slightly-larger-than-normal jellybeans.
And Zach’s Brocks is what Zach Braff calls his horrible testicles.
On MAN, I remember those ads in Sonic comics. Never got anything from any of them, but I remember them. I think I wanted the bow. (Already had the SNES when I saw these ads.)
…Kinda want some jelly beans now.
Enjoyed the article. ^_^
That Game Genie reference sent me deep down a wiki-rabbithole. Truly a cursed artifact from the wrong dimension.
Your 90s credentials check out
Alright! A new writer has entered the ring! Where else are we going to get 4000 words about drunk-driving alien conservationists and the sexy flying sharks they love if not at 1900 Hotdog?
Welcome Merritt! We’re all looking forward to the garbage-dimension artifacts you will unearth.