Wednesday, April 26, 2017

All Star Batman by Scott Snyder issue #6

Snyder's five-chaptered arc My Own Worst Enemy which focused on Two Face/Harvey Dent had been an off-beat, kooky spectacle of an action-adventure story which had amusing hijinks and colorful sequences to match it as illustrated by Kick Ass artist John Romita Jr. It had been a wonderful ride with a rather neatly tied ending that made sense yet also not nearly as satisfactory as one would hope. That being said, I was ready to embark on Snyder's new arc which would have another Bat-villain as a focal point and this time it's Mr. Freeze. Imagine my gleeful surprise to discover that the artist for this issue is no other than Jock whom Snyder had collaborated with in one of my favorite Batman volumes of all time, The Black Mirror. 

The immediate change in the tonal approach for this issue's narrative (an atmospherically bleak and gothic vibe) was unexpected but most welcome on my end because this is the Scott Snyder I'm more accustomed to whenever he's writing a Batman story. Combine that with the staggering breadth of Jock's lingeringly creepy illustrations about ice and zombies and you got the perfect ambiance for a ghost story. There was nothing specifically paranormal going on for Ends of the Earth but it's also recognizably a Frankenstein-eque story. Mr. Freeze brought back to life dozens of cryogenically frozen people to do his bidding as Batman ventured to the Arctic Circle to hopefully put a stop to nefarious plans. At the center of it all was Nora, Mr. Freeze's beloved, whom he still wished to wake up someday. Batman tried his best to convince Freeze not to go through his diabolical machinations for the sake of the only person he had ever truly given a damn about. It's all very touching until one remembers something.

And that's no other than the fact that DC rewrote the backstory regarding this couple. In current comics continuity, Nora was no longer Victor's legal wife; in fact she was just a woman he was pining over and so this meant that the 'love' was unrequited on his end. And it's quite frankly a disrespectfully dumb rewrite of what used to be such a moving story about a desperate husband driven to desperate measures in order to save his wife that he was willing to cryogenically freeze her for a while until there was a cure for her disease. Nora was Victor's last piece of humanity; the only one who can possibly thaw the ice in his heart once she is awaken. To remove the 'married couple' dynamic from their story now reduces Mr. Freeze as nothing more than a deranged stalker willing to do whatever it takes to gain the affection of a woman whom he has no personal history with unlike in the story as featured in Batman: The Animated Series, Heart Of Ice. That remains to be hands-down the best Mr. Freeze origin story.

I don't know why DC rewrote what Victor and Nora had; I mean, at least the show Gotham had the decency to keep their marriage intact in their own version of Mr. Freeze's origin story. What I will tackle about instead was how Snyder managed to 'fix' this rewrite by claiming that in symbolic spirit, Nora is Victor's 'wife'. If you have no idea about the rewrite, this won't even register as an odd choice of phrase because I bet the version that most Batman fans know about Mr. Freeze is the one they have watched take place in Heart of Ice. Anyway, I like how Snyder wrote this issue strictly more in narrative form than in dialogues. The exchanges mostly happen in narration boxes so everything is expository in that sense. And I think it worked brilliantly, especially since Jock was the artist who brought to life some of the most creepy panels ever put in a comic book's pages. His art style has such a seething horrific yet subdued vibe that looking through them can give someone chills. 

That revelation at the end pertaining to how Batman duped Mr. Freeze was so out-of-this-world it was a proud mark of genius. Sure, it's disconcerting that Batsy would attempt something so fatal to his life but that's just part of how Batman usually operates so it shouldn't be that much of a shock. I definitely enjoyed this issue at last. I think it's the finest of what has come out from this title so far. I read that the next issues would be standalones like this one and would feature Poison Ivy, Mad Hatter and Ra's Al Ghul.

The second cycle of The Cursed Wheel story also fared better than I would have counted on. Yet another artist (Francesco Francavilla) managed to make it work. He had very interesting choices for panel layout and the visual impression that was created is one that for me fits the overall 'enigmatic' charm that is the Riddler. Much like the main story, this was relied on exposition which I had no problem with because it actually took the time getting readers into the story's fundamentals unlike the first cycle. Duke Thomas is once again the focal point of the story alongside the bad guy Riddler and this I hope becomes consistent because I'm slowly warming up to the idea of Duke becoming a part of the Bat-family and I'd like to see how he holds himself up to that pedigree. So in a nutshell, issue #6 had been a very impressive installment.


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