Before Batman: The 10 Best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Crossovers
This week DC launches Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the unlikely crossover series that brings IDW Publishing's current iteration of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's TMNT characters together with DC's Dark Knight; one of the biggest success stories in creator-owned comics meeting one of the most famous corporate comics brands.
Batman and the Turtles have relatively little in common, but the Turtles have been teaming up with comic book characters far beyond their home milieu pretty much since their first appearance. In fact, the characters are so weird at their core that there's really no setting, genre, or comic book character that they can't fit in with. When discordance is in your DNA, you can't clash with anything. So on the week of their team up with the Caped Crusader, what better time to revisit some of the Turtles' greatest comic book crossovers?
Please note that this list reflects my own tastes. There may be some of you that prefer the Turtles' meeting with the C.O.W. Boys of Moo Mesa in 2006's Tales of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #21, or the Jim Davis-written "Garfield Meets The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" one-pager from 1992's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Magazine. And that's okay. But these are what I consider the greatest TMNT crossovers, from least to most greatest...
The Archie Comics run of Turtles comics are in many ways the absolute weirdest of any and all Turtles comics, mostly because while the series began as an adaptation of the cartoon series, it quickly diverged in its own, random directions, and the need to keep the proceedings kid-friendly meant it couldn't head in the direction of the "real" TMNT comics. The results were more and more mutants and more and more aliens, and things like Cudley the Cowlick, a giant, floating sentient cow head that was also an inter-dimensional spaceship of sorts.
That was the Archie Turtles' mode of conveyance when they landed in Riverdale, where they saved Veronica from kidnappers, ate pizza with Jughead, and even took in a Josie and The Pussycats concert.
The story came courtesy of Dean Clarrain and Ryan Brown, both of whom worked extensively on the Archie Comics version of the Turtles, and would also contribute to Mirage's volume two of Tales of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which accompanied volume four. While not exactly the best of their crossovers, Archie's iconic status made this maybe the Turtles crossover with the highest status comic book character to date. At least until they met Batman.
This is neither the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sparring with Rocky's one-time opponent Apollo Creed, nor is it 20-pages of the Turtles smacking around the band Creed with their ninja weapons, although both of those comics would likely be awesome.
Instead, it is a one-off crossover by Trent Kaniuga, in which Eastman and Laird essentially just let him borrow their characters for a comic (Laird drew one of the covers it shipped under, Kaniuga the other). Creed, sometimes spelled "CreeD" because the 90s, was your average floppy-haired, big-footed, anime-inspired character who gets powers after he finds a dream stone.
It was mostly forgettable (do note its position on this list), but Kaniuga had an interesting art style that was very much of the time, and it was interesting to see it applied to the Turtles.
While an X-Files/TMNT crossover sounds awesome, and a group of barely-ever glimpsed mutant reptile men living in the sewers of New York City and/or the woods of Northampton seems exactly like the sort of thing that Agents Mulder and Scully might have an x-file on. Unfortunately, IDW's Conspiracy event-storyline — one of the publisher's kinda-sorta crossovers between multiple franchises — had X-Files supporting characters The Lone Gunmen doing the legwork. Mulder literally phones in a cameo in this issue, but it is otherwise a Lone Gunmen/TMNT crossover.
The trio of fairly competent conspiracy theorists are travelling the country — and IDW's licensed franchises — looking for pieces of a possible cure to a deadly virus from the future that is occupying Mulder and Scully's attention. They come to Northampton looking for a blood-sample from the Turtles, who have their hands full with a nest of vampires working out of a pizza joint. Writer Ed Brisson and artists Michael Walsh and Adam Gorham do fine on this chapter of the series, but it's a bit disappointing, given the potential the title hints at.
The collected edition features crossovers between The Lone Gunmen and The Ghostbusters, and the Transformers and The Crow (well, a The Crow). IDW's version of the Turtles appeared in a previous, similarly constructed crossover, Infestation 2, so that trade collection features The Transformers, G.I. Joe, Dungeons & Dragons, 30 Days of Night and others, although the Turtles don't actually meet characters from any of those franchises.
Despite the two franchises' very different origins (self-published black-and-white comics vs. a big-budget Hollywood movie), the Turtles and Ghostbusters ended up in the same place by the late 1980s, both spawning cartoon shows and toy lines that occupied airwaves and shelf space at the same time.
And with IDW possessing the rights to both Turtles and Ghostbusters comics, a crossover between the two properties pretty much had to happen, even if the similarities between the two were as nebulous as they were numerous (both operate out of New York City, each team has four members, etc).
The result featured the IDW iteration of each set of characters, meaning Ghotsbusters based on the original film, and Turtles from IDW's distinct and discrete TMNT Vol. 5 which, at least in the case of the latter, made it a little less new reader friendly than it could have been. For fans of either of IDW's ongoings, however, it did its job just fine.
Savage Dragon creator and Image Comics co-founder Erik Larsen played a pretty huge role in TMNT history, having helped bring the turtles from Mirage to Image, and acting as something of a caretaker during the 1996-1999 third volume of the series.
While the Turtles and Dragon had little in common other than their skin color and big-city hometowns, Savage Dragon was just as promiscuous as the Turtles when it came to crossovers, so a meeting was all but inevitable.
Larsen's relationship with the Turtles began in this one-shot crossover, which he co-wrote with long-time Mirage artist Michael Dooney, who also provided the art. In it, the turtles teamed with the Dragon to take on living gargoyles under the control of a villain named Virago. It was followed by a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/The Savage Dragon Crossover #1 in 1995, when the Turtles visited Chicago on the trail of a cloned version of one of their few recurring villains, Complete Carnage. That one was all Dooney.
Neither was anything to turn cartwheels over, but the first one involved creators strongly associated with each character, and fit in with both title's standard storytelling model: Something weird and random happens.
During TMNT vol. 3, the Turtles and Dragon (and other Larsen-created, Dragon characters) would occasionally cross paths in one another's books, so even though the Image Comics aren't considered part of the Mirage canon (of Vols. 1, 2 and 4) or the IDW canon (Vol. 5), Savage Dragon remains one of the Turtles' most frequent team-up bros.
Mark Martin was one of the first guest-cartoonists to work on the original Mirage series, following Michael Dooney. After his fun time-travel story from #16, Martin returned for a two-issue stint that introduced his Batman parody Gnatrat to the world of the Turtles, pitting his rat against their rat Master Splinter (that's Splinter in the tux). Prior to his appearance in TMNT, Gnatrat logged a pair of his own 1986 comics, Gnatrat: The Dark Gnat Returns and Happy Birthday Gnatrat. After his TMNT appearance, he had another pair, 1990's Gnatrat The Movie and the collection Ultimate Gnatrat.
At this point, Martin is probably a bigger name in comics than the character he tossed into his second Turtles-related comic, regularly working as an editor and writer, as well as a cartoonist. These three issues weren't Martin's only work on the Mirage Turtles; he also turned out the Mirage-published parody of the first, live-action TMNT film, 1990's Green-Grey Sponge-Suit Sushi Turtles, characters he'd return to in the 1991 Turtle Soup anthology miniseries.
In a perfect world, Gnatrat would at least get a mention in the Batman crossover, but as we all know, ours is not a perfect world.
Ron and Russ Post were the stars of a series of comics by cartoonist Matt Howarth (which Ron Post cajoles TMNT readers into buying in a one-page ad comic at the end of the issue). The Post Brothers, residents of Howarth's fictional Bugville, first appeared in Heavy Metal, and eventually earned their own title, which lasted 63 issues from 1985 to 1998 (cycling through three publishers during that time).
They cross paths with Raphael in this done-in-one issue that Howarth created during the original Mirage TMNT guest-artist phase (which lasted from #13-47 of the original series, with only a handful of interruptions by Eastman and/or Laird). Entitled "Turtle Dreams," it takes readers inside each of the principal characters' dreams, and in Raph's he dreams he's fighting the severely mustachioed bad boy with reality-warping powers, Ron Post. It's a good dream though, as Raph finds a worthy opponent.
This remains one of my favorite Turtle comics, and Howarth, a great fit for the characters and their anything goes world, would later return for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Special: The Haunted Pizza.
Bob Burden's "surrealist superhero" The Flaming Carrot is such a weird character that he makes teenage mutant ninja turtle seem mundane. Dressed in a white button-down shirt, sensible slacks, a pair of flippers, and a gigantic carrot with an ever-burning flame where the stem would be for a mask, The Flaming Carrot uses an arsenal of strange weaponry to defend the Palookaville neighborhood of Iron City.
His usual allies are The Mystery Men (stars of their own oddball film adaptation), but he's of course crossed paths with the Turtles repeatedly. In this three-issue run from the Dark Horse iteration of Flaming Carrot, an amnesiac Raphael took the name "The Dark Avenger" to fight crime alongside The Carrot.
Mirage would later publish a four-part Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/Flaming Carrot Crossover, scripted by Burden and drawn by regular TMNT artist Jim Lawson and Neil Vokes. Carrot gets lost among the many Mystery Men who also appear, and it's a narrative mess, but it's overwhelming mode is one of awkward weirdness, so it's probably appropriate given the characters involved.
A direct peer of the Ninja Turtles, Stan Sakai's ronin rabbit Miyamoto Musashi crossed paths repeatedly with the Turtles, most often crossing swords with Leonardo. Their first meeting was in "Turtle Soup and Rabbit Stew," Sakai's six-page contribution to 1987 anthology Turtle Soup, in which Leo falls through a portal and lands in Usagi's world (which is basically feudal Japan, where everyone is an anthropomorphic animal. And there are a bunch of little lizards that resemble tiny sauropod dinosaurs).
Longer sequels followed in 1988's Usagi Yojimbo #8 (in a back-up by Laird), and 1989's Shell Shock (by Sakai); in both Leonardo appeard in Usagi's world, and the two became friends.
When Mirage relaunched Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo, the cartoonist wrote and drew the longest of the Turtle team-ups, a three-issue storyline entitled "Shades of Green" that, for the first time, included all four turtles traveling to Usagi's Japan. This time their appearance is more thoroughly explained, as Kakera, an anthropomorphic rat who looks identical to Splinter, performs a magical ceremony that transforms four ordinary baby turtles into the TMNT of their world. Together with these new allies, Usagi and his ally Gen defend a town from ninja clans.
Usagi is one character on this list that will be familiar to Turtles fans even if they've never read a single Turtles comic, as he appeared in both the 1987 cartoon series and the 2003 series, and had an action figure in the original toyline.
Dave Sim's Cerebus the Aardvark was an anthropomorphic animal starring in a comic that began as a parody of Conan, before becoming something else entirely. Eastman and Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turltes were anthropomorphic animals starring in a comic that began as a parody of Frank Miller's Dardevil run. The symmetry must have seemed irresistible. How could two of the most successful comics of the 1980s black-and-white creator-owned revolution not crossover?
Cerebus guest-starred in a regular (and early) issue of the original TMNT series, in an issue lovingly created by the characters' creators: Sim, Eastman and Laird wrote the story, Sim and Eastman penciled it, and Laird and Gerhard inked it. Visually, it's one of the most fun comics of its era to pick apart, and while the crossover can today read a little bananas, at least when one considers the completely different directions the creators and their characters headed in soon after, it's still a great comic.
As a Cerebus comic, it's probably a little on the disposable side, but as a TMNT one, it's downright integral, introducing frequent TMNT guest-star Renet and frequent antagonist Savanti Romero, a villain who menaced the Mirage Turtles many more times than The Shredder (who only really appeared in a single issue).