Batman: White Knight Presents Von Freeze #1 – Sean Murphy, Writer; Klaus Janson, Artist; Matt Hollingsworth, Colorist
Ray – 9.5/10
Ray: There’s a palpable sense of relief when you read a comic that could have gone so very, very wrong and instead it goes completely right, as it does in Batman: White Knight Presents Von Freeze #1.
Von Freeze, the mysterious ally of Bruce Wayne through the White Knight saga, has been a controversial figure because of his ties to Nazi science. While this is obviously a darker alternate reality, I had a hard time seeing Bruce Wayne ever working with a Nazi of any kind, even one who had left it behind long ago.
Thankfully, Batman: White Knight Presents Von Freeze #1 fleshes out Freeze’s origin and tells a very different story – one with its roots in both the shameful history of ex-Nazis being recruited by the government, and in the noble history of the righteous gentiles who sheltered Jewish people during the Holocaust. It’s the story of Victor Von Fries, a young boy as the Nazis storm across Europe, and his ruthless Baron father. Baron Von Fries, always a scientist first, has no time for the bigotry of the Nazis and even considers a Jewish man, Jacob Smithstein, to be his best friend. But as the Third Reich tightens its grip, both these men will be tested.
The story makes clear that Baron Von Fries isn’t a Nazi – no, he’s something worse, a coward. He abuses his son, and when the Nazis come looking for Jacob his solution isn’t to smuggle him out but to hide him in his new lab so he can still benefit from his wisdom. The addition of a new baby born to Jacob’s wife, and Victor’s increasing bond with the Jewish family, complicate things and build to a tragic conclusion.
But this is a surprisingly optimistic comic despite the grim subject matter. It paints a picture of Victor as a genuinely kind and noble man who has spent his life trying to make up for his father’s sins, and it has a great twist relating to the identity of the baby Victor helped to save decades ago. The story deftly zooms between the present day, the World War 2 era, and the day Bruce Wayne was born in a twisty story that makes the most of its forty-plus pages. Klaus Janson’s polished but gritty art is a perfect substitute for Murphy’s on this issue, and this issue’s handling of thorny and dark subject matter puts any other handling of the Nazis in comics recently to shame.
To find reviews of all the DC issues, visit DC This Week.
Disclaimer: GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.