Batman Annual #1
The middle era Batman movies made a habit out of misrepresenting the main villains of the series: Bane, perhaps Bruce’s biggest mental threat thanks to his Mastery of military tactics was turned into a mindless slab of muscle, Two-Face ignored the result of his coin tosses when they went the wrong way the Penguin was glad to play goon to bigger political fish (and had flippers beside) but worst of all was the fact that Mr.Freeze, a man made famous by his heartbreaking origin story, was played by Arnie, an actor barely capable of registering emotion. The animated series returned him to a position of respect with Heart of Ice, an episode that shattered those of all who watched it and now his New 52 debut is being scripted by comic writer extraordinaire Scott Snyder; so it seems that things are on the way up for the good doctor, but can we ever really bury the past, can we put it behind us?
This question seems a particularly applicable one to put to these pages because it is a book driven, as Snyder’s often are, by memories and haunting recollections. The nearest past that applies is of course that of Snyder’s ongoing run on the flagship title and though this annual fits in within that timeline it isn’t a vital piece of it. The Court of Owls stuff for example is minimal, the first present day page offering an explanation to one of the medical mysteries they introduced, though the Talons themselves don’t otherwise appear not does the book have any obvious implications on their fight. So no it’s not a necessary read, though nor should it be; it’s purpose was to introduce the character of Fries into this new U and it does this with aplomb.
Though it is an origin story it’s not one overly concerned with the contrivances of the mans powers, his life-altering accident thrown in as something of an afterthought; the priority instead is the psychology of the man and this is given a much deeper delving into. At first it seems like the issue will simply be a restructured rendition of Heart of Ice ( it also feels strongly familiar as a player of a certain Arkham City mission and a viewer of Nolan’s version of Lucius Fox) but during the third act it takes a dramatic turn towards new territory. SPOILERS will follow.
There is a certain sense in this issue that Snyder and Tynior thought that version of the character was too much of an anti hero, that he was too relatable and empathetic – I myself was rooting for him early on in the run’s, i mean his wants seemed reasonable – and that this annual is their effort to adjust that. Their Fries is restored to a role of villainy and his intentions rendered insane by some choice revelations: his obsession with the cold stems not from it’s forgiveness and life giving quality but from its capability to kill, more specifically that it killed his mother and never saved his wife,even fleetingly.
Their Freeze then is one of both implausible obsession – going so far as to take an imagined tragedy and allow it to transform him into this inhuman thing – and clinical coldness. He like Batman has this idea in his head that it is deep emotion driving his actions, though the reality is that he’s actually past the point of being able to feel and through these ‘justified’ actions has created for other many others as much sadness as he is attempting to stave off. So on one front this is a return to the taciturn simplicity of Schwartzenegger’s evil, but on the other it still strives to make us question the actions of Bruce; it simply does this by bringing Batman down rather than raising Fries up.
Although I do question the annuals quality as a Batman story – the crime, fight and eventual capture are all quite rudimentary renditions of what we have seen before one hundred times if not more – it still makes for a clever and emotionally crushing stand alone one-shot comic book, and again this is exactly what annuals are for. Fans of Freeze will feel that he is done a justice here that he hasn’t been by many other books, fans of Snyder will find all his usual tricks in play ( A non-linear narrative, linking captions and in the final image a chilling visual motif) and fans of good comics will find a compelling story. If you’re one of the above buy it ( as if you haven’t already) and if you’re not a fan of either you may well find that this iteration makes you one, even if your only other exposure was to Arnie; it covers that copy up like ice over a lake.