Thursday, February 18, 2016

When Worlds Collide (and Thrive): Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #3

The following is my review of Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #3, which was posted on

There are certain crossovers that make us question the sobriety of the minds behind them. Back in the late 90s, someone thought it would be a good idea to do a crossover with the Power Rangers and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Keep in mind, this was during the forgettable Venus de Milo era for the Ninja Turtles. In terms of potential, this one was ill-timed, behind the curve, and utterly untenable in every measurable way.

Fast forward a decade-and-a-half, throw in Megan Fox, a successful cartoon, and a Michael Bay movie, and the situation is very different for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The same can be said for Batman. He rode three Christopher Nolan movies over the course of a decade to a new level respectability, which is saying a lot in the post-Bat Nipples era. That begs the question. Why can’t a crossover between Batman and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles work?

On the surface, it sounds like the kind of question only a kid hopped up on sugar in the mid-90s would ask, but it’s a question that James Tynion IV has been answering in Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. After two issues, Tynion IV makes the case that this is one of those crossovers that should be right up there with Wolverine and Captain America, Batman and Superman, or Deadpool and strippers.

In Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #3, the once-outlandish question finally manifests in a story that captures all the right elements for Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, right down to Michelangelo’s immaturity. These elements aren’t overly complicated, even though they involve universe-hopping, ninja battles, and technobabble ripped from Star Trek. It still works because compared to a typical episode of the old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, it might as well be a typical Tuesday.

The story takes its time, sometimes to a frustrating degree, to set up the conflict that brings Batman and the turtles together. When the teasing finally ends, the payoff is undeniable. Like a movie trailer that doesn’t spoil the best parts of a movie beforehand, it guides the story into a satisfying convergence.

The greatest strength of this convergence has little to do with the inherent theatrics of Batman teaming up with a team of teenage anthropomorphic turtles. Tynion IV creates heavy stakes for both sides, especially for the turtles. He puts them in a position where they can’t just hang out in the Batcave and drool over Batman’s gadgets. They have to return to their world or they revert back to their pre-mutated form.

The reason for this is more than a little contrived, even by the weighted standards of early-90s cartoons, but it accomplishes an important task. It creates a sense of urgency and dramatic weight, which are often among the first casualties in an atypical crossover. Too often, such a narrative relies heavily on the novelty alone to carry the story. Tynion IV actually tries to build a functional story around it. When that story involves pizza-loving turtle humanoids, this can be a challenge.

The story that culminates in Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #3, certainly meets that challenge and does so without undermining the personality of each character. Michelangelo is still lovably immature. Donatello is still lovably nerdy. Raphael is still lovably temperamental. Batman is still the dark, brooding ball of angst he’s always been. There’s nothing about these characters that every person born after 1987 will find out of place.

The combination of personality and story help convey the necessary impact as the conflict progresses. At times, it’s presented as the final conflict of the story, but it ends up being a setback that paves the way for a much larger conflict. The unexpected tactics of Shredder, which is saying something for someone who teams up with alien brain creatures, adds a compelling twist to a story built on a premise that most over the age of 12 wouldn't struggle to take seriously.

This twist in the story, along with the high stakes it established, promises more coordination between Batman and the turtles. Companies like Apple make their billions by giving us things we never knew we needed. Tynion IV follows this business model to the letter, creating something that we didn’t know we wanted until it was presented. It might not trigger the same excitement as the next iPhone, but it does generate plenty of intrigue.

That’s not to say there aren’t some shortcomings in the story. There are times when it feels rushed and in many respects, it has to be. There’s only so much time a story can dedicate to two entirely different worlds interacting with one another before it becomes akin to an economics lecture. There isn’t much time and energy put into a more in-depth interaction between Batman’s world and the world of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That’s entirely understandable, but requires one too many assumptions.

While Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #3 is not presented as the final showdown for the conflict that unfolds, the action is somewhat muted due to being rushed. However, it never gives the impression that anything is being glossed over or underplayed. There is still plenty of story left and plenty of directions it can take. Between Batman’s resources and Michelangelo’s talent for screwing around, there’s plenty of entertainment value to be had.

It is a remarkable accomplishment, creating a functional crossover between Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Maybe Batman is just more flexible than the Power Rangers, but there’s something to be said about a story that threats the concept as more than a gimmick. In an era where unwritten rules dictate that every gimmick be done to death, it’s refreshing to find one like this that is genuinely enjoyable.

Final Score: 9 out of 10


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