In the first Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles miniseries, the Turtles found themselves stranded in Batman’s universe, where they had to help Batman defeat Shredder. In the second miniseries, Batman had to pay a visit to the Turtles’ world to help them defeat Bane.
So where were they going when the third crossover came around? Why, a new universe made of the two worlds mashed together!
And this composite world does make Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III a little difficult to immerse yourself into at first, since your mind will probably be busy parsing through all the composite characters and figuring out who is what is who. But once you get used to Clayface being merged with Rocksteady and Killer Croc being merged with Bebop, it’s a rollicking mind-bending adventure that affectionately homages the pasts of both franchises.
Ever since the tragic death of his parents, Bruce Wayne has been raised by his butler/sensei/surrogate father Splinter, alongside his four mutant turtle brothers Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo. The five of them battle against the Smile Clan, a ninja clan who are led by the brutal Laughing Man (an amalgam of Shredder and the Joker). But Bruce is haunted by strange dreams and feelings that something isn’t right – and his feelings are proven right when a Raphael from another universe appears.
But it’s not just any alternate version of Raphael – it’s the Raphael from the original Mirage comics, the prime universe from which all Turtle realities spring. And not only does he know that something is very wrong with this amalgamated reality, he knows why: the Turtles’ great enemy Krang is trying to rule both the Turtle and DC multiverses, by capturing both the Mirage Turtles and the original Batman.
The Turtles and Batman aren’t exactly pleased with the revelation that the shared life and experiences they all remember aren’t “real,” but they slowly come to realize that the Mirage Raphael is telling the truth. The only way for them to take down Krang, and separate their universes again, is for both Batman and the Turtles to find out who they really are – and reform the world into what it’s supposed to be.
If the first two Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles adventures felt like explorations of each other’s universes, then the third feels like a celebration of both franchises. This came out in time for Batman’s 80th anniversary, and the Turtles’ 35th, and the love for both is strong – especially since it goes out of its way to highlight the “progenitor” Batman and Turtles (the latter of whom is even drawn by Kevin Eastman in black and white).
And it’s a fun ride – it has some wrenching pathos (the rediscovery of Alfred), some heartwarming moments (the Turtles reunion with April) and some funny lines thrown in to keep it from ever feeling too dark (“… I’ve finally found the great progenitors!” “That’s not a nice thing to call someone, dude!”). Above all, it has a sense of rising butt-kicking action as the Turtles and Batman dig up their true identities and start forcing the universe into the shape it’s meant to be, which requires some reorganization of the Smile Clan. With every triumph comes a little thrill.
Its biggest flaw is that it can be a little confusing at times – some characters are clearly amalgamations of characters from both the Bat and Turtle universes… and other seem like they are (the Turtles, the Laughing Man), but we later find out that their counterparts do actually exist in this world. Also, the Bat-Family kind of comes out of nowhere for the big climactic battle.
As always, Freddie Williams II’ art is awesome – he knows the right style to render both Batman and the Turtles in, giving them a complex, sculpted look that fits both universes. And the legendary Kevin Eastman contributes some pages as well, sketching in the progenitor Turtles and their world in a rough black-and-white style that harkens back to the Mirage comics, allowing those Turtles to stand out.
There’s a certain bittersweetness to Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, since we’re probably not going to get another crossover for awhile – and if we do, probably not a sequel to this one. But it’s still a rollicking ride through both franchises, rendered with affection and respect. Cowabunga!