The brilliance of writer/artist Sean Murphy’s cycle of Batman: White Knight comics is found in its cultivation process. Both White Knight and its sequel, Curse of the White Knight meticulously cherry-pick details from various incarnations of Batman across the pop culture spectrum. Familiar characters are retooled to fit Murphy’s narrative, and elements from film and television are incorporated on the page, all of which are predicated upon cultural pretense. The new one-shot, Batman: White Knight Presents Von Freeze #1 is the first comic in this cycle to leave zeitgeist baggage at the door and tell its own story, for better and worse.
The character of Mister Freeze has been a sympathetic one for decades. Surely many of us remember the Batman: The Animated Series episode “Heart of Ice,” which dives into the plight of the icy villain and the love of his life, Nora. The episode redefined the character and is still considered one of the best episodes to come from the series overall.
The elements in “Heart of Ice” were incorporated in comics, video games, and movies, pushing the symbiotic nature of various mediums tackling superhero fiction. Sean Murphy understands this relationship and includes it in his work. Von Freeze doesn’t bring too much new to the table, but it does more firmly define relationships previously established in Batman: White Knight.
In a flashback within in a flashback (no, seriously) Batman: White Knight Presents Von Freeze focuses on the young life of the titular character during World War II. The writing in this one-shot is solid, but not as engrossing as its namesake miniseries. Von Freeze is far more meditative in its execution. There aren’t any flamboyant action sequences or giant revelations (at least, nothing that will change how we view the characters terribly much). This issue is more meat and potatoes than that.
It’s a rather straightforward, yet compelling, tale about the bonds forged between unlikely friends, and the lengths we are willing go in order to protect what we love. And while, yes, the book tackles these topics well enough, there aren’t really any narrative flourishes that demand immediate attention.
With that being said, Von Freeze is too well executed to be shoved into obscurity. Having the legendary Klaus Janson (Daredevil) on art duties is reason enough to merit your time and money. In fact, the size of this issue more than justifies is steeper cover price, seeing as how it's double the number of Janson pages you'd normally get. While his line work doesn't really fit with the tone of the greater White Knight Universe, it lends itself well to an isolated flashback issue.
The only time seeing Janson's work is startling is when we jump back to the present day. The go-go boots and Dracula collar Batman sports in these books idiosyncratically imbues Murphy's sketches and kinetic art style, so it's a bit odd to see anyone else draw them. This is by no means a swipe at Janson's art. In fact other than a handful of pages, Janson's classic comic style works well throughout the issue.
Batman: White Knight Presents Von Freeze #1 is a thoughtful one-shot even if it isn't as revelatory as the cycle of miniseries that spawned it. Murphy's script is solid despite not being quite as lively as what fans have grown accustomed to. Klaus Janson's artwork is also solid even if it doesn't really jibe with moments taking place outside of the flashback narrative -- or the flashback within the flashback. If you've been a fan of Murphy's Batman books thus far, there's no reason not to pick this up. Just don't expect the wild, cinematic craziness associated with the name White Knight.
Batman: White Knight Presents Von Freeze #1 is available now.