Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II #4 review

What a weird ride this series has been: it started off pretty lackluster, turned things around in its second issue, and then hit what I can only hope is its nadir at the halfway point last month.  To say that the second team-up between Batman and the Ninja Turtles has been inconsistent wouldn’t be too much of a stretch, and this month’s installment continues that tradition.  It’s still far from great, and I wouldn’t even go so far as to call it good either, but at least this series is getting interesting.

Which, to be honest, is kind of a weird thing to say.  Truth be told, there isn’t an awful lot that happens this issue.  There’s a big fight that takes up some space, then a couple of conversations between various parties.  Hardly earth-shattering stuff, and it all teeters on the edge of being filler.  This series isn’t even over yet and I can already tell you that it could have been trimmed up by at least two issues.  To this point, it’s never felt like there’s an actual story we’re reading, just a bunch of ideas and scenes strewn together.

I’ve said it before, and it still holds true: this series is missing its opening act.  It feels like we’re catching up on events that we never see, getting dropped into the middle of a story that’s already started.  There’s no build-up, no tension, just scenes that probably sounded good on paper linked together by the thinnest of plots.

Because the pacing has been completely off, an “epic” showdown between the heroes and villains comes across as rote and boring.  That’s the case for a good portion of this issue, as Bane and his minions face off against Batman, Robin, and the Turtles.  Try as he might, Freddie Williams does what he can to make it visually interesting, but it never really connects.  There’s not any real tension or urgency when we know there are still two and a half more issues to go, and the outcome doesn’t do much to shake up the status quo.  It just feels like an obligatory fight scene and nothing more.

As I said, Williams does what he can to make it arresting and engaging.  There are a few cool layout choices that I liked, and some of the fight choreography was inventive.  What it all comes down to, though, is a small group of heroes fighting an army of faceless ninjas and a few hulking brutes.  The first series had the big showdown between the heroes and the morphed Arkham inmates, so there were some creative designs there.  I’ve gone on about how awesome Bane as an elephant and Mr. Freeze as a polar bear were, and yes, it was amazing.  It was also interesting, which the fight here is not: we’ve seen Bane (with his hilariously tiny head) before, and even though Bebop and Rocksteady are Venomed up, they just look like… slightly bigger versions of Bebop and Rocksteady.

Tynion is once again credited with the story while Ryan Ferrier is credited with the dialogue, and once again it… it gets rough.  The issue is incredibly wordy, which frequently plagues Tynion’s work, and some of the dialogue is just awful.  Michelangelo makes a quip about “William protein-Shakespeare,” to give you an idea about how bad some of the jokes are.

He also gives Donatello and Casey Jones some truly terrible call-signs, but that’s another matter altogether.

And yet… the story seems to have some direction now.  It’s been aimless to this point, so any narrative twists and surprises are welcome, and this issue has two points of particular interest.  The first I won’t entirely spoil, as you should really see it for yourself, but it involves Bane marking his territory in this new world.  It’s one of the most insane and amazing ways I’ve ever seen a national monument altered, reaching a level of goofiness that this series could use a lot more of.

The other likely isn’t considered a spoiler, as it’s right there on the cover: Donatello decides to inject himself with Venom to fight fire with fire.  I’ve not been a fan of his portrayal in the previous few issues, as he has almost crippling insecurity and has been a huge downer.  Not to say that characters shouldn’t have moods and doubts and the like, but this just feels like drama for the sake of drama.  Like the dragged out, start and stop plot, Donatello’s arc doesn’t feel like it’s building off of anything.  Sure, he’s the guy who does machines, but he’s always been a capable fighter.  Even if you can draw a through-line from the previous series into this one, there isn’t much of an investment in this Donatello to make his insecurities ring true.

Still, seeing him make such a rash decision is at least interesting.  Everyone warns him against using Venom, particularly Batman, who knows firsthand how destructive the chemical can be to one’s psyche.  It opens up some unexpected narrative opportunities, and considering the series hasn’t had much of a purpose or direction to this point, that’s more than welcome.  I may not be loving this book, but I’m finally interested in seeing where it goes.

Recommended if:

  • You can’t get enough of Batman and/or the Turtles.
  • You want to see what is legitimately one of the most insane makeovers to a national monument I’ve ever seen in my life.

Overall: With a few narrative twists, Batman/TMNT II finally appears to have an interesting direction.  It took a while to get here, and time will tell if the final two installments can fully turn this series around, but at least I’ve started caring about the events in the book.  Rough dialogue aside, Donatello’s embrace of Venom and Bane’s conquest of New York City both open up interesting opportunities for storytelling and conflict.  Here’s hoping the final two issues can keep up this momentum and embrace some of the more ridiculous visual aspects to create an overall memorable series.

SCORE: 6/10