For anyone that remembers the halcyon days of Saturday morning cartoons and action figures, no more highly revered icons of ‘90s kid nostalgia exist than Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Independently, their impact on pop culture can’t be overstated. The zealous fandoms of either are rivaled only by that of Star Wars, the X-Men, Power Rangers, or at least at my lunch table, Gargoyles.

So, when IDW Publishing and DC Comics announced that they’d collaborate to bring Gotham’s dark defender together with everyone’s favorite mutated teens, an entire generation of “old world nerds” lost their collective minds.

Now, upon revisiting the 3-part Batman / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles miniseries, those of us lucky enough to have grown up during the height of their respective animated series can recapture the zany, riotous fun we used to have, surviving recess in a scrappy mob of misfits, acting out imaginary, anything-goes, super-powered skirmishes.

The Blacktop Debates

Batman / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Vol. 2 cover art
Photo courtesy of IDW Publishing

Being a kid in an age before the box office domination of comic book movies, when a display of anything beyond a casual interest in — so-called — “nerdy stuff” was more likely to make you a social outcast than the class president, finding a group of likeminded nerds was remarkably meaningful. Back then, the choice between dodgeball and societal exile was how we found each other, our people. A tribe of daydreamers cast out from the herd for electing to swap comics and video game cheat codes, instead of joining the purportedly normal kids hurling inflated, red rubber balls at one another.

Our culture, not yet adopted by the mainstream, felt special. There was a language to it, and customs wholly unique, not the least of which was constantly engaging in spirited debates over which of our favorite heroes of fiction would win whatever unlikely matchup we’d imagined.

The “who would win” debate was applied to countless permutations of chisel-jawed armed adventurers, murderous monsters, and spandexed superheroes, but there was rarely ever a hypothetical battle more divisive than Batman vs the Ninja Turtles.

It was a matchup that pitted the 90’s most popular and prevalent playground idols against each other. Suffice it to say. It was a match that had been repeatedly deliberated over by anyone passionate enough to take to the blacktop and display their devotion to the Dark Knight or Heroes in a Half Shell. However, it was a match we were all certain would only ever exist in our imaginations. Thankfully, all these years later, IDW Publishing and DC Comics have provided us with a definitive answer: “if Batman crossed paths with the Ninja Turtles, who would win?”

IDW’s Turtles: Not Quite What You Expect

Since IDW launched their ongoing TMNT series in 2011, Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman and writers Tom Waltz, Bobby Curnow, and Sophie Campbell have continued to delight and surprise shell heads around the world with their more mature interpretation. IDW’s iteration sets itself apart from the mutant-laden Manhattan that’d been so familiar to fans, by not chasing the lighthearted whimsey of its predecessors and instead presenting readers with a more self-serious tone, more in step with Eastman and Laird’s 1984 black-and-white original. Though the series has plenty of humor, it never feels cheesy or adolescent and is more often used to punctuate the tension of the excellent narrative.

The ongoing story manages to be both familiar and new, with Eastman taking a number of liberties with the established lore. Not the least of which is the Turtles’ reimagined origin, which fundamentally changes Raphael’s relationship with his brothers, and expertly serves to explain his signature attitude. What I especially appreciate, is how the villains are written. While not entirely removed, the previously overused bumbling bad-guy trope is applied sparingly here and is most often reserved for Bebop and Rocksteady, as it should be.

This expulsion of ineptitude makes the heroes’ major threats feel like legitimate obstacles, rather than goofy, fist-shaking, cartoon villains. IDW’s Shredder is scary; brandishing his typical arsenal of martial arts mastery and razor-sharp wardrobe, along with a new mystical connection that I won’t spoil here, but will say does a killer job of explaining how he always manages to keep coming back. It’s an absolute master class on how to retcon a fan-favorite villain into a complex, three-dimensional character, and a total must-read for any Shred Heads out there.


Photo courtesy of IDW Publishing

Looking back on the crossover mini-series as a whole, I’m still struck by the overarching glee of seeing these characters come together; however, its novelty is slightly tainted by a digestible level of disappointment over the return to the more campy, less deliberate approach to storytelling, which the Turtles’ are more traditionally known for. While its three volumes are definitely an example of the law of diminishing returns, its high points and childhood wish fulfillment factor, make Batman / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles an overall rewarding investment.

Writer, James Tynion IV, clearly knows these characters, hitting precisely the right tone with each of them, and expertly utilizing the parallels between their colliding worlds to tell an engaging story. Diehard fans will undoubtedly catch a few of its missed opportunities, but overall this eighteen-issue collision of icons is an incredibly delightful read. Freddie E. Williams II’s artwork is both playful and slick, filling each page with a cartoonish flair that perfectly suits the series’ tongue-in-cheek sensibility. Each of his reimagined character designs screams to be made into an action figure, proving that he well and truly understood the assignment.

Batman / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a worthy addition to the pantheon of nostalgic odes in the beloved backlog of either publisher. It captures the unique charisma of the treasured mythos it gets to play with, while also winking at the nerds of yesteryear, who can remember a time when such a crossover could only ever exist in our collective imaginations. Now, thanks to IDW and DC, we finally have an answer to the question many of us have pondered since opting for toys over tetherball: if Batman crossed paths with the Ninja Turtles, who would win? We, the fans, and an entire generation of Old World nerds. Now, if DC and Marvel could unite to bring Disney’s Gargoyles to Gotham, I could die a happy man.

Other Batman / TMNT Crossovers

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Animation

If you’d like to dive in and read the 18-issue miniseries yourself, you can pick up all three collected volumes at your local comic shop now, or if you’re so inclined, you can hold out for the announced omnibus, slated for release this coming August. In the meantime, you can also check out the spin-off mini-series, Batman / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures, which focuses on the crossover of the animated series versions of the titular characters.

However, take note that this mini-series does not share continuity with that one. Speaking of cartoons, in 2019 Warner Bros. Animation did release an 84-minute feature adaptation of this long-awaited crossover event, but it abandons Tynion’s plot in favor of a sillier premise, which ultimately comes across like the fast food version of a five-course meal. It’s puerile, superficial, and often groan-inducing; the animation is top-notch but fails to truly adapt what makes the comics so special, so I can’t recommend it to anyone over six.

In closing, Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are among the most adored and discussed characters in all of pop culture, whose deliciously outlandish worlds continue to captivate the imaginations of fans across the globe. Their mutual propensity for reinvention has ceaselessly demonstrated their near-limitless potential and the universal appeal baked into the core of their conception.

These time-honored heroes have become a piece of Americana, taking their rightful place next to icons like Mickey Mouse, King Kong, and Darth Vader, but there was a time — before the tsunami of superhero success made the “cool kids” comfortable enough to embrace them — when we, the nerds, had to support and defend their significance, and it brings me great joy to finally welcome the rest of you to the conversation.

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