DC seem to be up for collaborations: following previous projects which have teamed up Green Lantern with Star Trek and Batman ’66 with The Green Hornet, the most recent cross-publisher foray has seen them ally with IDW for a series I’m legitimately surprised never happened before. Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been a six-issue miniseries which plays into the silliness of both concepts whilst mining their shared and mirrored aspects for empathy and pathos. Having only read bits and pieces of past issues, this was my first proper chunk of story as a reader – and what worked most here was the way in which Batman adapted into the TMNT mythos.
It’s long been considered that Batman is one of those characters who can shift into almost any kind of story. He’s traded quips with Hellboy, been involved in street-level vigilantism and cosmic-level classics, and the core of the character typically manages to feel appropriate and correct to his personality. There’s something about Batman which gives him the ability to shift without losing his own sense of identity – which is actually a trait which plays into many of his stories, within the comics, as well as beyond.
Most of Batman’s life is spent dealing with people who want to see if he can change. He’s obviously got The Joker, who wants to take Batman onto his own level – but he also has people like Poison Ivy, who wants him to agree with her cause; Mr Freeze, who wants Batman to understand him; and characters like Nightwing and Tim Drake who want him to relent a little and embrace his humanity. Wherever he goes, people want to see Batman change and empathise with them, morally or intellectually – but the thing is that he can never admit to any shift in his behaviour. He is ‘The Batman’, and his mantle can’t be dropped for fear that any impact he has will be lost in a moment.
That’s why I think the Robins have been such an instrumental part of the character over the years, as more than the other villains or allies, they’ve been able to see Batman shift his approach in subtle ways. Each of them has brought new things out of his process which make him more interesting and subtle than his persona, and that balance of mythic visual with reality is why readers like the character.
I say all this because the one thing which strikes me about Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is that the turtles approach Batman in the same way the Robins do: and arguably the greatest success of the comic is that they humanise the character just like Dick, Tom, Jason and Damian all have. If you squint really hard, you could even argue there’s a direct mirror between each of the four male Robins and the four turtles, although I’ll leave you to make up your mind over how that works out.
This final issue was easy to jump onto: essentially Batman is facing off against all his villains at Arkham Asylum, who have all been turned into talking animals – because, after all, that TMNT influence is the prevailing one in the story here. Ra’s Al Ghul and Shredder are commanding the scene, which is a smart combination for your main villains, whilst the Turtles are trying to work out whether they have time to save Batman or not. Hence a fight scene with last-minute appearances from the quartet (and Splinter) in which the villains are beaten, the day is saved, and everybody is happy.
Simple enough, but the real appeal of the issue is in the way Batman once again merges into a different franchise so simply and effectively. Take the opening splash page, for example, where he and Damian are being held in the arms of Bane – who has been turned into a talking elephant. Usually a page like this would indicate you’re reading a bad Batman comic, because this clearly rips you out the established tone of the Gotham we know, and takes five steps too far into ridiculous.
Those five steps are where the turtles are at home, though, and their subsequent appearance a few pages later (and further, when they appear on the scene of battle) tips you back into reassurance: this isn’t a weird Batman story, but instead a standard Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles story. His taciturn, sardonic approach to the mad events of the storyline provide a solid foundation from which the turtles can wreak havoc with the standard conventions of a Batman story. Once again Batman is asked to change by outside forces, but for once his refusal means he wins over their mutual respect.
The turtles – especially Raphael, who is typically the one who in-comic tends to act the most like Batman – bring their own brand of strange into the story, yet they admire and appreciate all Batman does in the face of it. It’s not just a story where Batman proves himself once more to be a singular force for a particular brand of justice, but a story where the turtles themselves show their own quality and longevity as characters. At the end of the issue, they have not only accepted that Batman is who he is, but also offer him a show of solidarity and family should he ever need it.
So just to reiterate, there: we have a comic where they all fight Batman’s rogue’s galleries, all of whom have been turned into ridiculous and yet played-straight animals – but then the end manages to nail an emotional beat which really shouldn’t have worked at all. James Tynion IV lets the high-concept of TMNT overwhelm the crossover, but doesn’t forget that the most important part of their franchise is their heart and family. Even as everything is off-kilter and ridiculous, the core similarity in the franchises means he has a through-line with which he can develop and mature both sets of characters.
For the turtles, it means showing their trust to a new ally. Despite being four talking turtles in a different dimension to their own, they are never the outsider in this comic: that’s Batman’s role. And once more, their choice to accept Batman for who he is makes the characters feel emotive, and entertaining. Over the course of the issue we see their sense of heart, as they give Batman resolve without asking him to change what makes him who he wants to be.
As response, Batman changes. On the last page, he changes his mind about one of his longest-held traditions, and you get to feel, as a reader, that the comic has developed him. It’s bizarre that it was a cross-franchise story that managed to tell an affecting story about Batman and his glacial development as a human, but there you go. The issue is a very simple, but rather effective story – and coming at it almost as a one-shot, it makes me want to read more of this sort of thing going forward. It’s helped deepen both the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Batman for me.
Short version: The adaptive qualities of the Batman franchise meet the overpowering choices of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Franchise, and the result is a storyline which works nicely without sacrificing what makes either of the two concepts work. TMNT bring their terrific sense of spirit to Gotham, and Batman leaves the story with a trace of that spirit still in him. Happy endings all round.
Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #6
Writer: James Tynion IV
Penciller: Freddie E. Williams II
Colourist: Jeremy Colwell
Letterer: Tom Napolitano