Tuesday, October 25, 2005

All Together Now: "Snow"

“Snow,” the five-part Batman:  Legends of the Dark Knight story which just concluded two weeks ago, is eminently predictable.  Its major character arcs deal with three well-established tropes:  his relationship with the police, his relationship to assistants; and the origin of Mr. Freeze.  Because “Snow” takes place early in Batman’s career, we know how each of these arcs should end.  However, writers D. Curtis Johnson and J.H. Williams III, and artist Seth Fisher, invest enough charm in “Snow” to overlook its predictability.  The plot is therefore secondary to the characters and to the story’s overall tone.

Naturally, Fisher’s art and Dave Stewart’s colors are key to setting “Snow’s” distinctive tone.  Unlike the overwhelming majority of Batman tales, the art and colors are bright.  Batman’s cape, cowl, and gloves are a lighter shade of blue, instead of their usual deep blue or black.  Fisher draws Batman with the yellow-ovaled chest symbol, giving him a bit more color.  Fisher also draws Batman’s costume slightly baggier than many other artists.  It looks even more homemade than the David Mazzuchelli model.  Although some might think this makes Batman goofier, it really drives home the point that this Batman is just a guy in a suit who needs allies, assistants, and friends.  He’s not the hyper-competent Batman of the mainstream books, or even the typical “Year One”-era LOTDK Batman who only makes occasional mistakes.  Instead, this is a Batman trying to live up to the reputation he’s already begun to acquire.  Fisher’s portrayal of him doesn’t over-emphasize his vulnerability, but from the very beginning of part 1 it certainly doesn’t hide it.

The story itself follows two intersecting tracks.  Discovering the disadvantages of working alone, Batman puts together a team of operatives to help him build a case against a local gang leader.  Meanwhile, Dr. Victor Fries juggles his cryogenic research with his wife’s deteriorating medical condition.  When Batman’s team gets in the way of the police once too often, it drives a wedge between Batman and Gordon.  

“Snow’s” big innovation is the Bat-Team, a collection of misfits who were never happy at the FBI, the military, or even Radio Shack.  While they are enjoyable enough in the context of the story, they didn’t leave much of an impression with me individually.  There’s the Jaded Soldier, the Cool Profiler, the Fat Electronics Nerd, the Shy Analyst, and the Ex-Con.  Each gets a clever recruitment scene with Batman, and each gets a chance to contribute.  At the end they haven’t quite bonded with Batman, but they’re all friends, so that’s something.

That sounds like a negative, and to a certain extent it is, but considering Batman, Alfred, Gordon, and Freeze, really there’s not much room in “Snow’s” five issues to give the Bat-Team any more depth.  It’s better to say that they’re a unique addition to the story, and they serve the larger purpose of advancing Batman’s character arc.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they showed up in Johnson & Williams’ dearly departed Chase series, or if they somehow contributed to the formation of Agent Chase’s Department of Extranormal Operations … but I digress.

“Snow” was a fun Batman story with a clever way to explore the character’s tension between being a loner and surrounding himself with associates. It’s bright, colorful, and even cartoony without straying far from Batman’s dark roots.  It shows that there are interpretations of Batman which need not fall into a certain grim blend of Tom Clancy high-tech and James Ellroy noir.  I hope it gets collected, but if not, it’s worth seeking out.

Batman:  Legends of the Dark Knight #s 192-96 (August 2005-December 2005) was plotted by J.H. Williams III and D. Curtis Johnson; scripted by Johnson; drawn by Seth Fisher; colored by Dave Stewart; and edited by Joey Cavalieri, Harvey Richards, and Andy Helfer.

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