For all of his talent and the fantastic stories he’s written, Scott Snyder isn’t perfect. Some complain about his stories fizzling out at the end. His biggest blunder so far in the New 52, however, was his reboot of Mr. Freeze.
Batman Annual #1 reintroduced Mr. Freeze to the continuity, and gave him a new backstory. The problem is that Freeze’s previous backstory, by legendary Batman: The Animated Series writer Paul Dini was perfect. Dini took a goofy character from old comics with an ice gimmick and remade him into a tragic figure. The Emmy-winning episode this was shown in, “Heart of Ice,” a tale of love and loss and how a man was turned into a monster while trying to save his wife, still makes fans cry over twenty years later. (If you live in the USA, you can watch it here.)
Scott Snyder’s rebooted Freeze turned the love for his wife into a delusion, claiming Victor had never really married Nora, mentally using her to replace his mother, whom he lost to the cold. It was a controversial idea, seen by some as a total betrayal of what made the character great, and others as a move that maintained the levels of tragedy while still turning it into a different kind of tragedy. Personally, I thought it was good, but inferior to Dini’s version of the character. But where am I going with all this? Well…
The reason I went into Mr. Freeze’s new origin is because since it happened, it doesn’t seem like anybody knows what to do with the character. Most books featuring him have just had him pursuing vendettas (usually against the Court of Owls) and getting into fights with superheroes in Batwoman, Red Hood and the Outlaws, and Birds of Prey. But when you have an entire comic based on Mr. Freeze, and you can no longer use Nora as his motivation, what do you do?
Enter Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, DC’s favorite BFFs and writing dream team. Their names are usually synonymous with “Quality”, and boy oh boy do they deliver here. With Snyder taking away Freeze’s original motivation, Gray and Palmiotti tell us a story of Mr. Freeze finding a new one.
We see a young Victor’s father leaving him and get a recap of the backstory shown in Batman Annual #1. We see Mr. Freeze interact with his psychologist at Arkham Asylum, who does nothing but waste his time, and his frustrations with the psychologist remind us of two things: Mr. Freeze is smart, and Mr. Freeze is incredibly vindictive.
Gave into the mirrored goggles of the icy killer, and know the reflection you see is his next victim.
Ultimately, what makes this book work is that Gray and Palmiotti understand the character of Mr. Freeze. It’s not just about outbursts and a wife. It’s about revenge and a need for companionship and love. Victor Fries is, in a way, a walking dead man who needs something that makes life worth living again, whether that’s a person who puts a smile on his face or an enemy to crush. He will pursue these goals time and time again, and he will pursue them with all of his strength, all of his genius intellect, and all of his deadliest tools.
Also at some point he might become the Pope. I would be okay with this.
I don’t want to say “The Bad” simply because the art of this book is kind of a mixed bag. Most of Jason Masters’ art is good, but there are just a few bits and pieces that look ugly. I mean, sometimes you have faces that look like this:
But then you also get stuff like this:
It’s unsettling and charming at the same time!
Then you have young Victor, who looks a bit older than his dialogue is written. Compare him in this book…
To him in Batman Annual #1:
He’s just so precious.
But where the art really excels is tone. When Masters fails to make little Victor cute, he sure does one hell of a job making Mr. Freeze scary. Details like his thoughts being spelled out in the lenses of his goggles and how brutal his ice powers can be just make this an absolutely terrifying villain.
And major props to colorist Dave McCaig, who made sure there wasn’t a single panel without the color blue in it. It just gives the whole book a constant feel of cold and a heavy, serious tone. And it’s perfect.
The art screw-ups aren’t really present enough to detract from the enjoyment of this book; it’s an incredible story. More importantly, Gray and Palmiotti did something wonderful here, by taking a villain who lost his reason for being and giving him a new one.
Well over a year after Mr. Freeze was rebooted, a couple writers finally managed to make the character work again in a meaningful way. And that’s exactly what Mr. Freeze needed.
Batman: The Dark Knight #23.2: Mr. Freeze #1 is available in a normal 2D cover and from digital retailers for $2.99 USD, and available in 3D if you can find one for $3.99.
Writer’s Note: This review is dedicated to the late Michael Ansara. His portrayal of Mr. Freeze in the DC Animated Universe was something magical, and his voice won’t be easily replaced.