If you’ll forgive me, this story about Mister Freeze is a slow burn, and all the better for it. After weeks of buildup, with brief epilogues at the end of the most recent issues of Detective Comics, we finally get to see what Freeze has been plotting. Leave it to a master storyteller like Peter Tomasi to let this chilling (will this be the last one? Who knows?) tale unfold at a deliberate pace, rather than rushing the pace with unnecessary action. That makes Freeze’s plan all the more sinister, and results in this issue being a study in tension.
Case in point: the first half dozen pages of the issue consist of Batman, and then Mister Freeze, quietly contemplating the snow. Bruce laments the fragile beauty of the falling snowflakes, how a single drop of water and a minuscule dust particle can combine to create something so ethereal, so unique… and so temporary. Like his relationship with Catwoman, it was doomed from the start, fated to just… melt away.
It’s a bit flowery, sure, but Tomasi’s real strength is in how he lets the artists tell the story. The words are poetic, and provide an interesting counterpoint to how Freeze views the snowfall. What really sells it all, though, is just how absolutely gorgeous it looks. The most “exciting” thing that happens, from an action standpoint, is Batman firing his grapple gun and swinging to the deck of a yacht. It’s solely so he can wax nostalgic, though, and not part of some sort of drug bust or infiltration. No, he’s simply… remembering, running his hand along the vessel’s railing as the snow falls about him.
And it is gripping. Doug Mahnke, Jamie Mendoza, and David Baron are back contributing their skills, and it’s a testament to said skills how engrossing they’re able to make two scenes where the main subjects are just thinking and reflecting. There’s a wonderful transition where Batman closes his fist on a gathered clump of snow, and the page turn reveals Freeze’s open hand doing the same.
The dialogue and art work in tandem to tell a story that has a decidedly deliberate pace, and even though large swaths of the issue consist of conversations between characters it’s still involving.
As established in the epilogue of the previous issue, Freeze has targeted various women in his attempts to revive his beloved Nora. These women have psychological profiles, physical features, and body types that closely resemble Nora, so Freeze has his goons go about Gotham to abduct them. These kidnappings and abductions punctuate the dialogue-heavy portions of the issue, which just serves to increase the tension and dread.
And Freeze’s plan is pretty dreadful indeed. Luthor’s “gift” was a “secret serum” that promised to revive his wife. Freeze does not consider himself a fool, of course, and as a scientist he wants to test this serum before using it on Nora.
For that, he needs live subjects.
It’s pretty monstrous, without question. All of these women have lives and families, yet Freeze sees them as nothing more than a means to his desired end. He does not feel anything for these “subjects,” for nothing should get in the way of his desire to get his wife back. That’s also indicative of how tragic a figure Freeze actually is. He’s not some loon like the Joker, or a masochist like Zsasz. He’s a devoted husband who will stop at nothing to spend even one more moment with his wife, who was taken from him through no fault of their own. You can’t help but sympathize with him, even while condemning his actions.
What sets Batman on the case is a botched kidnapping attempt, wherein the victim fell and hit her head when her assailants tried to apprehend her. Taking Freeze’s command that “no harm is to be done to them” to the literal extreme, the men tasked with abducting her decide that Freeze would rather she be left behind than having a “damaged” test subject.
It… doesn’t go well for that guy.
That’s pretty hardcore. Arnold would be proud.
There’s a nice scene between Batman and Bullock on the GCPD roof, even though there are two typos in successive panels.
Knowing that Bullock is a little rough around the edges, “latley” and “your’re” can be written off as just affectations of speech. He isn’t dumb by any stretch, but coming up with his own slang and turns of phrase wouldn’t be too much of a stretch. Still, these are clearly errors, and having them pop up in the exact same sequence makes them all the more noticeable.
All is forgiven with the appearance of Bruce on the rooftop, though, which may go down as one of Mahnke’s best Batman illustrations ever.
Just look at that. It’s funny, of course, with Bullock’s reaction and the cup of coffee (tragically) flying out of his hand. Yet it’s also just really, really cool, with the light effect from the Batsignal enhancing the shadows around Batman’s cowl. That’s a Batman you can write home about.
Much as I loved the deliberate pacing, the ending of the issue is a bit disappointing, because it kind of just… stops. I’m glad Tomasi didn’t try to shoe-horn in a shocking cliffhanger or something, and instead just let the action escalate until the two narratives converged. Still, it’s kind of abrupt, but thankfully we only have to wait two weeks for the next chapter.
Either way, this issue is a great example of the winning streak Detective Comics has been on for almost a year now. It’s good, old-fashioned comics storytelling, with a strong story and a focus on pace and mood over cheap shocks and thrills. This is the kind of comic you get when you have masters of the craft on board, and Tomasi, Mahnke, Mendoza, Baron, and Leigh are some of the best creators out there. Give me consistent quality any day, and with ‘Tec, that’s exactly what we’ve been getting.
- You just love good comics with strong storytelling
- You love Mister Freeze
- You enjoy a deliberately paced thriller
- You still dig some awesome shots of Batman thrown in, too
Detective Comics may be the most consistently good book out there right now, at least as far as Batman titles go. There’s hardly been a bad issue from Tomasi and crew yet, and this issue is no exception. There’s a strong story at its center, which feels more like a slow-paced thriller than an entertaining-but-empty action adventure, with a villain whose motivations don’t justify his monstrous actions. And then there’s Batman, who hasn’t felt this human in a long time, and makes a strong case for how well he can actually work with others. Be it with Alfred, his beloved confidant, or the begrudging respect shared with Bullock, this is a Batman who knows when to be vengeance and the night, and when to actually foster a good relationship. Plus he still looks really cool when doing it, so, bonus.