Well, it was bound to happen eventually. Almost a year into this generally fantastic run on Detective Comics, there’s finally an issue that I didn’t love. Given the creative team, there’s still a level of craft that I can’t help but appreciate, and there are individual aspects that I enjoyed. Generally speaking, though, this issue is a bit of a disappointment.
Things start off incredibly promising, though, and continue until about the halfway point of the book. If issue #1012 was somewhat akin to a slow burn examination of mood and intensity, while 1013 was pretty much a slasher where Batman is the pursuing attacker, this issue here begins as a disturbing psychological thriller. There aren’t any true scares, but there’s just something… off and unsettling. Freeze has awoken his beloved Nora from her slumber, which she isn’t initially as thankful for as he had hoped. He calmly tries to explain that he’s gone to so many great lengths to restore her to the living, even though she protested before being put into her frozen state. If he had any chance of saving her, he says, he needed to take it.
“A chance?” she asks, both dumbfounded and slightly horrified. “You weren’t sure it would work?”
These opening scenes are absolutely fantastic, with Tomasi making Freeze somewhat sympathetic even as morally and ethically challenging questions are thrown his way. You understand why Victor did what he did, yet you also understand why Nora wanted nothing to do with it. It’s a difficult conversation, and there aren’t any easy answers to be found. Victor claims to have done this for her, even though to make his point he talks about the effect that it had on him. Nora, on the other hand, feels as if a sense of agency was taken from her, as a decision about her own life was made without her approval. Even in this second chance she’s been given, she says she feels like she’s cold and dead. She may be alive, yes, but will she truly be able to live?
There’s nary a punch thrown, nor does either character so much as raise their voice above a normal conversational volume. Even so, these first ten or so pages are some of the most gripping examples of storytelling I’ve seen in a comic in some time, where a simple conversation is masterfully staged by both the writer and artists to be as exciting to read as any fight scene. The ever-reliable Doug Mahnke makes great use of POV shots to give the back and forth a sense of claustrophobic mystery, while Rob Leigh letters a sort of mechanical countdown that gives the scene an additional sense of urgency.
The most striking thing, though, is the contrast between Victor and Nora. He pleads his case to his wife, his icy blue skin looking all the more so next to her pale beauty. Freeze is oftentimes one of the more emotionless characters in comics, with his obsessive drive giving him a cruel, focused, and– let’s face it– cold demeanor. Even with his trademark red goggles obscuring his eyes, though, you can tell that he is passionately imploring Nora to consider the great lengths he went to in hopes of saving her from a too-early demise. Nora, on the other hand, is strikingly beautiful, yet she bears a look of overwhelming melancholy. Tears stream down her face, and even after she frees herself from a constricting helmet and breathes air for the first time in who knows how long, her joy quickly turns to sadness over how… wrong this feels.
It’s the kind of amazing storytelling that comes from masters of various crafts coming together and trusting one another to tell the best story possible. Look at the panel where Nora takes off her helmet and breathes in the chill air, for example. She lets out a “MMMAAHHHHH…” to indicate satisfaction, and the look on her face is one approaching euphoria. Those details tell the story well enough on their own, and masterfully so. Then there’s the glassy helmet creeping off the bottom of the panel with a similarly transparent “FFSSSHHHH” coming from her suit, which sell the idea that this is quite the complex device that her husband has rigged up for her. Nothing is distracting, though, as the different elements coalesce to make these characters feel alive.
Even after Tomasi moves on from these genuinely moving scenes, there’s a great bit between Batman and Alfred, the latter of whom is still wearing the Flash mask from the previous issue. The pair are working tirelessly to assist the women that Freeze kidnapped for their experiments, and as you’d expect by now, their dialogue is snappy and absolutely perfect.
And then the story makes a pretty severe misstep from which it never recovers. The action shifts to Bruce and Lucius working in a Waynetech cryonics lab… “Much Later.”
This time jump was completely unexpected and unnecessary, and it even weakens the overall story. Nothing that happens after this flash forward is truly bad, but it’s such a drastic shift that we go from Nora Fries being reluctant about accepting her husband’s methods to effectively being his accomplice and partner in crime. It’s such a sudden heel turn that it honestly weakens her character, because something clearly happened in the interim to sway her toward the dark side that we never get to see. Tomasi is too good a writer to take shortcuts like this, at least willingly, so I can’t help but wonder if he needed to get Nora to a certain place but had limited space to do so. In effect, the “Year of the Villain” mandate made him make some narrative leaps that he would have allowed to develop more organically otherwise.
As I said, though, the actual content isn’t bad. There’s an absolutely stunning scene where Nora– her skin tone now matching her husband’s frosty complexion– dances onstage to an enraptured Victor. It’s quite lovely, even sweet, until the view is pulled back and we see the other theatergoers frozen in their seats.
It’s effective enough on its own, devoid of any actual context. What we know of Victor and Nora’s relationship makes it rather touching, in a rather macabre way, which is offset by the gruesome act that’s been committed. There’s fertile soil there to make this a really chil– frightening piece of horror storytelling, if only it had been allowed to develop that way.
So yes, while this issue was disappointing, there’s still enough good here to make even a muted recommendation. The first half of the book is some of the strongest material Tomasi has written in his ‘Tec run so far, and there’s not a single panel that isn’t anything less than gorgeous. It’s a Batman book that hardly has any Batman in it, so it’s a credit to the creative team that they’re able to make such a villain-centric story so gripping and involving, even with some questionable narrative choices. Regardless, this title has been nothing but stellar for the last year, so I have faith that they’ll be able to move past this slight hiccup.
- You’re invested in the Victor and Nora Fries relationship.
- You’re okay with a Batman story that doesn’t have much Batman.
- You like some stunning visual storytelling, as you should.
- Alfred is still in a Flash mask and Halloween is a week away.
Overall: This issue has a lot going for it, with quite a few strengths, yet it has one big weakness that keeps it from greatness. After starting off strong with a pitch perfect, engrossing, and slightly horrifying extended conversation between Victor and Nora, the story jumps forward in time and denies the lady Fries character growth. It doesn’t destroy the story by any means, nor does it tarnish the goodwill this team has rightfully earned. Still, the greatest strength this arc has had so far is its effective use of time and pacing, so jumping forward in time to get a character to where they need to be just to serve the story is a let down. Even so, Detective Comics is still in the midst of a great run, even with its flaws, and I’m invested enough to truly care about where the story is going.