Batman: Snow by Dan Curtis Johnson & J.H. Williams III (writers), Seth Fisher (artist), Dave Stewart (colors), Phil Balsman (letterer)
Batman: Snow is a trade collecting a story arc originally published in 2005 in Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight (issues 192-196). Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight is a series that featured stories about Bruce Wayne’s early adventures as Batman. Such a premise allows writers to deal with a somewhat naïve Bruce who makes mistakes as a vigilante and allows readers to see where he learned the lessons that make him the seasoned vigilante we see in later stories told in comics and block-buster movies. In this particular story — Snow — we are shown Batman’s somewhat ridiculous attempt to put together a crime-fighting team. Since we know Batman doesn’t have a self-assembled crime-fighting team — though he eventually has a team of sorts that evolves naturally over time — we know this attempt will end in failure. This story is also about Batman’s first encounter with a new type of criminal — the super-villain — in the person of Mr. Freeze.
Initially this story made me uncomfortable because I don’t like to watch a bumbling Batman make so many mistakes, but upon further reflection, I like that I got a chance to see my hero mess up. Batman wants to fight crime. Gordon is helping, but not enough. What would YOU do? Get some help, right? And that’s exactly what he does. And he goes about it intelligently and in a manner that fits the suspicious and careful Batman I know and love — the writers make sure the Batman in this story doesn’t violate the heart of the character. And this team he puts together could have worked. It’s a good team. Batman just makes one miscalculation about his team. But that’s all it takes…
Of course what is outside calculation altogether is Batman’s encounter with Gotham’s first super-villain, Mr. Freeze. The story of Victor Fries follows a relatively canonical storyline, with a few variations. Mainly, he tries to save the life of his wife with a cryonic experiment that goes horribly wrong. What I love about this particular story, though, is that Fries is never shown as a bad man (at least from his perspective — he does kill people). Through the loss of his wife (which turns out to be no fault of his own) and through his accident, he mentally snaps and believes everything he is doing is right and for the ultimate good.
In many ways, Mister Freeze is just as much the vigilante as Batman is. He’s just gone a bit crazier than Batman (okay, a lot crazier). But in reading this comic for the second time, I realized the writers were showing that Batman comes close to madness as well. There is a thin line between Batman and his nemeses, and according to this story, Batman’s crossing that line started even before the Joker ever made his appearance in Gotham.
The art of this story is a mixed bag for me. In places, I love it, particularly the depictions of Mr. Freeze’s deranged visions in contrast to reality (quite psychedelic), the architecture of Gotham, and the detail of all the background settings. See, for example, the image I’ve attached showing Mr. Freeze’s twisted view of reality as we get to see how he perceives his wife after her accident. I also love Dave Stewart’s colors. He’s one of my favorite colorists in the business, and he doesn’t disappoint here either. But the pictures of Alfred and Batman bother me. Perhaps the artist is trying to make Batman look as awkward as he is acting in his early career. If so, he succeeds. But I think I’m being overly generous in attributing this intention. However, I think some of the expressions DO fit this explanation: Batman’s new to this game and doesn’t always seem to know what expression is appropriate to make since people don’t even universally recognize him as Batman yet. One of his recruits, unsure of how to address Batman, calls him “Mister Bat” on their first encounter. But basically, the artwork is inconsistent, going from excellent to embarrassing. I rarely have such a varied reaction to art from page to page, from panel to panel. Look at the page I’ve included that shows in the top, left panel an awkwardly grimacing Batman. The quality of the art in that panel pales in comparison with the dramatically drawn and perfectly-colored panel right below it showing a bad guy shoot a gun: The bullet comes right at us and blood even splashes through the border of the panel. This single page is a good example of the range of the quality of art in this trade.
Overall, this story is an interesting one, particularly because it’s so very different. I find it refreshing for that reason. I like the development of Mr. Freeze and his being portrayed as a disturbed man trying to do good. I love the colors and much of the art. However, the inconsistency in the art detracts from the overall effect of the comic and leads me to dock my rating by half a star. I still think this trade is worth picking up, particularly if you are a big fan of Batman and are tired of seeing him portrayed as a little too perfect. Despite initial reluctance, I have come to see some human flaws in my very human hero Batman. I also like origin stories, and even though this isn’t an origin story, it picks up the narrative soon after his origin and would make for a good read after Frank Miller‘s Batman: Year One.