Marvel Comics and DC Comics are the two biggest players in the field of American comic books. Both publishing houses are known for their superheroes and expanded franchises, including TV shows and films (both live-action and animated), video games, books, and other merchandise. Due to this fact, it is rare to find a successful comic-based franchise not part of either Marvel or DC. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are definitely a successful comics-based franchise, but how does the franchise connect to Marvel and DC?
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are not a part of Marvel or DC
This is particularly interesting because the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise is connected to both Marvel and DC, but it has never been part of their fictional universes.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were partially based on Frank Miller’s run on the Daredevil comic book, which is part of Marvel’s slate. For example, the ooze that created the Turtles seems to be the same ooze that blinded Daredevil, and the Foot Clan is an hommage to the Hand. But these were only influences, references, and homages, as the Turtles never became part of Marvel’s universe; they have never even crossed over with it as they did with DC Comics.
As for DC Comics, the Turtles have crossed over with DC’s most famous character, Batman, but they never became part of that universe, nor did DC have the rights to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. The major narrative crossover we are talking about is the Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover that was published by DC and IDW between 2015 and 2019. The series contains three parts, the first of which was published in 2015, the second in 2017, and the final one in 2019; the success of the main narrative also inspired a 6-issue spin-off series.
In the first part of the series, the Turtles and their arch-enemy Shredder have been transported to an alternate universe by Krang. In Gotham City, they meet Batman and clash with a series of his famous “rogues gallery” while attempting to find their way home. In the second storyline, the Turtles had to join forces with Batman to defeat Bane, one of Batman’s most formidable foes. Finally, the last storyline had Batman and the Turtles fight the alien supervillain Krang, who was initially responsible for the Turtles coming to Gotham City.
This crossover was extremely popular and was a hit for both DC Comics and IDW Publishing. The crossover also inspired a feature-length animated movie, Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which debuted in 2019 to very positive reviews.
Who owns the right to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise?
Now that we have established that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise is not part of either Marvel’s or DC’s slate of comic books, we can tell you who the actual owner of the franchise is. As of November 2020, it is IDW Publishing, but the ownership history of the franchise was a very colorful one, and we are going to present it to you here.
TMNT started off as a comic book created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. The comic book premiered in May 1984 and was published by Mirage Studios, who held the publishing rights until 2015, so until very recently. Mirage Studios published a total of four volumes of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book series, as follows:
- Volume 1 (1984–1993), containing a total of 62 issues
- Volume 2 (1993–1995), containing a total of 13 issues
- Volume 3 (1996–1999), containing a total of 23 issues
- Volume 4 (2001–2014), containing a total of 32 issues
Archie Comics obtained publishing rights in 1988 and published their series in 1995, meaning that for a while – and that is not strange for this franchise – the TMNT franchise had two different publishers. The series initially followed the storylines and style of the 1987 animated series but then radically changed in style, starting with #5. A total of 72 issues were published.
Dreamwave obtained publishing rights for a brief monthly series based on the 2003 animated series, which ran from June to December 2003. It followed the style of the animated series, but it did not last long, ending after just seven issues.
A big change happened in 2011 when IDW Publishing obtained the license to publish new collections of old Mirage Studios stories and their own ongoing series. The first issue of IDW’s series came out on August 24, 2011. IDW Publishing did an amazing job with the TMNT comic books, creating a great main narrative and expanding it to other areas of the universe. As of November 2020, the series contains 244 issues, 26 of which are considered out-of-continuity. IDW Publishing still holds rights to the franchise.
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