By: Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV (story), Jason Fabok (art), Peter Steigerwald (colors)

The Story: An apple a day keeps the doctor away.  Unless that doctor happens to be Mr. Freeze.

The Review: Mr. Freeze is definitely one of the staples of Batman’s rogues gallery, and ranked among the top-tier of those Gothamite villains.  Not only does he have a power set that borders on the metahuman, which goes a little out of the Bat-family’s comfort zone, but his unfeeling coldness just makes him seem more lethal than, say, the Riddler or Penguin.  He also carries a distinct air of tragedy which sets him apart from his peers and makes him even more intriguing.

The traditional source of this tragedy (i.e. his obsession with finding a way to save his terminally ill, cryogenically preserved wife) has always been effective in making Freeze sympathetic, but its inescapable romanticism often gets played to melodramatic heights.  If Snyder and Tynion wanted to ground Freeze’s backstory, their best bet might’ve been to explore the relationship between Freeze and his wife, to let us understand why Freeze absolutely can’t let her go.

Instead, Snyder-Tynion takes us on a completely different route to understanding Freeze’s particular madness.  Their theory rests upon the assumption that people lose their spouses all the time, but not all of them go through murderous obsessions to get their loved ones back.  Thus Freeze’s fixation with cold-mummification must come from some inherently disturbed part of himself.  This is the basic thesis of the entire annual, and it actually results in a less dimensional portrayal of Freeze than before.

Consider all the focus on Freeze as a child.  To the Penguin (in one of the issue’s better scenes), he describes his youthful experiments with freezing neighborhood animals, clinically observing the effects without care of the harm done to them.  We get a completely bewildering set of scenes involving his mother; though traumatic in nature, it’s not clear how the events tie into Victor Fries’ development into the psychotic killer he is today.  Instead, they merely leave you with the conclusion that Victor has always been sadistic, a very flat depiction of him indeed.

Nowhere does this intentional dumbing down of our spotlight character become more apparent than when Batman himself reveals a whole number of details which revises Freeze’s backstory to lack even a shred of true romance.  Our hero isn’t content to leave it at that, however, as he breaks down his enemy with a speech that is uncharacteristically emotional in both expression and substance: “You claim to act out of love.  But I don’t think you even understand the meaning of the emotion!  Love requires empathy.  Sympathy. Compassion.  There’s nothing inside you but ice and hate.”  Even in the best light, this is an unconvincing scene from start to finish.

Other problems pop out in the narrative.  The appearances of Nightwing and Robin lead to no productive moments; there was absolutely no reason to involve them in this story except as cannon fodder, to show off Freeze’s strength.  And then there’s the even more troubling matter of why Bruce has such distaste for Victor’s research in cryogenics.  Though he self-righteously attacks the technology as vaguely unethical, on the fact of it, there doesn’t seem anything morally outrageous about Victor wanting to revive Nora (even with our new understanding of his relationship to her), so Bruce really does come across as needlessly cruel and brittle in this case.

Fabok has definitely matured since his work on Soulfire.  There, he was little more than a student of the David Finch school of art, but now he has a full-bodied, expressionistic style all his own.  He has a great deal of restraint where dramatics are concerned, which help to sell the overblown parts of the script, and his sense of detail and storytelling is a formidable mix between Gary Frank and Cafu.  Steigerwald mostly infuses the issue with palest whites and blues, but he also has a knack for using contrasts between hot and cold colors to make the art eye-catching.

Conclusion: While it has some redeeming points, it’s overall a disappointing effort, especially from a piece of work with Snyder’s name attached to a character for which he’s become famous.

Grade: C+

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – How does one decorate a snowman with just an apple, may I ask?  And no offense, but that does seem like a recipe for failure in a snowman-building contest.