Monday, July 23, 2012

Graphic Novel Review: Batman-Snow

Snow is a Batman story set during the dawn of Batman's career, and the Caped Crusader is feeling a little bit overwhelmed with the task of safeguarding Gotham City.  To help aid his war on crime, Batman puts together a team of specialists to help him.  These clandestine allies, recruited for their skills in electronic gadgetry, research, crime scene investigation, recon, and tactics, are supposed to help Batman do his job more efficiently, but will they be enough when Batman squares off against his first super-powered villain?

Snow is not only a retelling of Batman's early days, but also gives a new look at the origin of Mr. Freeze.  This story thread follows a brilliant scientist, Dr. Fries, who has been developing a new cryo-technology.  However, his beloved wife is terminally ill, and his attempts to save her using his new, and unproven technology goes tragically wrong.  This might sound like origin story ground that has been covered over and over, but the writing team of Dan Curtis Johnson and J.H. Williams III infuse this origin tale with a soft touch that makes it feel all too real and altogether heart-wrenchingly tragic.  I felt legitimately sad when all the pieces of this origin story came together.  The way they depict Fries' mental unraveling is quite impressive as well.

Overall, I found the story to be one of the best, if not the very best Batman story I've ever read.  A big reason is that the character of Batman is still very human and easy to relate to.

Nowadays, writers like to have Batman as this incredibly hardcore, intense, ultra organized, high-tech, crime fighting bad ass.  That's all well and good, and fun to read, but the Batman in Snow is still very much a still-learning-the ropes crime fighter who is learning how to best go about his business on the fly.  He isn't great buds with Jim Gordon yet, the D.A. doesn't fully trust him, and his whole operation has a very homespun feel to it.

This is a Batman that takes an occasional whoopin', the occasional fall, and the occasional gunshot wound from low-life criminals.  All this comes together to make this version of Batman a lot of fun to read, because he isn't gonna be perfect and he is gonna make, perfect is boring anyway.

In addition to what is some really great writing is the wonderful artwork of Seth Fisher.  Sadly, Seth Fisher is no longer with us, but his amazing talent lives on in this work and some other DC projects.  Fisher's art style is not what you typically see on superhero books, let alone a Bat-title, but his art here is nothing short of fantastic.  His style is hard to put a finger on but I'd say his stuff reminds me a bit of Frank Quitely but there's other influences mixed in there that I can't totally put my finger on.  I could see how some fans might not like his Batman character design, who is not exactly rippling with muscles or rocking facial features that appear chiseled out of granite, but that all serves to make the character seem more human.

I really enjoyed how Fisher chose to depict the story in such a way that can only be achieved via the comics medium.  Take the above picture, which depicts a cut-away, top down view of Batman's highly cluttered, and disorganized home/batcave. A picture is truly worth a thousand words here as you can tell just from this how Batman is still in the early stages of his crime fighting career, and running a low-tech, "home-brew" style operation.  Not to mention, the cut-away allows the reader to see so much more than you could get in any other story telling medium, allow while being details the reader takes in peripherally and tacitly.  There are many other moments too where Fisher shows the story in such a way that can only be achieved in comics.

Not one to sit on his laurels, Fisher is also capable of delivering some great action and motion art.  He can deliver a great cinematic feel to these moments and create that larger-than-life feel, yet never making things seem too over the top or cheesy.

This is personal thing that I'm a fan of and maybe of no interest to other folks, but I love it when artists draw in their own sound effects and make them part of the art. It's sorta a thing that has gone away in this age of photoshop, as most sound effects are added in during the final stages of comic production, but not so here.  Fisher does his own, and they are a great blend of spot on perfect for the moment, and down-right silly.  I was a fan.

As I said earlier, this is probably the best Batman story I've ever read.  This one has that much sought after combo of great writing and great art that combine to work extremely well together.  The story you get is quite good, and even provides some touching and tragic moments.  Not your standard superhero fare, just a story that is about 100 notches above the standard.  So, yeah, highly recommended, and one of the best graphic novels I've read so far this year.

Grade: A+

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