Batman Annual #1
By Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV and Jason Fabok
The first mega crossover in the Bat-verse, Night of the Owls story line has been truly outstanding. As a loose toe-in to the event, this annual co-written by Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV provides a new origin story for one of Batman’s most dastardly rogues, Mister Freeze. Made popular by the 1966 TV series where he was portrayed by several actors from legendary George Sanders to ground-breaking director Otto Preminger to western film star and character actor of stage and screen Eli Wallach, Freeze was one of the first villains to be adapted by Bruce Timm in the award-winning Batman Animated Series. We won’t mention the Batman and Robin movie because… well… we just won’t.
Initially a one-joke villain, Freeze has been portrayed as an angst-ridden tragic scientist since the Timm cartoon version was screened. In ‘Heart of Ice,’ Victor Freis was a victim of circumstance dedicated to reviving his wife who had become frozen in ice. His altercations with Batman were mainly impediments that prevented him from a reunion with his loved one. However, that was not always the case (which even I did not realize). In this issue, the Timm origin is given a very dark twist that ties him into the Court of Owls and makes Freeze one deeply twisted and distorted individual.
Co-written by Snyder and Tynion (who previously collaborated in Gates of Gotham) the script is solid, full of character and mood while seamlessly blending into a story spread throughout a short-box worth of comics. Along with the story, the artwork is splendid. Usually, an annual is a mixed affair with a lead-in drawn by a relative unknown with some back-up material consisting of reprints, editorial or some dry character profile pages. I was shocked to find that this massive issue was all new material drawn by Fabok in startling detail.
The new artist on Batman Dark Knight, Fabok draws some stunning dramatic material and tackled Gotham City’s many guardians in astounding style (check out his blog here). Mister Freeze has been reinvented for a new generation, retaining much of his menace and doom, only this time he is also mentally and emotionally deranged, his heart forever frozen in a block of frustrated rage.
Dark Avengers # 175
By Jeff Parker, Declan Shalvey and Kev Walker
The Thunderbolts is one of the weirdest, most unpredictable superhero team books on the market. In the past 5 plus years alone, it has enjoyed several creative teams and twice as many shifts in direction. You’d think that would make the quality of the book suspect but in fact it is just incredible. A blend of dark comedy, action and drama, Thunderbolts has ridden a wave of popularity from the Civil War event to the present and it does not look like it is cresting any time soon.
Recently, the team has consisted of ex-criminals driven to work for the government, unable to rebel thanks to implants that would burn them alive should they try to break free. But a crafty group of ‘Bolts have managed to escape through time and space, leaving team leader Luke Cage with egg on his face. Ready to drop the project like a bad habit, Cage instead finds that the Thunderbolts project has dumped him and recruited new team members, specifically the Dark Avengers recruited by Norman Osborn to defeat the Avengers.
The clone bred from Thor’s cells known as Ragnarok, Dark Scarlet Witch (an insane geneticist Toxie Doxie), Dark Spider-Man (a spider deity whom Osborn befriended in prison), and Trickshot (Hawkeye’s evil brother)are called in to replace the Thunderbolts team and this announcement is of course made in the form of a big battle. Cage has his own plan, though, and brings in the Hulk’s son Skaar to keep the others in line.
If you have been reading Thunderbolts and were nervous that this regime change would alter the chemistry, rest easy. If you have not read this book before, start now because my instincts tell me it is going to get interesting.
Avengers Vs. X-Men #5 (of 12)
By Matt Fraction and John Romita Jr.
The mega event of the decade, Avengers Vs. X-Men has a tall order to meet. Strangely, it has hit every mark for me and continues to impress. Conceived by a braintrust of creators, this is one big story that touches upon all of the various Avengers and X-Men books on the racks (and let me tell you, there are a LOT).
Since her birth in Alaska, Hope has been something of a mystery. The first new mutant to be born after M Day when the population was decimated thanks to a spell cast by the Scarlet Witch, it has long been theorized that her connection to the Phoenix Force was an inevitability. Charged with forging a new path for the remaining mutant population, Cyclops directed Cable to take Hope with him into the time stream where he was hunted through the centuries by Bishop. From a possible doom-filled future (aren’t they all?), Bishop believed Hope to be the impetus of that disaster.
It turns out he might have been right all along.
The Phoenix Force is on its way to Earth to connect with Hope and the entire universe is shaking with anticipation. The Kree wish to harness the force to regain their role of galactic dominance. The Shi’ar are determined to side-step the destruction. Cyclops is convinced that the Phoenix spells a rebirth of the mutant race, while the Avengers see a catastrophe of unknown quantity rapidly approaching. Battle lines are drawn, fisticuffs occur across 23 pages every two weeks.
Wolverine has broken ranks from both the Avengers and X-Men with an aim to gut Hope before she becomes overwhelmed by the Phoenix as Jean Grey had long ago. When he finally gets his shot, he realizes that there is no way he can do this and instead attempts to help Hope intercept the Phoenix energy on the blue area of the moon, also drawing the combatants away from Earth to hopefully reduce damage.
The latest issue has plenty of spoilers that I will not dole out here, but it does cement the position of Cyclops as an outright lunatic. It also shows Wolverine as being possibly the worst ‘best killer’ there ever was. The man has had numerous opportunities to kill Hope and has gone through the same internal conflict each time. What’s more, Cyclops appears to view this event as a do or die situation and is banking not just the future of the mutant race but that of the planet as well!
I have enjoyed this series so far and am excited by all of the twists and turns it has taken over the past couple of months. I certainly did not see the cliffhanger coming and am curious to see where it will lead next, though it is hauntingly similar to the events of Fear Itself.
The X-Men and Avengers have traditionally existed more or less in exclusive vacuums. The first time they interacted to any great degree was probably Secret Wars. Having the teams battle for existence is actually an inspired decision that will likely have far-reaching consequences (think of how Avengers Disassembled led to House of M, Civil War, Dark Reign, Secret Invasion, etc).
Recommended, but we have a looooong way to go before we get to the end and it’s still anyone’s game.