If you were anywhere on the East Coast last week you were likely caught in the double blizzard of 2010. Regardless of your geographical location, it’s the depths of winter, so I though I'd take a look at Batman: Snow, one of the finest, weirdest Batman books out there.
Written by Dan Curtis Johnson and J.H. Williams, and one of the last works by the great Seth Fisher, who if not for his untimely death, would be mentioned in the same breath as Frank Quietly and Geof Darrow. Fisher always worked with writers, but despite that, his comics have a cohesive tone--like he was an uncredited writer or something. He's a kind of "auteur" penciller or maybe just a really good collaborator. His work on Batman: Snow is considerably darker in tone, focusing on characters villain and hero alike, with extreme emotional and psychological issues.
Mr. Freeze is the obvious example, but Batman is almost equally as disturbed. Snow has the typical thematic comparison between the hero and villain, but Fisher’s art gets into some deeper more disturbing levels. A year or so after his crime fighting debut, Batman is barely holding his life together and getting lost into the dangerous world of Gotham’s criminal underbelly. He’s so tightly wound that he jumps when Alfred walks in behind him to bring food, and he’s not completely in control of every situation like in so many other Batman tales.
Though he's disturbed, even a bit sociopathic, Fisher’s Batman isn’t the typical "Dark Knight" depicted recently. His costume is blue and gray with the giant yellow bat-symbol on his chest. His mannerisms are closer on the Batman spectrum to Adam West then any other Batman. There’s a reality to his awkward actions like in the TV show, like a real-life guy moves and bends, not a cloaked-in-shadows hero. Think of the wrinkles in the suit at the joints, and when Batman and Robin climb the side of the building their bizarre walking crotch and the goofy weirdness when someone pokes their head out.
Because it's almost always glossed over, there's a strangeness in a comic book when someone's just acting out what is natural and commonplace in real-life. It looks odd. That's why comic movies have to be dramatically changed--every frame can't be a perfectly-posed, supercool, iconic image and so, things are made to look cleaner and less real. Unfortunately, this has transferred its way back into comics, so your comics look more like the comic-book movies they inspired than the their own thing.
Seth Fisher though, draws Batman like none of the movies ever happened. Heck, he draws Batman like none of the many revisionists comics even happened. Instead, he tells a dark Batman story with the tools of the chintzy 60s TV show. And so, Fisher embraces awkward, realistic posing and uses them for comic relief and as a jarring reminder of reality, which enhances the narrative and highlights the darker points of the story. Fisher goes by the philosophy, "if you want to write about darkness you will hit the mark the most directly by telling a light story and letting the reader find the darkness," which is very apt here. Every time Batman pops out of a bush or we watch him awkwardly hop out a window it puts emphasis on how Batman's character is really out of place--how he's sorta nutty.
Freeze has the same outsider nature to his personality as Batman. They act awkwardly around people, have a high intelligence, motivation, and have suffered an extreme tragedy. They’re unique in the sense of the story, in that they’re the only characters that are “super” in the sense of hero/villain, they're extremists for better and worst, and that even extends to their outfits, which none of the supporting characters wear. The large population of supporting characters like Batman’s team, Freeze's scientist partners, and the police in the story are "normal" and by being "normal", they really cement Batman/Freeze's position as outcasts only existing on the fringes of society. How they deal with their outsider-ness though is quite different: Batman embraces and cultivates his oddball position in society while Freeze rejects it--almost in denial.
The above panel gets to the heart of what’s going on in Freeze's story. It’s the transition that makes the panel particularly effective, but it works pretty well on it’s own. The preceding panels show Freeze in his delusional dream world, talking to his imaginary wife. The panel above brings Freeze out of his dream into his actual surroundings, or at least allows the reader see them. Fisher uses background as an entrance into Freeze’s deteriorating psyche, and the panel's an excellent visual metaphor for Freeze’s life. He surrounded himself in a kind of shell that protected himself from the realities of the world: Job security, the true nature of his research, and the extent of his wife’s illness. Freeze, with icicles and a crazed expression on his face, looks just as odd as the people on his team saw him to be every day. It’s the angle of the shot on Freeze that focuses on his particularly harsh and unforgiving surroundings. It has none of the magic and excitement that he wants in the world that's in actuality, just filled with utilitarian pipes and containers.
While Freeze has just decided to commit more murders, the panel seems to have a particular sympathy for him. While clearly crazy, there’s definitely a sadness to Freeze and almost a sympathy for his worldview. Fisher makes his dreamworld attractive and lends one to think that Freeze has a creative side that's been squandered in his job working for the Defense Department. He is also only a hairs length different from Batman in the story, and it’s as if this panel is saying: No wonder he had the reaction he did, surrounded by the conditions of society and caliber of people in his world, who wouldn't freak out?
This brief sympathy is squandered by his insanity and his complete desire to murder. He wants the world to stop changing and embraces death as the ultimate way to achieve his goals. This is obviously where he and Batman split. Batman protects life at all costs, which keeps him as the hero despite his radically pragmatic tendencies. The final confrontation between the two reveals Freeze's insanity-- trying to freeze out someone's eyes for pleasure-- and Batman's intense protective, paternal nature. His paternal reaction to Freeze's threats bode well for his future endeavors, which the ending implies will be a refocused effort with the Boy Wonder himself, showing a real growth in Batman's character. Batman's hardly perfect in Batman: Snow, he's often as single-minded as Freeze, but unlike Freeze, Batman adjusts, changes, and learns.