Friday, 1 June 2012

Batman Annual #01 Review

While "The New 52" reboot from last September left Batman's continuity mostly intact, a few changes have snuck in over the course of the year. Dick Grayson is back to being Nightwing, Barbara Gordon is back to being Batgirl, etc. Generally these changes have been rolling back the clock on our favourite heroes' careers, making them younger and dare I say more stylish. However, this first Annual of the new volume takes a radical approach and completely rethinks the origins of one Victor Fries aka Mr Freeze. I won't go into details, but it both acknowleges the classic origin of Mr Freeze, as established in Batman the Animated Series' "Heart of Ice" over twenty years ago, and yet spins it off into an interesting new direction that no one was expecting, let alone me.

What will most likely catch any potential reader's eyes on the stands is the "Night of the Owls" crossover banner on the top of the cover. However, I should warn you that this doesn't play into the hugely popular event in the slightest. Apart from a casual mention of the Court of Owls having stolen Freeze's methods to animate their Talons and a nebulous time frame between another Freeze-related scuffle over in "Red Hood & The Outlaws", this is entirely a localised character study, delving deeper into what makes one of Batman's most notorious villains tick.

Furthering this theme, the Annual is bookended by flashbacks to Victor as a child, visiting a frozen lake with his mother. Sufficed to say, any mental disturbances in the mind of Freeze began a long time before Batman or Bruce Wayne became a thorn in his side. I really liked these two scenes. While it had no direct effect on the modern day, it played heavily into the psychosis Victor feels towards his wife Nora. Yet another important woman in his life that met an icy end.

The core story deals with yet another breakout from Arkham Asylum (making three or four across all the Bat-titles since last September alone). Thankfully, this one is far smaller in scale and only Freeze himself, yet all the more impressive for it. Watching him casually despatch staff memebers, whether they be therapists or armed guards is quite the sight. Sometimes relying on his gimmick of extreme cold or in a surprising move, blunt force trauma. He may be a malformed scientist, but he has no problem snapping a man's neck with his bare hands.

Upon regaining his freedom, Freeze heads straight for the the man who "wronged" him and led to his horrific transformation - Bruce Wayne. In this version of events, the good Doctor worked for Wayne Industries in the Cryonics Division. Victor spent months working on a cure to his wife's condition, neglecting all the other projects he should've been working on. When Wayne finds out, he personally fires Fries on the spot. After an unprovoked skirmish, Fries ruptures a canister of coolant and becomes the monster we know him to be today.

I'm not entirely sure I agree with the decision to tie Bruce so intrinsically into Mr Freeze's origin. It reminded me alot of The Riddler in Batman Forever. Jim Carrey was the mad scientist in Wayne's employ, got fired and poured his talents into revenge against his former boss. You could match the stories beat for beat. Now, I'd never accuse a mastermind like Scott Snyder of ripping off a hack like Joel Schumacher, but the similarities are eerie.

As you can imagine, when someone makes a kamikaze run at Bruce Wayne, they're bound to run into Batman. Before that inevitable round of fisticuffs, there was also a welcome pair of cameos in the form of Nightwing and Robin, running interference for their father. Ever since Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne's initial team-up in the first volume of "Batman & Robin", I've long been a fan of the pairing. I'm glad to see their chemistry hasn't been forgotten by DC editorial in the rush to get Nightwing back to a solo hero. It was only a couple of pages worth, but a reminder that not every change to the DCU was a positive one. I miss these two together.

In retrospect, the events of the issue themself aren't anything much to write home about. Infact, it's worryingly basic. But the beauty lies in the small character moments. Being able to understand this new Freeze a little more, even Bruce's personal connection to events. Not essential reading, but pleasant enough, should you want a deeper insight into the New 52.

8 out of 10

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