Written By: Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV
Pencils By: Jason Fabok
Publisher: DC Comics
Release Date: OUT NOW IN STORES & DIGITAL DOWNLOAD (VIA COMIXOLOGY)
Sorry folks but the below review will deal with SPOILERS.
Scott Snyder, along with co-writer James Tynion IV have some balls. Snyder himself has been redefining the all new DC 52 Batman in the main run for a fair while now with his work on the Court of Owls however here in Batman Annual #1 (part of the Night of Owls crossover but only by the skin of its teeth really) these two writers step up to the plate and take on a heavy hitter. Mr. Freeze.
For many, Mr. Freeze became everything the animated series painted him to be. A mis-understood villain, whose robberies and schemes were for the love of his life Nora, frozen in a capsule to prevent her from dying until Freeze found a way of curing her. This was poignant, sad and elevated the character from a B-level villain to an A-level bad guy that became interesting in different way to the rogues gallery of Gotham. Any writer would have to be mad to mess with this right? Changing those elements that made Freeze more than he was would be writing suicide surely? Well if I knew up front before reading this Batman annual that this is what these two ballsy writers were attempting I would have thought so but seeing what they’ve done here is truly astonishing.
Essentially the DNA of Mr Freeze’s tale is the same. Victor loves Nora and she’s frozen until he can find a cure for her. He now works for Waynetech and upon Bruce Wayne’s return from abroad (early stages of Batman time presumably) ol’ Bruce wants to redirect Victor’s work and essentially close down his experiments unaware of the whole Nora angle. Victor wins him back and carries on with his work but when his obsession with curing his beloved wife deepens, Bruce Wayne confronts the scientist and the usual origin unravels putting the chill into Victor and making him Mr. Freeze. All routine stuff for the most part.
What we’re also given is a flashback into Victor’s past. He and his mother walking through the snow looking to build a snowman, using only an apple to create its features. There’s something beautiful about this mother and son relationship and when she disappears into the broken ice there’s a sense that Victor’s cold past started earlier than we ever thought.
Anyway, modern day, Freeze breaks out of Arkham in ways that make this character’s use of freezing brutal. The full on controlled attack on the guards, his new suit and his attitude in general is one of a cold, calculating threat. He’s not Bane or anything but something about the much less clunky costume and the more hands on approach to him, make Freeze feel less fragile and more menacing. We also begin to find out how The Court of Owls used his tech to resurrect their frozen assassins and it’s here that Victor takes his anger back to his creator Bruce Wayne. Freeze wants his Nora back and he wants to go through Wayne to get here.
Up until this point this is just a well written Mr. Freeze tale. The DC 52 has given him a closer tie with Bruce and a new costume to prance around Gotham in. There’s nothing extraordinary here but when Freeze returns to the lab and he’s confronted by a darker than dark Batman with heated gloves to prevent getting frozen by Freeze’s guns the real story begins to unfold. (HONESTLY, THOSE NOT WANTING TO BE COVERED IN ICY SPOILERS SHOULD LEAVE NOW). As normal Mr. Freeze is going headlong into finding his Nora in the lab. He can resurrect her now. It’s proven with the Owls. This is his time. Then Batman drops the clanger. Nora isn’t Victor’s wife and she never was. BOOM! That one hit me like a truck. She’s a patient that his work led him to. The first person to be cryofrozen to be cured when technology found a way. His thesis was about her than led him to the work and over the years his obsession with her has twisted his mind to create its own story. Suddenly Mr. Freeze goes from heartbroken bad guy to disillusioned psychopath with a few simple lines and for me at least, it feels like I’m meeting Mr. Freeze for the first time again and he’s become a genuine threat. Of course Batman then takes him out. He’s delivered a crippling blow (followed by a genuine crippling blow to Freeze’s suit) but it’s the last couple of pages that further elevate this annual to impressive heights.
When we find out what happened to Freeze’s mother all those years ago, after her accident in the ice (don’t worry I won’t spoil everything for you) Mr. Freeze reborn in the all new DC 52 is suddenly something altogether different and at the same time it fits. Snyder and Tynion IV puled this off with devastating effect. Of course this isn’t going to work for every character in the all new DC 52, and it remains to be seen how Mr. Freeze carries on from here but this is the sort of thing the big DC reboot bragged about and it’s taken close to a year for me to feel a redefinition of a much loved character can be actually effective. Batman Annual #1 took a well-trodden path and gave us a detour to somewhere new. For me it worked, for some I’d imagine it won’t but for writers to take these chances on such an established bit of Batman mythology as opposed to just putting someone in a new suit and ramping up their ego like they have with many of the characters in this DC 52 era, I have to applaud all involved. Great stuff. Now please can we get someone like this on the Superman books – those things are a mess at the moment.