So the plan of having this whole series done by The Dark Knight Rises DVD release didn't happen. O well, I'm plugging away at this. Yes I skipped over Batman: Year One. I'll do that one next, Year One is probably my least favorite Bat film not called Batman & Robin. Besides Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero is sooo much more interesting, thanks to the villain. When I started writing this I only planned on mentioning some Freeze backstory. Than I deiced that a complete character history of Freeze in B:TAS was even more interesting than just looking at SubZero, which isn't one of my favorite appearances by Freeze anyway. So instead what lies below is a look at ALL the appearances of Mr. Freeze in B:TAS. EDIT: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 comes out January 29, expect that to be added to the list since I already did the first.
The character that would become Victor Fries aka Mr. Freeze began under another name. During the Silver Age of comics (approximately 1956 to 1970) the future Mr. Freeze was was known only as Mr. Zero, first appearing in Batman #121 on December 2, 1959. He was a joke villain in the comics, with no one paying any real attention to him.
The producers of the 1960’s Batman TV show liked him though, and added a bit of character to him. In this new origin, Mr. Zero, now renamed Mr. Freeze, and was created on accident by Batman, who calls him “Dr. Schivel.” The character fit the campy sensibilities of the show and proved to be popular enough. He appeared in three two-part stores for a total of six episodes, each time being played by a different actor; first George Sanders, than Otto Preminger, and finally Eli Wallach. The best thing to come out of his appearances on the TV show was the name change in the comics to Mr. Freeze.
The time on the small screen didn’t do much to raise his stock. Mr. Freeze was still considered a joke villain, and stayed that way until the Bruce Timm came to Hellboy creator Mike Mignola to design Mr.Freeze for his Batman: The Animated Series, which defined several characters, mainly the rogues’ gallery of the Dark Knight. The Joker, Two-Face, Clayface, Mad Hatter and surprisingly the little known Mr. Freeze. All recived everlasting interpretations from this Saturday morning cartoon. The lasting nature for Mr. Freeze is even more surprising when taking into account the fact he only makes four appearances during the series run, three episodes and one animated movie.
Over the two production season, with three named entries (Batman: The Animated Series, The Adventures of Batman & Robin, The New Batman Adventures) the show gave interesting takes on the villains. Their motivations though, were not that, deep. The Joker was, well The Joker, Harvey Dent became consumed by his alter ego “Big Harv” and is disgraced, and Catwoman just likes to steal. Victor Fries are not like that, the impetus for his motivations as Mr. Freeze, is more tragic than a simple villainous want to cause mayhem and pain. Even if all he starts out with is a want for pure and simple revenge. He was made into this monster on accident, he never asked for this.
The new backstory would be revealed by Bruce Timm and writer Paul Dini in Season 1 Episode 14 “Heart of Ice” originally airing September 7, 1992. The new origin would not have worked nearly as well without the voice of Michael Ansara. Ansara’s voice gave Fries the cold robotic feel of a man claiming to be dead to emotion, with an European growl to show the character was, at one point, a man. His performance is able to transcend what would have been corny dialog on its own, giving them actual weight.
Mr. Freeze: Tonight, I mean to pay back the man who ruined my life... our lives.
Batman: Even if you have to kill everyone in the building to do it?
Mr. Freeze: Think of it, Batman. To never again walk on a summer's day with the hot wind in your face and a warm hand to hold. Oh yes, I'd kill for that!
In “Heart of Ice,” Mr. Freeze is out for revenge against the man who wronged him and killed his wife, Nora, Goth Corp CEO Ferris Boyle (voiced by Mark Hamill in his first appearance in B:TAS). Boyle interrupted the final processes necessary for Fries to put Nora, stricken with an incurable illness, into a cryogenic state so that she can be revived later. Boyle, who Hamill plays with a sneering quality, will not allow for his company’s money to be spent on a vanity project like this. A struggle, explosion, and cover up happen minutes later and both Victor and Nora Fries are left for dead. With Nora, his only reason for living, dead, Fries is driven now by revenge for the man who wronged him.
As Mr. Freeze he treats Batman more like a nuisance, a fly in the ointment, than as a challenge to be overcome. He doesn't begrudge Batman for trying to stop him. Freeze subdues Batman to keep him out of his plan but doesn't really harm him. Freeze has no quarrel with Batman, the Batman doesn't matter to him.
By the end, Boyle is publicly humiliated and brought down by Batman, who uncovers the cover up, outing Boyle’s lack of humanitarianism just as he is about to get a reward for it. Mr. Freeze is also stopped and sent to a special cell in Arkham Asylum staring at a snow globe of his wife lamenting "I failed you. I wish there were another way for me to say it. I cannot. I can only beg your forgiveness and pray you hear me somehow, someplace... Someplace where a warm hand waits for mine."
The reinvention of Mr. Freeze was extremely well received. “Heart of Ice” is widely considered to be one of the single best episodes of Batman: The Animated Series. “Heart of Ice” won the show a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Writing. The new origin story for Mr. Freeze was made cannon in the main DC comics, finally elevating Mr. Freeze to the big time of villains. The new backstory even made its way to the Batman & Robin movie. Even though such a tragic and emotional foundation was the complete opposite of everything else in that movie. The original Mr. Zero or Batman TV show style would've made much more sense.
Not being a truly bad man Victor Fries stays in Arkham Asylum, serving his sentence cold and alone. That is, until, Season 2 Episode 19 “Deep Freeze” which originally aired November 26, 1994 more than two years after his first appearance. The monotony of existing is broken up by a robot that kidnaps Victor Fries. Causing the ice man to show and feel actual terror. The robot takes him across the sea to Oceania. In Oceania he meets its proprietor Grant Walker, a theme park tycoon with more than a couple qualities that make him like both Walt Disney and Andrew Ryan.
Walker has studied Fries work and has kidnapped him in hopes of recreating the accident that left him nearly immortal “a being of blessed, eternal cold!” as Walker put it. For a man who claims to be dead to emotion his refusal is littered with it.
“ You want to live like this? Abandoned and alone? A prisoner in a world you can see, but never touch? Old and infirm as you are, I’d trade a thousand of my frozen years for your worst day.”
Fries glumly refers to the side effect as a miserable joke.
Expecting this Walker plays his trump card: Nora Fries. He was a major investor in Goth Corp and managed to get Nora out of the building unharmed but in a cryogenic state, just waiting for a cure. In return for helping him, Walker will give them both a place in Oceania and bankroll a cure for Nora.
Victor Fries never lost his emotions or humanity, he just wishes he did. It would make all the robbing, killing, and scheming much easier. They overtake him and he agrees to Walker's demands. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm do a good job mirroring Victor Fries with Grant Walker. Walker is an outwardly warm paternal figure, claiming to want nothing but the best for humanity. Fries is cold to the ills of the world and singularly driven. In reality Walker is the one who cares little for society, planning to freeze the earth so that he can use Oceana to repopulate and control society. By the end Fries becomes a hero to the world.
At first, Fries is cold to Walkers plan. Why should he care? Soon he will have his Nora back and they can be happy together. Batman and Robin infiltrate Oceania and see Walkers plan. As superheroes are one to do, they plan on stopping putting them in direct conflict with Mr. Freeze. It is Batman’s appeal to the humanity and shaming of Mr. Freeze that turns him into an ally. He shames Freeze by wondering how Nora would feel once she comes back to a cold dead world that he helped create. Not wanting his love to see him for the monster he is about to become Freeze turns on Walker, sending Oceania, Walker, himself and Nora to the bottom of the sea. Walker is last seen frozen to debris immortal and trapped at the bottom of the ocean. Freeze and Nora, who is still in stasis, are set adrift inside an iceberg alone together forever.
“Deep Freeze” would have been a good end point for Mr. Freeze as a character. He has accepted his humanity and has his wife, but is no closer to healing her than he was back in “Heart of Ice”. The whole ordeal is just screaming for an AMV set to “Nothing Else Matters” originally by Metallica but the cover by Scala & Kolacny Brothers.
Mr. Freeze disappeared into the arctic, much like a bear in hibernation. “Deep Freeze” was a good place to end on the character of Mr. Freeze, but it didn’t tie up his story. There was still the matter of Nora to contend with. Bears hibernate for a long time and they only come out when rested or threatened. Mr. Freeze was out of the Animated Series until March 17, 1998 when the Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero came out direct-to-video.
Victor Fries is in the same place we last found him. Alone in the arctic with Nora, now with a pair of polar bears and young boy, Kunac, for company. All of them surviving peacefully alone in the frozen wasteland. That is until a research submarine disturbs and breaks Nora’s containment vessel. As retribution Fries quickly kills everyone one of the crew, swiftly reminding viewers that Victor Fries might be an anti-hero at best, but he’ll still kill quickly and efficiently.
Fries returns to Gotham City to kidnap an old colleague of his, Dr. Gregory Belson, who is having his own issues. The disruption has caused Nora’s condition to relapse and has only weeks to live and only an organ transplant will save her. A transplant through the proper channels would take too long. Now close to actually getting his wife back or losing her all together Fries has Belson find a suitable donor, Barbara Gordon.
Batman and Robin eventually track the pair to an abandoned oil rig off the coast. Once the heat is on Belson turns on Mr. Freeze, shoving him into some falling debri breaking his leg. The wounded Freeze helps Batman save his wife and Kunac but falls, to what Batman believes his death with the oil rig blowing up and collapsing not soon after.
The original ending of SubZero was planned to have both Victor and Nora cured and finally reunited, but only for a short while before the police take Victor away to Arkham Asylum. It would have also meant the end of Mr. Freeze as a possible villain so Warner Brothers asked for a slight change. In the end Nora is the only that is cured and Victor escapes back to the arctic to live in seclusion, passing by an outpost to hear the good news, bringing him to tears.
After the original episode “Heart of Ice” Michael Asnara drops most of the robotic overtones to Freezes voice. He sounds perfectly normal with only a bit of reverb in SubZero.
SubZero closed the Freeze story perfectly. Still there was one last thing they could do with the character. What if Mr. Freeze really had forsaken his humanity and only wanted to bring suffering and cold to the world? That idea was explored in his final appearance in Batman: The Animated Series as part of the The New Batman Adventures episode 3 “Cold Comfort” originally airing October 11th, 1997. Yes, this episode came out before SubZero.
In “Cold Comfort” Mr. Freeze returns to Gotham with a series of uncharacteristic crimes. First he destroys a completed skeleton of a dinosaur that took the doctor 30 years to finish. Then he destroys the last great painting of an artist that celebrates the 300th anniversary of Gotham City. Finally he attacks Wayne Manor intent on destroying the surrogate family Bruce has created for himself by killing Alfred. “Search your hearts for the thing you value most, then despair, for I have come to take it from you,” Freeze robotically tells the frightened victims. Freeze was never about this, yes he turned to crime but to keep his wife whole. Once she was revived (in SubZero) he never came to see her and she married and moved away.
The mystery of why Mr. Freeze has become such a nihilistic person isn’t answered until three quarters of the way through the episode. The accident that left him perpetually cold had finally started to destroy his body. The doctors he kidnapped had only been able to save his head and brain. Now definitely no longer a man Freeze completely forsakes his humanity. Now just a literal head in a jar Freeze seeks emotional sustenance in the pain and despair of others. His ultimate goal, to freeze Gotham City and make the Batman anguish in despair. He fails and his head appears lost frozen in the remains of the bomb that went off in Gotham bay.
“Cold Comfort” is the least interesting of the Freeze appearances to me. There is no fun in seeing a character so far gone beyond the initial shock of nihilism and mystery as to why he is that. At this point you could argue Freeze truly is more machine than man, which due to time constraints is never really explored. Without those two things Freeze becomes nothing more than a less twisted Joker who likes the cold. It isn’t all that interesting.
Series writer and producer Paul Dini doesn't see it that way "I liked 'Cold Comfort’. I think I was the one who came up with the idea that Freeze was out to deprive innocent people of whatever they loved. That made him into much more of a villain. It stripped him of whatever sympathy or nobility he had, but it also made him more dangerous and frightening. Not a bad trade-off. I didn't mind using him again as long as we found something other than Nora for him to obsess about. As long as he couldn't have anyone to love, he wanted to deprive others of that, too." “Cold Comfort” is the boring final play left, that would have been better off not done. OK, yes, Freeze is once again redeemed in Batman Beyond “Meltdown” but that was hardly about him.
Throughout the 1990’s Bruce Timm and Co. told one of the best villain stories ever.This didn’t involve a A-list villain like Joker or Two-Face but a retconned joke villain from the 50’s, who only shows up four times. Showing a man regain his humanity, becoming something of an anti-hero in the process. The lack of appearance and consistent themes over the four appearances elevate Victor Fries to the great characters in Batman: The Animated Series and the DCAU in general.
I highly recommend checking out and reading the interviews here at the Worlds Finest Heart of Ice minisite.