Thursday, May 13, 2010

Trade Waiting - Batman: Snow

This trade collects issues 192-196 of Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight from 2005. I felt that reviewing this story might be pertinent considering half of the writing credit went to J.H. Williams III and he’s also recently been named as the new writer for the Batwoman ongoing series that so many people want to see. You’ll have to hit the jump to find out just what I think of your future Batwoman scribe.

Story by J.H. Williams III and Dan Curtis Johnson
Script & Dialogue by Dan Curtis Johnson
Art and Original Covers by Seth Fisher
Colours by Dave Stewart

As you can already see, Williams didn’t even write the scripts for this one, so make of that what you will. He obviously did have a large hand in the story idea and structure as a whole though, so it isn’t necessarily bad, and this was 5 years ago and much can and has changed since then I'm sure.

The story opens with Alfred finding Batman hanging out on the jagged wall of his cave with lots of blood lost and a bad time behind him that will only lead to plenty of worse times ahead. We can instantly see that Bruce Wayne is taking his vigilante gig far too seriously already and Alfred is worried about him. Batman has been on the trail of a Peter Scotta and it led to him being shot, just a little.

This opens up Wayne wanting to be able to better handle these large case situations. He’s feeling like his relationship with the Gotham Central Police is strained, and most of the time it simply hamstrings him. He wants to find a way to circumvent them, if he can. Thus he sets about creating a little team of operatives to work in secret beneath him. He assembles the usual rogues; smart hot chicks, smart nerdy guys, unhinged vets, the usual deal, and gets them cracking on his case. It works well, at first.

Alongside this tale we also meet Doctor Victor Fries. He’s a happy-go-lucky guy who just does his work and thinks he’s going to change the world for the better. You can see he’s not appreciated at work, and then his wife has some sort of accident, a condition is found. It’s a crushing introduction to a man whose life is being twisted and perverted and you just know is going to become the sad villain of the piece. This shouldn’t be news, he becomes Doctor Freeze, but they do a good job of setting him up to be such a mild and likable guy that you hate each situation that pushes him further down. His job screws him over and changes his work from deterrent to weapon. A machine that Fries then uses to try and save his wife's  life only to find that the company already changed it and so he’s using a weapon on his beloved, and weapons rarely heal people.

Of course, Batman’s rogue little squad eventually intercepts with Dr Freeze as he sets out on a rampage to kill those who messed with his life. Freeze still sees his wife, Nora, in swirling visions that convey the fact that nobody is really home anymore in the brain department of the Freeze suit. He’s slipped away from us and turned into a homicidal maniac and Batman must intervene, no matter how sad it all is.

The story is pretty well woven together. The dual motivations for Freeze and Batman to both make their lives better is well executed and believable. Batman’s ensemble work well together, and at times the procedural feel for them make me wish they’d lasted a bit longer. It could be fun to see Batman wield his own little CSI crew on different jobs.

The inevitable climax brings everything together in a satisfying manner but you know how it’ll play out so there are certain beats that have to be hit. There won’t be any drastic murder of Freeze, though none of the little players are safe which makes for a few interesting scenes. Williams and Johnson do a good job of keeping the tale moving with a lead constantly on the run to keep the reader informed and entertained. I’d say this tale gives me a fair degree of faith that Williams will be able to piece a multidimensional story together and make the landing on the end stick. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this trade, right down to the awesome story titles that reflect the snow theme, and can all be used after the word snow to form new words: drift, bound, blind, fall, and storm.

Once we move away from Williams, and Johnson, we finally look at the real gem on display which is the artwork of Seth Fisher, with Dave Stewart's excellent colour work keeping up with his dense levels of art. Fisher wouldn’t be your average choice to do a superhero, especially not the grim and gritty cowled crusader, but for this story his style is perfect. Another artist would have made this story a chilling tale but Fisher brings a childlike level of enthusiasm and joy to each page that make you see this more as a Saturday morning cartoon than a real story of lost limbs and frozen crimes.

As a child I used to love those frenetic picture books that showed cross sections of ancient ships and medieval castles, there was always something to look at even once you thought you’d looked at it all. This is how Fisher approaches so much of his work. He details pages like he’s hiding a certain amount of little treasures just for you to spend all day finding. His Batman is loose and comical, but he’s also getting shot at by freeze rays and protecting himself with a special cape just for the occasion, I don’t want Sienkiewicz or Ross showing me these scenes, I want Fisher.

If you take the time to read all of the sound effects you’ll be pleased because Fisher uses them like he’s Sergio Leone making a Looney Tunes movie, it’s all hyper-detailed, specific, and very insane. There are some absolute rippers in there and it all makes the experience feel like you are a little kid again just soaking up the awesome. He may not draw the best Bruce Wayne I’ve ever seen but the rest of his characters look great, especially Dr Freeze and Commissioner Gordon.

Verdict – Buy It: If you own a copy of this book I almost guarantee that you’ll go back and read it more than once. It’s a great little story, poignant at times when dealing with the poor Dr. Freeze and interesting as all get out when looking at the procedural aspect of the Littlest Batman Crime Squad and you’ll lose yourself in Fisher’s art every time, especially because he sadly passed away a few years ago and you won’t have any new comics to enjoy.

(In fact, to see another unsung Seth Fisher comic please follow this link to read Max Bernard’s excellent review of Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big In Japan on his site Comic Flipper, it’s well worth a look.)

Interested in Batman: Snow? Buy it on and help support the Weekly Crisis!

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Flip The Page said...

Another great Seth Fisher book and indeed another brilliant review. This has been on my shopping list for ages and I've just been too preoccupied with finishing other series to bother, but i shall definitely get it now I've read all of this.

Also thanks for the plug

Alpha_Monkey said...

I love "Batman: Snow" like fat kids love candy

Ryan K Lindsay said...

Hey Flip - you're welcome, and you're welcome. I hope you enjoy the trade as much as I did. It's always hard knowing someone may spend money based on your words but I also like the power, haha.

Novaguy said...

Just read this a few weeks ago, and it is a great book. The Seth Fisher art is great.

Steven said...

Good book and as far as J.H. Williams not actually writing the script. He's not exactly known for his writing anyway, is he? Dan Curtis Johnson is however, while not widely known, an excellent writer. He did, after all, write Chase. One of the best unsung comics DC has ever produced. As well as the book Williams cut his artistic teeth on at DC.

Ryan K Lindsay said...

@Steven - I'll have to check Chase out, sounds good. Williams isn't noted for his writing, no, but seeing as he will be writing Batwoman, and doing so after Rucka, I'm hoping he brings his A game.

Steven said...

@Ryan - I'm sure you are familiar with the character, as she was at one point a major supporting character of the current Manhunter. It is also the series that introduced the DEO and recast Mr. Bones as it's head. Manhunter as a series has always had a similar feel to Chase.

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