Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1: “Knights in a Half-Shell”

Written by James Tynion IV

Illustrated by Freddie E. Williams II

Colored by Jeremy Colwell

Lettered by Tom Napolitano

Before we even begin, can we talk about how terrible the tag line for this series was?

CowaBatga
CowaBatga

So terrible, guys.

Like most people around my age, I grew up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I remember playing on the school playground, fighting against the Shredder and Foot Clan with my best friends; sitting down and watching the cartoon and movies over and over again; and even the first action figure I got (Raphael).

My sisters and I would play Turtles in Time on the SNES all the time, and I think we even beat it once.

Once.

I remember losing some pieces to the Ace Duck action figure and being so upset my grandparents bought me a new one.

And, of course, this is still the finest song ever written for a motion picture:

You know it’s true.

Point being: I’m a life-long fan of the Heroes in a Half-Shell™, so like Josh my inner child is freaking out over this team up.

Though I’ve enjoyed the Turtles longer, I’m a much bigger fan of Batman: the former is genuine but nostalgic affection, the latter is a true passion and love for the character and the entire world he inhabits. Either way, they’re characters I love that I’m excited to see interact. A lot of these crossovers fall prey to either being cash-grabs or exercises in nostalgia, so how does this measure up?

…eh?

Well, OK, it’s better than that, but it’s really way too early to tell.

To his credit, James Tynion IV doesn’t fall into the trap so many other writers do in instances like these by overwriting the first issue: we’re introduced to the main players, given hints to the multiple mysteries present, and are eased into the conflict instead of dropped into the thick of it.

My absolute favorite part of the issue was his handling of people’s reactions to seeing the Turtles:
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I genuinely love that, even on a world where an Atlantean and a shape-shifting green Martian hang out with a super-strong alien and an Amazonian princess, people are still weirded out by six-foot talking amphibians.

When he lets loose a little and lets both Batman and the Turtles be themselves, Tynion brings some pretty good laughs too.  There surprisingly isn’t too much time devoted to the Turtles, but when they’re the focus it feels just as fun as it should.

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Michaelangelo is pretty much the only one whose personality really shines, but he is pretty much all personality so that’s not that surprising.  They at least feel like the Mutant Turtles who are also Teenagers and Ninjas (not in that order), so hopefully they take the spotlight more in future issues.

There’s also a nice scene between Batman and Alfred, and it shouldn’t be surprising at this point that I’m a big fan of those.

Tap the brakes on the Bat-sass, Alfred.
Tap the brakes on the Bat-sass, Alfred.

The final page has a gag that made me laugh out loud too, but I’ll let you discover that one for yourself.

Part of what made Tynion’s script a bit of a breath of fresh air also works to its detriment: it’s not overloaded with plot, but it’s also pretty lean on it too.  I don’t want everything crammed into one issue to make it feel bloated, or to have it shoehorned in and spoon-fed to me, but other than “the Turtles and Shredder are in Gotham for some reason” and “someone’s probably building a dimensional transporter/doomsday weapon/both with stolen scientific devices” it’s not entirely clear what the story is actually going to be.  But, again, first issue, so that will be fleshed out.

What didn’t work as well with me was the artwork, and I can’t quite pin down whether that’s Freddie E. Williams II’s pencils, Jeremy Colwell’s colors, or a bit of both.  On the one hand, their take on the Turtles looks fantastic: they’re expressive, have their own distinct looks and personalities, and modeled remarkably well.  I particularly love that Colwell made sure to make each of them separate shades of green, which is one of those details that I always appreciated about their looks.

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Batman doesn’t look bad either, but he has the same problem I’ve had with his look since the New-52’s inception: too many lines, not enough color breaks, and just an overall too busy look.

Let’s not even get started on the Batmobile either.

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That looks like something Bats stole from Thomas Blake and painted black.  If Tynion’s script is underwritten, that thing is over-designed.

Batman’s placement in that panel is also remarkably off, which is a problem that occurs several times throughout the issue.  Williams’ sense of depth seems really off at certain points, making characters look like they’re hovering above the ground or about 20% bigger than everyone else in the frame.  The art isn’t ever what I’d call bad per se, but it’s really sloppy and inconsistent.  Some things look like a lot of thought and effort was put into it, while other things look like Killer Croc.

::insert Doomsday from Batman v Superman joke here::
::insert Doomsday from Batman v Superman joke here::

While Williams is certainly responsible for the looks of this book, Colwell has a large hand in it too, and his colors leave a bit to be desired at several points.  Other than the Turtles, most everything is colored in with either earth tones or shades of gray and black, making the images feel either muddled or flat.  When his colors work, they work beautifully, but more than once I found myself skimming over a page because I couldn’t really find anything to focus on.  Frankly, in a primarily visual medium, that’s not a good problem to have.

No matter what, it’s at least an enjoyable read, and strikes a pretty good tone: not overly goofy, and not too dark and brooding either.  Tynion and team seem to be having fun, and even with its shortcomings, I had a lot of fun too.

BONUS: Kevin Eastman, one half of the Eastman/Laird duo who created the Turtles, penciled a pretty rad variant cover, so I couldn’t not show it.

Spoiler
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Recommended if:

  • You’re a fan of the Ninja Turtles.
  • You’re also a fan of Batman.
  • In that case, good news!  You get both!
  • Also, if you’re ten.
  • Or thirty.
  • Just… it’s fun.  Read it.

Overall: A high concept that doesn’t collapse under its own weight, the deft handling helps it overcome any narrative and visual shortcomings to deliver a solid, enjoyable book.  Time will tell if the full six issues will be justified, but for right now it’s compelling enough on its own and is treated with a light enough touch that it almost doesn’t need the nostalgic feelings it will no doubt inspire to drive interest.

SCORE: 7/10