The first Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover that began back in 2015 was an absolute delight.  It had some strong writing and great character work from James Tynion IV, absolutely stunning art from Freddie Williams II, Jeremy Colwell, and Tom Napolitano, and a deliciously bonkers plot that had Bane transform into an elephant.  It was about as great as you’d want a crossover between the Dark Knight and the Heroes in a Half Shell to be.

When it was announced that the same creative team would collaborate on a sequel, I was on board from the get-go.  Despite some crazy great layouts from Williams, though, the whole series was a non-starter.  It felt like we were dropped in the middle of the second act of a story that had been running for a while, without any context or buildup from there.  The plot– which found Bane inserting himself as the head of the Foot Clan and taking over New York City– was a good idea, but it never amounted to anything.  In fact, it was so underwhelming that I didn’t think I would be interested in a potential second sequel.

Yet here we are, mere months after Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III was announced, and to say my expectations were tempered would be an understatement.  Factor in some weird “mash-up” character designs and the needle moved a bit, but I still wouldn’t say I was looking forward to this book.

Like many nerds, though, I am plagued by that pox that afflicts even the strongest of us: a need for completion.  That compulsive drive that leads us to buy movies and books that we didn’t even like, but it’s part of a whole so we have to.

Anyway, enough rambling.  Batman/TMNT III is here and, jeez guys, it’s a ton of fun.

What makes it work, I think, is the fact that we’re thrown into the middle of the story with the characters, who are picking up clues and wanting explanations alongside us.  Rather than the previous series’s feeling of unsatisfying confusions, there’s an out-and-out mystery to be solved here.

The story begins as all great Batman tales do: with police blimps flying high above Gotham.  Batman stands guard over his city, all while Krang and an unknown, panicked figure converse off-panel.  Something has escaped the Krang’s hold, which is obviously a big enough deal to cause the pink monstrosity to panic.  In a bit of admittedly goofy dialogue, Batman decries the fact that storms make his job harder, before he leaps from his perch to swing into action.

And it is made clear, in a marvelously illustrated double-page spread, that something is… different in this Gotham.

Batman is straight up ninja, and it’s totally rad.

Most of this issue serves the purpose of making it more and more clear that something strange has happened to Gotham City and its citizens.  While it could have buckled under the weight of exposition, Tynion and Williams keep the pace moving forward remarkably well.  Batman in ninja garb is odd, but not that unheard of, so it’s easy to write off his appearance in the early pages as Bruce having taken inspiration from the Turtles.  He proceeds to foil a bank robbery that’s being perpetrated by a katana-wielding Harley Quinn, which is… yeah, pretty odd, but okay.

But then we start seeing more characters, who are all familiar and yet… different.

The Turtles are easier to explain: each of the four Turtles of the Teenage Mutant Ninja variety still brandish their trademark colors, yet they’re wearing gear that is clearly inspired by the different Robins.  Like Batman’s appearance, it could be written off as Raphael paying some sort of homage to Red Hood, Leo to Nightwing, Donnie to Red Robin, and Mikey to Robin.

But that’s not it, I don’t think.  Rocksteady is addressed as Clayface, even though he has the head of a rhino, and Killer Croc is decked out in Bebop’s vest and sunglasses.  It’s not made explicitly clear, but I think we’re supposed to believe that these characters have been merged into one.

Like I said earlier, I saw some of these designs on Twitter a few weeks ago and wasn’t quite sure what to make of them.  I love the way BeCroc and… I guess ClaySteady (CrocSteady was right there, guys) look, but Harley Quinn is supposed to be mashed up with Karai, which isn’t immediately evident, and Splinter combined with Alfred is just… a rat in a tuxedo.  None of the designs look bad, just some initially made more sense than others.

But that was before reading the issue, and seeing them in context.  Yes, some of the characters lend themselves to being blended with another better than others (far as I can tell, Deadshot is just supposed to be “Deadshot, but kind of a ninja”), but they’re all pretty fun to see.  And man, just wait until you see Krang, because who he’s combined with makes this book worth reading alone.

Eventually, Batman becomes more and more aware that something is off with this world, indicating that there’s been some sort of event that created this mash-up universe.  In his conversations with the Turtles and Splinter, this world has a history to it, or there have at least been memories implanted to make it seem like this is the way things have always been.

Things are clearly beginning to become unstable, though, with different aspects of different universes popping in.

If this all sounds confusing, I apologize.  I’m trying to give you the gist of what happens without, you know, telling you everything that happens.  It all makes sense when you read it, and it’s pretty straightforward in the telling.

Up until the final pages, I was having a good time, but nothing was blowing me away.  Williams and Colwell play well with each other, and there are some truly beautiful uses of lighting effects throughout.  Some of Tynion’s dialogue is a little twee and clunky, but it’s never too bad, and he generally lets the visual storytelling speak for itself.  So, yeah, it was a solid good time without blowing me away.

Until it absolutely blew me away on the penultimate page.  You should really experience this in context, but there are several things I want to discuss, so heed the spoiler tag.

Spoiler

I truly did not expect this.  At all.  Raphael from the “Mirage” Ninja Turtles comics is the subject that escaped?  Oh yes please.  This was a genuine, pleasant surprise that took this story from “fairly entertaining” to a must read.  If the Mirage Turtles exist somewhere in this Multiverse, what other Turtles can we expect to see?  I mean, the series is (brilliantly and cheekily) titled “Crisis in a Half Shell,” so this opens the door to have other Batman and Ninja Turtle properties introduced.  Seriously, I went into this issue feeling fairly ambivalent and cannot wait to read the next one after finishing.  Bravo, Tynion.

A few other things of note on this page: I love the details that set this apart from the Batcave we’re used to.  There’s a triceratops instead of a T-Rex, a yen coin instead of a penny, and the Batmobile/Party Wagon is a whip we would all take a ride in.  I’m also impressed with how well Williams and Colwell riffed on the style of the old black and white Turtle comics without making it feel out of place.  Napolitano’s font choice is inspired as well, with a jagged, hand-lettered look that further evokes the character’s roots.

Needless to say, I had a blast with this issue.  I went into it almost like it was a duty, wound up pretty entertained, and then ended up being floored by the final few twists.  I can’t wait to see where this goes, which is about as good an endorsement as you could want.

Recommended if:

  • You love Batman.
  • And Ninja Turtles.
  • And just ninja stuff.
  • And also amalgamated characters.
  • Trust me, you do not want to miss the big twists at the end.

Overall: After preceding series that varied in quality, this mini is off to a strong start.  The story is interesting, the visuals are fantastic, and the twist at the end opens up all sorts of storytelling possibilities.  There’s not an awful lot to be said beyond that, so go check it out.  You won’t be disappointed.
SCORE: 8/10