Let’s get this out of the way now — if you don’t smile when you read the title of “Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” #1, then this book isn’t for you. This is for the fans who spent their childhood with these toys and let them go at it while their imaginations ran wild. In this debut issue, urban vigilantes with extreme hand-to-hand combat skills that prefer the shadows go together like… other urban vigilantes with extreme hand-to-hand combat skills that prefer the shadows. James Tynion IV concocts a story that doesn’t take itself too seriously but does treat all the characters with respect. Freddie E. Williams II provides some amazing, jacked-up art that leans hard on the idea of these characters as action figures: Batman is built like John Cena, a brick wall of muscle and pointy ears, and even the Foot Clan are sinewy and contorted, taking cues from the original Playmates figures. Jeremy Colwell’s colors even add in a flair that harkens back to the Mirage series from that era as well.
I really dug how hard this creative team worked to respect the fans reading it. People love these franchises for different reasons, but we’re all also old enough to realize the inherent silliness in both sides. Tynion’s Batman is the straight man in this first issue, providing the brooding introspection necessary for his attempt to stop the Foot’s theft of weapons-grade scientific equipment, but lacking the self-awareness to see how silly his new suit of armor will be. I am fully committed to Tynion’s vision of the series, because he’s a writer who — coming from under the tutelage of Scott Snyder — has focused on character as a way to drive plot.
On the flipside, the Turtles are all fun and have the most self-awareness of the characters here. I can’t tell yet if their jokes about what Gotham is in their dimension are meta or not, but they read as such and are a fun shrug of “why not” justification. Honestly, I don’t come to a book like this to find a nuanced examination of inter-dimensional travel and snowflake theory; I come to see heroes kick some faces. Williams understands this, with his large-paneled pages and fantastic pose spreads throughout the book. There are a few places — like the introduction of Shredder near the end — where the panels almost become confusing, but the artist pulls back a little bit and keeps control of the page. It’s all fun as hell, the visual equivalent of a high five from your best friend who just brought over pizza rolls and a copy of “Anchorman.”
In the end, that’s what this is: junk food. I mean this in the best way possible. It’s not the heady sort of introspection and Shakespearean horror that Snyder’s “Batman” run has been, and it’s not a meditation on honor and family like “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” It distills the franchises down to their base elements, to a point that anyone could pick this up and know how to follow along. There will be fans who pick this up and cry foul, but — for every person that does — this creative team says, “Shut up and watch Killer Croc try to carjack the Batmobile.”
For your money, you get action, setup, Batman being Batman and the Turtles being the Turtles. If you’re looking for the kind of book that makes you laugh while pumping your fist, then check out this debut issue and collect your high five at the door.