Thursday, May 31, 2012

DAMN Good Comics -- BATMAN ANNUAL #1

All of the sudden, Arnold Schwarzenegger's ice puns from Batman and Robin seem even more pointless and stupid.

The classic Special Guest Villain known as Mr. Freeze makes his major debut to "The New 52" era with an extra-length annual that ties in with the Batman event "Night of the Owls."  The good thing is, you don't have to read the other twenty or so issues of "Night of the Owls" to appreciate this story, but don't be surprised if you find yourself wanting to read them afterward.

With "First Snow," regular Batman writer Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV give Mr. Freeze more depth and characterization than he's had since the 1992 Batman: The Animated Series episode "Heart of Ice."  While I won't give too much away for those who haven't read this issue, there are some fundamental changes and additions to Victor Fries' origin and background that make the character more than just a tragic lovesick victim.

Even better, Freeze appears to be considerably cleverer, and far more dangerous, than shown in years past.  His methodical breakout of Arkham Asylum is impressive indeed, using his freezing abilities to their deadly potential toward his initial goal of escape.  Ultimately though, Freeze is fixated upon two things -- his desire for vengeance against Bruce Wayne and the recovery of Nora, the woman he loves...or thinks he does.

The art by Jason Fabok is very crisp and clean, enhanced by some effective coloring by Peter Steigerwald.  Fabok and Steigerwald arm Freeze with a new helmet dotted on the inside with small, reflecting ice crystals, causing the character's head to resemble an odd snowglobe.  Their Batman, meanwhile, resembles David Finch at his finest with just a dash of Brian Bolland mixed in for good measure, which certainly doesn't hurt.

For too long, both DC and Marvel Comics have had an annoying habit of turning annuals that were once special and meaningful into little more than throwaway product with poor creative effort and an inflated price point.  However, by tying into a well-received epic storyline using the title's regular writer, DC appears to be trying to reverse the trend as shown here and with this week's Animal Man Annual #1.  Annuals, it seems, are going to matter again and here's hoping they stay that way for many more years to come.

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