Review: Batman: One Bad Day: Mr. Freeze hardcover (DC Comics)

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Among the writers for the “Batman: One Bad Day” series, Gerry Duggan caught my eye as the only one not currently or recently working on DC properties. I know Duggan’s a Marvel stalwart who did good work on Deadpool and I recalled favorably his Batman Eternal spin-off miniseries Arkham Manor. But it was not until I looked back at Doug Glassman and my co-review of Arkham Manor and recalled the prominent role for Mr. Freeze in that story that it all fell into place. Duggan and his Deadpool artist Matteo Scalera did Batman #34 (in Batman Vol. 6: The Graveyard Shift), leading in to Arkham Manor; Duggan’s Arkham Manor had strong character work for Mr. Freeze; thus, Duggan and Scalera’s Batman: One Bad Day: Mr. Freeze.

There are thematic elements that might tie Freeze to Arkham Manor, though perhaps these just reflect Duggan’s general concerns when writing about Batman. His Freeze is fascinatingly in some ways in line with the Arkham Manor portrayal, in some ways different. Ironically, the main overt wink and nod to Arkham Manor also demonstrates the two books as not taking place in the same continuity, not that they needed to.

Among the four “One Bad Day” books I’ve read, I rank Freeze in the third spot; not the best, but far from the bottom spot. Ultimately, while enjoyable, Freeze doesn’t have the gusto I’m looking for of these books in the shadow of Killing Joke; set during Christmas in Gotham, Freeze would succeed far better as a Batman winter special than it does as a definitive Mr. Freeze story.

[Review contains spoilers]

Arkham Manor had at its core questions of the violence Batman doles out and how it helps or hinders those he confines to the titular asylum, and what he owes those people. Freeze goes along similar lines, here presented as a debate between Batman and young Robin Dick Grayson; Batman believes some if not all of his foes are “irredeemable,” while Robin argues there must be some healing, else why put them in Arkham in the first place.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

The Dynamic Duo set out to resolve this by giving Freeze the tools he needs to save his ill, cryogenically frozen wife Nora, and a long leash to do it on. Though inessential to the plot as a whole, I thought this set-up could have used one more edit; at first Batman resolves to help Freeze, then seems to come to the same conclusion a page later, but then further on it’s presented as being Robin’s idea and not Batman’s.

In Arkham Manor, a disguised Batman enlists Mr. Freeze’s help to stop Clayface run amok and Freeze gives it, and then later Freeze declines to escape when he could, seeming to recognize then-Arkham Manor as a safe place. It’s a portrayal of Freeze, as we sometimes see with Batman’s rogues, as someone whose good intentions led him down a villainous path but who’s not particularly a criminal at heart.

We get to something of the same place by the end of Freeze, when Freeze gives over his technology to Robin to help those in need. But in much of this book, Duggan’s Freeze is more of a rogue, robbing an armored car and slipping Batman and Robin’s monitor. Since this book takes place back when Dick Grayson was Robin, those looking for a throughway could assume Freeze’s experiences here made him more affable in Arkham Manor later on, though the real explanation is likely two different takes on the same character by the same writer. Similarly, Duggan includes the Meek in this book, the serial killer he first wrote in Batman #34, but Batman’s knowledge of the character here would contradict his first discovering the Meek there.

The “twist” on Freeze’s origin here is that Victor and Nora Fries had an unhappy marriage and that Victor preserved Nora’s life against her will as an act of selfishness or misogyny. This has been part of other Freeze stories over the last couple decades, a kind of reversal of Batman: The Animated Series' more romantic “husband becomes supervillain to save his wife” approach. Undoubtedly this evolution reflects the more nuanced zeitgeist of our times versus the 1990s; see also our expanded understanding of the Joker and Harley Quinn’s relationship as another example of modernity wrestling with the (still ground-breaking and beloved) BTAS.

Particularly for a one-shot, I loved Matteo Scalera’s out-there renderings of the characters. His Batman is muscled almost to the point of “hefty,” so to speak, with an outrageously small yellow oval bat-symbol on his chest; it reminds of Adam West in a cloth bat-suit versus more modern armored portrayals. Batman gets a new “sun suit,” plus again the Dick Grayson by way of Damian Wayne hooded Robin costume; this is probably because the story is set in winter, but it’s a cool “everday” look, too. At times Scalera’s sheepishly grinning Robin reminded too of Kelley Jones on the Bat-family.

Gerry Duggan’s biggest success here is that laughing daredevil Dick Grayson, a joyously youthful take on Robin, and indeed the whole “Batman and Robin finding goodwill toward men” holiday aesthetic of the story. Mr. Freeze is somewhat incidental, except it’s winter so Freeze is the obvious antagonist. In not bringing anything really new to Freeze’s story, Batman: One Bad Day: Mr. Freeze doesn’t distinguish itself as “definitive” in the way I think these volumes should; neither does Freeze ever come off particularly dangerous. It’s still a far cry from the crack shot Batman: One Bad Day: Riddler, but at least more germane to the villain than One Bad Day: Two-Face.

[Includes original and variant covers, black and white art section, character designs]

Rating 2.25

Comments ( 1 )

  1. I liked that Duggan leaned into the "Freeze had a bad day" concept, but you're right that this volume plays a little too much with the "Freeze was always a jerk" backstory that's been in fashion for some time now. (Heck, even Paul Dini got in on the action with his "Mr. Freeze" one-shot in 1997.) At least we're not in the land of the New 52's Freeze...

    No, I think we can all agree that "Heart of Ice" is both the definitive Freeze story and a perfect fit for the "One Bad Day" brand. I'm struggling to think of any comic story that comes close. (But then, perhaps I'm biased; "Heart of Ice" is right up there with "Time Enough at Last" for my favorite episode of any television show ever.)


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