June 4, 2012

REVIEW: Batman Annual #1: The Torment of Mr. Freeze

For years the quintessential origin of Mr. Freeze came from the 1992 Batman - The Animated Series episode "Heart of Ice". Incidentally it's also one of the best episodes the best episode to come from the iconic TV series, which is saying quite a lot. Following the positive critical response of the episode and a resurgence in the villain's popularity, DC even retconned the comic book version of Mr. Freeze to more closely resemble and portray the animated version. The episode also influenced the plot of 1997's infamous and horrible Batman and Robin, where Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as Mr. Freeze. 

It's hard to believe that "Heart of Ice" first aired 20 years ago. Now that we've somewhat adjusted into DC's New 52 Universe, I guess the heads at DC thought that Victor Fries needed a new origin as well, and the first New 52 annual issue of Batman retells the now classic tragedy. Victor's origin isn't safe from the New 52 relaunch however, as there are some major changes and additions which tie directly into the current Night of the Owls event. (Reanimated undead Talon assassins? Ring any bells?) Fans can rest easy however - though the change is not necessarily better, it's definitely a different take on one of the Batman's better villains and worth the read.

Warning! Spoilers ahead. SPOILERS. AHEAD.

The origin itself takes place somewhere during or after Batman: Year One, as Bruce Wayne has just returned from a noted "long absence" abroad. Dr. Victor Fries is employed under Wayne Enterprises, experimenting and researching with cryogenics and the like. Bruce is a little wary of Victor's experiments, but allows him to stay so long as he continues the actual research Bruce wants and intends. Upon discovery of Victor's personal use of Wayne Tech facilities and equipment, Bruce Wayne fires Fries and orders him off the property. Victor doesn't take well to the news, which leads to Victor's laboratory accident and his eventual transformation into Mr. Freeze. 

Meanwhile, the remainder of the book takes place in "present" day, likely on the Night of the Owls - Talons are after Fries because of the cryogenic technology used to reanimate their assassins. Mr. Freeze manages to break out of Arkham Asylum, and wants nothing more than revenge on Bruce Wayne for what occurred all those years ago, namely his interference in regard to the reanimation of his beloved Nora. Upon his return to his original lab in Wayne Enterprises, Mr. Freeze is welcomed by Nightwing and Robin, and eventually Batman. Cue fight scene. :)

The biggest change made here in Scott Snyder and James Tynion's version, which actually serves more or less as a huge plot twist, is that Mr. Freeze and Nora are actually complete strangers. Yep. In the New 52 universe, Victor Fries is simply in love obsessed with the cryogenically frozen Nora Fields, who is actually many, many years older than Victor. Dying from an incurable heart condition, Nora's family volunteered for her to be frozen all those years ago, so that maybe one day she could live a normal life.  Her frozen body was stored at Wayne Enterprises, where eventually Dr. Fries came to study her and grew to "love" her.

As Batman says, Fries simply found "love in the only thing he's ever cared about - the cold." It certainly makes Mr. Freeze just THAT much creepier, but simultaneously makes him less human and the story less tragic than the version portrayed in "Heart of Ice". Still can't decide which version I like best, but it's a difference worth noting. I'll probably have to pop in the episode on DVD tonight and get a refresher. Either way this is a seriously chilling (pun intended) twist in Mr. Freeze's new origin.

There's also a significant flash back into Victor's past, namely a traumatizing event from his childhood involving his mother. It provides an even colder (no pun intended) ending to an already creepy story, and redefines Mr. Freeze entirely as a Batman villain.

Again, although I don't prefer one version of Mr. Freeze's origin over the other, this one is definitely a fresh, unique tale and a whole lot creepier, in true Scott Snyder fashion. Although it's clear nothing will ever replace "Heart of Ice", this version is still a well-written story and great way to reintroduce Mr. Freeze into the DCnU. It's safe to say that if this issue came out 20 years ago, we'd probably be comparing it to "Heart of Ice" instead of the other way around.

THE GOOD: A truly chilling and creepy retelling of Mr. Freeze's origin! Although its NOT better than "Heart of Ice", it's still a well-written story. It's safe to say that if this origin had come first it may be the one we'd be comparing to "Heart of Ice" instead. Also, seeing Nightwing and Robin working together was a welcome addition. I miss them. :(

THE BAD: Making Nora and Victor complete strangers sacrifices a lot of Victor's humanity. His deep love for Nora is what made his origin so much more tragic, and making Victor just another freak in love with a stranger more or less makes him just another kid on the villain block. Though the change DOES justify Bruce Wayne's now apparent connection to Mr. Freeze's origin, its still a little hard to swallow. Also, what's up with the sleeveless costume? Doesn't Victor's ENTIRE body need to be isolated from any amount of heat or warmth?


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