Warning: This review contains some hefty spoilers and a few long tangents, so read at your own risk! (And if you’re awesome and like your reviews with some color.)
Well, after reading this week’s Batman Annual #1, I must say… Mr. Freeze is one baaaad mothaf… oh, I should just hush and get on with the review, shouldn’t I?
Okay, here we go…
If you’ve paid attention to some of the solicitations (like this one) for this issue, you know that it was labeled as a “Night of the Owls” tie-in, so you’d think it would be filled with all kinds of acrobatic ninja assassins wearing owl-themed clothing and all that good stuff.
But if that’s what you were thinking, you were wrong, because this issue is all about Mr. Freeze. Sure, the Court of Owls shenanigans are part of the storyline, and their members are mentioned, but writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV made Mr. Freeze the star of Batman Annual #1, and they wrote the hell out of him while they did.
I’d never followed any Batman books regularly until the New 52, so I hadn’t been familiar with the details of Mr. Freeze’s origin and history. I felt I had a basic grasp of it, thanks to his appearances on the old Batman: the Animated Series cartoon and the Arkham City video game, but I never had the full details on the life of Victor Fries and how he became one of Batman’s most famous bad guys.
DC must have had readers like me in mind when they wrote this issue, because Batman Annual #1 is basically a retelling of Mr. Freeze’s origin and how he’s tied to Batman and Gotham City. The New 52 was launched in part to lure new readers to books and characters they’d never followed before, and DC took advantage by reintroducing and reimagining characters for new audiences. That’s exactly what’s been done with Mr. Freeze here.
And Snyder and Tynion did an excellent job. This annual is an origin story and also a one-shot adventure, basically, even though it takes place within the “Night of the Owls” saga. It’s story of Victor Fries, the crazy scientist who was disturbed even before he became a supervillain, starting from childhood.
When the annual opens, we get a taste of Victor Fries’ life as a little boy. He’s out on the ice with his mother preparing to make a snowman for a competition, but his mother suddenly falls through the ice into freezing water, possibly to her death, leaving Victor alone. It’s sad, tragic, and written to make us sympathize with young Victor and his mother. You immediately think, “Aw man, Mr. Freeze’s mother died in the ice when he was a little boy, and he was scarred for life. THAT’S how he started his journey into supervillainy.”
And yeah, it is how he started his journey, but by the time this issue’s over, you find out it’s a lot more complicated than that, and much sicker.
Turns out, young Victor’s mother didn’t die. The cold water froze her and preserved her until the authorities thawed her out. We learn these details through exposition in the very next scene. The issue fast forwards to the present day, when a grown-up Victor, who’s now Mr. Freeze, is a prisoner in Arkham Asylum. He’s having a session with a psychiatrist, and their dialogue reveals the fate of Mr. Freeze’s mother. And since she didn’t die and was able to be saved, that’s a good thing right?
Well, yeah, it is. BUT, if you notice, we have a woman he loves who gets preserved in ice until she can be thawed out, and thus, loved by him again. Now, if you’ve watched any of the Mr. Freeze episodes of Batman: the Animated Series or played Arkham Asylum, y’all know that’s the exact same situation he’s in with his wife Nora. She’s a woman he loves, frozen in ice, presumably preserved forever until she can be thawed out. If you want to go all Psychology 101 here, it’s the whole “men wind up marrying their mothers” sort of thing… which apparently extends to mothers who have unfortunate accidents that turned them into popsicles.
Yet Snyder and Tynion play with that character hook here and make Mr. Freeze look crazy instead of sympathetic. Turns out, Nora ain’t his wife. She’s a research subject he became obsessed with during his scientific career. She got an incurable heart condition decades before he was born, and her family had her frozen so she could be preserved until a cure for that condition was found. When Victor first “met” Nora, he was a doctor working for Wayne Enterprises, and she was in a block of ice. He developed an unhealthy attachment to her while she was a human popsicle (and his poor mama taught him a lot about human popsicles). He claimed she was his wife and wanted to thaw her out, but Bruce Wayne found out he was crazy and ordered him to stop his unsanctioned research. Victor attacked Wayne and accidentally caused a cryogenic explosion in the lab. The blast’s effects turned Victor into Mr. Freeze, and the whole situation is why he blames Wayne for taking his “wife” away from him.
And that’s not even the sickest part.
The end of the issue takes us back to Victor’s childhood again. He’s out on the ice once more with his mother, who’s survived her accident but is wheelchair bound, tired and out of sorts. Victor is wheeling her around like a dutiful, loving son would for his sick parent, and then… he tosses her into the freezing water again because he likes her better when she’s frozen than when she’s not.
Basically, Mr. Freeze is a murderous psychopath with a fetish for frozen chicks. And Snyder and Tynion spend the entire annual making that fact abundantly clear to us. Oh, and there’s some plot point about how the Court of Owls stole his work to use to reanimated their assassins, or something like that. But really, who cares? Isn’t Mr. Freeze a total sicko? And isn’t it frickin’ GREAT?
And now, the art. Jason Fabok’s pencils are beautiful, and sometimes, especially during the opening scene with Victor and his mother, they’re reminiscent of Gary Frank. He’s great at drawing the human face and body, and sure, the objects and backgrounds are nice, but the people are what you remember best because he’s just so good at rendering them.
So, in summary, Batman Annual #1 is a good read with good writing and art, and it tells you, succinctly and powerfully, why Mr. Freeze is the coldest dude around, literally and figuratively. So check it out!