Nearly a year to the date of the massive DC Universe relaunch, "Batman Annual" #1 hits a pair of important connecting points in the Batman corner of the DCU in the form of the Court of Owls and the introduction of Mr. Freeze. Readers of the "Batman" series know that there was a possibility for connecting the two as the Talons were cryogenically preserved before being reanimated for battle.
Given that Freeze has already made an appearance in the "Night of the Owls" event prior to this issue, one might presume the Annual to be of little significance to the grander narrative of the "Night of Owls" event. That's not completely wrong, but to skip it would mean missing out on the details of the aforementioned connection as well as a creepier spin on the motivation and obsession of Victor Fries thanks to Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV. I've never been a big fan of Mr. Freeze (and that actually predates Arnold Schwarzenegger having anything to do with the character) as I mostly viewed him to be a lovesick borderline candidate for Arkham residency. This Annual, however, gives a completely different take on Freeze that makes him immediately more compelling and significantly more disturbed.
In addition to tying Freeze into the Court of the Owls, Snyder and Tynion sew Freeze's story thread more completely into the grander Bruce Wayne tapestry. This is the type of adjustment to continuity that makes for a more marketable character and certainly provides Freeze with better motivation than, "Bah! Batman has foiled me one time too many. I will destroy him."
Jason Fabok returns to the adventures of the Dark Knight Detective with this story and absolutely crushes the artwork. There are a couple shaky panels (literally, in thirty-eight pages, I found two panels) that require a more discerning study, but the greater collection of artwork is filled with emotional characters, pathos, stunning background details and dynamic figures that spring off of the page.
Peter Steigerwald's coloring is cold and icy blue throughout the entire issue. Naturally, that's to be expected with a villain such as Freeze at the center of attention, but what that does is thrusts the reds of Mr. Freeze's goggles and the blacks of Batman's uniform forward. The combination of Fabok's so-clean-you-could-eat-off-it linework and Stiegerwald's chilly coloring give this book a different feel than Greg Capullo has established in the monthly "Batman" series, which works to set "Batman Annual" #1 apart as its own story -- Mr. Freeze's story.
Fans who grew up with comic companies producing Annuals in the 1970s through the 1990s will remember the once-yearly comics to be big stories, the four-color equivalent to the summer blockbuster. The stories were grand. The art was impressive. Frequently those Annuals would either kick off a longer-form narrative to come in the main series or elaborate a character or concept that otherwise was not afforded the luxury on panel time. With this foray into the realm of Annuals, "Batman" latches onto all of those components and produces a great read that would certainly be a fantastic way to spend your lawn-mowing money.