TMNT: Out of the Shadows and Mikey’s Cloudcuckoolanderness

One of the many, many aspects of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows that was a massive improvement on the not-very-good first film was Michelangelo. To put it bluntly, in the first movie Michelangelo came across as a budding sex offender – pretty much every single line he uttered revolved around his extremely sexual obsession with April O’Neil, often in very tonally inappropriate places. It was, to put it simply, creepy.

And yes, I know previous iterations of Michelangelo (the 1990 and 2003 versions) have asked “Can we keep her?” about April as well…. but that seemed a lot less sexual and lot more childlike.

Well, thankfully they dialed that back to a single joke line in the sequel (which he is immediately tased for), and Mikey even seems completely cool with the idea of April dating Casey Jones. Instead, he’s rewritten to be more in line with many other depictions of Michelangelo – a pop-culture-loving, skateboarding, soft-hearted sometimes-cloudcuckoolander, the most childlike and most loving of the four Turtles.

And they definitely made him a cloudcuckoolander, at least some of the time. In fact, it initially seems a little inconsistent – sometimes he’s just a little flaky and sweet, and sometimes he’s absolutely spaced out of what is going on around him and has no idea what people are talking about. Take the scene where Raph is running his master plan past April and Casey – Mikey’s only contribution is a strange, staring-eyed declaration of “You’re right,” and then he spends the entire scene eating pizza and not noticing what anyone else is saying.

And after rewatching the movie a few times, I think I’ve nailed down why. Mikey becomes a cloudcuckoolander and detaches from what is happening around him when he’s suffering some kind of emotional distress.

About halfway through the movie, Mikey overhears Leonardo and Donatello secretly discussing a purple alien goo that might be able to turn them into humans, or at least make them look human externally (the movie is little vague). Mikey then goes to Raphael and tells him everything – not because he actually wants Raphael to do anything, but because he just needs to vent his feelings. When Raphael predictably blows up and goes off to confront Leo, Mikey physically tries to stop him because he desperately doesn’t want his brothers to fight. It’s played for laughs, but his distress is very obvious.

Unsurprisingly, Leo and Raph end up angry at each other, having a fight, and eventually Leo and Donnie leave on a mission without Raph and Mikey. When Raphael rages about how he’s going to get his hands on the purple goo without Leo, Mikey… well, he agrees with Raph, but emphasizes repeatedly that he does not understand what Raph is doing.

This seems to be the first of the two situations in which Mikey goes cloudcuckoolander: strife in his family. He’s always at his best when he and his brothers are united, and when they work together, he seems fairly sharp mentally. But he seems to actively withdraw from the world around him when his brothers are fighting, because he cannot cope with it, and he cannot fix it by himself.

This also applies to taking part in Raph’s plan. Mikey goes along with Raph’s plan because… well, he’s kind of a people-pleaser. But he withdraws from the conversation when Raph is scheming behind Leo’s back, and drawing Casey and April into his plan. This is clearly not something Leo will put up with, so Mikey withdraws rather than taking an active role.

The other situation is after Raph and Mikey’s plan to infiltrate police headquarters goes boobies-up, and the brothers are all exposed to the eyes of the entire NYPD. Exposure is less upsetting to Mikey, however, than the reactions of some of the cops: they’re called “monsters” and treated with fear, horror and hate. This visibly hurts Mikey from the very moment it happens, even though it’s coming from total strangers.

When they return to the lair, Mikey reveals his hurt and misery to his father Splinter, who tries to reassure him, but obviously nothing your parents say is going to overcome rejection by the entire human race. And about a minute later, when Donatello identifies where Bebop and Rocksteady are, Mikey has become a cloudcuckoolander once again, giving a silly answer that doesn’t make any sense. Once again, he’s withdrawing from a situation that is hurting him, and only reemerges in subsequent scenes, where he and his brothers are more or less getting along and there are no non-villainous humans to hurt him.

I don’t know if this pattern was deliberately placed in the script by the writers, but it definitely does exist, and it honestly makes Mikey feel like a much more vulnerable and sweet-natured person. He just hates conflict among people he loves, and he wants to be loved and accepted for who he is rather than what he is. And who can dislike that?

All meditations on Mikey aside, I recommend Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows very highly. It’s not what you’d call a very good movie, or a particularly smart one, and it bungles the character of Casey Jones. But it does have a lot of love for the franchise and characters in general, and it makes you really like and feel the connection between the brothers.

And it enjoys throwing in over-the-top spectacle, such as the Turtles battling Rocksteady and Bebop on a crashing plane… using a tank. It’s wonderful. It’s just a fun popcorn movie, and no, you don’t need to have seen the first Bayverse movie to understand it.

On unnecessarily sad, negative, depressing endings

I am sick unto death of people responding to criticism of a needlessly dark, pointlessly depressing ending with “Well, in real life, sometimes you don’t get happy endings. That means it’s good!”

No, it doesn’t.

I am not saying that every story needs to have a happy ending, because that would be stupid. Since time immemorial, there have been stories with sad endings. One of the greatest SF/F movies is The Thing, where the best case scenario is that the only two remaining characters die in a few hours, and the entire Earth doesn’t get swallowed up.

The difference is, in that movie the realism EARNS a sad ending. It doesn’t come out of nowhere. The story whittles down the cast little by little, keeping them isolated and self-contained, highlighting the horrors they face, and making it clear that they’ll do whatever it takes to save the Earth. So it doesn’t feel out of place when the main characters are essentially condemned to death by their own actions, because that outcome naturally evolved from the stuff they had been doing and the place they had been.

Compare it to, say, the movie Justice League Dark: Apokalips War or the planned finale of the 2012 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series (before Nickelodeon stepped in and declared it was another dimension or an alternate future or whatever). There was nothing to build up to those dark miserable outcomes. It’s the writing equivalent of “Rocks fall, everybody dies” — the people creating it simply decided to make everything go to hell so it could be crappy. They ultimately made everything that had come before MEANINGLESS for the sake of a dark, unhappy outcome, rather than writing a finale that actually feels satisfying for the audience and draws from what has come before.

Why? Do they think it’s “deep” if a story has a miserable ending, even if that ending isn’t earned and doesn’t naturally stem from anything? Do they think that happy endings “suck,” like some tiresome fourteen-year-old edgelord?

And as a final middle finger to the people who whine that “real life sometimes doesn’t have happy endings,” I ask you: why do you want the worst of reality reflected in fiction? Because when you introduce body-snatching alien parasites, mutant turtles and superheroes on the level of Superman, you have lost claim to “real life.” There are varying degrees of “reality” in any form of fiction, and sci-fi/fantasy is where it has the loosest control over the narrative.

Want to cure someone of cancer? There’s magic and alien technology for that! Want to leave your mundane job behind? That can happen! As long as it’s done with internal consistency and good writing, you can do all sorts of stuff that doesn’t happen in “real life.”

So why should “real life” have a stranglehold over the endings of sci-fi/fantasy TV/movie series/books? If your narrative conventions allow you to do all sorts of incredible unbelievable unrealistic things, why are you inexplicably determined to make “real life” the benchmark?

And considering that “real life” is incredibly sucky and there are no long-term happy endings because we all die, why the hell should our fiction reflect that? Why shouldn’t we have happy endings in fiction?

And again, I’m not saying every ending has to be puppies and rainbows. A good example of a satisfying finale would be Avengers: Endgame, which mixes the tragic with the triumphant. We lose characters we’ve come to love over the course of many years of movies, but it feels earned because their deaths MEAN something to the story. They weren’t killed off because “happy endings suck and we’re edgy,” and the overall feeling is that because they sacrificed their lives, the world has a chance to be a better place where the people they’ve saved can live on.

So a bittersweet or sad ending is not necessarily a bad ending, but it has to be based on something more artistically valid than “well, sometimes there aren’t happy endings in real life and the good guys don’t win!” That is an excuse, not a reason.

If you are giving your story an unhappy, depressing ending just to have it be unhappy and depressing, you are doing a disservice to your art, your characters and your audience. So don’t do it.

Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Okay, something I have to get out of the way when discussing the live-action reboot of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”: the redesigns of the Turtles are pretty awful. First, they decided to make them big — the Turtles are reimagined as being at least six-and-a-half feet tall, but they move in a strangely weightless manner… because CGI.

Secondly, the designs are far too busy. You can see every bump on their skin, which is pretty unappealing. Furthermore, very Turtle is slathered in characteristic adornments and pieces of clothing that do nothing but distract. Why is Raphael wearing a belt with other belts hanging off it? Why is Leonardo wearing wooden chest armor? Why is Michelangelo carrying around a pair of sunglasses that won’t fit his head?

Thirdly, their faces… look kind of like stretched noseless human faces. It trips the uncanny valley meter.

But even if you can get past the weird appearances of the Turtles, the live-action “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” reboot is not a very good movie. The Turtles’ origin story is filled with inexplicable holes, and the characters are thinly-developed at best — including the Turtles themselves, but most of all the villain, whose motivations can be summed up as “he’s rich and he wants to get richer.”

Reporter April O’Neil wants to tackle serious reporter stuff, like the gang wars that are being thwarted by mysterious vigilantes. But alas, nobody takes her seriously because she’s played by Megan Fox. But one night when the terrorists known as the Foot Clan attack some random people in a subway, she encounters those four vigilantes — giant mutant turtles who also happen to be elite ninjas. And get this: they were her childhood pets. Not kidding.

April’s search for the Turtles — and an explanation for how they ended up mutant ninjas — leads her to the obviously evil Eric Sacks. When the Turtles capture April so that they can explain their origin story to her, she inadvertently leads the Foot Clan directly to them — and I wish I could say that their sworn nemesis Shredder attacks, but in this movie he’s not so much a bitter foe as…. some guy they don’t really know.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is… not a terribly good movie. One of its biggest flaws is that it is less a story about the Turtles than a story about April O’Neil. Oh, the Turtles are important parts of the story, but the main arc is actually April’s — and so is pretty much the entire first act, in which the Turtles’ roles are basically cameos.

It also has a plot that is both simple and full of holes — it has all the hallmarks of several rewrites (Splinter and Shredder recognize each other despite never having met), and has some head-slapping idiocies (Splinter teaches the Turtles ninjutsu… from a picture book). The central conflict with Sacks especially feels like it was neutered somewhere along the line, given that the villain role is split between two people. And, you know, the fact that Sacks’ motivation is very stupid.

All the characters are pretty thin. This is especially shown in the Turtles — they each have one stereotypical character trait and not much else. Donatello is a nerd, Leonardo is vaguely leaderesque, Mikey seems like a budding sex offender who wants to kidnap April and keep her tied up in a dungeon, etc. Raphael has the most uneven characterization — he basically is just angry for most of the movie, only to vomit up the rest of his characterization in thirty seconds at the movie’s climax.

That said, most of the voice acting is pretty good, especially Alan Ritchison as Raphael and Tony Shalhoub as Splinter. The exception is Leonardo — for some reason, they decided to dub over Pete Ploszek’s voice with Johnny Knoxville, who sounds like a very unheroic fortysomething with an alcohol problem. As for the humans, Fox is not terribly good as April, but not unbelievably bad either, while William Fichter is profoundly meh.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” tries to give a new spin to the Turtles’ origin story, but the thin characters and abundant plot holes make it more of a chore than a delight. Also, Mikey is creepy.

Review: Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles miniseries is one of my favorite comic books of all time, so you can imagine how loudly I yelled when news of an animated adaptation hit the Internet.

And though it deviates from the comics in some substantial ways (for instance, the idea of Batman and the Turtles coming from different dimensions is completely dispensed with), Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a prime example of a fun romp. It’s heavy on memorable fight scenes, colorful transformations, and some gentle ribbing on both the franchises, and a great crossover that allows both Batman and the Turtles to shine in equal measure. Just don’t expect the “versus” to last very long.

When an experimental generator is stolen, Batgirl (Rachel Bloom) has a very strange account of events – how enemy ninjas invaded the laboratory, and fought four “lizard-men.” Batman (Troy Baker) vows to stop them from stealing more equipment, and soon discovers that the enemy ninjas are led by the masked, bladed Shredder (Andrew Kishino). He also encounters four mutant Turtles who are attempting to stop Shredder, brothers Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo (Eric Bauza, Darren Criss, Baron Vaughn and Kyle Mooney). And after some initial misunderstandings, the two families join forces.

And thanks to Robin (Ben Giroux), they soon get a picture of what Shredder is planning to do – he’s joined forces with the malevolent Ra’s al Ghul, and is building a machine that could potentially mutate all of Gotham. But first, they’re going to mutate the residents of Arkham Asylum, unleashing a terrifying band of mutants who might just be able to take down Batman and the Turtles. And even if the heroes survive the encounter, they still have two armies of evil ninja waiting to cause mass mayhem.

There isn’t a lot of actual “versus” in Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (they get over their antagonism pretty fast), but this little crossover knows why you’re here – to see Batman hang out with everybody’s favorite mutant reptiles, combining the dark brooding seriousness of Gotham with the lighter but still action-packed Turtle aesthetic. Batman’s world brings some darkness to the Turtles (mutated Harley Quinn is strangely nightmarish), while the Turtles bring some fun to Batman (Michelangelo dressing up in Batman’s cowl and riding his T-Rex).

And, of course, to see awesome fight scenes such as Shredder going toe-to-toe with Batman, which is a fight that you probably never knew you needed desperately to see. In fact, the movie is packed with such action – dodging Mr. Freeze’s blasts of ice, a frenzied vehicular battle against the Foot Clan, attacks from mutated ninja, and of course some nasty battles in Arkham. They’re not bloodless either – we get shuriken in the head, broken teeth, and quite a few people are killed in rather messy ways, ranging from arrows to explosions.

And of course, the movie seems very aware of how awesome this team-up is, and never hesitates to trot out the stuff that will make your inner eight-year-old cheer (the long chase involving the Turtle Van and a certain giant mutant). Perhaps the biggest stumble is the decision to have Batman and the Turtles as natives of the same universe, rather than from parallel Earths – it’s hard to believe that people in the far-off land of New York would think that Batman, one of the greatest superheroes of all time and a well-documented presence, is just an urban legend.

The voice acting is pretty strong here, especially for Batman, the Turtles, Ra’s al Ghul and Robin. The characters are also given a fair amount of fleshing out, considering the action-heavy storyline. They’re all familiar forms of the characters we know and love (Raphael is a rebel who clashes with Leonardo over how to treat bad guys, Batman is a brooding loner, Michelangelo is the fun-loving one who squees over cool stuff), but we have some nice moments such as Leonardo struggling through a nightmare of his brothers’ gruesome deaths, and his feelings of guilt.

For anyone familiar with either franchise – or both, preferably – Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a fun rollercoaster ride of mildly bloody action, awesome battles, and the best crossover team-up that every geek has ever wanted to see. It has a few adaptational flaws, but taken on its own merits, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Macro-Series

My Amazon review – click and vote if you like it.

When a comic book series runs for a hundred issues — plus a lot of accompanying miniseries, side-series and specials — you can expect there to be a number of plot threads that need to be tied up.

And some of those plot threads are wrapped up — or at least twisted in a new direction — in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Macro-Series,” which provides individual adventures for each of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And like the Turtles themselves, the stories provide plenty of variety — the artwork ranges from rough-hewn to exquisitely atmospheric, and the tales dip into everything from family drama to bloody angsty action.

In Donatello’s tale, the genius Turtle reconnects with his ex-friend Harold Lilja, over a new project. Donnie wants to create a device that can effectively predict the future, allowing him to keep his brothers and friends from suffering. But his work attracts the attention of someone far more dangerous than Harold: Metalhead, his robotic doppelgänger, who has his own reasons for seeing the project come to fruition. But can Donatello trust him?

In Michelangelo’s story, the Turtles have brought a number of orphaned children to the Foot Clan, hoping that Splinter will take them in. He agrees — on the condition that they are trained as the next generation of Foot ninja. While his brothers reluctantly agree, a horrified Michelangelo can’t accept this situation, and openly rebels against his father in order to save the children.

In Leonardo’s tale, the Turtles are spending some quiet time in the countryside at April’s family farm, trying to manage astral travel. A troubled Leo goes on a walk in the woods to be alone with his thoughts, only to run into an old enemy — Koya the hawk mutant, who still wants to kill him for crippling her wings. But his fight with Koya takes an unexpected turn, and the Turtle brothers encounter an old enemy who might become a valuable ally.

And finally, Raphael takes a solitary walk after some roughhousing with Casey, only to be captured by Agent Bishop and the Earth Protection Force. For any mutant unlucky enough to be caught, that’s a death sentence. In danger of being murdered and dissected, Raphael must harness all the rage and pain of two lifetimes to escape his enemies — as well as the grief he still feels over the loss of his very first friend.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Macro-Series” takes the opportunity to further some subplots in the series (Harold Lillja, Metalhead, Koya, Mikey’s strained relationship with the increasingly cruel Splinter) while also laying out groundwork for future storylines (Raphael’s torment at Bishop’s hands, forming a tenuous alliance with a former foe). Basically, anyone who follows the IDW comic books — and why wouldn’t you? — will see its many intertwined subplots leaping forward.

It also is a very emotionally charged collection. The Donatello issue is perhaps the weakest simply because it has less of that raw emotion that suffuses the others, though Donatello’s loneliness without normal friends is palpable. Raphael’s story is a raw ball of pain, blood and sorrow, including the wrenching sight of his hysterical, confused panic when he first mutated. Mikey’s story is taut with simmering anger and a fierce protectiveness. And Leo’s is more subdued, but it reflects both his troubled spirit and his deep love for his brothers.

It also has some very good art here. Brahm Revel’s rough-hewn, sketchy artwork takes some getting used to, but he does do a good job conveying emotions and Metalhead’s form. Michael Dialynas’s art has a lot of splashes of color and expressive faces, and Ben Bishop’s style is grounded, stocky and splattered with blood and broken glass. And Sophie Campbell’s art is absolutely divine — I particularly loved the montage of the Turtles spending time with one another at the farm, at peace and happy.

For those who are lucky enough to read the IDW Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Macro Series” is a must read, both for the stories and for the chance to catch up with our favorite anthropomorphic turtles.

Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 1: Change is Constant

In 2011, IDW Comics made a very exciting announcement: they would be publishing a brand new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book series, completely separate from the series that had been published before.

And I have to say, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 1: Change is Constant is a promising launch for this new series. While the basic story of four ninjutsu-practicing anthropomorphic reptiles (tutored by a wise old rat) is there, Tom Waltz and Kevin Eastman (yes, the guy who co-created the Turtles) add some new elements to the franchise even as they remix some stuff from previous iterations.

Every night, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Leonardo, Donatello and Michelangelo – search for their missing brother Raphael, and fight off the street gangs of the mutant cat Old Hob with their father Splinter. However, the Turtles are beginning to lose heart, and Donatello is convinced that their father’s quest for Raphael is motivated by guilt at losing one of his sons, and that Raphael is probably dead.

He’s wrong, of course. Elsewhere in New York, Raphael wanders the streets as a shunned vagrant, unaware that his brothers even exist, and rooting through trash for basic sustenance. Then he stumbles across a man beating his teenage son Casey Jones, and rushes in to the rescue. He and Casey strike up an instant rapport, but their nightly excursion takes them into a dangerous confrontation with Old Hob’s gang.

And through flashbacks, we see how the Turtles came to be what they are – as adorable little lab experiments at Baxter Stockman’s genetics lab, and given their Renaissance names by an intern named April O’Neil. But something sinister is afoot at StockGen, and the four Turtles – plus Splinter, who is smarter than any ordinary rat – are swept up in a bizarre attack that transforms them forever. Shockingly, it involves glowing green goo.

As a start for a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book series, Change is Constant is a good pretty good launchpad. It throws the audience right into the action and quickly establishes where the central four characters are and what they’re doing – which is particularly important when one of the Turtles has been separated from his brothers for his entire mutant life and doesn’t even know about his family. Why yes, it is really wrenching to see poor Raphael wandering the streets alone, looking like he’s about to cry.

And it smoothly introduces new versions of classic characters (April O’Neil, Casey Jones, Baxter Stockman) as well as a handful of new ones, particularly the vicious mutant cat Old Hob. The story unfolds both in the present and the past, and by doing so, Waltz and Eastman weave in a number of moments that either make you go “Oh, so that explains it” (such as why Old Hob hates Splinter and the Turtles so much) or lays groundwork for future plot developments. The latter includes a rather mysterious line of Splinter’s about how he is the Turtles’ father and sensei “as before.” Stay tuned.

It also does a pretty good establishing the Turtles’ personalities, rather than just relying on readers’ familiarity. Leonardo is the dutiful, filial one who does sword practice in his spare time, Donatello is a pragmatist and has a rather antagonistic relationship with Leonardo because of it, Michelangelo is the easygoing and peacemaking one, and Raphael is the lonely brawler who lights up when he makes his first friend.

Dan Duncan provides some decent artwork here – the art style is rough but decent, and character designs are lanky and weedy and, in the case of the Turtles and Hob, pretty muscled. The only flaw is that… well, for some reason he makes the Turtles’ eyes completely white… when their masks are off. They look possessed.

But despite the eyes of the demon disciples, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 1: Change is Constant is a pretty solid start to an excellent comic book series, whether for newcomers or longtime fans who can spot all the references.

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Review: Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III

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!

Recommendation: Batman Vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I’ve written a review of this movie, but I feel the need to gush about how much I love it.

I think what I really like about it is how respectful it is to both franchises. Too often in crossovers, one or the other side is neglected or made to look less competent or less important. This is especially a danger when one of the sides is known for being superhumanly awesome, like Batman.

But I felt like this movie highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of both the Bat-Family and the Ninja Turtles. Obviously they’re very different; Batman is measured and plans out things far in advance, while the Turtles tend to fly by the seat of their nonexistent pants. And this does cause conflict between them as the story unfolds, since Batman is used to people following his lead, and he gets kind of pissy when the Turtles just dash into the conflict. However, it is also shown that there are downsides to Batman’s approach as well, since he’s easily distracted from the main scheme of Shredder and Ra’s al Ghul by a mass breakout and mutation at Arkham Asylum. The Turtles are, in a sense, more focused than Batman because they are fixated on Shredder and his plan, and don’t really want to get involved in all the other criminals running amok in Gotham.

And this can be seen in the villains. Ra’s al Ghul knows exactly how to distract Batman long enough to get the cloud-seeder he wants. But Shredder doesn’t know why the hell Ra’s is doing this, because his enemies probably wouldn’t stray off the path of hunting him just because a mental asylum went boobies-up for the sixth time this month.

So I really like that both the Turtles and Batman have weaknesses and strengths, and Batman’s awesomeness (expertly outlined by Michelangelo) is balanced out by the Turtles’ varied gifts working in tandem. And it works especially well because the different Turtles are paired with different members of the Bat-Family, sometimes because they are similar and sometimes because they are wildly different.

And while all four of the Turtles are wonderfully characterized, I especially loved Michelangelo in this movie. Obviously, the characterization of Michelangelo over the years has really varied – he’s been a surfer dude, a tease and agitator, a space-case flake, and so on. But he’s always had a sweetness and an open-heartedness as a part of his character, which is best seen in the IDW comic book series, where he’s the most sensitive and childlike of the Turtles.

And he isn’t that different in this version. But in this one, he’s the enthusiastic one – he thinks Gotham is the coolest place he’s ever seen, and he loves every strange wacky detail about the place. His brothers are a little more laid-back about Gotham, its dangers and its oddities, but Michelangelo is delighted by gunbrellas to the point of ignoring his own safety. His enthusiasm is clearly the enthusiasm of the makers of this movie, and sometimes it feels like the audience is being carried along by his joy over polar bears with ice guns and police zeppelins.

“Does New York have mad blimps flying around for no reason? I mean, what are they for? I love ’em!”

Michelangelo, Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

And I think his enthusiasm is integral to emphasizing how much the people who made this movie loved the franchises: by having a character whose defining trait is how much he loves everything he comes across.

I also love his relationship with Alfred. Obviously it’s played for laughs, with the most rambunctious of the Ninja Turtles bumping up against Batman’s prim butler, who doesn’t understand Michelangelo’s love of skateboards and “greasy cheese bread.” But I enjoy the fact that neither one of them is acting in a way that is illogical to his character.

Michelangelo skateboarding through stately Wayne Manor and crashing into Alfred might seem like he’s being an asshole, but stop and think about it: not only is he a teenager, with all the dumb moments that come with a developing brain, but he’s literally been raised in a sewer. He’s probably not used to being able to skateboard wherever he pleases, and so Wayne Manor just seems like a giant empty space full of awesome curves and obstacles to him.

Obviously he figures out that Alfred doesn’t like this by the end, but it’s clear that he never skateboarded with malicious intent.

Alfred, for his part, is clearly not used to normal teenagers – insofar as you can call the Turtles “normal,” they are at least more normal than Bruce presumably was at the same age. And when you consider the Robins he’s dealt with over the years, usually scarred orphans or Damian Wayne… Alfred probably has no idea what a normal teenage boy is like, with bad table manners and dumb stunts on the stairs.

So that’s my thoughts for the time being on Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Possibly more later. If you’re one of the two-and-a-half people reading this blog, absolutely check out the movie.

Review: Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II

The Totally Awesome Team-Up, Take Two! (small spoilers)

The first encounter between the Dark Knight and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a rousing success, despite sounding like a crossover story dreamt up in some kid’s toy box.

So inevitably DC Comics and IDW Publishing decided to have their best-beloved comic-book characters encounter one another for the second time – this time with more dimension-hopping, more city-wide mayhem, and more epic fight scenes between a lot of people. “Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II’s” pacing is a little rushed, with some developments not taking as long as they rightly should have, but the unbridled awesomeness of the final issue almost makes up for that.

After a humiliating (and nearly fatal) defeat at the hands of Shredder’s Elite, Donatello laments that he isn’t as skilled a fighter as his brothers, and wishes that he could have both the intelligence and skill of Batman. To put his mind at ease, he attempts to use a dimensional teleporter to contact Batman – but accidentally switches himself with Bane, whom Batman had been about to fight. Now he’s in Gotham, and Bane is loose in New York.

After Batman and Donnie spend a week assembling a teleporter, they find that Bane has managed to take over the Foot Clan and is well on his way to conquering. Even worse, he’s got Baxter Stockman synthesizing Venom, so he can turn all his followers into roided-up monstrosities. The Turtles are badly outmatched even with Batman on their side – and when tragedy strikes, a guilt-ridden Donatello is driven to terrible lengths in an effort to stop Bane once and for all.

“Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II” aspires to be bigger and more explosive than the first adventure – the action consumes a whole city, armies of ninjas are involved, and the final issue is an outright battle royale. It’s also set primarily in the Turtles’ dimension this time, so it features a lot of supporting characters from their world, including Rocksteady, Bebop, Karai, the ever-unfortunate Baxter Stockman, and a certain helmeted ninja lord.

And for the most part, the story unfolds pretty well – there’s a good balance between action-packed fight scenes and the more emotional, low-key stuff, including a ceiling-collapsing battle between the Venom-enhanced Foot Clan and the Turtles/Batman team-up. There’s also a running subplot about Raphael getting into scraps with Damian Wayne, and the way the arrogant boy and the resident Turtle hothead manage to resolve their differences and come to a less violent way of interacting.

However, the miniseries is a little too short for its own good – things like the last-ditch effort to heal Splinter and Donnie taking Venom are far too brief and leave less of an impact than they should. But these flaws are almost compensated for by the final issue – a big, high-octane, splashy battle on Liberty Island with as many characters as possible. It also gives big sloppy affectionate kisses to the 1987 TV series in the form of many Easter egg homages. It’s just a delight to read, and you can tell the people who made it were having fun.

A lot of the character development in this particular miniseries revolves around Donatello, who is a technological genius but not quite the fighter his brothers are. His insecurity and feelings of inferiority are palpable and heart-wrenching, as is his rampant feelings of guilt when he sees what Bane has done to New York. Batman serves as an older, wiser presence who mentors him somewhat, reassuring him and helping talk him back from the brink when his grief and guilt get too out of control.

It’s also worth noting that Freddie Williams II does an excellent job with the art in this comic – it’s a good bridge between DC’s muscled, stocky style of artwork, and the more varied styles seen in IDW’s Turtles. The Turtles and Batman mesh together well artistically, and Williams does an excellent job with the emotions and turmoil in the characters’ faces.

“Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II” could have benefited from another issue or two, but is overall a pretty solid sequel to an excellent miniseries – lots of muscles, lots of emotions, and a grand finale that is loads of fun.