For the inaugural post on this blog, I want to talk a little about a Batman story arc which doesn’t get as much press as your fancy Year Ones and Dark Knight Returnses, and that’s Snow. It’s a five issue, self contained story about Batman taking on a range of civilian assistants to aid in his war on crime, and what happens when they eventually come up against Mr Freeze and find themselves in well over their heads. It's one that I would recommend to anyone who considers themselves to be a fan of the character, especially the more street level, low powered incarnations of the character.
Snow was published in 2005, in the ‘early years’ anthology series Legends of the Dark Knight, spanning issues 192-196. This was a great series, one that gave a huge range of writers and artists the change to tell short, self contained Batman stories that weren't weighed down by the need to conform to then-current continuity or the pressure of a longer run. To be honest, it’s no surprise that Snow didn’t make a splash at the time, given the heavy hitters that it was up against - not just the critically beloved Gotham Central, arguably the best book on the stands at the time, but also the tail end of the actually-quite-good Catwoman series of the day. Oh, and a little thing called All Star Batman and Robin, a champion in the field of Event Books Literally Everybody Hated But Read Every Issue Of Anyway. What’s more puzzling is that, despite having been issued in trade paperback a few years ago, Snow still doesn’t seem to have been recognised for the classic that it is. That’s what I’m hoping to rectify today.
The first thing that jumps out about this story is that it is GORGEOUS. One of the freedoms that LotDK had was to mix up the visual style and get away from the DC House Style, better known as Be More Like Jim Lee, No Even More, Also Make Everyone Grit Their Teeth. The artist is one Seth Fisher, and he takes the remit for individuality and runs with it, turning in brightly coloured, almost cartoonish art which still contains detailed facial expressions and a fluid yet thoroughly human Batman. Fisher was a real up-and-comer at the time, and Snow should have been his breakout comic, but his career was cut short when he tragically passed away the following year. His clean, bold lines and hyperdetailed panels make reading the book a real joy, not to mention his exquisite backgrounds and gift for cluttered, lived-in locations. His gift for drawing technology evokes Moebius and Geof Darrow, while his goopy, organic linework makes me think of nobody such much as Frank Quitely - and that’s high praise indeed. His work is a perfect match for the subject matter - he clearly relishes the opportunity to make Mr Freeze’s suit and laboratory as complex and wonderful as he can, while never losing the humanity in those bleak, frozen eyes. He even includes little cartoonish touches like 'confusion lines' around a character's head, or enraged smoke coming out of Gordon's ears, without detracting from the gravitas of the events that are unfolding. As the icing on the cake, Fisher also drew the cover of every issue as well, something that I genuinely wish more artists did these days. For a more detailed account of Fisher’s rise and tragic end, see this article on Wizard.
Snow’s story is from JH Williams III, who is today known as one of the most original artists in the game, with his kinetic yet painterly style defining both the rebooted Batwoman and the new Sandman miniseries. He’s also a solid writer, and here he collaborates with DC regular Dan Curtis Johnson, with whom he had already worked on the Chase limited series, another overlooked piece of DC history that I plan to cover at some stage. Snow deals with one of the most compelling aspects of Batman’s character - his limitations, and the hubristic lengths lengths that he will go to in an attempt to overcome them. It begins with him pursuing a criminal, letting his guard down at the wrong moment, and being badly injured as a result. Understanding that he cannot wage war on crime alone but unable to get the unquestioning cooperation he wants from chief allies Gordon and Dent, he reaches out to a number of misfits and outcasts around the city with useful skills, recruiting them to his operation. None of them dons a spandex jumpsuit of their own, but rather become a sort of civilian consultancy for Batman, going places that he can’t and provided specialised expertise that he doesn’t have. Question is, how far can he push them, especially in the face of new villain Mr Freeze? Will they get what they need from the adventure of aiding the Batman, or will they be chewed up and spat out by his monomaniacal pursuit of justice?
Snow is a pretty unique story in that it is actually deeply critical of Batman himself. While making it clear that he is on balance a positive force in Gotham, his willingness to use others with little concern for their safety or needs is presented as being highly questionable. All five of the civilians he draws into his web are fleshed out, each with something missing from their lives that Batman is able to provide - at least at first. The fact that LotDK is set in the early years of Batman’s career gives it the freedom to present a more flawed, less fully formed crimefighter than mainstream Bat-Books tend to prefer, and that's definitely what you get here. Batman as written by Williams has only a limited conception of his own limits, and even less of others. Many of the ‘year one’ stories aim to depict Batman learning an important lesson on the way towards becoming the hypercompetent modern day character, but few pull it off so well as Snow.
One final note - Snow also serves as one of many Mr Freeze origin stories, and is in my opinion one of the best. There has been little consistency over the years in the depiction of Dr Victor Fries, or as I like to think of him, The Only Ice Guy Who Doesn’t Suck. This version is far closer to the tragic figure appearing the Batman the Animated Series episode “Heart of Ice” than the wacky punster seen in the movie Batman and Robin, and the story is the stronger for it. His genius and his hubris provide the perfect foil for Batman, as both characters hurtle rapidly over the edge in pursuit of what they believe is right. This is a grimy, street level Gotham, a world of pool halls and slums and beat up vans. Mr Freeze’s fantastical armaments are just as much of a shocking intrusion into this world as they should be, a contrast which works just as well as it did in the first great Gotham Central story arc, In The Line of Duty.
Snow was collected in trade paperback form a few years ago, and while it’s now out of print, there are secondhand copies floating around on Amazon and AbeBooks. Alternately, if digital comics are your bag, you can get all five issues on Comixology for $1.99 each. However you go about it, you’re in for a hell of a read.