BATMAN vs TMNT / 35TH ANNIVERSARY [SDCC 2019 Review]: Cowabunga, Bats!

Dave Beaudrie

Turtle Power was strongly represented at both WonderCon and SDCC 2019, and for good reason: Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s magnum opus is celebrating its 35th Anniversary of Awesomeness. This year’s Con Circuit has seen its fair share of Turtle cosplay, panels, artwork and fanfare, but the Heroes in a Half Shell have still been largely overshadowed by another milestone in the comics/pop culture industry: Batman turning 80.

Despite now being legally a senior citizen, the Dark Knight is still kicking ass, taking names and making gobs and gobs of money for anyone associated with the intellectual property. Unfortunately but understandably, Batman’s 80th has taken much of the attention away from our favorite middle-aged teenagers turning 35, despite the Turtles’ resurgence on Nickelodeon and the upcoming Issue #100 of the TMNT’s longest running comic book series. (Let’s not talk about their two most recent theatrical releases, okay? When the character of Vern is the best part of your Ninja Turtles movie, your Ninja Turtles movie has major problems…)

DC and Warner Bros. have capitalized on this year’s milestones for both sets of characters with an outstanding animated film entitled, appropriately, Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

While the DC/Warner Bros. relationship has struggled creatively in recent years, Wonder Woman and Shazam notwithstanding, their animated division have steadily been building a fun body of work with various members of the Justice League. Batman/TMNT absolutely follows that trend with great action, fun character moments and a story that allows both universes to stay true to their own mythology. Unlike the comic series of the same name, the film establishes that Batman and TMNT do indeed exist in the same world and dimension. The Turtles have heard of the Legend of the Bat, but never put much stock into the stories. As far as Batman’s perception of the Turtles…he’s certainly seen weirder.

The film opens with the Turtles tracking the Foot Clan to Gotham, where the ninjas are involved in a series of high-tech robberies, as the Foot are wont to do. Batgirl tries to disrupt the robbery, but the Turtles beat her to it and she reports these events back to Batman, who responds to the news of intruders with the hallmark territorial nature of a mother bear protecting her den. Bruce doesn’t like more animal-themed karate fighters infringing on his turf.

Meanwhile, the Turtles have a hilarious altercation with the Penguin, the first of many cameos for Batman’s esteemed Rogue’s Gallery. Upon seeing the assortment of gadgets inside of the Penguin’s umbrella, Michaelangelo in particular absolutely falls in love with how batshit crazy (pun intended) Gotham really is. This is a lot more fun than the sewers of NYC. From there, we get all of the fan-service meet-and-beat-em-ups you could hope for. Batman fights the Turtles. The Turtles fight Ra’s Al Ghul. Raphael trades barbs with the humorless Damian Wayne. Donatello becomes BFFs with Barbara Gordon. And Batman vs. Shredder is the rivalry you never knew you needed.

While the plot is pretty simple, I’ll avoid further spoilers. The animation is great, throwing back to the style of the 90s Batman animated series and reverting the Turtles back closer to their comic book look and away from the recent Bay monstrosities. The fight choreography is outstanding, which is rare for an animated movie. Most animated fights show one strike at a time and quick-cut back and forth. This film actually utilizes the full space the fights take place in, with long takes that allow you to actually see martial arts techniques being deployed; the battle flows from one move to the next, as combatants change strategies and switch tactics. This is never more true than when Batman fights Shredder. It’s a fight so nice, they do it twice.

Mutagen makes its appearance. Other Batman villains make themselves known. Ra’s and Shredder hate each other in spite of their business arrangement. It all makes for enjoyable viewing. And Michaelangelo’s interactions with Batman (and Alfred for that matter) are worth the price of a rental alone. Fans of either franchise will want to pick this up for repeated viewing, and the extras about the making of the film are surprisingly in-depth about how the writing, the fighting and the animation were handled. 4.5/5 Bibles.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: THE ROAD TO #100 (Friday – 23ABC) – As for IDW’s upcoming TMNT #100, they brought out their creative heavy hitters for an in-depth panel at SDCC examining the ongoing Turtles “City at War” storyline where Splinter has taken control of the Foot Clan. With this, our fav kung-fu rat is attempting to change the nature of the organization while peacefully transitioning control to Karai, which does not go well when Splinter refuses to allow her to indoctrinate a group of young orphans into the Foot. (Her other solution was killing the kids, which Splinter predictably has some objections to.)

The panel featured Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman, writer Tom Waltz and editor Bobby Curnow. It was moderated by Patrick Ehlers, but Eastman took the podium to start and he graciously extended credit and thanks to the other members of the panel and to other specific members of the IDW creative team. He clearly seemed grateful to his creative co-conspirators for helping keep this franchise alive in their original medium.

The big reveal, which has been building for quite some time, is the inclusion of Jennika as the new fifth Turtle following an impaling by Karai and a blood transfusion from the Turtles (I believe they said it was Leo) that both saves her life and mutates her. The team stressed that this is not a temporary inclusion and that Jennika is part of the Turtle family moving forward. They all clearly felt very strongly for the character and what she means to upcoming Turtle lore.

Obviously, this isn’t the first time a female turtle has been introduced into the team in one of the various Turtle incarnations, and the panel acknowledged that the less said about Venus, the better. But the passion they showed for the current City at War story and Jennika’s place in it really shone through. Eastman was largely silent once the panel officially began, allowing Waltz and Curnow to take the spotlight in explaining what’s to come. What’s clear is this: the TMNT still have a lot of life left, no matter what medium you put them in. I’m all in for it. 4/5 Bibles.

-Dave Beaudrie

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