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Heart of Ice: A Look at Mr. Freeze
A purposely incomplete history of Batman's frigid nemesis
For anyone who’s unfamiliar, the definitive origin of Mr. Freeze is featured in “Heart of Ice,” the third episode of Batman: The Animated Series. It’s often noted as being one of the best examples—if not the best—of the entire series. It even won an Emmy Award, and that's no small feat when you're up against other Nineties staples like Tiny Toons, Rugrats, and Doug.
But I’m not here to spoil Heart of Ice for you. In fact, I’m slightly envious of anyone who hasn’t seen it. I’d love to be able to go back and experience it again for the first time. But I digress… long before Michael Ansara voiced the good doctor gone bad, the refrigerated rogue was treated as a gimmick, which wasn't uncommon for many of Batman's adversaries who appeared in comics throughout the 1950s.
Upon his first appearance in Batman #121 as “Mr. Zero,” the character required (surprise) subzero temperatures to survive after an experimental freezing gun exploded, causing the scientist’s wintry affliction. But Batman inadvertently cures Mr. Zero of his malady by the end of that same issue, effectively rendering the villain as disposable, and thus relegating him for a time to the annals of comic book obscurity.
Cut to 1966, and Mr. Zero was redubbed for the Adam West live-action Batman television series. Going by the name of Dr. Art Schivel, the dastardly scientist is transformed into Mr. Freeze after a fight with the Caped Crusader exposes him to a liquid freezing agent.
Portrayed throughout the show’s brief tenure by George Sanders, Otto Preminger, and Eli Wallach, respectively, the cold but campy criminal comes complete with a host of hapless henchmen like Shivers, Frosty, Chillblaine, and last but not least, Glacia Glaze.
After the TV show’s cancellation—and almost ten years after his debut in the comics—Mr. Zero crawled out of the woodwork once more. Presented in Detective Comics #373, Zero verbally establishes himself as "Mr. Freeze" to several of his cronies. By that issue’s denouement, Freeze's machinations are turned to good as Batman & Robin use his technology on their Aunt Harriet in a life-saving "cryosurgery" procedure.
It seems an odd choice by the creative team to have Freeze appear in a green suit, but perhaps they thought a blue villain next to a blue bat would confuse its younger readership.
By the the late 1970s, Freeze pops (see what I did there?) up again in Batman #308, but this time he alludes to a seemingly tragic backstory. In an effort to replicate the accident that created him, Freeze utilizes the funds of millionaire John McVee to create a cryogenic freezing capsule.
Unfortunately for Mr. McVee (writer Len Wein was a Fleetwood Mac fan, no doubt) the process turns him into an brainless frost-zombie. But despite the goofy plot, the main takeaway here is that psychological foundations were being laid for a more empathic and modern slant on Gotham City’s resident cryogenics expert.
Now let’s skip the Eighties altogether because we didn’t really see old Freezy during the Reagan Era. However if you’re a sucker for Kenner’s 1984 Super Powers toy line like I am, it’s worth seeing how the character transitioned from looking like a figure skater to a clunky, robotic menace.
Riding the wave of Tim Drake’s popularity DC Comics published the Robin II mini-series in 1991, and it’s probably no real shock at this point that Freeze was still being treated more or less like a novelty act. After the Joker breaks out of Arkham Asylum to find his entire gang now working for the frozen felon, the Clown Prince immediately puts Mr. Freeze on ice.
Go ahead everybody, take a few moments to appreciate that super cool wordplay from the Joker. (Ah, we love him, don’t we?)
Anyway, around this same time pre-production on Batman: The Animated Series had begun. Hellboy creator Mike Mignola was hired to retool some of the characters at the request of producer & director, Bruce Timm. Mignola’s design would subsequently become the basis for almost all of the future iterations of Mr. Freeze.
Couple this new look with Michael Ansara’s uniquely bone-chilling vocals and producer Alan Burnett’s requesting Paul Dini write the story and what have you got? All the necessary ingredients for a hot take on a dish best served cold.
I should semi-apologize for all the wintery-icy-freezing references. I figure if Arnold Scwharzenegger can get away with all the bad puns up there on the big screen, then surely I can be forgiven here for a few minutes of fun. Really though, I should just chill out already. I mean, I’m on thin ice enough as it is…
But in all seriousness dear reader, I genuinely believe the character deserves a second look, and given his backstory he’s probably my favourite Batman villain next to Two-Face.
Let me close this brief text by urging you to sit down to Heart of Ice. Don’t allow the twenty minute runtime to belie the fact that it is, arguably, the most moving and tragic portrayal of Doctor Victor Fries ever created. I daresay by the end of it, you may find that even the coldest of hearts can still be thawed.
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