HISTORY OF THE BATMAN
“Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot.
So my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts.
I must be a creature of the night.
I shall become A BAT!” --
Bruce Wayne, DETECTIVE COMICS #33 (November 1939)
MR. FREEZE: A Cold Day In Hell
Mister Freeze’s place among the varied and numerous members of The Batman’s amazing rogue’s gallery has always been somewhat of a dubious one. Mister Freeze, or Mister Zero, as he was originally known as, was something of a “one-trick pony,” with little area for characterization or character development. It took an episode of the immortal Batman: The Animated Series to flesh out the icy villain and give him the dramatic push to make Mr. Freeze a heavy hitter and a character that Bat-fans give a damn about.
Mr. Freeze or Mr. Zero rather, first appeared in 1959 in Batman #121, in the humorous vein of such villains as the Mad Hatter and Killer Moth. Zero didn’t possess a true origin, but his history was addressed in the Batman television series in the 1960s. It was described by the website The Superhero Dictionary as:
“During a fight in his secret laboratory, Doctor Schimmel was covered in an experimental chemical he had been working with. Batman tried to save him, but the damage had already been done. The freezing chemical bonded with his body, and he could no longer survive in any temperature higher than fifty degrees below zero. From then on, he referred to himself only as Mister Freeze. His condition requires him to wear a cooling suit whenever he leaves his icy lair. Freeze's warped mind blamed Batman for all that had happened to him, and immediately vowed revenge.”
That particular series also changed Mister Zero’s named to Mister Freeze. Three different performers also portrayed him: George Sanders, Otto Preminger (picuture left), and Eli Wallach. Mister Freeze’s appearances in the series were highlighted by a trick of the camera which featured Freeze and his sub-zero lair continuously bathed in a blue light indicating the frigid conditions in which the criminal had to exist.
More readily accepted and encouraged was Mister Freeze’s appearance and origins as detailed in the “Heart of Ice” episode of the Emmy award-winning Batman: The Animated Series written by show runner Paul Dini. Mister Freeze was transformed into a complicated and tragic figure, and the story was so well received that the comics later changed and adapted Freeze’s origins to fit his animated one.
Victor Fries was a cryogenics researcher working at GothCorp where he hoped to cure his beloved wife Nora of a terminal disease. Fries secretly put Nora in cryo-stasis, hoping to maintain her until a cure was found. When GothCorp head Ferris Boyle discovered that Fries was using company equipment, materials, and money for his own personal use, he attempted to shut Fries’ operations down. Boyle attempted to bring Nora out of stasis, and Victor objected violently, struggling with his employer until Boyle kicked Fries into a table of cryogenic chemicals and effectively left him for dead. Victor did survive, but was forced to remain in freezing temperatures in order to survive. He designed an exo-skeleton-enhanced cryogenic suit and developed a gun that would fire concentrated blasts of cold, freezing anything in its path.
Several years later, Fries, now called “Mister Freeze,” began stealing various pieces of equipment, which the Batman realized were components of a gigantic weapon that would produce intense cold. The Dark Knight clashed with Freeze and his criminal henchman, and was prevented from thwarting their thefts. It also left The Batman with a nasty head cold. Eventually, The Batman discovered Victor Fries’ history and what turned him into the cold, emotionless villain he had become. He also learned of Ferris Boyle’s, set to receive a humanitarian award, heinous involvement. This set up a terrific climax between the Batman and Mister Freeze, who was summarily defeated with a thermos of hot chicken soup. It was also the end of Ferris Boyle, the piece’s true villain, whom the Dark Knight left frozen with the sarcastic moniker of “humanitarian.”
The episode ends with Victor in Arkham Asylum in a frozen cell looking at a wind-up ballerina who looks like his beloved Nora. His sad, simple comments on his wife’s future are beautifully rendered, and the audience sees the Batman watching over Freeze just before the end credits roll. Mister Freeze was wonderfully portrayed by actor Michael Ansara in all of his appearances.
When D.C. Comics tapped Paul Dini to write their “Mister Freeze” special Prestige Format book in 1997 to coincide with the theatrical release of Batman & Robin, Dini adapted his own script for “Heart of Ice” for the special one-shot. In it, Victor Fries is shown intrigued by freezing animals as a boy, which lead him into his eventual career in cryogenics research. Abused by his father and sent to a strict boarding school, Victor met and eventually married his beloved Nora. The story pretty much sticks to the “Heart of Ice” storyline, except that is juxtaposed with a modern tale of the Batman attempting to capture Freeze and save the life of his frozen crime-fighting partner, Robin.
Freeze made many appearances during the Pre-Crisis on Infinite Earth era, but has made limited ones during the current continuity. However, due to the re-vamping of his origin, writers have found ways to make Mister Freeze interesting and exciting for the first time. His most recent appearances have had him allying himself with the Secret Society of Super-Villians, building a sub-zero stasis machine for Nyssa Raatko, the estranged daughter of eco-terrorist Ra’s Al Ghül, in exchange for access to her regenerative Lazarus Pit. When Freeze attempted to revive Nora without waiting for the necessary pool chemicals to adjust, he resuscitated Nora as the malevolent Lazara. The two became estranged when Nora blamed her devoted husband for her distorted condition.
Freeze’s other appearances include his title role in the direct-to-video film Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero (Released to coincide with Batman & Robin in 1997), where Freeze is content living in the Arctic until a submarine breaks through into the cave where he is residing, causing a dramatic cave-in. As the floor cracks and splits open, the glass cylinder that contains Nora Fries tips over and violently shatters. Nora's condition begins to rapidly deteriorate, so Freeze enlists the help of Doctor Gregory Belsen to find a cure. Belson agrees to work with Freeze in exchange for all of the gold from a large vein that Freeze discovered in the Arctic. Belson determines that Nora Fries needs a organ transplant, and due to her rare blood type there are not any suitable donors, so Freeze declares that they will use a live donor. Barbara Gordon, alias Batgirl, is a perfect match, so Freeze abducts her and takes her to an abandoned oil rig out in the ocean that Freeze is using as his hideout. The Batman discovers where Barbara is, and shows up to rescue her, but during this time, the oil rig catches becomes emblazed. The Batman manages to get Nora out safely with Freeze's help, but Freeze sustains damage to his suit and falls off of the rig into the ocean when the rig begins to fall apart. Later, Freeze learns that Nora has been cured, and he is overjoyed to know that his technology has saved the life of his beloved wife.
"In the Cold Comfort" episode of 1997’s The New Batman Adventures (also known as Batman: Gotham Knights), Mr. Freeze returns after Nora, after waiting for a long time for Victor to return to her (following the events of SubZero), leaves Gotham and remarries. Freeze, with nothing to live for, sets out to ruin things that other people love. It is revealed that Freeze’s body has deteroriated to the point where all that is left of him is his head. His “body” is nothing more than a robotic construct. Freeze’s plot involves dropping some sort of freezing bom on Gotham City, but the Batman overpowers him, ties him to the bomb, and drops him into the sea.
Mister Freeze’s appearance in the original Batman: The Animated Series was designed by Hellboy creator and some-time Batman artist Mike Mignola at the request of series co-creator Bruce Timm.
Mister Freeze’s most reviled appearance was in one of the most reviled films, the aforementioned Batman & Robin in June of 1997. Portrayed by Arnold Schwarzengger (picture right), Freeze retains most of his tragic and sympathic origins, but as a super-villain, the garish-looking Mister Freeze is more often than not spouting horrible cold-related jokes and puns. His alliance with the other villain of the piece, Poison Ivy, as portrayed by Uma Thurman, is trite and not believable. It makes one wonder what Mister Freeze would have been like if Schwarzenegger had played the part more like his emotional robotic assassins of the Terminator films; more serious and deadly.
While Freeze made appearances in Animated-style comics such as Batman Adventures and Justice League Unlimited, he did not appear on screen again until 1999’s Batman Beyond, where it was revealed that Victor Fries’ disembodied head did survive the events of Cold Comfort and that the cryogenic process that has preserved him made, for lack of a better word, immortal. Working for industrialist Derek Powers, also known as the super-villain Blight, Fries was used a test subject for a process that was hoped would cure Powers’ condition. Fries’ mind was installed in a clone body, and he was given a new normal life. The episode details Fries’ attempts to right some of his many wrongs, but in time, his new body began failing just like his old one. Powers intends to betray Fries and have his dead body autopsied, but Fries dons a cryonic suit and seeks revenge. The Batman of this future thwarts Mr. Freeze, who does redeem himself by saving The Dark Knight’s life from Blight. Freeze then apparently dies from the injuries he sustains in battle against Blight.
Originally, in , Mr. Freeze’s future was to be told in a short comedic sequence in which the aged Bruce Wayne sends his successor Terry McGinness to the refrigerator for a drink. When Terry opens the refrigerator door, Mr. Freeze’s disembodied head was to be sitting on the shelf staring back at him. The producers eventually decided that this scene did not do Freeze justice, and the later episode was done to replace it.
In 2004’s animated series The Batman, not affiliated with the earlier animated series, Mr. Freeze is a simple crook who gains the ability to generate extreme cold around him after being electrocuted and frozen inside of a cryogenics chamber. The Batman defeats him employing a thermal, winter-themed uniform. Later, Freeze teams with the saboteur Firefily to envelop Gotham City in endless winter. The Batman defeats them both. Although this version of Mister Freeze’s background is different, the audience gets a glimpse of him in an automobile with a woman, who may or may not be Nora Fries. In these episodes, Mr. Freeze was voiced by Clancy Brown, Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League’s Lex Luthor.
Mr. Freeze is also the name of two roller coasters at two “Six Flags” theme parks: Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, Texas and Six Flags St. Louis.
Mr. Freeze remains an enduring character in the Batman mythos, but has yet to find a firm foot hold in the storied history of The Darknight Detective’s villainous menagerie. Hopefully, within a subtle lightening of the Batman’s characterization and the addition of Paul Dini as writer of Detective Comics following the Infinite Crisis mini-series and its repercussions, Mister Freeze will receive some much needed attention and get his moment to shine once again.
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