One of the things that was so great about the first Batman and Ninja Turtles crossover was how well it was paced. It was never slow or boring, but it did take its time setting up the story and the first meeting between the title characters. Tynion took his time telling a story that, while not always having a clear trajectory, was always involving and entertaining to read. It was that deliberate pacing that kept the story moving forward over its six issue run, and it’s all but absent in this follow-up series.
Now, the characters have already met, so there’s no need to build up to them crossing paths again. Factor in the fact that they’re two of the biggest properties on the planet and it’s really not at all necessary to spend time on backstory and the like. Drop exposition and needed history and bits of dialogue as you go and you’re fine. My main problem with this series is something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on until I finished this issue: it feels like it’s lacking a first act. Getting thrown into the thick of the action is great if the story is given room to breathe and a place to go, yet Tynion hasn’t really allowed for either thus far.
Think about it: Bane appears in the Turtles’ New York at the end of the first issue, has amassed an army of Foot Soldiers by the next time we see him in chapter two, and press-gangs Baxter Stockman into his service so he can synthesize more Venom. In that time, Donatello accidentally winds up in Gotham City and makes his way back to his own universe with Batman and Robin in tow, all while he laments his lack of ninja skills. That’s quite a bit of material that could have been stretched a little further, yet it was crammed into two issues, and a lot of it even occurs off-panel.
To make matters worse, there’s hardly anything new in this issue: Bane is still getting Stockman to synthesize Venom while he recruits more Foot Soldiers, and Donatello is still frustrated at his shortcomings. The overall story is nearly identical to the first series (swap out Venom for Mutagen and Bane for Shredder, change the locale, and yeah, it’s the same plot), and it’s even cribbing from itself, rehashing the same beats and threads as the issue before. Frankly, it’s beginning to feel like a lot of filler, and even the occasional bright spots don’t do much to save it.
Most surprising this month is the credit for a second writer. Tynion is still listed as head of story, but Ryan Ferrier is credited with the dialogue. Honestly, I’m glad Tynion got an assist: he can plot a story well and excels at the more heartfelt exchanges, but snappy dialogue is not necessarily his forte. Ferrier, whose work I’m not familiar with, makes a laudable effort, but there are times the writing falls short. And for a series that is almost overly reliant on expository dialogue, that’s… not a good thing.
An attempt is made at giving Damian a rivalry with… well, everyone, but Raphael in particular. Raph actually gets a few good zingers in there, but Damian’s comebacks and one-liners are kind of all over the place. There’s one point where Michelangelo wants to shake hands, which Damian dismisses by saying “I don’t know where that hand has been. If it’s even considered a hand.” It’s a great line. A few pages later, though, he and Raph trade barbs and he’s seated with clunkers like “I’d fight all of you Turtles in my sleep, but I don’t get nightmares.” Pretty weak. I know Damian is a little turd whose mouth gets him into trouble, but he’s still sharp and has an acidic tongue when he wants to prove himself. Even though I get some perverse joy in seeing him knocked down a peg or three, I’d still rather he have good dialogue than an attempt at good dialogue.
Piggybacking off that, another thing this series is lacking is good chemistry between the characters. Even established partnerships like Batman and Robin and the Turtles with each other come off more as acquaintances than family, and there really isn’t much of an emotional core to draw you in. If anything, this book is trading on nostalgia for the properties and the goodwill of the first crossover, yet it doesn’t have what made that one work: heart. To this day I still love the scene where Batman and Raphael go to Crime Alley so Raph can see that Batman wants to relate to him. He wants him to understand that he understands. It was a powerful moment, and a highlight in a series that had all of Batman’s rogues mutating into a bunch of literal animals.
Freddie Williams, try as he might, can’t rise about the derivative nature of the story either. His work is fine, at times even great, and there are some truly creative layouts and uses of space. That still doesn’t make up for the fact that so much of the story is simply retreading the plot of the first series, to the point that entire scenes look like they’ve been lifted. Seriously, there’s a page toward the end where Batman, Robin, the Turtles and Splinter are surrounded by the Foot Clan that’s staged almost exactly like the scene in the original series where the mutated rogues surround the group. I doubt it was intentional, but it’s certainly noticeable.
And, come on, Bane’s head is comically tiny. Look at it.
I had high hopes for this book, and while I want to remain optimistic, it’s getting difficult. We’re only halfway through at this point, yet it feels like we’ve reached a climax. Where will this go for another three issues? What’s left to tell? As I said earlier, it feels like we came into this story at the end of the second act, and we’ve effectively reached the climax. Unless Tynion pulls a big twist on us, I don’t see how the remainder of this series can possibly satisfy.
- You really want this to be good.
- You’re all about big, hulking monsters made bigger and even more hulking.
Overall: Batman and the Turtles have yet to recapture their magic, and it’s looking less and less likely that they will as this series goes on. Derivative of both the previous story and itself, Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II isn’t doing or saying anything new to warrant its existence. What should have been a fun, joyous romp is amounting to nothing more than a retread, to the point that entire plot points and even visuals are being recycled. I really wanted to love this, but even with a few momentary flashes of greatness I just can’t.