Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may have an unruly title (would it have been so bad for it to be called “Batman Meets the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” or something like that?), but as a presumably non-canon crossover in which everyone’s favorite pizza-loving reptilian adolescents find themselves (and a few of their enemies and allies) in Gotham City, its appeal should have a pretty long reach among superhero fans.
A joint publishing effort by DC Comics and IDW Entertainment, this hardcover edition of the recent six-issue miniseries is written by experienced and talented Batman scribe James Tynion IV, with art by Freddie E. Williams II, colors by Jeremy Colwell, and letters by Tom Napolitano. Is it good?
Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol. 1 (DC Comics/IDW Publishing)
I literally cannot remember a time in my life in which I wasn’t aware of Batman – as a character, a franchise, a concept, or however you want to define him. I don’t think a day has gone by since in which I don’t think about the Caped Crusader. The bat-symbol is a veritable part of my identity, branded into my soul the way that the horrifyingly poorly depicted Batman of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice burned it into his enemies. I’m so enamored with Batman that my supreme disappointment in that movie has rendered me seemingly unable to finish writing an article in response to that movie because I have so many goddamn feelings about the goddamn Batman that I don’t know where to begin or end.
I can’t remember a time before I learned about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, either. By the time I was born in 1991, the Turtles were already an ubiquitous part of American pop culture, thanks mostly to the 1987 animated series (Of course, it couldn’t have been possible without the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics that started in 1984 by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, but it’s not like that’s what my parents were reading to me before bedtime). As a small child, I probably loved that show about as much as Batman: The Animated Series. I vaguely recall Michelangelo being my favorite because he was silly and I thought nunchaku were cool. The characters probably inspired me to ask for (and receive) an actual pet turtle for my fifth birthday. I even distinctly remember watching the live-action film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze multiple times with my younger brother at my maternal grandparents’ house, thinking that the “Ninja Rap” at the end was the coolest. I may not have known whom Vanilla Ice was, but “go ninja go ninja go!” was a pretty great hook. So why is it that Batman stuck with me through adulthood while TMNT didn’t?
Perhaps part of the reason is that as popular as the Turtles have been, Batman has been even more popular. Besides the fact that Batman has about 45 years on the Turtles, Batman has had more television shows, movies, video games, and, for what it’s worth, comic books in the past 25 years than the Heroes in a Half Shell did. That doesn’t mean that I gravitated to Batman more simply because he was more popular, because if I was the kind of person who only liked things that were popular, I’d probably have started watching Game of Thrones by now.
Of course, it could just be that Batman is just an inherently more appealing concept to me, but for the sake of argument, I won’t entertain that idea too much.
Instead, perhaps the reason that I’m such a bigger Batman fan is directly related to the way that I got into comics as a teen. Batman was accessible – relatively speaking for comics, of course. The Dark Knight Returns. The Killing Joke. Year One. The Long Halloween. The internet (because I didn’t know any hardcore comic book fans at the time) assured me that these were not only the best of the best, but that anyone, regardless of their experience with Batman comics, could pick up one of these stories and enjoy them more than any other.
Where are the singular, quintessential, accessible TMNT stories? Why can’t I google “best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stories” and get the kinds of results that I’d get for “best Batman stories?” [Ed. Note: It’s been a while since Greg has read fellow AiPT! writer Mark’s 25 Greatest Moments in TMNT History.] Seriously, if you have any suggestions, please let me know in the comments. I hear that the recent IDW ongoing series co-written by co-creator Kevin Eastman is fantastic, but I also hear that it’s a bit difficult to follow, and with about 60 issues to date, not to mention all of the spin-off miniseries and one-shots, I’m not ready for that kind of commitment.
Which brings me back, in a bit of a roundabout way, to Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. If a 6-issue crossover with Batman can’t get me back into the Turtles, what else can? I should note from the get-go that Batman/TMNT is unlikely to ever be considered among the “best” of either franchise. It’s an enjoyable read, but for a few reasons that I’ll get into soon, it doesn’t achieve greatness. What it has in spades, though, is accessibility.
I don’t necessarily believe that one should be a fan of both franchises in a crossover in order to fully enjoy said crossover. A crossover should say to the reader: “Hey, do you like A? Are you vaguely familiar with B? Then you’ll love A Meets B!” Then, the publishers hope, the crossover will make you interested enough in B to start following B on its own.
I had no trouble at all following the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles part of this story. If you’re even remotely aware of any incarnation of the Turtles, you should be fine. Similarly, if you’re not a Batman fan (there have to be some of you out there), I can’t imagine that any of this stuff would go over your head. Heck, even if you’re some sort of weirdo that’s completely unknowledgeable about both franchises, there isn’t anything in here that’s too challenging.
I suppose there is an argument to be made that in his attempt to make the book beginner-friendly, Tynion has in some way produced watered-down versions of these characters. By presenting them as if you’ve never seen them before, there’s not much room to explore them. For example, what exactly are Shredder’s motivations, beyond the fact that he is nebulously evil and wants to take over New York City?
Yet a crossover with Batman wouldn’t be the proper place to ask that kind of deep question, would it? The point of this comic is to present a fun “what if” scenario and provide enough clever fan-service to keep devotees of both franchises satisfied.
I actually admire the restraint that Tynion displayed by presenting such bare-bones versions of these characters. I don’t know the extent of his experience with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but he’s certainly proven to know his way around Batman, with comics that show a great deal of knowledge of and admiration for the character’s history. But he knows his audience here, and rightly assumes that they don’t know (or care) about the minutiae of what he has done with Batman in his collaborations with Scott Snyder on the primary Batman title and Batman and Robin Eternal, or Tynion’s own Detective Comics run which just started (and is well-worth checking out for more seasoned Bat-fans).
Once you get to the plot, it’s not much to write home about, but as an excuse to get these two disparate sets of characters together, it works. The Turtles and their mentor, Master Splinter, have followed the evil Shredder and his minions into a portal from their home in New York City into Gotham City, which doesn’t exist in their universe. Shredder is in the midst of creating a device that, when completed, will revert the Turtles back into their animalistic forms. Without the ability to walk upright, fight, talk, or eat pizza like humans, Donatello, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo would be unable to prevent Shredder from taking over New York City…or Gotham. Batman decides to help the Turtles stop shredder, but not before obligatorily fighting all of them first. Come on, we all knew that was coming!
The plot isn’t particularly enthralling, but it didn’t have to be. After all, this is a comic that’s built upon how characters from other universes interact with each other. Alfred gets frustrated by Mikey’s goofy antics, Donatello falls in love with the Batcomputer, and Raphael, already the closest thing that the Turtles have to a Batman, has a nice chat with The Dark Knight himself.
Tynion does throw a few surprises in the mix. Interestingly, the Batman villain getting the most exposure here is not The Joker, but The Penguin, who appears appropriately weak in front of the intimidating Shredder. There’s also one absolutely delightful moment involving the most popular members of Batman’s rogue’s gallery towards the end that I’m tempted to give away, but for your sake will leave it to you to discover it for yourself.
Even as far as the dialogue is concerned, Tynion’s writing here is much broader and more matter-of-fact than it usually is, but it never becomes so on-the-nose that I wanted to roll my eyes. None of the characters are particularly subtle, yet their personalities and senses of humor still shine through.
Freddie E. Williams II does his part to keep the book accessible, too. While no two pages are laid out quite the same way, it never veers into “experimental” territory, and it shouldn’t be too difficult for comic book newcomers to follow along with the action or story. Unlike some other artists with “painterly” styles, Williams keeps things kinetic and expressive, with sensibilities that would work well for either the Turtles or Batman on their own. Jeremy Colwell is a perfect fit as a colorist, keeping Gotham city appropriately dark while allowing the color of the Turtles to really pop on the page.
Batman/TMNT is a fun, inoffensive treat for fans of both franchises, but it’s that commitment to fan service that also holds it back. In his commitment to pleasing fans, Tynion doesn’t take many risks, and it often feels as if he’s checking boxes on a checklist to make sure that he’s putting everything into this story that a Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover should have. The result is a pleasant experience that’s just a bit bland. (I should note that the review copy provided to me by DC did not have any indicators denoting how issues were separated, nor did it have any back matter or “bonus features” like so many other trades do. As such, I can only judge the comic based on what was given to me).
Is it Good?
For better or worse, Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles does just about everything that you’d expect a crossover between these two franchises to do, with a few surprises and attractive art. It made me want to read more TMNT comics. For that alone, I’d call it a success.
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