Comic Book Review
Writers: J.H. Williams, Dan Curtis Johnson
Artists: Seth Fisher (Penciller, Inker), Dave Stewart (Colorist), Phil Balsman (Letterer)
The origin of Mr. Freeze has been told and retold more often by more artists and writers than any other Batman villain that I can think of. Bob Kane and Curt Swan introduced him as quintessential goofy Silver Age villain Mr. Zero in 1959; the Adam West Batman television series changed his surname to Freeze in 1966; Paul Dini retold Freeze’s origin twice himself — first in the “Heart of Ice” episode of the grossly overrated Batman: The Animated Series, and again in a slightly more sophisticated version in comic book form with the Mr. Freeze one-shot released to coincide with Batman & Robin’s theatrical debut in 1997; that film further reworked Freeze, transforming him from a gentle scientist made a villain by a freak accident into a hulking monosyllabic Austrian with a hard-on for unspeakably lame cold-themed puns.
I won’t even get into the various alterations to the character triggered by continuity-altering stories like Crisis on Infinite Earths or Zero Hour, or the Underworld Unleashed crossover a few years ago that augmented his powers and fixed him up with a new suit.
With all those origins flying around over the last almost-fifty years, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to take another crack at telling the first Mr. Freeze story, but J.H. Williams, Dan Curtis Johnson, and Seth Fisher took their swing at it with Snow, a 5-part story that ran in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight in 2005, and has been collected this year into trade paperback. Fisher’s artwork is noteworthy, and the story has one or two fleetingly interesting moments, but mostly it’s a goofy, overlong piece of shit that I don’t reckon anyone will prefer over either of Dini’s versions.
Williams and Johnson’s story is a rewrite of Dini’s, with a few altered or added characters and a lot of extra stuff going on, especially on Batman’s end. Victor Fries is still a scientist working in cryogenics, his wife Nora is still terminally ill, and there’s still an accident that makes Victor’s refrigerated deep-sea diving suit the one thing he just cannot leave the house without. There’s a second villain who both Batman and Freeze wind up gunning for, but instead of amoral industrialist Ferris Boyle, it’s Afro Samurai look-alike Peter Scotta. It’s a little jarring to open the book, read the first scene and realize that Batman has nearly been killed by a dude who looks like Tim Meadows.
And since Snow, like most other LOTDK stories, takes place in Year One, we’re treated to the latest tiresome barrage of inside-jokes about Batman at the cusp of his crime-fighting career. You can always tell a good LOTDK story (like, say, Gothic) from a bad one (like, say, this one) by how hard the writer works to remind you that Batman’s still pretty new at this. In Snow, Williams and Johnson treat us to would-be comic gems like Jim Gordon recommending Batman get a butler (Ha ha ha ha ha! But he already has a butler! Fuck, it’s hysterical!) and Batman musing, as he is required to in every single Year One story, that he really should get a car. Are guys who write stories for Legends of the Dark Knight not required to have read any of the past stuff the title’s published, because all of this has been done before, to death. The book’s up over issue #200, for Christ’s sake, and they’ve still got Batman trying to figure out what might be a good way for Gordon to contact him. Hmmm, I wonder what he’ll come up with.
Besides a weird and inferior retelling of the Mr. Freeze story — “weird” because Nora Fries dies about halfway through, frozen solid and broken into multiple pieces, but continues to appear to her husband in vivid hallucinations, where she stands in various states of undress, surrounded by flowers, urging him to kill, kill, kill — there’s also a lengthy and almost entirely unrelated subplot about Batman rounding up a band of misfits to be his assistants. The members of the team are all well-worn types — the fat tech guy, the pretty young psychologist, the buzz-cut and tattooed ex-green beret — and it’s never clear why Batman even needs them in the first place. He tells Alfred he doesn’t want to have to rely on Gordon or D.A. Harvey Dent, that he wants his own people. But the sort of things he has the team doing — surveillance, breaking-and-entering to search apartments, investigating suspects in crimes — are all things Batman usually does himself. What does Batman do while his team is doing all the work? Apparently nothing. He doesn’t really need the help, he’s just lazy. Didn’t really seem like Batman to me at first, but then again I never knew he ate donuts in the Batcave, either.
There’s a whole lot working against this one, but a few good things pop up here and there. Fisher’s artwork is clean and direct, and the coloring by Dave Stewart is bright and refreshingly flat. So much art in superhero comics the last ten or fifteen years is just textured to hell and back, and a lot of it looks like shit. Not everything has to look three-dimensional, ya know. Fisher and Stewart’s crisp presentation make moments when a member of Batman’s team is frozen and broken into about ten pieces all the more jarring. It goes off the track here and there, like when a furious Jim Gordon is drawn with rainbow steam coming out of his ears, but for the most part the art is the only thing the book has going for it.
It’s not the worst Batman story I’ve ever read. It’s nice to look at, at least. Would it be my first choice if I felt like reading a Batman comic? No. Would I rather spend half an hour reading Snow than thirty seconds listening to an R. Kelly record? Hell yes. I’d be fucking crazy otherwise.