Monday, June 11, 2012

Comic Review -- Batman Annual #1: First Snow / Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, and Jason Fabok

WARNING: FAIRLY BIG SPOILER IN THIS REVIEW!  I usually do spoilers in my reviews, but since this is a pretty big one, I'm taking extra pains to make sure people know.  Please consider yourself warned.

I really like this cover!  It's an iconic depiction of Mr. Freeze, and an appropriate one, given both his involvement in Night of the Owls and this first real exploration of his character since the New 52 began.  The glaring red goggles and the snow owls are also a clever touch.  The whiteness of his ghostly image across the background also points up his obsession with the cold.  Excellent work here.

Slightly after midnight of the Night of the Owls incident, Freeze, recently captured and detained at Arkham, abruptly breaks out again and makes his way to Wayne Enterprises, intent on killing Bruce Wayne and leaving Gotham behind forever.  He makes a stop at the Iceberg Casino, to get his ice guns from his "friend" Oswald Cobblepot, aka the Penguin, and arrives at Wayne Enterprises to find Nightwing and Robin waiting for him.  They know about his involvement with the Court, and have no intention of letting him escape punishment for it.

After dispatching them, Freeze goes to the penthouse suite to find Batman waiting for him, with Nora's cryo-tube on display for his benefit.  Freeze tells Batman that he will not be kept from the woman he loves, and Batman responds that Nora is not his wife, and that Freeze's love for her is nothing more than an extension of his obsession with the cold.  Freeze acknowledges this, and they struggle briefly.  Batman subdues him by overloading his suit with the same formula Freeze made for the Court of Owls's Talons.  Freeze is unable to move, and Batman and Nightwing take him back to Arkham.

Bookending the story is a haunting tale involving a young Victor Fries and his mother, when both would go to a snowman building contest.  In the first story, we see how his mother falls into a lake during his youth.  Fries is older in the second story, and his mother is considerably more frail.  In a troubling sign of his impending sociopathy, Fries wheels his mother into the water that nearly killed her years ago, saying it is time for her to finally rest.

The reveal of the issue.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Scott Snyder knows how to tell a good story.  I'm not sure where his contributions end and James Tynion IV's begin, but this particular narrative is powerful in several ways, and for several reasons.  It re-establishes Freeze as one of Batman's rogues gallery in a definitive way since the New 52, with the new twist that there is no Nora Fries, just a Nora that Victor Fries was obsessing about due to her condition.  It makes for a subtle but spectacular reinterpretation of the character, and while I can't say it's a change I would have necessarily agreed with , it nevertheless makes Freeze an even more interesting--and insane--character.

Another touch that I'm really liking with the New 52 Bat-titles is how, when applicable, things look very much like they've come directly out of the undeniably awesome video game, Batman: Arkham City.  From the look Penguin's Iceberg Casino, to Freeze's overall physical presentation (though I will admit there are some notable differences), it's neat to see these things from such a well-received game making their mark on the source materials of the comics.

Freeze's origins are also reintroduced, first through the framing story of Victor's obsession with the cold and his mother's injury in the frozen lake, and then through the occasional flashback as Freeze makes headway on his quest to kill Bruce Wayne, who he blames for taking Nora from him.  Bruce Wayne is seen as the heartless businessman who has kept Fries from his research to save Nora, even as he gives perfectly sound business and scientific reasons for making the decisions he does.  It's well-handled material, that gives a critical insight into Freeze's character between the action of him trying to "take back" Nora and kill Wayne.

My one nitpick that I have with this story is the unbelievably quick time frame in which it takes place.  Freeze is not incarcerated for more than a couple of hours at most before breaking out again?  Really?  I mean, I have no doubt that he was quickly returned to Arkham after the Red Hood and company beat him around, but to be able to plan and execute an escape from a new cell in such a short window of time?  It probably would have been better if this had been a follow-up to Night of the Owls, with this story set a few weeks after everything else took place.  Just my opinion.

Artistically, I have to say I'm very impressed with Jason Fabok's work on this issue.  He employs a clear, realistic style that still manages to flow well in the action scenes and allow for a wide range of expression in the characters.  I do like Freeze's look, though I'm still wondering about the fact that his suit has no sleeves.  Still, I'll accept it for now in the way I accept Snyder's new twist on the character: reluctantly and cautiously, but with hope that it'll make for something cool in the future.

Overall, this was a highly enjoyable issue.  I generally don't go for annuals, but I'm glad I picked this one up. Even if you're not into Night of the Owls, you'll want to read this story to see the new take on Mr. Freeze.  The artwork is excellent, and the writing is great.  Highly recommended.

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