By: Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti (writers), Jason Masters (artist), Dave McCaig (colors)
The Story: As Arkham’s residents pillage and plunder, Victor Fries reminds us what’s really important: family.
The Review: Mr. Freeze has shown up a couple of times in the New 52, but he hasn’t really thrown his weight around as a villain much. The major exception to this was Batman Annual #1. That issue changed everything that we knew, and many of us loved, about poor old Victor. Though Scott Snyder presented an interesting view on the character, my biggest criticism, at least my biggest objective criticism, then and now, was that it really only served that one story. It’s been over a year and now it falls to Justin Grey and Jimmy Palmiotti to figure out what comes next for Mr. Freeze.
The good news is that Grey and Palmiotti make wise investments in tone and character. Especially in a hero-free issue, it’s important that the villain have a dramatic arc and a compelling voice. Throughout his brief odyssey, Victor presents himself as the most rational one in the room, a choice that serves to highlight the nearly heroic journey that he undertakes.
So the voice of the character is strong, but what about the plot? Well, to be honest it’s kind of weak, but our writers do an admirable job of using intelligent jumps between the present and various scenes from Fries’ past to keep the issue moving, which, in turn distracts the reader from the somewhat predictable story playing out before them.
Though I admit a strong preference towards the more traditional Mr. Freeze, I don’t think it’s my bias speaking when I say that there’s something awkward and yet endearing about the way this issue clings to Batman Annual #1 while simultaneously trying to create a new take on the character. The whole issue has a sense of a talented writing team that doesn’t know what to do with their assignment. Scenes literally lifted from Scott Snyder’s annual, mysterious letters arriving with no explanation, fight scenes that only seem to justify their inclusion, and interesting but limited visual abstractions all appear in the course of the issue, giving the sense that Grey and Palmiotti were a little stumped as to what to say about Mr. Freeze. In fairness to the writers, most of the other Villain’s Month issues have gone the route of an origin story, something that they did not have the freedom to attempt. Still, for all the many unrelated ideas in play here, Victor’s narration manages to hold the issue together.
Jason Masters’ cartoony art doesn’t always seem in sync with the happenings of the comic, but it does its job well enough and avoids the temptation to play up the grimness of this, admittedly disturbing, story. Luckily for a villain spotlight, Masters seems to have a good handle on drawing Freeze and expressing his thoughts through cold simple expressions. He also has a knack for rendering ice, snow, and all of Freeze’s other frigid accoutrements.
Normal people however are a bit of a weak spot, particularly their hair and facial structure. Characters like Bruce Wayne and Dr. Felton, another in a long line of interchangeably antagonistic Arkham doctors, seem to vary significantly between panels and frequently just look off.
One last nitpicky thing that I feel compelled to mention is the lack of a freeze gun. Despite Victor utilizing one in both Batman Annual and the flashbacks to that issue, he never bothers with one this go around. I feel like it’s not excessive to wonder why. Though I like many of Kenneth Rocafort’s designs and even this one, I’ve been highly critical of the lack of arms on Freeze’s alleged containment suit and the addition of an ability to freeze people with a touch makes this choice only more puzzling. Worse still, that makes Freeze the second ice-themed rogue in DC’s stable to trade logically necessary sleeves for superhuman freezing powers. With such a big deal made of Captain Cold’s transition to his new powers, it just seems strange for DC to make he and Freeze more similar again.
The Conclusion: This Mr. Freeze issue feels a little bit like its throwing things at the wall, but enough of it sticks to make this an interesting issue. Villain’s Month has often felt like a series of editorially mandated origin stories, but Grey and Palmiotti’s offering has just enough charm and craft to feel like its own issue. It doesn’t aspire to the heights of Batman 23.2, another instance of Scott Snyder beating Villain’s Month to the origin story punch, but Batman: The Dark Knight #23.2: Mr. Freeze takes its position, comfortably in the middle of the Villain’s Month pack.