This will be a long post but bear with me, I promise to try and make it interesting! 🙂
First thing’s first: Show any TMNT fan this picture (at right) and ask them: “which character is this?” You’ll invariably get one answer: Krang. (Or some fans might decide to spell it Kraang with the extra ‘a’ as it was originally spelled, but they’re referring to the same character). The comic pictured is the second print variant of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #7. And indeed, when you see collectors talk about this comic book you’ll hear them refer to the “Krang variant” or “Krang cover,” and when you see it listed for sale on eBay you’ll find “Krang” in the listing titles — for example here below is a screenshot I just took:
This pictured comic is actually the second printing of TMNT #7, from January of 1989… the first print of TMNT #7 was from 1986 and has different cover artwork (as you’ll see in a moment). For context here, Mirage had put out a later string of second print TMNT comics, with some excellent variations of original covers. Note that there is a manufacturing-error-version of the second printing of issue #4 which famously got misprinted with the wrong cover artwork… But the “correct” artwork for the 2nd printing of issue #4 is a nice full-color variation of the original:
I think any observer would look at this situation and draw the logical conclusion that the character circled above is the basis for the second printing’s “take” on the original cover… i.e. zeroing in on one particular part of that original cover and making it much more detailed and interesting for the second printing variant version:
With this background having been laid down, let’s proceed:
Exploring The Question: 1st Appearance of Krang in Comics
So now, having made this “lead-in” to the post, I can start to tackle the original topic this post is meant to answer: Krang’s first appearance in comics. Because if any TMNT fan will look at the 2nd print variant of TMNT #7 and confidently say: “that’s Krang” and if the 2nd print is a variation on the 1st print… and if the first print is from 1986… Then why, when you search for information on Krang’s first appearance in comics, does everybody seem to point to a comic published two years later in 1988? What’s going on here?! And that’s the subject of this post! 🙂
The 1988 comic that the Internet credits with Krang’s first appearance — despite being published two years after the artwork you just saw — is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #1 (mini-series) published by Archie Comics, pictured at right. Here’s a few sources that make this first appearance credit (and note that these sources are all the first ones to come up if you were to search Google for “1st appearance of Krang in comics” so anybody looking for information about the true first appearance of Krang is going to see these as their primary source of information):
“Krang is a character debuting in the 1987 animated series as the disembodied brain of an evil alien warlord from another dimension and an antagonist of the Ninja Turtles. He retains this backstory for most early incarnations, although in later incarnations he is presented as an Utrom. Krang is a supervillain appearing in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV shows and most frequently in the 1987 cartoon and its associated media, such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures comic book and most of the classic TMNT video games. Krang’s first comics appearance was in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures vol. 1, #1, published by Archie Comics in August 1988.”
(Note the part about Krang being presented as an Utrom — this is important as we’ll get to in a bit).
“Krang (also spelled Kraang) is a supervillain appearing in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV shows and most frequently in the 1987 cartoon and its associated media, such as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures comic book and most of the classic TMNT video games. Krang’s first comics appearance was in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures vol. 1, #1, published by Archie Comics in August 1988.
“Krang was originally created for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated television series, first broadcast in 1987. He was created by David Wise and Patti Howeth. He made his first appearance in comics in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #1, written and illustrated by Michael Dooney.”
So all three of the sources above credit the 1988 Archie publication, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #1, with the 1st appearance of Krang. Yet, some of our go-to sources for comic book information do not seem to share the same view (or at least not at this time)… For example, here’s the ComicsPriceGuide.com entry for this issue. In the key comments field we might expect to see “first appearance of Krang” listed but instead we just see “Adapts TV cartoon / Not by Eastman-Laird“:
Similarly, on Atomic Avenue (which taps into the Comic Base system) the key notes field just says “PSA Message From Archie comics on Heath Education” (and nothing about Krang):
Finally, how about CGC? Here’s a recently graded CGC copy (you can tell it is recent because of the new label design). The key comments section says… nothing.
And just to double-verify, let’s use the CGC verification tool to look up this very copy above and see if anything about Krang’s first appearance shows up online:
Nope! Nothing about Krang!
Utroms and Krang: The Connection
And now it is time to circle back to that Turtlepedia remark about Krang being presented as an Utrom in later incarnations, because that Utrom connection is the crux of what’s going on here. The Mirage page about TMNT #3 says the following:
“At the hi-tech facilities, Splinter discovers that the humans that work there are actually small alien creatures that utilize humanoid robotic bodies to disguise themselves. These aliens, known as the Utroms, are the precursors to what would become Krang on the television cartoon.”
And there you have it: the Utroms from the Mirage comic books were the basis for Krang — Krang was derived from these little aliens with their humanoid robotic bodies. This panel below from TMNT #3 is presented by Mirage on their web page with the caption “Meet The Utroms” (they are not wearing name tags but if you had to peg one of them as the most likely Krang precursor I’d suggest that one in the front):
Is there meant to be a “stand-out” individual among these aliens? Let’s fast-forward to issue #7, the one we saw earlier with the “Krang cover” artwork. Quoting Mirage again (my emphasis in bold on the “lone Utrom”):
“As Leo questions the aliens’ motives, a lone Utrom walks in and explains how they came to Earth. Twenty years ago their ship had crash landed and killed one third of their crew. The survivors managed to integrate themselves into American society thanks to their high tech android disguises. The crew took jobs and quickly amassed enough wealth to buy the building that would become their headquarters. The Utroms salvaged what material they could in effort to build their Translocation Device – the Transmat. Unfortunately while working on their machine, the visitors had an accident 15 1/2 years earlier. The Utroms were bringing the last load of supplies from their crashed ship to their abode when a blind man walked in front of their truck, causing them to swerve out of the way. This violent action dislodged a canister filled with alien ooze and it flew into the street, striking a young man in the head. The container continued to bounce down the street until it hit an aquarium full of turtles that a boy was holding, shattering it. The turtles and the canister fell into the sewers, where the reptiles were bathed in the strange glowing ooze. It was then that Splinter found them… and the rest is history.”
It is only natural for collectors to desire a specific Utrom to point to and say “that one — that’s the precursor to Krang”… and this “lone Utrom” telling the story of the aquarium of turtles and the glowing ooze makes for as good a candidate as any, wouldn’t you say? Might this “lone Utrom” be the very one featured/pictured in the cover artwork?
Maybe, maybe not. Clearly this is a first appearance that falls under the category of “it’s complicated.” I’m reminded very much of the character Savage Dragon, who first appeared in Savage Dragon Limited Series #1 (note the existence of a 1-in-100-rarity newsstand edition)… But there was an earlier incarnation as “The Dragon” in the Megaton series years earlier, which for decades the industry had given the key first appearance credit — until one day someone realized that “The Dragon” had actually appeared before that, in yet another earlier incarnation, in issue #1 of the Graphic Fantasy Fanzines (Ajax Comics).
Krang seems like a similar “it’s complicated” situation… because the version of this alien we saw in the cartoon TV series was not the original incarnation, but rather was “adapted” from what we see in the earlier comic books. And then the Archie comic book series simply adapted the cartoon back over to comics — so quite arguably the cartoon character named “Krang”/”Kraang” did first appear “as Krang” (i.e. as that specific named character) in the 1988 Archie comic for the first time.
A good explanation for why the character Krang was adapted from the Utroms appears in this article with the heading “Reason For Creation” and quoted below:
“While the comics were dark, gritty, and bloody, that’s not the type of TV series Wise wanted to make. The 1987 cartoon was going to be a kids show, so going full steam ahead with Japanese-style fighting wasn’t an option — which is why Wise opted to create the supervillain Krang as a way to alleviate the violence.”
That same article also points to the 1988 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures comic as the first appearance of the Krang character in comic book format:
“The Mirage-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics was in its third year when David Wise adapted the series for the small screen. The cult-favorite Ninja Turtles were a foreign concept to television audiences, so when Wise’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon debuted in December 1987, he wanted to create something that would appeal to both fans of the comics as well as new viewers. That is why he borrowed one supervillain from the comics — the Shredder — while also creating one of his own — Krang. Since Krang was Wise’s creation, the alien warlord first appeared in the second episode of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, “Enter the Shredder,” which led to him becoming one of the most iconic and recognizable Ninja Turtles villains. After a massive popularity boom, Krang made the jump from the small screen to the comic page in the first issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, though, along with Bebop and Rocksteady, he was phased out early on and only reappeared during stories involving alien threats.”
So the situation here seems to be: Eastman and Laird created Utroms which we meet for the first time in that TMNT #3 panel, then in TMNT #7 (1986) a “lone Utrom” — clearly important although not wearing a Krang name tag — is singled out not only to appear on the cover of that issue, but to be individually featured in the story as the one telling the tale of the canister of ooze. Then in 1987, Eastman & Laird’s alien-brain-creation (complete with robotic humanoid) is the basis for the villain by the name of Krang in the cartoon. The cartoon was adapted from the Mirage comics but then that cartoon gets adapted back to comics in the 1988 Archie mini-series… where the character that TV viewers have come to know as “Krang” appears for the first time as Krang.
But if CGC doesn’t credit the Archie book with Krang’s first appearance, which book carries that credit? I can’t find one! I don’t even see a label note where Utroms are mentioned! The current CGC key comments notes for each early Mirage TMNT issue are as follows:
- “Origin & 1st app. of the Teenage Mutant Ninja, Turtles, Splinter & Shredder.”
- “First appearance of April O’Neil & the Mousers.”
- “Pin-up by Matt Howarth. Wraparound cover.”
- “Pin-up by Jason Sklaver. Wraparound cover.”
- “Wraparound cover.”
- “Wraparound cover.”
- “1st color Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, in 4 page story by Kevin Eastman and, Richard Corben.”
Also: Raphael from 1985 gets the label note: “1st Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles spin-off. 1st appearance of Casey Jones.” Fugitoid gets the label note: “Story continued in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #5, Wraparound cover. Pin-up by Peter Laird.” Michaelangelo gets the note “Wraparound cover,” and Donatello gets the label note “Pin-up by Stan Sakai, Wraparound cover” and that covers all the early TMNT Mirage issues!
So as you can see, nothing about Utroms or Krang, even in the issues where we know those aliens appear. Also note that for issue #7 the 2nd printing (featuring that awesome “Krang cover” that I pictured at the very beginning), the CGC key comment section mentions only “Wraparound cover” but it is worth noting (and CGC may want to consider adding to that key comments note area) that second print copies of issue #7 are black & white inside (which is important because the 1st printing has that “1st color TMNT” credit).
The “True” First Krang Appearance?
So, what’s the “true” first “Krang” appearance here, the earliest incarnation of the character? Every collector is going to have to make their own call, but I don’t think there’s any reason to pick just one important Krang comic to collect when we can pick several of them. I haven’t met the collector yet who owns just one comic book, after all! 🙂 So why limit ourselves? Think of all the other situations similar to this one: With the first appearance of Savage Dragon we want to collect not just the Limited Series #1 but the earlier Dragon incarnations too; with Spawn, we want to collect not just Spawn #1 (preferably the newsstand edition), but we also want to own Rust #1 too (preferably the special limited edition) with the black & white McFarlane pin-up containing the earlier prototype version of the Spawn logo.
And so with Krang I’d say let’s collect them all! TMNT #3 where we “meet the Utroms” (and where the NYCC variant is the most rare version to collect), TMNT #7 where an Utrom is “singled out” to be featured on the cover and also as a “lone Utrom” in the story (and there, the 2nd printing looks to be the more desirable version of TMNT #7 to collect as I’ll go into in a moment), and then let’s also go after issue #1 of the 1988 Archie Mini-Series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures (where there’s a more rare cover price variant we want as our preference, which I’ll get to in a bit).
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #7 — Collect The First or Second Print (Which is More Rare)?
One of the two eBay listings I pictured earlier for the 2nd printing of TMNT #7 had “Super Rare” in the title — that should catch our attention and cause us to want to investigate further. I clicked through and here’s what the listing description itself says (not really any further information, unfortunately, just repeating again that it is “super hard to find”):
My eyebrow always goes up skeptically when I see the phrase “super rare” applied to a comic when I find it listed among several other copies that my search turned up (because if it is so super rare, why am I able to find a whole bunch of available copies to choose from?). But take out the word “super” from that phrase and then I’d have to say I agree — because from my own experience, it turns out that at least on a relative basis to the first printing, copies of the 2nd printing of TMNT #7 are markedly more difficult to find out there, especially in the highest grades. For example, the first thing I did in looking for one was to search eBay for CGC graded copies of TMNT #7. Out of 14 results, 3 were irrelevant (i.e. not the issue in question), 10 were the 1st printing of TMNT #7, and just 1 was the 2nd printing. [Pictured below is a screen-capture of my search result for posterity]. One out of 11 listings for TMNT #7, as a reference point, is 9% observed rarity for the second print…
I then searched for raw/ungraded 2nd print copies. I found only these four listings:
Meanwhile, I found that eBay was flooded with first print copies to choose from, with over 80 results (I’ll just picture the first few otherwise this post would scroll down forever):
So once again, looking at the observed relative rarity from actual available raw/ungraded copies for sale, we observe that a single digit percentage of the total TMNT #7 copies found out there on eBay are the 2nd printing.
And then there’s the CGC census data. I looked up issue #7 and found that CGC has graded 231 first print copies, but just 24 second print copies. That adds up to 255 total copies — 24 out of 255 = about 9%. So in my experience, as documented here, the “observed rarity” out there for TMNT #7 in the marketplace argues that second print copies — with the “Krang Cover” — are markedly more difficult to find relative to the first print copies, by an order of magnitude. Here’s the CGC census data as of this writing for these two printings starting with the first:
That’s the 1st print CGC census data. And below is the data for the 2nd print, where amazingly, there are only four copies in 9.8 on census as of today of the 2nd print, versus 89 in 9.8 of the first print. That adds up to 93 copies in 9.8 for TMNT #7 across both printings — and 4 out of 93 = about 4.3% census rarity in 9.8 for 2nd print copies.
So between the observed relative rarity in the marketplace, and the relative rarity of CGC graded copies we see on the online census, I’d have to agree with that eBay seller that the 2nd printing of TMNT #7 is, at least, relatively quite rare compared to the 1st printing. I still don’t know if I’d go as far as to say “super” rare but I’m open to being convinced if anyone has print run or other rarity data that you’d like to leave as a comment at the bottom of this post! 🙂 But clearly, between the two printings for issue #7, the 2nd printing seems much more desirable to me. The 2nd printing of this issue reminds me in a way of Spawn #1 Black & White Edition, because A) it was printed later in time chronologically, B) it is black and white inside instead of full color, and C) it is harder to find out there than the original.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures (Archie, 8/1988) — Rare Cover Price Variant
With Mirage Comics, collectors may or may not have noticed that by issue #4 they were selling to Canada and including an alternate price for buyers paying in Canadian dollars (in the 1980’s the currency exchange rate took a real jump and publishers started demanding that Canadians pay a higher price when paying in Canadian currency, so that they could still make a profit when that currency was exchanged back into US dollars). By including a separate Canadian price in small type at the bottom, Mirage was able to print one batch of copies to cover all of North America.
Why am I telling you this? Because in this section of the post I’m covering Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #1 which was published by Archie. And instead of including both prices on all copies like Mirage did, check out what Archie did instead:
Collectors familiar with 75 cent variants at Marvel (and D.C.) will already understand why this $1.25 version is very interesting as far as rarity… but not many collectors actually know about that “class” of cover price variants so, readers, how about 35 cent variants — anyone heard of those? Of course you have: Iron Fist #14… Star Wars #1… the 35 cent cover price variant copies of those issues are worth a fortune compared to their regularly priced counter-parts, on account of the fact that the higher cover price copies are much more rare.
And as you may have guessed: The $1.25 copies of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #1 are much more rare too. Here’s why: Remember, this was a currency exchange rate phenomenon, i.e. the higher priced copies were printed out for the Canadian market. And the Canadian market was actually a pretty tiny fraction of the total North American market… with a smaller population than California for some contrast, at 26.9 million people.
Meanwhile, the population of the United States in 1988 by contrast was 244.5 million people. That adds up to a combined North American market for comic books of 271.4 million people. But Archie was selling $1.25 cover price copies only to the Canadian portion of that market, working out to 9.9% of the market size by population (26.9 / 271.4 = 9.9%). Therefore logic would dictate that only about 9.9% of the total copies produced were those $1.25 cover price copies. So that effectively makes $1.25 cover price variant copies of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #1 “one-in-ten” variants. That’s clearly the more rare and therefore preferable version for collectors to go after when seeking this issue, and all you have to look for to spot them is the higher cover price at $1.25.
And then two other side notes here about this: (1) Both “direct edition” and “newsstand” copies exist for each cover price (so collectors may decide they prefer copies out of one distribution channel over the other), and (2) The TMNT “regular series” at Archie (which came after the mini-series and started 3/1989) also has these cover price variants, for example here is issue #1:
So There You Have It!
And that concludes my foray into the 1st appearance of Krang in comics! If you’ve read this far then hopefully you found this post interesting and helpful, and you got some comic collecting ideas out of reading it. Check out my Rare Comics blog for posts on rare comics to look for beyond the topic of the TMNT, especially if you found yourself intrigued about cover price variants (which I talk about quite a bit)! 🙂
Happy Collecting! 🙂
[4/5/2017 UPDATE: there has been a new development!
Read about it here in “Part II”]