The crossover that nobody expected has now become the second best selling comic book currently offered by DC Comics. Much like the title itself, their team-up with IDW Publishing has resulted in a fun and easily accessible “dream match” teaming up two of the hottest franchises in comic books and pulp culture against some of the coolest villains around. Writer James Tynion IV, artist Freddie E. Williams II and colorist Jeremy Colwell bring this universe-spanning tale to its midway point with an amazing mix of comedy, action, and jaw dropping visuals.
Despite being six issues long (which can often be one or two issues too many for many plots), this mini series is progressing at a rapid rate, offering satisfying developments in every chapter to keep each issue unique (yet part of one longer epic). Part of the appeal is that while the plot may be simple, it is executed with appropriate skill and humor (where appropriate) and isn’t ashamed to live up to its readers expectations. The first issue established the premise, the second offered a battle among the heroes due to a misunderstanding, and this issue unites them against common enemies. This progression is standard for most “totally awesome team-up” stories, but many similar stories would stretch such an arc out over the entire series. Tynion IV, by contrast, gets to “the good stuff” by the opening pages of this middle chapter and never looks back. Having realized that they will need the help of Gotham City’s caped crusader to both defeat the Foot Clan and return to their home dimension, Splinter has led the Ninja Turtles into breaching the Bat-cave itself. The wayward mutants are able to quickly explain themselves to both Batman and his stalwart butler Alfred Pennyworth and earn both the surprise and aid of the world’s greatest detective. Their alliance couldn’t come a moment too soon, as the Shredder is prepared to open a portal which will link both his world and Batman’s via an unstable dimensional rift. However, as even his unwilling accomplice Penguin discovers, the Shredder’s duplicity and savagery know no bounds. Despite making short work of the Foot Clan, all hope for saving the Turtles before their mutagen blood wares off seems to be lost, as the Shredder stumbles across one who is arguably Batman’s most dangerous enemy. That revelation won’t be spoiled, but let it be known that enemy is neither a clown nor a masked wrestler.
This series has offered a one-two punch in which the stunning artwork may quickly attract your notice, while the clever writing makes one appreciate it even more. Tynion IV seems to be a natural for channeling the voices of his cast, as well as being able to present all sides without one seeming to overshadow the other nor lose himself to cliches and stereotypes. The Turtles may be teenagers with different personalities who can be a lot of fun, but they’re never showcased as incompetent; by the same token, Batman is defensive and experienced without being unreasonable or brash. The dynamics between the cast also seem to be just as thrilling as the martial arts duels they take part in. While the Turtles, as teenagers who still have much to learn, their interactions with Batman himself may remind some readers of how the Dark Knight tends to interact with some of his sidekicks or younger novice heroes (especially since he’s had more than four Robins working alongside him). Yet Splinter isn’t called “master” for nothing, and operates in a different league of both ninjitsu and philosophy than even Batman. The Shredder, meanwhile, manages to establish himself as being an especially efficient yet ruthless gang-lord even in as chaotic an underworld as Gotham City in near record time.
This issue also sees Splinter explain the circumstances under which both his sons and the Foot came to the DC universe, which can be a double edged sword depending on the vantage point of a reader coming into it. A general DC Comics and/or Batman fan will get a reasonable bit of exposition which alludes to some of the plots happening in IDW’s TMNT series and offers a responsible figure who anyone with a passing knowledge of the 1987 cartoon will accept. Fans of that aforementioned IDW TMNT series will get a report of a battle which sounds similar to recent arcs of that series (roughly the period between issues forty and fifty from last year) but isn’t exactly the same and may cause some modest confusion. Most inter-company crossovers are hardly intended to fit in strictly into their fictional continuity, and this is no exception (even if the 2003 era “JLA/Avengers” was vaguely alluded to in Marvel’s “Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe” many times).
In fact the only thing keeping this crossover from attaining perfection is that despite many of the conflicts promised on the covers, much of the action within this series has been kept off panel. Aside for an engaging brawl between the titular heroes in the previous issue, most of the battles on panel have usually involved hapless Foot ninja or nameless mercenaries. The resolution of the Turtles versus Killer Croc fight in the first issue occurred between the pages, and this issue holds off on pitting Batman (or anyone) against the Shredder at least for another month. It says a lot that Tynion IV and Williams II have crafted an exciting and engaging crossover such as this despite being stingy with some of the smack-downs between the characters; perhaps they seek to wet their reader’s appetites for the final chapters rather than peak too soon. On the other hand, it is terrific that readers expecting simple brawls will instead get some fascinating interactions and entertaining dialogue between the characters and the respective franchises.
Overall, this series has been a treat for fans both casual and hardcore of either comics or pop culture. Its success speaks for itself, and it goes to show that crossovers can work when they have a solid story behind it and manage to deliver exceptional quality in addition to going for crowd pleasing sales.
As this second week of February was a heavy one in terms of comic book volume, this column has split up “non-Marvel Comics” and “Marvel Comics” reviews. Therefore, the review below is an honorable mention which doesn’t hail from either DC Comics or the “house of ideas” but is worth a look regardless.
James Bond #4: Warren Ellis, artist Jason Masters and colorist Guy Majors continue to craft what may be the best translation of Ian Fleming’s famous spy to the world of comic books that has ever been done. Previous Bond comics have typically been adaptations of various films, but this offering from Dynamite Entertainment is an original story featuring a depiction of Bond who may be closer to his roots in the novels than his movie appearances. As with most missions involving the infamous agent 007, plots which seem to be simple tend to spiral out of control into something far more complex (and dangerous). Sent to Berlin to investigate the source of a highly dangerous drug which has hit London’s streets, Bond stumbles into a plot involving the nefarious head of a technology company and two of his own deadly operatives. He may have escaped the clutches of the cybernetic Ms. Reach and taken down an entire warehouse of cartel soldiers, but it takes all of Bond’s skill and guile to survive a duel with the deadly Mr. Masters, whose inability to feel pain seems to make him the ultimate black ops warrior. Naturally, all trails lead to Slaven Kurjak, the mysterious “Vargr”, and yet another inescapable death trap for Bond to try to survive. As with most of the issues of this series, there is a heavy emphasis on action between Bond and an opponent, which works splendidly because it is exceptionally choreographed by all involved parties. Ellis also has a knack for delivering plenty of references to Bond’s long history of film without mindlessly imitating them or offering his own spin on them. His take on Bond himself perfectly captures the dichotomy of the master spy; he can be both charming yet brutal, able to shift from making wisecracks one moment to torturing someone for information the next, all without losing his cool. It can be quietly sad how Bond seems to live for little more but the passing pleasures in between missions, but this naturally enables him to survive no end of threats or enemies across many different eras. Slated for six issues, one hopes that with an outing as successful as this, both Ellis and Masters will be asked to return for another adventure with 007 once this series is said and done. One can hardly imagine a better companion to 007’s library of books or DVD’s than this.