Batman is standing in the rain. That’s not unusual for Batman, but behind him is someone very out of place: a Ninja Turtle. And what the Dark Knight is saying breaks the boundaries of the absurd. With grumpy little frowns on each of their faces, Batman intones, “This is where I watched my parents die, Raphael.”
Unlike many memetic comic book panels, this one isn’t even Photoshopped. OK, sure, there’s a version that goes around where someone has drawn in a word balloon for Raph — but that’s not the part of the panel that anyone talks about. It’s the panel where Batman tells Raphael this is where his parents died, not the panel where Raphael says “Cowabummer!” to Batman. From such things is virality made.
And yet, it is a cowabummer. Out of context, this single panel from 2016’s Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles miniseries paints the book as gratuitously, obliviously grim, when it’s actually a mashup so earnest it borders on camp. Yes, it’s a comic with a scene where Batman shows Raphael the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle where he watched his parents die. But the truth of the matter is if every Batman and Ninja Turtles story was as smart as this scene, we’d have a lot more great Batman and Ninja Turtles stories.
Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and its two sequel series are actually pretty good. And they have real talent behind them: blockbuster comics writer James Tynion IV and DC Comics mainstay Freddie E. Williams II. The two opened the first book in medias res, with the turtles and Splinter already in Gotham, hot on the heels of Shredder and the Foot Clan. It’s all a dimensional teleportation mishap involving Krang, and to complicate matters, every day our mutated heroes spend in the DC Universe brings them closer to reverting to four regular turtles and one regular rat. Then Ra’s al Ghul gets involved, Shredder starts making animal hybrids out of Batman’s villains, Casey Jones joins the party — things get big and world-shaking pretty quick.
But between all that, Batman meets the reptile ninjas who’ve been thwarting all these heists on Gotham’s tech companies. As for the turtles, they react to Batman like the average teenage boy: They think his secret hideout full of computers and cars and a robot dinosaur and all the pizza that money can buy is cool as hell. And when useful leads on how to get back to their own universe are in thin supply, it’s a great way to keep their minds off their impending de-evolution. Except, of course, for resident bad boy Raphael.
Following this, in grand TMNT tradition, Raphael storms off in a huff, Batman drives out in the rain to find him (wandering the road to Gotham in the traditional incognito turtle uniform: a fedora and a trench coat), and takes him to the scene we already know.
Which is to say, the part where Batman brings Raphael the Ninja Turtle to Crime Alley in the rain to tell him that this is where he watched his parents die… because he wants Raphael to trust him.
If you’re thinking, That’s a pretty dramatic way to get somebody to trust your intentions, well, it’s Batman. I don’t know what to tell you. The man is theatrical.
And if you think about the idea for more than two seconds, the whole idea is blindingly obvious. Batman, meeting four teenage martial arts experts? Batman knows exactly what to do with teenage martial artists.
Batman loves helping teenage martial arts experts with their problems! That’s just his whole deal with Robin! He’s arguably better at it than fighting actual crime!
Where the rising turtle meets the falling bat
In-universe crossovers may be a cornerstone of superhero stories, but the reputation of cross-brand crossovers is poor, to say the least. Things like DC and Marvel’s famous Amalgam universe or Batman vs. Predator are outliers in a sea of forgettable attempts.
But even if you don’t think Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is in that rarefied pantheon of exceptions to the rule, I think you’ll have to admit that it’s a story that doesn’t merely deliver on what makes Batman and the Ninja Turtles cool. It’s a story that understood the chewy emotional themes that have allowed each franchise to become multigenerational, saw how those themes could overlap, and made it the center of the story. If that’s not the point of a crossover like this, I don’t know what is.
So keep laughing at Batman telling Raphael that this is where his parents died, because, yeah. It’s absurd. It’s really, really funny. But spare a thought for the creators brave enough, earnest enough, and wise enough to put it on the page with a straight face.