I told myself I wasn’t going to read the Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic that came out this week. I also told myself I wasn’t going to enjoy it at all. I was wrong about both of those things.
Thankfully, the crossover between the Heroes in a Half-Shell and the Dark Knight doesn’t try to act like these characters all exist in the same world, as sometimes happens. Instead, Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 — written by James Tynion IV, with art by Freddie Williams III, Jeremy Colwell and Tom Napolitano — acknowledges that each heroic faction comes to readers from different universes.
The Turtles, their mentor, human friends and enemies all wind up in Gotham City as a result of unrevealed super-science machinations. There’s a lot of stage-setting build-up in this first issue as the four bros have a meet-brute with Killer Croc and Batman goes up against the
Hand Foot while investigating thefts of cutting-edge technology.
If you’re only familiar with the movie or cartoon versions of the Turtles, then it might not be readily apparent just how much thematic linkage there is between Batman and Mikey, Raph, Leo and Don. The original version of the TMNT by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird was made a parody/homage to Frank Miller’s early 1980s gritty superhero work on Daredevil. It’s strongly implied that the radioactive ooze that mutates the turtles came from a traffic accident that blinded a young boy. Splinter’s name is a riff on Stick, the older blind man who taught Matt Murdock how to use his augmented senses. And calling the evil ninja clan The Foot is a callback to The Hand, the malevolent martial arts horde Daredevil battled during the Miller years. Miller, of course, went on to work on Batman, infusing him with a harshness that continues to linger.
My preconception about Batman/TMNT was that it was going to feel forced and that the goofy tone of the four teenage amphibians would feel kludged into the super-serious milieu of current-day Gotham. But Tynion deftly pings the Turtles’ jokiness off other comedic elements that have long been present in the Bat-universe. Alfred giving Bruce Wayne grief over the absurdity of his pointy-eared double identity isn’t just leavening of bleak proceedings.
That beat opens up Gotham for the tonality of TMNT wackiness. And Tynion plays the contradictory nature of villain Killer Croc — a character who’s also played as either dunce, schemer, inhuman predator or tragically misunderstood — for laughs, too.
The result is a feeling that you’re reading a project where the jokes almost write themselves. “Croc operates underground! So do the Turtles! They’re all green! Let’s have them fight!”
A more sly in-joke in the panels above has the Turtles noting that Gotham doesn’t even exist on their Earth. Batman and the Turtles don’t even meet until the last page of the issue but that didn’t feel like a disappointment here. I’ve still got some worries about this miniseries’ length — as the fun might not last six issues — but Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 wasn’t the wincefest I was dreading. Cowabunga, Bruce.