Batman Annual #1 hits just shy of the one year anniversary of the relaunched DC Universe. There has been a lot of confusion as to the status of several Bat-characters and the timeline of the bat-books. This annual serves to reintroduce Mr. Freeze into the DCU with a few changes in store.
We start off with a thirty year flashback as a young Victor Fries walks with his mother across a snowy field. Only it’s not just a snowy field; it’s a frozen body of water. Victor’s mother disappears under the ice but is recovered according to Victor, who is now speaking with a therapist in Arkham Asylum. As one could guess, Mr. Freeze makes his escape and goes on a murderous rampage until he’s out of the facility. He goes a little Sub-Zero on everyone, even using a breath attack that I don’t believe I’ve ever seen. He inhales an ice blast and blows it out of his mouth. We’ll pretend he could always do that, but his helmet prevented it.
Freeze pays a visit to the Penguin, who is not happy that Victor neglects to walk through the front door and instead drives through it. He retrieves his weapons from Oswald and sets out for vengeance on Bruce Wayne. There is another flashback that enters familiar territory as Fries was a scientist (this time working for Wayne Enterprises) employee who was researching cryogenics in the hopes of curing Nora.
There is a welcome appearance by Nightwing(I still don’t dig the red and black) and Robin, which is a nice nod to their partnership prior to the New52 launch. I love these two together, but Freeze gets the best of them before a final confrontation with Batman that reveals a new twist to his story. It takes the origin established by Paul Dini in BTAS, which has been one of the best contributions from the series, and flips it into an unexpected place. I’m not sure if I enjoy it because of the things it takes away from Freeze. It definitely puts him into crazy villain territory.
Jason Fabok brings down the house with great art throughout the issue and Peter Steigerwald’s blue palette with the occasional splash of color fits the tone of the story. I enjoyed this team throughout the book.
The redesign of Mr. Freeze is pretty great as well. I love the strip of hair on top and his less-armored look gives him the feel of being more of a physical threat than just another “two-bit gadget villain from Gotham City” as Hal Jordan would put it.(If you got that reference, then good for you!)
This oversized issue was welcome as a nice diversion from the ongoing “Night of the Owls” storyline running through all the bat-books. Although mentioned, and Freeze plays a direct part in the Court’s plan, there are no Talons to be seen, and it’s a good thing. I’ll be glad for Scott Snyder to jump back into the established Batman playground and maybe re-tool some of the other rogues.
Verdict: Solid book all around.