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Original Airdate: November 6, 2004
Writer: Greg Weisman
Director: Brandon Vietti
“Then Capizzi and Goguen, when they had secretly called the Weisman, determined from him what time the star [of That Other Show] appeared. And they sent him to the old WB studio and said, “Go and search carefully for the one called Freeze, and when you have found him, bring back word to us, that our show may come and worship him also.”
– Matsuda 2:7
Okay, so perhaps Mr. Freeze isn’t the literal Messiah, but there’s little denying that he’s That Other Show’s proudest legacy (facing competition from only the Mad Hatter – maybe – in that category). Sure, its depictions of the Joker and Two-Face, and of course Batman himself, are all justly celebrated, but those guys were already pretty awesome in the comics. All they really needed were people interested in faithful adaptation.
Turning a C-list villain from the comics who used to look like this into a tragic, Emmy-winning A-lister, though… now that takes Paul Dini-at-the-top-of-his-game talent. And several more miracles.
(By the way – if you haven’t seen “Heart of Ice”, please go do so right now. It’s one of the few episodes of That Other Show that comes close to living up to the hype.)
Given post-’92 Freeze’s popular recognition and his massive toy potential, it was inevitable that The Batman would eventually create its own take on him. Hell, he was part of its opening credits from episode one. Fans who’d already been twice-burned by its portrayals of Joker and Penguin were probably already clutching at their pearls, but chances are that at least some of them breathed a sigh of relief when they got word that this Freeze would be introduced by none other than Greg Weisman.
Weisman, as any child of the ’90s or early ’00s knows, is probably the only writer in “serious” Western animation with a more sterling reputation than Dini. It was he who fathered one of the most iconic action/superhero cartoons of all time, one that could easily stand on even footing with That Other Show. I think you know the one.
So, yeah. The most unfuckwithable villain in animated Batman history paired with the most unfuckwithable writer in Western animation. Let’s do this.
We begin as “Heart of Ice” did: with Gotham gripped by a brutal heat wave. Even the night offers little relief… until a certain unlucky yacht runs into an iceberg. Proving that they’ve learned nothing from Titanic, the crew tries to swerve away, which just ends up aggravating the damage.
To be fair, though, I’m pretty sure that Jack and Rose never had to deal with a cryokinetic pirate who looks like this:
As radical Jeff Matsuda redesigns go, this is strictly kiddie pool. It might not have the same retro charm of Mike Mignola’s design for That Other Show, and I do kinda miss the goggles, but it’s a nice, sleek, creepy look for Freeze. Take a closer look and you’ll notice just how emaciated the actual Victor Fries, beneath all the shiny tech.
His voice… well, no one can really stack up to the late, great Michael Ansara, but Clancy “Mr. Krabs” Brown turns in a surprisingly badass performance. His dialogue, however, is another matter. Fun game: take a drink whenever he cracks a one-liner worthy of Joel Schumacher and Akiva Goldsman. I’ll get you started right now:
Naturally, some idiot civilian has to stand up to him so he can show off his powers. That’s the first really drastic change this show makes to Freeze: he no longer needs a gun to put others on ice (sorry, not sorry). All he has to do is touch them or, hell, put his hands near them, like, like…
Yeah, but with more clothes.
Closer, but… do we have anyone just the teeniest bit more antagonistic?
I’d prefer someone owned by Disney (gotta keep those Unshaved Mouse readers happy) but okay.
Anyways, after Freeze… you-know-whats the civilian, he starts demanding ice from the ship’s other passengers (I’m not gonna count this toward the drinking game because I value your
views liver). When their pitiful brain cells fail to turn up an answer, he whips out a heat… laser-pointer kind of thing and demonstrates it on a conveniently-placed ice sculpture nearby.*
To Weisman’s credit, there’s not a whole lot of fuss made when the passengers do figure out that Freeze wants their diamonds. That might sound like faint praise, but you just know that if last episode’s writers worked on this one, we’d get at least two or three more lines of hacky dialogue from this scene.
As-is, though, we only have to contend with one.
Freeze makes his getaway by literally walking across the sea and… are we sure he’s not the Messiah?
Down in the Batcave, Alfred is haranguing Bruce to take a vacation, even booking a ski trip behind his master’s back. Sadly, Exposition News puts the kibosh on that, and Bruce quickly suits up to take on Gotham’s latest costumed nut.
By the way, remember how in That Other Show, Batman needed a costly and elaborate chemical bath to save a guy who’d only had his legs shot by Freeze? In this show, all it takes to save a guy who’s head-to-toe in ice is a couple lamps, a hairdryer, and some hot cocoa. Man, the GCPD is really on the ball this episode.
Oh, and if you really hate your digestive system for some reason, start counting other characters’ dialogue in our drinking game, too. Here’s Ethan Bennett to start us off:
Thank you, Bennett.
(At least Yin gives him a glorious stink-eye on that one.)
Batman is spying on all of them from afar, and uses infrared to detect a trail of Freeze’s footprints that conveniently lead all the way to a local jeweler’s. Determined to make sure no more lives are endangered, our hero… proceeds to speed through a busy street like some ambassador’s kid on a bender. Brav-o.
Speaking of which: ready for another shot?
Batman swoops in and kicks Freeze’s ass clear across the room, but Freeze gives as good as he gets. Better, in fact. It’s here that this take on Freeze really starts winning some points – Weisman spares no expense to indicate just how much he outmatches Bruce, from his casual “I thought you’d never get here” greeting to the utter beatdown he lays on the guy. They get a lot more creative with Freeze’s movepool than just “point gun, squeeze trigger, Batman dodges, rinse and repeat”.
Even better: after Freeze creates a blizzard in the vault, he slowly rattles off the symptoms of hypothermia as Batman succumbs to them one-by-one. Brown’s delivery sells it like tickets to Jurassic World, and the script cuts down on the puns pretty heavily.
But not completely.
Finally, Batman gets in a lucky shot and cracks Freeze’s helmet, but that doesn’t do him much good, since the entire jewelry store is iced-over enough to accommodate Freeze. And when Batman finally gets a clear look at Freeze’s face, he’s in for an unpleasant shock:
Nice try, but no. This version is still Victor Fries…
Shut up. This version is still Victor Fries… one-dimensional bank robber who looks weirdly like Lupin III for some reason. And no, flashing back to his pre-Freeze days is not Weisman’s cue to lay off the puns.
A while back, while fleeing from Batman, Fries swerved off the road when a homeless guy stepped into the street and almost got killed in the ensuing rollover. With Batman hot on his tail, he fled into the closest building, which just happened to be:
You might wonder why there were no guards or alarms in this place, but I can’t help but wonder if Weisman is having a laugh at the cryonics industry’s expense. It doesn’t offer immortality, and Walt Disney wasn’t their first customer. It’s nothing but a big ol’ scam.
As Fries and Batman keep fighting, one of the cryogenic pods falls over and traps Fries inside. Days – maybe weeks – later, he busts out, having turned into the hellchild of Lord Voldemort and… uh…
… hmm… female character with ice powers…
She’s already got someone.
There we go.
Okay, let’s talk about Freeze’s new-and-improved origin, shall we?
It’s… not bad.
Okay, look – this origin is obviously no match for the one from That Other Show in terms of pathos or imagination, but quite frankly? It could’ve been much, much worse. Here’s a dirty little secret about Mr. Freeze: no Batman work has really managed to adapt the Dini origin without mangling it, and that includes the graphic novel Dini himself wrote to bring the Nora origin into the comics continuity. In case you haven’t read that one (look away, all ye who fear spoilers)…
About halfway into the story, Freeze accidentally shatters Nora’s cryo-tube with his freeze ray and kills her. Since this happened during a fight with Batman, Freeze immediately declares an eternal vendetta on him, and the rest of the comic is just about him carrying out said vendetta. In fact, here’s what the final page looks like:
Not exactly “I can only beg your forgiveness, and hope you can hear me somehow… someplace…”, is it?
But wait, you say. Dozens of writers work on the comics continuity. Surely one of them changed Freeze for the better after Dini had done his bit?
Uh, well, they changed him, all right. Andersen Gabrych revived Nora and then turned her into a fire-spewing demon woman who hates Victor with every fiber of her being. Then Grant Morrison made it so that Victor has a habit of delusionally approaching streetwalkers, thinking they’re Nora. And then Scott Snyder made it you know what no I’m not even summarizing it here.
Hell, even That Other Show’s Freeze eventually slid into being a sadistic ice-themed capital-S Supervillain for only the flimsiest of reasons. Complete with cheesy female minions, plot to blow up the whole city, and hideous deformities meant to stamp out every last inch of sympathy the audience might have for him.
Yeah, something’s wrong when Batman & Robin actually looks like it has a shot at being the most respectful take on something. Not a good one, but better than most of the competition.
The sad thing is… I don’t think that that’s a coincidence. Batman & Robin might have gotten about five million other things wrong, but its limiting Freeze to a single story is something I really liked. See, Dini’s take on Freeze is renowned for being a sympathetic anti-villain with largely selfless goals, and while that can sustain an incredibly powerful and heartwarming narrative, it’s not really suited to a recurring antagonist who’s expected to fight Batman over and over again. One episode’s worth of fights with Batman can be written off as unfortunate circumstances (and to be honest, I thought even their fights in “Heart of Ice” were a bit contrived), but two or more just makes it look like you’re fishing for excuses to keep him in the rogues gallery. If done especially badly, it can make Batman look like an asshole who’s going out of his way to keep the poor scientist from curing his terminally ill wife.
Most writers are skilled enough to not go down that path, so they pick only the second-worst one: flattening Freeze into a one-dimensional sadist who tortures and murders people for no goddamn reason other than to see them suffer (personal grudge against Batman optional). The Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in hard, without exception, when this happens, leaving what was once a unique, almost admirable foe just another face in Arkham who’s slightly harder to punch out than Joker or Scarecrow.
I may not like Schwarzenegger’s Freeze in and of himself, but the fact that he practically reformed at the end of Batman & Robin – the first Bat-villain on the big screen to do so – has always struck me as the most satisfying end there can be for the character. Granted, live-action superhero movies have always been leerier about having recurring villains who aren’t named Lex Luthor, but Schumacher and Goldsman could very easily have kept Freeze a rambling mad scientist till the very end, or even killed him off.
So what does any of this have to do with The Batman? This is only my opinion, but I have to admire its transparency in making a Freeze origin that portrays him as an unambiguous, unapologetic bastard, instead of dressing it up in the skin of the Dini origin to attract unaware fans. That makes it much easier to treat this Freeze as his own character, instead of another failed attempt at capturing that Dini magic.**
And if this backstory can’t really tug my heartstrings, it does a decent job of making my skin crawl. The part where Fries gets locked in the cryo-chamber starts with the standard hammering-on-the-glass bit, but then it gets into much darker territory. The blood vessels in Fries’ eyes start breaking (that’s why his eyes are red, by the way), and there’s even a shot where we see his red blood cells literally freeze over.
(Those of you with medical degrees – or stronger stomachs – might just laugh, but I’ve always been pretty squeamish about seeing a person’s internal systems, even if it’s just a cartoon.)
Flashback over, Freeze thanks Batman for creating him, and prepares to kill him with the sonic dagger thingy. But Bennett and Yin burst in at that exact minute and – okay, no points for guessing what they yell, and you’re excused from drinking because virtually every superhero show with an ice-themed villain has that moment.
You are not, however, excused from the next one.
I dunno why the hell Freeze leaves, since he could’ve easily killed all three of the good guys and there doesn’t seem to be any backup arriving for Yin and Bennett. That said, this leads to a fairly… I’m not sure what’s the word for it – potentially interesting? – scene where the two cops find Batman trapped in ice from the neck down, and Yin instantly goes for the mask.
Bennett argues without quite knowing why, and Yin acknowledges that even though Batman has his heart in the right place, he’s still a filthy criminal. This scene could’ve been legitimately deep – especially considering how shallow That Other Show’s cops usually were – but it’s over far too quickly. Batman just hits a thermal bomb thingamajigger in his utility belt and escapes down the ice path Mr. Freeze so courteously left for him.
(It would be really easy to take potshots at how Batman essentially escapes on a big water slide, but the animation in this scene does make him look seriously injured as he tumbles down the thing, so I give it a pass.)
Back in the Batcave, Alfred, ever the king of timing, offers his master something cold to drink for a hard night’s work.
Alright, it’s at this point that the parallels to “Traction” start piling on: Alfred is horrified to find Bruce so badly injured, the bad guy seems downright invincible, the idea of Batman retiring for good is bandied about, and Bruce even has a flashback to That Night in the Alley. Let’s begin the overanalyzing, shall we?
- Since they’re internal rather than external, Bruce’s injuries are a tougher sell for the Rule of Perception; I suppose his fever is meant to take care of that, but it feels more like a clumsy homage to “Heart of Ice” (and would it really have been that hard to show off some of frostbite’s physical side?).
- This time, it’s Bruce who posits the idea that Batman should retire. Part of it is probably the fever playing hell with his brain, but he does give a good reason: he was the one who created the sociopathic ice god terrorizing Gotham, so is he really doing the city as much good as he’d like to think?
- The above point probably sounds like it was stolen from a Joker story, but I prefer it with Freeze – if for no other reason than that I really don’t like it when writers examine the Joker’s origin too much. And really, this show didn’t invent the idea of Batman being responsible for Freeze’s condition – that would be this fella here.
- In a nice surprise, Alfred’s behavior doesn’t really clash with “Traction” – he openly admits that he personally still wants Bruce to give up the cowl, but also acknowledges that Bruce’s current defeatism is just the fever talking and can’t possibly last.
- Bruce’s nightmare about That Night isn’t terribly original (at least Weisman doesn’t reuse that shot of Martha’s pearls falling in the gutter like everyone else does), but what can I say – the bit where the Waynes’ hands slip free of Bruce’s as they confront the mugger did kind of tug at my heartstrings… until I saw that the mugger had that same stupid gun every cop in this series holds. Call me shallow, but that just dragged me out of it.
- And of course, the mugger then turns into Freeze, who freezes a portrait of Bruce’s parents, and then… it ends. Bruce’s ten-minute retirement is over.
It’s a mixed bag at best, and… I have to say, I prefer “Traction” a bit more. Weisman’s take isn’t without its merits, but it’s a little too cliché-choked.
Let’s check back in with our Sultan of Shivers, shall we?
A redshirt cop then shows up and yells… you-know-what, because this joke was apparently so hilarious that Weisman couldn’t resist using it twice. Freeze’s next victim is a tad more intriguing, if only because it shows what a self-centered douche the guy is: he goes out of his way to freeze the homeless guy who’d stood in his way all those years ago.
Then he buries Gotham Municipal Park under an eternal winter, complete with ice palace from which he stands isolated and unbeatable. Just like…
Do we really want to remind people that movie existed?
We have a winner.
So how does Bruce intend to stop this Subzero Caesar? With the latest in
toy advertising arctic gear. And also by stocking up on his own supply of horrible one-liners.
He’s still a ways from schooling the master, though.
Funny thing, actually – I don’t think this costume ever made it into The Batman‘s toyline, even though Mattel’s always been infamous for overproducing all sorts of inane Batman variants and “Arctic Batman” is something everyone from Kenner to Lego has jumped on. Small mercies, I guess…?
Then again, given that this Arctic Batman throws exploding Batarangs and dual-wields flamethrowers, maybe Mattel’s just too wimpy for him.
All right, those of you still sober/alive enough to follow along, let’s just skip to Batman taking down this asshole. Like last episode’s takedown, it’s almost hilariously brutal. See if you can guess how he does it as Freeze quips his last (for this episode).
Yup. Batman switches on the Batmobile’s engine full-blast and grills Freeze alive. It goes without saying that Freeze doesn’t die, but the blast is heavy enough to bring his ice palace crashing down and thaw out the entire park, so the only thing saving him was probably plot armor.
There’s not much to the epilogue – Ethan makes a moderately funny (and kinda slashy) one-liner, Batman goes home to a well-deserved vacation… only for another emergency to pop up. Looks like Tahiti will have to wait. Roll credits.
Folks, there are few things as painful as watching one of the masters phone it in, and this episode was pretty much twenty-two solid minutes of it. Weisman’s script has a handful of things going for it (and I continue to stand by Brown as Mr. Freeze), but the vast majority of it is a superficially-captivating-but-soulless cash-in on a previously well-loved tale when it’s not trying to out-“funny” Batman & Robin.
You know, like…
(Okay, disclaimer: I haven’t seen Frozen aside from a few individual clips, but there come certain temptations when one wants to test just how hammered one’s readership is.)
But despair not – Weisman will be back, bearing much greater gifts than this. So, for that matter, will Freeze.
I think. I hope.
Next: Can the show’s first Catwoman story hope to out-pun this episode? Let us hope… not.
* I don’t know if that was the intent, but this is a pretty neat shout-out to Freeze’s earliest incarnations, which used cold and heat in tandem instead of just focusing on the first one.
** Okay, there’s a couple of photos in Fries’ getaway car that may prove there’s a Nora in this continuity, but I wouldn’t look too much into it.