STORY: Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV
ART: Jason Fabok
While not exactly a tie-in to "Night of the Owls", Batman Annual #1 does a fantastic job of bookending the event and bringing a revised Mr. Freeze into the 'New 52' with a mixture of elegance and horror that is impossible to put down. Scott Snyder has been deftly handling Batman since the relaunch, and this first Annual really delves into the characterization of one of the Dark Knight's most notorious villains. In Red Hood and The Outlaws, we learned that Mr. Freeze invented the compound that the Court of Owls was using to resurrect their legions of Talons. It was a quick revelation, and Freeze is quickly defeated by Jason Todd and taken to Batgirl for transport to Arkham Asylum, which is where Batman Annual #1 begins.
Snyder and James Tynion IV take us six years into the past, when Victor Fries worked for Wayne Industries and hadn't become all iced out yet. Upon Bruce Wayne's return to Gotham City - after his initial globetrotting training expedition - Fries explains his research to Wayne's complete dismay. Bruce doesn't much care for cryogenics research and wants it halted in favor of newer procedures like organ vitrification. Fries is none too happy about this and fights to keep his program going, and Bruce reluctantly gives in. A short jump forward in time takes us to Fries continuing his research after Bruce finally decided to end the cryogenics work. Bruce confronts Fries and fires him, even after Fries begs on behalf of his frozen wife, Nora, who he wishes to reanimate.
The entire scenario is chilling (not to get too punny) and masterfully shows how Fries could develop a grudge against Bruce Wayne. Honestly, it's hard to spend a lot of time creating rich histories for most characters these days. More often than not, readers have to learn to love their favorite heroes while said hero is growing one issue at a time. Snyder and Tynion IV handle Mr. Freeze with such care and dedication that all I want is to read more Batman/Mr. Freeze stories. Hell, I'd even settle for a viewing of Batman: Sub-Zero.
Freeze is super-pissed at the Court of Owls, who used his compound before attempting to assassinate him (in the pages of Red Hood and The Outlaws #9). Now he just wants to retrieve Nora and get out of Gotham. Nightwing and Robin show up at Wayne Industries and switch Nora's cryogenic tank, and hold of Freeze until Batman arrives
This final confrontation between Batman and Mr. Freeze is the gut-punch point of the entire issue. Freeze is a lot more nutty than his pre-'New 52' self. Turns out, Nora isn't his wife at all! She's actually the first human ever cryogenically frozen and she was put under almost 100 years ago. Snyder and Tynion take the old Freeze mythos and make him even more demented. Of course, the man is still a scientific genius - he did invent the reanimation process, after all - but the meaning he has prescribed to his relationship with Nora is disturbing. Freeze is no longer a good man with a frozen heart, but rather a demented psychopath with a wholly perverted notion of love.
Along with his newfound neuroses, Snyder and Tynion have given Freeze more than just a biological condition and an ice gun. His skin now exudes cold and he can spit ice from his mout. While Greg Capullo's artwork in Batman has been fantastic thus far, Jason Fabok does a ridiculously good job conveying the sub-zero temperatures and all the insane new ways Freeze has at his disposal to kill people. All around, Batman Annual #1 is great - Mr. Freeze is not firmly established, not only in the 'New 52', but as a reimagined horror that has been part of Bruce Wayne's life for years.