Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later, I guess: this story is starting to feel a little long. It’s an issue that afflicts all too many series, especially ones that are “trade length.” To its credit, Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III kept a pretty solid momentum for a lot longer than some books, passing the halfway point before it began to feel like it’s running out of steam. And, to be entirely clear, that does not mean that this is a bad issue, just a disappointing one.
But disappointing it is, as Tynion has begun moving his characters into place for the inevitable final confrontation, and yet… that’s all that really happens. Aside from a few isolated moments of greatness, the fourth issue of the third crossover between these two beloved properties feels more like place-setting than anything else.
Visually, it’s quite impressive. That’s not entirely surprising, given Williams, Colwell, and Napolitano’s skills, but man. There are some truly stellar pages here.
That shot of Shredder right there is a perfect demonstration of Williams’ skill as a visual storyteller. On a fairly basic level it just looks so cool, with the imposing Shredder looming over a horde of Foot Clan ninjas. Even if you don’t know a thing about Batman and the Turtles, this sweet shot tells you “man, that dude with all those knives glued to his costume means business.”
But it doesn’t just look cool. There’s a running theme throughout the issue of the “blended” world we’ve been introduced to moving back to the status quo of Batman and the Turtles’ individual universes, with characters realizing that there’s another timeline out there where they lived different lives. Where they lived, in reality, their true lives. With Shredder once more donning his armor, rallying his faithful troops, they have eschewed the false leadership of “the Laughing Man” and placed their masks at their true leader’s feet. It’s not a hidden meaning, as it’s all right there, clearly evident on the page, but I thought it was an effective visual metaphor for the issue’s overall theme.
And it’s that theme that gives this issue its clearest connective tissue, as the cracks in this false reality are beginning to show. The most interesting thread– and one I which Tynion had devoted more time to– sees Batman trying to bait the Laughing Man and lure him to Ace Chemicals, all so he can become the Joker. That’s kind of morbid, with a ton of ethical implications involved: the Laughing Man is dangerous, yes, but is making him into the Joker really any better? Even with the end goal of restoring these universes to their proper places? I wish there had been more scenes like this over the series, with some debate between Batman and his partners. Granted, I don’t know what Tynion has in store over the next few issues, but he doesn’t seem interested in exploring the morality and ethics of this plan. I can’t say that I blame him, as you’d need more than just a few pages to do it, and it would make this whole story incredibly different. Still, it’s a missed opportunity, though the way it plays out kept my attention just the same.
The fact that Bebop and Rocksteady are still mashed up with Killer Croc and Clayface certainly helps.
There’s some fun stuff with April and Casey Jones too, the latter of whom is a police officer and has remained blissfully unaware of his alternate life as an ally to the Turtles. April’s attempts to spark his memory are pretty funny, only for her to get frustrated, shove a golf bag into his arms, and head off to take care of more important matters. Tynion isn’t always known for his comedy, but Casey gets off a good line when he runs into the Turtles and Shredder.
So yeah, there’s plenty to enjoy here, it just feels a little more disjointed than previous chapters. We’ve moved on from the mystery of how the worlds have been mashed together, and now they’re trying to undo that and return to normal. It’s a natural plot progression, but the connecting narrative isn’t as strong as it was before. I like a lot of the ideas in play, to the point that I kind of hope we get more depth in the next two chapters, and it’s nice seeing characters exhibit their familiar personality traits. I just wish that the storytelling here was a bit stronger, with a clearer through-line and a willingness be a bit more daring with its themes.
- You like Batman.
- You like the Ninja Turtles.
- You like it when characters are faced with interesting ethical dilemmas, even if they aren’t fully explored.
Overall: Some really good ideas and character moments are bolstered by some strong art, but hindered by a lack of focus. This issue of Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III feels like a transitional chapter, putting pieces in play for an upcoming conflict without having its own narrative backbone. There are some really interesting ethical dilemmas that Batman is presented with too, but other than a few moments of uncertainty they aren’t explored in great detail. Even so, this series has been really strong so far, and this issue is elevated by the strength of its predecessors. Here’s hoping the final two chapters are bolstered by the series as a whole rather than collapsing under the weight of lofty ambitions and poor execution.