With the comics industry continuing to battle the effects of the pandemic, Brendan Allen and I are continuing to talk about comics that the other might not have read. I’m more of a capes, laser guns and swords guy, while Brendan loves dark magic, criminals and things that go bump in the night. This week we’re joined by Scott Redmond to talk about one fun crossover.
Over the past decade, DC Comics has crossed their heroes over with properties like Star Trek, Conan the Barbarian, the Planet of the Apes, the Power Rangers and many more. The crown jewel of these crossovers, however, has far and away been Batman / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from DC and IDW Publishing. Created by James Tynion IV, Freddie Williams III, Jeremy Colwell, and Tom Napolitano, the crossover proved to be such a success that two sequels followed. Why wouldn’t they? This was a perfect mash-up that fans have wanted for years.
When a mysterious new gang of ninja appears in Gotham, Batman is immediately on their trail. However, the “Foot Clan” are not the only newcomers to Gotham City. Who are the giant turtles that have been tracking the Foot, and are they friend or foe?!
Tony Thornley: Normally I describe these sorts of crossovers as dumb fun. There’s some gymnastics to get the two IPs to meet, then a fight, then a team-up against a common enemy. Sure, all those elements are here, but this story is anything but dumb. Tynion was writing Detective Comics at the time that the first volume of the trilogy came out and he made sure it would fit what was going on in both titles. Is it neat and tidy? No. But it’s conscious how it works in the world of both properties.
Because of that I think it really elevates the whole story. Yes, it hits all the tropes of these crossovers, but it’s smart, self aware, and best of all, a lot of fun. Brendan, you’ve kinda wanted to do this one for a while, because you had it on your bookshelf, and hadn’t read it. I’m glad you pushed me to revisit it. What did each of you think?
Brendan Allen: It’s true this one has been on my read list for a while. Partly just for the fact that Freddie Williams III illustrated it. I absolutely loved the work he did on Injustice Vs. Masters of the Universe and He-Man/Thundercats (which I definitely want to pull in for a future column). I really love how his work pays homage to the source materials. I like his He-Man more than the one I watched on Saturday morning cartoons.
Anyway, two of my favorites, Batman and TMNT, mashed up by Tynion, with Williams on pencils? No brainer.
Scott Redmond: This is a series that I always meant to read but never got around to checking out, so I’m glad I got to do it with you both. I feel like I have to quote Joey Tribbiani from Friends when looking at this series. What’s not to like? TMNT, good! Batman, good! Both together, Good! I very much agree that it is a step above the dumb fun level of crossover. The fact that it set the story loosely within the continuity of both worlds at the time was a very nice touch. That added more weight than just some alternate/amorphous version of the properties mashing up.
TT: Agreed. They produced an animated movie loosely based on this story and they took the multiverse stuff all out. I think the movie actually suffered for that (though it did include Batgirl who I kinda wish WAS here).
In hindsight, I think I like this series a lot more than I did initially. This feels quite a bit like the best parts of Tynion’s current Batman run. He knows that the concept of Batman and the world of Gotham are a bit silly. So instead of trying to take it too seriously, he leans into the silliness.
BA: I think that’s one of the things that works so well for the team-up. Batman is the straight man to the Turtles’ nonsense. There are so many tongue-in-cheek pokes at Batman’s whole setup. Why does a grown man have a secret cave where he collects his toys? What is the deal with the cowl? And that T-Rex is obviously there to be ridden like a bronco, right?
What’s Raphael’s line? ‘A nut in a Dracula costume that punches clowns?’ That about sums up Batman, though, doesn’t it?
TT: And Donatello’s follow-up- What Dracula movies are you watching? There’s so many genuinely funny moments here.
Tynion fills the story with everything you’d want out of a Batman comic, then slowly adds the Ninja Turtles into it. And Tynion writes the Turtles so well. He is able to immediately show us why we should care about them here. There are stakes set out pretty quickly, and they’re wrapped up in the multiverse shenanigans. On top of that, he captures their personalities so well. And that all informs the story from there.
SR: I’m glad you mentioned that about Tynion, as going through it the whole time I was definitely thinking about how it shows glimpses of just who and what Tynion sees Batman as that are similar to what he’s done now. While I’m beyond satisfied with the current creative teams for the various Turtles related books currently, I would not say no to Tynion taking a run at them one day in the future when he moves on from the Bat or other work.
TT: I have to agree. It’s no wonder that this book got two sequels. It’s just that good. It’s a solid book throughout. I think the only two problems I have with the story are the quick arrival and exit of Casey Jones, and the extremely abrupt ending. Though I do think the latter is due to just how jam packed the six issues are.
THERE IS SO MUCH STORY HERE. It could have gone another two issues without missing a beat.
BA: And to be honest, the book wouldn’t have been any bigger. I’m holding the hard cover, and they filled up the last 25 pages or so with a cover gallery. Another chapter would have fit easily.
SR: More Casey would have been really nice. I am also somewhat iffy on how there was the ticking clock that was seemingly so easily negated once the fight was over, though I love the emotional choices stemming from the ticking clock. Not that I wanted the Turtles to die or whatever, but it sort of dulled the impact that it was so easily dealt with. Though I guess one could say since it was Casey saying it that way, maybe he didn’t fully listen to Harold or something and made it out to be more dire than it was. Who can say.
TT: We’re going on and on about the story, and I think we could for a while longer. However, holy cow, is the art ever great. Williams has this very chunky, cartoony style that you can see inspiration from Bruce Timm, Kevin Eastman, and all three TMNT animated series that had existed prior to the debut. It looks great. Then Colwell has this great watercolor-esque style that visually sets the book apart and compliments Williams’ heavily ink-washed linework.
BA: Ugh. You had to bring up the shows, didn’t you? I agree that the Turtles’ appearances are very similar to Eastman’s renderings, and that’s one of the things that really drew me in. I’m not so much into the modern TMNT books or shows, but I grew up reading those old black and whites. This, while the lines are a lot cleaner, brought me back to that same classic feel.
SR: I enjoyed Williams’ work on the series quite a bit overall, it added some nice atmosphere and he really nailed down a lot of the characters and their looks. There were a few spots where some heights or perspectives looked a little off and caught my eye, but it was a small quibble with otherwise awesome work. The Turtles were extremely solid looking, which doesn’t always happen in their appearances. Colwell’s colors are definitely a good complement to William’s style, adding in that aforementioned atmospheric quality.
I’m a big classic fan, but also lean the other way of really liking a lot of the newer stuff. One thing Williams did that I like is how each Turtle feels so different despite looking so similar with flashes of personality and small differences that make them stand apart. Colwell helps with that too by following the idea that often comes up of the varying shades of the Turtles, with Michelangelo being the brighter green of them all which is fitting.
TT: I really like how Williams made all the Turtles shorter than most of the humans- which comes directly from Eastman’s original designs, if I recall correctly- but he also made sure to vary their body types as well, like you said Scott. This isn’t like the original animated series that you needed their bandana colors to tell them apart.
SR: Being able to tell just who they are without the bandanas is always a high mark in my book. Color coded Turtles are nice, but that and the basic tenets of personality should not be the only discerning marks.
BA: That’s one of the things that’s really great about The Last Ronin, too. Initially, it wasn’t laid out which Turtle was the survivor, but if you were paying attention to the voices that he was hearing, you could easily pick out Raph, Donnie, and Leo. No need for the straps or weapons in hand to sort them out. Obviously Eastman and Laird have a deep understanding of these characters to be able to do that, but it shows a commitment to the source material that Tynion and Williams also pull it off.
SR: Also have to say, the funky concept of mutating all the Arkham villains works a lot more than it might have because of just how much fun Williams seemed to have with the depictions. Can we have polar bear Mr. Freeze make a comeback? Tynion, your Batman run is awesome, but polar bear Mr. Freeze would just notch things up even more.
BA: I’m partial to Bane-Elephant myself, but hey, do your thing.
SR: Bane-Elephant and Freeze-Bear miniseries, make it happen DC Comics.
TT: Right?! That’s the part of the story that could have used a bit more time to breathe. Regardless, this is probably my favorite intercompany crossover ever. What do the two of you say?
BA: I’m for it! I knew I’d like it, just knowing that Williams was pulling the lines. I really enjoyed the other 80’s Saturday morning crossovers he’s done. (We are so doing He-Man/Thundercats at some point.) Tynion did a great job pulling in both fandoms and staying true to the source material, while bringing a new angle.
SR: An extremely solid and fun outing that tapped into what works well for both the Bat and the Turtle side of things. Makes me want to go crack open the sequels.
Tony: What do you have for us next week, Brendan?
Brendan: We’re going to go back and hit up the second volume of Image Comics’ Crowded, by Christopher Sebela, Ro Stein, Ted Brandt, Cardinal Rae, and Triona Farrell.
Batman/ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 1 is available now from DC Comics and IDW Publishing.