Tag Archives: michael ansara

The New Batman Adventures – “Cold Comfort”

coldcomfortEpisode Number:  3 (88)

Original Air Date:  October 11, 1997

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Hilary J. Bader

First Appearance:  Jack Ryder

“Cold Comfort” (which shares a name with the Iceman episode of X-Men) is the unofficial completion of the Mr. Freeze trilogy in Batman: The Animated Series. It’s interesting to me now in doing these how fast and furious it feels like Mr. Freeze has come at me with the trio of “Deep Freeze,” SubZero, and now this episode following the amount of time that passed between the debut “Heart of Ice” and Freeze’s return. Of course, in real-time “Deep Freeze” aired in 1994 with SubZero seeing release in 1998. This episode actually aired before SubZero was widely available so this episode some-what spoils the ending to that feature.

This episode also isn’t the reintroduction of Mr. Freeze that we were supposed to have. The Batman Adventures Holiday Special, which “Holiday Knights” was partly adapted from, also featured a Mr. Freeze tale called “White Christmas.” That segment was supposed to be featured either as part of “Holiday Knights” or as its own episode. Following SubZero though, that story didn’t make sense as it required Nora Fries to be dead so those plans were scrapped and we somehow ended up here. This episode is interesting to me because it’s written by someone not named Bruce Timm or Paul Dini. Of course, neither worked on SubZero (which is what initially led to the confusion with “White Christmas”) so their hold on Freeze had already been lessened. Handling writing duties for this one is Hilary Bader in her first contribution to Batman. She wrote several episodes for Superman (and actually first wrote for the character of Superman on the show Lois & Clark) and will make additional contributions to this series. She’ll also handle the final Mr. Freeze episode in this continuity, the Batman Beyond episode “Meltdown.”

freeze why not

Mr. Freeze is back in black looking to spread some misery.

After somewhat flirting with heroism, “Cold Comfort” returns Mr. Freeze to the world of villainy. At the end of SubZero, Victor Fries is shown witnessing a news report of his wife, Nora’s, revival and curing. With tears running down his cheeks, he leaves the scene to walk off with his two polar bear companions into the arctic. We don’t know what he’s planning next, but we obviously know he’s happy to see his wife is okay and will get another shot at this whole life thing. He’s not sporting his handy cold suit, so for all we know it’s been destroyed and he’s trapped in the cold confines of the arctic. Will he return to be at his wife’s side or is he resigned to let her be? He’s obviously found his emotions and is no longer the cold, dead, man he was when we first met him. I’m pretty sure by the end of that movie most of the audience is rooting both Victor and Nora, but no villain seems to ever truly give up their life of crime so I doubt anyone was holding their breath.

The episode opens with a long, lingering, shot on a dinosaur skeleton at a museum. Dr. Margaret Madsen (Tress MacNeille) is exhibiting some new bones discovered at the Gotham Museum and it’s being covered by the local news, hosted by Jack Ryder (Jeff Glen Bennett). It’s a pretty standard piece for the local news, until Mr. Freeze (Michael Ansara) crashes the party. He’s got a new look going on with a mostly all black suit with some light blue accents wisely trading in those purple gloves and boots. His head is still in a fishbowl and his voice is modulated. The shape of his head is much longer now and it basically looks like a cross between a skull and a potato. His goggles have also been replaced as he just naturally has red eyes now with a liberal amount of black surrounding them. If his head weren’t so oddly shaped I’d probably prefer this look to his past one.

ice maidens

Working for Mr. Freeze apparently includes a dress code now.

Freeze is accompanied by some new henchwomen this time. Basically taking a cue from the old 1960s television show, they’re all wearing purple parkas and sunglasses and are very campy looking. In the credits they’re referred to as Ice Maidens and are voiced by Tress MacNeille, Cree Summer, and Lauren Tom.

Mr. Freeze turns his attention to the dinosaur while one of the women restrains Dr. Madsen. When she points out that no one would buy a stolen dinosaur Freeze corrects her – he doesn’t wish to steal this priceless artifact, but destroy it. He uses his freeze ray to coat the once great beast in ice and watches it shatter. Madsen is reduced to tears calling out “Why?” over and over as Freeze leaves with a simple “Why not?”

freeze painting

So destructive.

Sometime later, Gotham is shown celebrating its tricentennial with a gala. Mayor Hamilton Hill (Lloyd Bochner) is shown for the first time in this series looking very similar to his previous version, but with more white in his hair. Bruce Wayne is in attendance and is shown complaining to Commissioner Gordon about seeing Mr. Freeze on his television. He comes across as a spoiled, entitled, citizen who wants more from the police which is a pretty solid cover and different from the usual playboy persona he exhibits. Gordon, for his part, listens to Wayne’s complaints without offering much in return likely looking for a way out of the conversation.

All attention is then turned towards Hill who unveils a new work of art to commemorate the city’s birth. Artist Guiseppe Bianci (Ian Patrick Williams) is poised to speak about the mural he painted when Mr. Freeze once again shows up. He offers some praise towards Bianci’s for the work he did while pondering how long it must have taken him to perfect his technique. He then takes aim at it while Bianci begs him not to destroy it for he’s old and couldn’t possibly complete another in his lifetime. Freeze is unmoved and destroys the mural. Wayne, upon seeing his old foe, radios to Alfred who is outside in the limo that he’ll need to change. Expecting Alfred to unveil a fancy contraption housing Bruce’s Batman attire, I was letdown when he simply opens the glove box to fetch the outfit.

look out dog

He seems like the type who would dislike little, yippy, dogs.

With the mural destroyed, Mr. Freeze sets his sights on the wealthy attendees of this gala. He offers them a warning, “Search your hearts for the thing you value most, then despair, for I have come to take it from you.” His gaze lingers on a small dog whose owner tries to shield. As Freeze takes aim, Batman shows up and is able to strike Freeze’s gun with a batarang causing him to misfire. Freeze hardly seems alarmed at the sight of his adversary, and his three maidens start firing at Batman. They’re armed with their own freeze rays, but Batman is able to avoid their fire and take the fight directly to Freeze on stage. Freeze, powered by his new suit, tosses Batman aside with tremendous force yet little effort. This causes one of the girls to think she’s got him dead to rights, but Batman is able to reflect her ice blast back at her freezing her leg. Batman then finds himself staring down Mr. Freeze’s gun, but interestingly, Freeze explains he has no desire to destroy Batman at this time and merely freezes his cape to the ground. As Batman struggles to free himself, Freeze departs leaving his partially frozen henchwoman behind in an homage to “Heart of Ice.” By the time Batman is able to tear his cape from the ground, Freeze is gone.

Batman returns to the Batcave and Robin and Batgirl are there as well. He’s at his computer brushing up on his Mr. Freeze knowledge and giving the audience a refresher. They recall the accident that created him, as well as his wife Nora and her curing. Following that, Nora waited for her husband to return to her, but he never did. Eventually she remarried and left Gotham. Now Freeze is back and apparently out to make everyone simply feel terrible.

freeze doctors

Mr. Freeze is apparently not in the best of health these days.

Elsewhere, in a very cold room a doctor clad in a warm parka reviews some data on a string of paper (it looks like a modern-day CVS receipt). He remarks that his patient’s brain waves look good, and the camera pans to show Freeze on a gurney being examined by a team of doctors. Freeze thanks the doctor for his work, who reminds Freeze that a more appropriate way to say “Thanks” would be to let them go. He walks over to the door, but in come Freeze’s two remaining Ice Maidens. Freeze tells the doctors they do not have his permission to leave, as he rises from the gurney and places his dome back on. Freeze exits the room and heads towards a giant computer (where did he get this stuff?) and explains he needs to strike at someone who feels safe. On the screen, a video of Bruce Wayne making a charitable donation is shown with Bruce saying that those with the most should give the most. Freeze then notes that those with the most also have the most to lose.

Batgirl is shown getting in a pretty rigorous workout at the Batcave. She’s jumping all over various handlebars and such and ends up on a circular device that randomly pops up laser-firing pillars that she has to strike in order to subdue. She’s doing quite well for herself, but eventually she takes a couple of shots before the training session is ended. Wayne approaches and Batgirl remarks she did pretty well. A score is tabulated and she’s delighted to see it’s a new high score, whether that’s a new high for her or in general is not elaborated upon. As Robin found out in the last episode, seeking praise from Wayne often doesn’t end well and Bruce reminds her that she ended the session “dead.” She seems uninterested in arguing the point and instead suggests they call it a night. Bruce agrees, for himself. He remarks she still needs more practice and he restarts the program at a higher difficulty and leaves Batgirl to it as he heads upstairs.

bruce and tim

Bruce and Tim have to deal with an uninvited guest.

Once in the manor, Bruce confronts Tim while he’s doing homework. Apparently he failed a recent civics test and Tim remarks he doesn’t need to know what a district attorney does. When Bruce tells him that he knows nothing about the justice system, Tim retorts that he knows it’s bogus. When Bruce questions how he got such a notion into his head he says from watching Bruce. It’s a humorous exchange given Batman’s flippant attitude toward law and order. When Tim goes on to remark that Batman doesn’t care one bit about due process, Bruce changes the subject to math.

A knock at the door gets Alfred’s attention, and to his surprise it’s Mr. Freeze and his two lackeys. Freeze freezes the giant stairs leading down into the living room as he casually slides in to confront Bruce. Bruce goes into his whole “I can help you,” routine, but Freeze doesn’t care. He tells him it’s far too late for all of that before turning his attention towards Tim. He remarks that Bruce has been trying to create a new family for himself over the years to make up for the one he lost as a boy. Now Freeze intends to take that which he holds most dear referring to Tim as his surrogate son. Bruce positions himself between Freeze and the boy, but Freeze was just misleading. Deciding that Bruce would be more pained by losing his surrogate father, he turns and fires at Alfred freezing the old butler up to his neck.

freezing alfred

Well, that’s the last time he’ll be able to wear that tux.

Batgirl, having been alerted by a simple push of a button from Bruce’s watch, shows up and attacks Freeze. As he turns his attention to her, Bruce rather coolly approaches one of the Ice Maidens who does not look thrilled to be face-to-face with an unhappy Bruce. The camera cuts away though as we’re not going to show Bruce assaulting a woman. Nor is the show going to do so with Tim, as he’s behind a couch on top of the other maiden who eventually boots him off and into view. They tangle some with Tim being allowed to be shown sweeping her leg. Bruce gets to Alfred, who’s expectedly shivering. Batgirl is able to knock Freeze’s gun out of his hand, and she turns it on him freezing him to the wall. His suit is quite powerful though, and he breaks free as one of the maidens strikes Batgirl from behind. The villains then take their leave, but not before Batgirl is able to fire a homing device at their escape vehicle.

Down in the Batcave, Batman and Batgirl are preparing to go after Freeze while Alfred is shown enjoying a nice chemical bath. Apparently Batman has improved his tech as no longer do frozen subjects need to be completely submerged in a tube. Tim is informed that he gets to stay behind and tend to Alfred, who will apparently enjoy being served for a change. Batman and Batgirl then leave in the Batmobile and the tracking device leads them to an old meat-packing plant that has apparently been abandoned. As they enter, most of the music cuts out and the various meat hooks in the background give off a rather eerie vibe. They find no trace of Mr. Freeze, but then Batman finds a manhole leading to an underground area. There it’s rather quiet as well, but Batgirl is momentarily startled when she stumbles upon Freeze’s suit. The two are forced to deduce it’s a spare because Batman notes it’s not cold enough in there for Freeze to be walking around without his suit.

spider freeze

Now there’s a surprise.

Some yelling from behind a door catches the attention of our heroes and Batman blasts the door in to find the captive medical team. They explain their situation to Batman, and as they prepare to leave they’re stopped by the two Ice Maidens. Held at gunpoint, the two call for their boss who enters into the hallway to unveil his secret. Strolling into the hall comes just the head of Mr. Freeze with four spider-like robotic legs carrying him. When Batman questions what happened, Freeze tells him the accident that created him also caused his body to deteriorate. By the time the medical team assembled before them got to him all that could be salvaged was his head. It’s why he never returned to his beloved Nora, and feeling that he lost everything, he explains he wants the whole world to experience the same sense of loss that he had to endure.

robo freeze

It’s like a docking station for his head. This must be where Nintendo got the idea for the Switch.

In a surprising act of gratitude, Mr. Freeze allows the doctors to leave as he climbs back into his suit, which is apparently entirely robotic at this point. Freeze wants Batman to experience his loss and the only thing Batman adores above all else is his beloved city. Freeze unveils what he calls a reverse fusion bomb which once detonated will coat everything in a ten-mile radius in ice. It’s loaded onto an odd-looking helicopter and Freeze intends to drop it on Gotham while Batman watches helpless from ground level. He departs in the helicopter and leaves Batman and Batgirl in the incapable hands of his hoodlums. When one orders Batgirl to put her hands up, she does, but is able to fire off what looks like her tracker gun and hits the maiden in the face. Batman takes out the other one while Batgirl places a full nelson hold on her girl and tells him to go after Freeze.

batgirl ice gunpoint

Yeah, I doubt she can contain Batgirl.

Batman fires his grapple gun at the helicopter and is able to get aboard it just before the doors on the hangar close. Inside, he approaches Freeze quietly from behind, who does a 180 with his head to spot Batman before he can strike. The two fight, with Freeze smashing Batman into the windshield of the helicopter drawing blood from Batman’s lip and nose. Freeze informs Batman he has no qualms about changing his plans and simply killing Batman there before dropping his bomb, but as he approaches Batman is able to fire his grapple gun at the bomb itself latching onto it (this seems really dangerous given that Batman’s new grapple gun just stabs into things as opposed to hooking on). He then hooks the other end to Freeze and presses the retract button which causes Freeze to get pulled towards the bomb allowing Batman to drop it over the ocean with Freeze attached to it. It detonates under water creating a massive tower of ice. Batman begins piloting the helicopter back to land and informs Batgirl over the radio that they’ve seen the last of Mr. Freeze. The camera then pans to the ice tower to reveal Freeze’s frozen body encased within it, but his head is missing.

Mr. Freeze had been softened enough to the point that it was a bit challenging to bring him back as a true villain. Having him once more turn to his feeling of loss as a prime motivator was a logical path for the villain, though his indifference to the plight of others is basically lost as a result. While he still operates in a cold manner, and Michael Ansara still voices him in a monotone fashion, he’s essentially enjoying the suffering of others just without an obvious reaction to it. He also needed a reason to not have returned to Nora. While it could have been a noble choice, it did make more sense for the character to feel like Nora was taken from him once again. The only issue is that the deteriorating body thing basically goes against what we knew previously about Mr. Freeze. Back in “Deep Freeze” it was thought his condition was the complete opposite and that he was effectively immortal. It does give the episode a little something extra to have that reveal in the final act, though “Spider Freeze” is pretty damn hokey.

batman bleeding

It’s not exactly a crimson mask, but it’s always a little exciting when Batman bleeds.

The episode is also not at all concerned with explaining how Freeze ended up in this situation. Presumably, he noticed his body was failing and was able to abduct a bunch of medical professionals before succumbing to his condition, but he sure did end up with a lot of high-tech stuff, not to mention that reverse fusion bomb. How did he get all of that stuff? Did he just buy it? Steal it? Create it himself? He did mention possessing a lot of gold in SubZero, so I suppose he used that to finance his criminal operation, but it is worth acknowledging that the episode takes a lot of liberties with its villain. The Ice Maidens are also atypical for this series. While it appears like we can expect a bit more personality from those who serve the main villains, the matching attire of these women is so camp. It’s not the tone I want this show to strive for.

frozen suit

It’s not the last we’ll see of Mr. Freeze, and yet it also is.

Even though the ending is an ominous one, this is Mr. Freeze’s only appearance in The New Batman Adventures. He will be allowed the distinction of being one of the few villains who gets to return in Batman Beyond and that’s the next time we’ll see him. After a stunning debut in “Heart of Ice,” Mr. Freeze has certainly struggled a bit to maintain the aura he had in that episode. “Deep Freeze” was a real letdown, while SubZero was able to put a worthwhile bookend on things. This episode is largely unnecessary for the character, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. It’s not at all surprising that this show wanted to feature Mr. Freeze, and this portrayal is fine. Things do get a bit rushed though and this is a case where maybe a two-part format would have worked out better. I could do without the whole robot thing, but it’s not the end of the world. It’s certainly better than “Deep Freeze,” but I’m not heartbroken that Mr. Freeze won’t show up again either.


Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero

Batman_&_Mr._Freeze_SubZeroOriginal Release Date:  March 17, 1998

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Boyd Kirkland and Randy Rogel

Animation:  Dong Yang Animation Co., Koko Enterprises Co., LTD.

Running Time:  67 minutes

I feel like we can’t move onto The New Batman Adventures without first talking about Batman & Mr. Freeze:  SubZero. This direct to video feature is essentially the true finale to the original run of Batman:  The Animated Series. It’s existence can be owed to the fact that Warner Bros. wanted to do a tie-in film with the upcoming feature film Batman and Robin which featured Mr. Freeze as the main antagonist. This was supposed to be released alongside that, but since that film was so poorly received it was held back until March of 1998. This complicates things as by that time The New Batman Adventures was airing on Kids WB and had even aired a Mr. Freeze episode that follows the events of this story. It was released to video, which in 1998 meant VHS, and also aired on Kids WB. I could only find one release date listed online so I’m not sure when the television premiere took place (it could have been the same day), but that’s how I first saw this one.

freeze and bears

Mr. Freeze has returned, and he brought polar bears this time.

Mr. Freeze was first introduced to the animated viewing audience via “Heart of Ice” which first aired in 1992 as part of the show’s first season. It was so successful at rebooting the previously campy Mr. Freeze into an A-tier villain that the writers were reluctant to return to the character out of fear that whatever they came up with couldn’t possibly match “Heart of Ice.” Eventually, they relented and Mr. Freeze appeared in the penultimate episode “Deep Freeze” in which he partnered with Walt Disney Grant Walker in an evil scheme, but eventually turned and become a reluctant hero in the end. The episode basically proved what the staff feared initially as it wasn’t nearly as good or on par with “Heart of Ice.” It’s not a bad episode, but hardly a highpoint for the series. As a result, SubZero feels like a second attempt at capturing the magic once again and perhaps the lengthened running time will help tell a worthy story.

For the film, most of the principal players from BTAS were able to return. In the director’s chair is Boyd Kirkland who directed many episodes in the series as well as the show’s other feature, Mask of the Phantasm. Kirkland also co-wrote the film with Randy Rogel, another individual who had several writing credits in the main series. The voice cast was also largely returned for this one including Kevin Conroy as Batman, Loren Lester as Robin, and Michael Ansara as Mr. Freeze. The only notable change is Mary Kay Bergman taking over the role of Barbara Gordon for Melissa Gilbert. This would be Bergman’s only performance as Gordon as she would be voiced by Tara Strong in The New Batman Adventures. The other notable absences are Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, who were credited with this new version of Freeze. They were likely busy working on Superman and The New Batman Adventures during the development of the picture. Also missing is composer Shirley Walker who was replaced by Michael McCuistion, who had previously worked on some episodes of the show. He would go on to score 3 episodes of The New Batman Adventures as well as several more for other DC animated productions. Walker would also contribute to the sequel series.

gordons and dick

Barbara has a new voice actress, Mary Kay Bergman, and a new beau.

The film basically picks up where the series ended. Victor Fries has made a home for himself in the arctic alongside his still in stasis wife, Nora. He’s acquired a pair of polar bear companions as well as a twelve-year-old Inuit orphan named Koonak (Rahi Azizi). When an expedition by a US submarine disturbs their home and destroys the containment unit keeping Nora alive, Fries is forced to once again don his Mr. Freeze persona.

Nora cannot survive for long outside her containment unit which brings Freeze back to Gotham and in contact with an old colleague, a cryogenics expert by the name of Gregory Belson (George Dzundza). Belson just so happens to be in great financial distress as he tried to game the system with some insider trading in the futures market that didn’t pan out. He’s desperate for cash, and Freeze has access to a gold ore vein in the arctic. He needs Belson’s help to perform an operation for the only hope Nora has at survival is via an organ transplant. Unfortunately, she also has a rare blood type and no organs are available and are unlikely to become available in time, so they’ll need to harvest them from a living donor.

nora fries opening

Once again, it’s the welfare of Nora that motivates Freeze.

That’s where Barbara Gordon comes in. She’s the unlucky one who matches Nora’s rare blood type and is also of similar build. Mr. Freeze abducts her from a club while she is on a date with her new boyfriend:  Dick Grayson. It would seem Barbara got over her Bat-crush and settled on the Boy Wonder, though the film makes it seem like everyone is still keeping each other in the dark regarding alter-egos. Freeze, along with his two polar bear companions, takes Barbara to an abandoned offshore oil platform where the surgery will be performed against her will.

Most of the film involves the setup before transitioning to a focus on Batman and Robin’s detective work which will eventually force a showdown with Mr. Freeze. At a mere 67 minutes, the mystery of where Freeze took Gordon and what he wants with her isn’t lingered on for too long and there’s plenty of time saved for the climax on the oil rigging. It’s paced well and the movie moves along without feeling rushed. If anything is sacrificed, it’s the final confrontation at the end. Batman and Freeze really don’t have much of a confrontation, as circumstances force them to contend with a burning platform. It’s a similar setup to the episode “Deep Freeze” in that regard, but with smaller, more obvious, stakes.

batman robin batcave

Batman and Robin have some detective work ahead of them, but at least Robin’s gloves are now the proper shade of green.

The film in large part feels like a referendum on “Deep Freeze.” If you recall, in that episode Freeze learns his wife is still alive and then immediately agrees to help a wealthy man destroy the planet to revive her. It was a pretty outlandish setup which is why Batman was able to convince Mr. Freeze to not go along with Walker’s plan. In this film, Nora’s life is on a timer and in order to save her Freeze merely has to sacrifice one woman he doesn’t even care about. While it would have been interesting to see how he would have responded had someone been able to reason with him that Nora would never want an innocent to die so she could live, that’s never broached and it’s conceivable to think Freeze would not be swayed. He’d likely rather Nora live and despise him than for her to die. Freeze’s desperation causes him to act impulsively throughout the picture, and his relationship with Belson gives him a plausible reason to return to Gotham in an effort to save his wife knowing it will likely put him in the crosshairs of The Batman.

dr belson

Belson is pretty much a slime ball.

In many ways, it’s Dr. Belson that ends up being the film’s ultimate villain. He’s described by others as a jerk and he’s essentially a criminal for engaging in insider trading. Had he been successful with his futures play he might have been caught. When Freeze first approaches him for aid the film teases he won’t go along with murder, but he’s mostly feigning his apprehension and just uses it to leverage more money out of his old colleague.

barbara fighting back

Barbara may spend most of the film kidnapped, but she never stops fighting.

Barbara Gordon’s kidnapping may be the main plot device that gets this film rolling, but she’s hardly playing the role of damsel in distress. Her kidnapping is voluntary, as she doesn’t want Mr. Freeze to harm any of the patrons of the club she’s abducted from, especially Dick. She also tries to escape her confines more than once and realizes she has a sympathetic ear in Koonak. It would have been disappointing if the woman who is Batgirl just sat around and waited for Batman and Robin to save her, but Rogel and Kirkland know what they’re doing.

The film is visually quite nice and a noticeable cut above the television series. Dong Yang Animation, which animated most of season 2 and some of season 1, did the traditional spots with Koko Enterprises doing the CG. The colors are an obvious upgrade as Robin’s costume actually features two shades of green instead of that odd blue. The scenes on the flaming oil platform are especially spectacular and it’s obvious more care was put into this project as a whole. I also really like a spot at the beginning of the film where Fries emerges from the arctic waters. His body is coated in a thin layer of ice which cracks and breaks apart as he moves. The CG is used probably more often than I would like. It’s dated, but not woefully so. It’s a touch distracting in some of the chase sequences and with the Batwing, but it looks nice at the film’s onset with Fries swimming in the arctic amongst a swarm of CG salmon. The only real disappointment I have with the look of the picture is that it’s presented in 4:3 instead of 16:9. I assume that’s the aspect ratio it was created for since it was going to be broadcast on television, and since this was before the proliferation of 16:9 television sets, there was basically no need to develop for that if it was only ever going to be viewed on a TV set.

koonak and barbara

I hope you didn’t get too attached to Koonak, because he’s not coming back.

This film is the final presentation of Batman and the other denizens of Gotham in this art style. For some characters, like Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon), this is their final appearance all together. Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) also has a cameo, but as a blonde now instead of her traditional red hair. It’s also the last appearance of Nora Fries and the only appearance for Koonak. I definitely miss this art style and the change for The New Batman Adventures is what kept me from getting into that series initially. When this surfaced on television it was like going back to an old friend.

Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero is a worthy follow-up to “Heart of Ice.” Even with the benefit of triple the minutes, it’s still not quite as captivating as that episode and I think that’s largely due to the surprise that initial episode had going for it. This film at least takes the character of Mr. Freeze and gives him a reason to act like a villain once more. It’s surprising that Paul Dini and Bruce Timm weren’t involved, but maybe turning to the duo of Kirkland and Rogel meant the pressure of doing something worthwhile with the character was largely removed freeing them to explore him unencumbered. For both, this was their last contribution to Batman: The Animated Series and it’s a worthy note to go out on. Had this been a theatrically released venture we’d probably unfairly compare it with Mask of the Phantasm where it would come up short, but for a direct-to-video venture this is more than acceptable.

Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero was originally released on VHS, but has since been released on DVD and Blu-Ray. It’s also streaming, if that’s your preference. The best way to view it, for my money, is via the Batman:  The Animated Series Blu-Ray set which includes this film as well as Mask of the Phantasm in one package alongside the entire television series.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Deep Freeze”

deep freeze titleEpisode Number:  84

Original Air Date:  November 26, 1994

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Paul Dini and Bruce Timm

First Appearance(s):  Grant Walker, Nora Fries, Bat-Mite

Thanksgiving 1994 brought fans of Batman:  The Animated Series something they had been looking forward to for over two years. The penultimate episode, and final broadcast episode of Season 3, marks the return of Mr. Freeze who was last seen in “Heart of Ice” which aired September 7, 1992. That episode was so well-received that the writers didn’t really know where to go with Freeze following it. He couldn’t just become some garden variety super villain who shows up from time to time. His story was fairly complete when that episode ended:  Freeze, devoid of all emotion except vengeance, set his sights on the man who wronged him. While Freeze was unable to kill Ferris Boyle, he did out him as something of a monster and it’s presumed his life was ruined as a result. He may even be in jail, which is where we last saw Freeze pining for his wife in a cell coated in ice and snow.

That ending image to “Heart of Ice” was so well done that it was essentially re-shot for the feature film Batman & Robin. It was about the only thing that film got right when it came to the character. For Freeze to return he would need a new motivation, but how do you motivate a guy who claims he has no emotion? The answer is Nora Fries. We had only seen Nora in a flashback, and she was presumed dead as a result of Boyle’s actions, but Freeze is about to find out that isn’t the case. If Freeze could bring his wife back would it restore the humanity he once felt inside? And to what lengths would he go to in order to save her? Those are the pertinent questions Paul Dini and Bruce Timm had to ask themselves before determining if it was worth pursuing. For some reason, the answer to that question is going to partly include a Walt Disney parody. Confused? Read on.

freeze escapes

Mr. Freeze is kidnapped, and only Batman can find out by whom.

“Deep Freeze” opens in an interesting way as the camera finds a robot outside what I believe is Stonegate Penitentiary. The setting by the seas looks right and Fries is in a prison jumpsuit, though other write-ups I checked assume it’s Arkham.  The robot is fairly large, somewhat boring looking, but it has no problem getting past the security measures. In a scene that feels similar to Magneto’s debut in the X-Men episode “Enter Magneto”, the robot zeroes in on a specific cell. We know it to be the cell of Victor Fries, also known as Mr. Freeze, because it’s filled with ice and snow. Inside, Fries (Michael Ansara) watches the robot approach and begins to panic. He’s actually scared, as he bangs on his cell door and calls out for help. The robot breaks through the wall and approaches, grabs him, and jams him inside its body. As this unfolds, the camera pans back to reveal the music box/statue of the ballerina Fries associated with his late wife has been shattered in the process.

At the Batcave, Batman and Robin review the security tape of Fries’ abduction. Robin is impressed with the lengths he went to escape, while Batman points out that for a man who claims to feel no emotion, he sure looks scared on film. Batman is fairly certain that this was not orchestrated by Mr. Freeze and that someone has abducted him against his will. The presence of a robot offers one lead and we’re about to pay a visit to another old friend.

bat-mite

A character I never expected to see in this show:  Bat-Mite.

Batman and Robin arrive at the office of Karl Rossum (William Sanderson), the Blade Runner homage whom we last heard from in “His Silicon Soul.” Interestingly, Rossum’s debut came in “Heart of Steel” so this episode is a marriage of the two prior “Heart of…” episodes from this series. Anyway, when the heroes knock on the door they’re greeted by a flying, Batman inspired robot. Fans will recognize this little fellow as Bat-Mite (Pat Fraley), who in the comics is a transdimensional imp who idolizes Batman. He’s mostly comic relief, and really wouldn’t fit into the tone of this show, which is what makes his appearance suitable here as he’s a robot designed by Rossum. Batman and Robin find out Rossum now just uses his brains to make toys, if he’s given up on farming he doesn’t say, and he’s a little surprised to see the two pay him a visit. Batman shows him an image of the robot that abducted Fries and Rossum does recognize it as one of his designs, only his version was much smaller. It was designed for theme park operator Grant Walker who would use it for his attractions as a little animatronic. Rossum theorizes that Walker was able to reverse engineer the robot and build it in a larger scale.

grant walker

Meet Grant Walker, who bares a strong resemblance to a real world theme park mogul.

It just so happens that Grant Walker (Daniel O’Herlihy) is putting the finishing touches on a new park:  Oceania. That’s where the robot who abducted Fries has taken him. As its name implies, Oceania is located in the ocean off the coast of Gotham. It’s a floating artificial island and the robot enters it from below the water’s surface. It appears in a tube and Fries is let out. There he’s confronted by the elderly Walker, who is something of an admirer of Fries’ work. He says Fries is going to help him complete Oceania, while Fries is doubtful. Walker instructs him to get comfortable and he and the robot disappear in the tube. As they leave, someone contacts Walker to say they’ve detected a vessel approaching and Walker instructs him to deal with it in the usual fashion.

Knowing where to find Walker, Batman and Robin board the Batboat and start heading for Oceania. Oceania’s security measures detect the approaching watercraft and Walker orders it be fired upon, so this is apparently more than just some park. Batman is unable to avoid the torpedoes from Oceania, and the Batboat is destroyed in the process. Walker is informed that the watercraft has been taken care of, and he’s free to turn his attention back to his would-be business partner.

nora fries

Walker knows how to make Mr. Freeze play along.

Fries is then reunited with his suit and freeze ray. Once again as Mr. Freeze, he turns to Walker and questions what is stopping him from using his weapon against him. Walker then turns on the charm. Walker believes that due to the accident Fries endured that his body’s aging process has been essentially frozen in place. In other words, he’s immortal or as close to immortal as a human can get. Walker wants to achieve the same for himself, as he’s nearing his own end and wants to see his life’s work to completion. Fries initially refuses, and even seems insulted, but then Walker reveals he has something that Fries would be very interested in:  his wife Nora.

Sometime after the accident that supposedly killed Nora and turned Victor Fries into Mr. Freeze, Walker was able to acquire the body of Nora who is still suspended in a capsule. She’s there, in a liquid floating as if she’s a human snow globe. Fries is shocked to find his beloved wife is still alive, and Walker insists his team of scientists has the ability to restore her. If Fries would like to be reunited with his wife, he’ll need to help Walker get what he wants.

batman spotted

Batman and Robin’s infiltration does not go well.

Batman and Robin are able to eject, and continue on to Oceania. They sneak in, and end up in a town square of sorts where Walker addresses the inhabitants of Oceania from a large video screen in the sky. It’s here we get a good look at just what Oceania is. It’s basically Walker’s attempt at Utopia, which makes sense since it shares a name with a country from George Orwell’s 1984. Walker also isn’t planning on just creating a community that will live in peace and isolation, he intends to destroy everything around it. Deeming humanity too cruel to exist, he’s created a giant version of Mr. Freeze’s freeze gun and is planning on freezing all of Gotham as a start to completing his vision.

toony batman

Sometimes, Batman gets real stretchy and toon-like in this one.

Naturally, this isn’t something Batman and Robin are going to allow to stand, but they’re noticed by the security robots. They’re swarmed by flying droids, and they’re unable to handle them. The two get to toss some righteousness at Walker, but their words hold little sway. The robots then take them down below where they then come face to face once again with Mr. Freeze. He gets to do the aim at the camera gag again as he fires upon the heroes.

walkers new duds

Walker gets what he wants, as billionaires often do.

Batman and Robin get to watch from frozen restraints as Freeze prepares to do to Walker what Boyle unwittingly did to him. Walker climbs into a suit of his own and Freeze administers whatever it is that freezes a man. Walker’s skin turns pale blue, and he doesn’t die, indicating the process was a success. Walker seems quite happy to find his suit has enhanced his strength. With his job done, Freeze just wants to return to his wife as he considers his business with Walker concluded.

freeze reckoning

Mr. Freeze has to abandon his short-term goal of reviving his wife in order to save Gotham.

Batman and Robin are with Freeze as he tends to his wife, not really doing much of anything. From there, Batman is able to appeal to Freeze by referencing his wife. He reasons that should she wake up in a world of ice and snow created with the help of Freeze that she’ll resent him, even hate him. Freeze is initially dismissive, but apparently he reaches the same conclusion. He frees Batman and Robin, and decides to help them prevent Walker from carrying out his plan.

They attack Walker’s command center. There they’re forced to contend with Walker’s robotic minions once more, but this time they’re prepared and with the aid of Mr. Freeze they prove to be no match. Walker is shocked to see Freeze has betrayed him, and he’s helpless since he didn’t think to arm himself with an ice gun of his own. Freeze encases Walker in a giant ice cube and also freezes the controls to his massive ice canon. He uses the console to set the core to overload before broadcasting a message to the inhabitants of Oceania that if they value their lives they should escape. He tells Batman and Robin to do the same, but they insist he come with them. Freeze refuses, insisting his place is beside his wife.

robins cold

Mr. Freeze’s solution to his problem is very much in character.

As the ice begins to engulf Oceania, Batman appeals once more to Freeze. To put an end to the discussion, Mr. Freeze uses his freeze ray on Robin, instructing Batman that he’ll need medical attention and soon. Batman is forced to abandon Freeze, who returns to his wife. The place is falling apart, but Freeze appears resigned to his fate as Batman and Robin are shown escaping in the last lifeboat. As for Grant Walker, he’s found himself in a giant ice cube and he rages as it sinks into the water where he’ll never be heard from again.

In the Batcave, Dick is still thawing out as Alfred tends to him. Dick remarks he thought he’d end up like Walker, frozen in an ice cube forever, which is an interesting point since it makes it clear the duo know how he ended up, but it sounds like they have no intention of trying to extract him. An unusual dose of cruelty from the Dynamic Duo. As he shakes away the chills, he asks Bruce if he thinks they’ll hear from Mr. Freeze again (I feel like they’ve done this before). Bruce reasons that if his condition has really made Freeze immortal then there’s a good chance they will. On cue, we cut to a block of ice floating in arctic waters. Inside, the ice is apparently hollow as we see a silhouette of Mr. Freeze kneeling before Nora’s capsule. He extends a hand towards her as the episode ends.

freezes vigil

Not quite as good as the image of Freeze in his cell at the end of “Heart of Ice,” but still an effective and memorable way to end the episode.

Mr. Freeze’s return is certainly welcomed given how well he was portrayed in “Heart of Ice.” Using Nora as a means to motivate him is also in-character and really the most appropriate way of doing it. The only other option would be to return the villain with another revenge angle, either resuming his quest to murder Boyle or in revealing there was another person associated with the accident, which would have been the lazy way of doing things. The portrayal of Freeze here feels authentic and in-line with his prior appearance. The only issue I really had with it is likely due to time constraints. He changes on a dime when confronted by Batman. One would think he’d be so consumed with restoring Nora that he would not have acted until he knew how to achieve it. It’s possible Walker was bluffing, or that he intended her to be able to exist in a sub-arctic environment alongside her husband after his plan was completed. That isn’t really explained. Perhaps had this been a two-parter such questions could have been addressed, and maybe that’s partly why the character will return in a feature-length production shortly.

The aspect of the episode that I can’t get over resides with the Grant Walker character. He is very obviously a Walt Disney parody. A theme park operator, the cryogenic connection, and even his appearance evoke Disney. Of course, the whole cryogenics rumor regarding Disney being frozen is just an urban legend, but it was still pretty popular in the early 90s. Oceania is also an obvious reference to Disney’s original interpretation for EPCOT, his Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. Now, it’s just Epcot with the acronym having been abandoned since it’s just a theme park, but his vision for it was more ambitious. As far as we know though, he never intended to create a utopia at the expense of the rest of the world. About the only thing missing is a reference to Walker being an anti-semite or something, though Batman does remark that people like Walker are obsessed with power and think they can do whatever they want.

The Disney part of the equation doesn’t offend me as someone who is a fan of Walt Disney. It’s just too on-the-nose to be clever, and in an episode centered around the show’s greatest villain and most melodramatic character feels off. The show was so reluctant to revisit Mr. Freeze because of how well “Heart of Ice” turned out, and yet what appeared to bring about his return feels like it began as a joke.

freeze bang

There are lots of visual callbacks to “Heart of Ice” in this one.

Like so many of this season’s episodes, this one is animated by Dong Yang Animation. It, more than some of the others, really seems to have that “toon” quality to it that shows up from time to time. Batman and Robin’s first fight with Walker’s robots being the best example of this, along with the character of Bat-Mite. With Bat-Mite, I assume that was the desired result as he’s basically a cartoon character. Still, I like it and Oceania is an interesting locale to visit. There’s also a fun visual callback to “Heart of Ice” when Freeze first confronts Batman. He’s drawn as a background with the only animated part being his mouth and his glowing, red, eyes. The return of the Freeze theme is also welcomed as it suits the character so well.

Since this is the next to last episode of the show, it obviously contains some final appearances. Grant Walker won’t be seen again, though he was returned in the comic tie-in to the show. Mr. Freeze will return once more in this form in the Batman & Mr. Freeze movie and will then transition to not only The New Batman Adventures, but Batman Beyond as well where his immortality is really put to the test. Most surprising though is that this episode is the sort of final appearance for Batman himself. He will appear in the last episode in a dream sequence, but otherwise is not a part of the plot. The episode also marks the last onscreen appearance for Alfred, though he doesn’t speak in either of his scenes. This is the final episode directed by Kevin Altieri, who has directed 19 episodes of the show including this one. Fans of this show likely encountered him next with The Spectacular Spider-Man. He currently works on Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters, but surprisingly has never returned to the DC Animated Universe.

In the end, “Deep Freeze” is a semi-satisfying return for Mr. Freeze. His character isn’t betrayed in any way, and it’s mostly a good thing that the show gave him another episode. His return was always going to be compared to “Heart of Ice” and it was likely not going to live up to it. And really, none of his following appearances will match that one. It was just the right time for him and there was no way to recreate the surprise fans felt when they actually discovered there was a way to make the character resonate in an emotional fashion. Prior to that episode, Mr. Freeze was just a joke, an old guy who made stuff cold. Under Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, with an assist from voice actor Michael Ansara, Mr. Freeze became so much more and is now probably one of the most famous villains associated with the property. That episode alone basically lead to a feature film, even if that film wasn’t very good (which wasn’t the fault of the character, but of a lot of things). I do wish this episode had gone in a different direction and didn’t lean heavily on a joke character, but ultimately it’s fine. A mid-tier episode for an upper tier villain.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Heart of Ice”

Heart_of_Ice_(Batman-_The_Animated_Series)Episode Number:  14

Original Air Date:  September 7, 1992

Directed by:  Bruce Timm

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  Mr. Freeze

Production episode number 14 was actually the third episode of Batman: The Animated Series to air. It’s also the first written and directed by the two individuals who receive the most credit for the success of the show, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, respectively. And wouldn’t you know, it’s also probably the best episode of the show and maybe the best episode of television based on a comic book.

heart-of-ice

“Heart of Ice” isn’t just the debut of Mr. Freeze for the show, but the start of a whole new life for the character.

Prior to this episode’s airing, its star villain Mr. Freeze was a bit of a joke. Dead in the comics, viewers most knew him from the campy 60’s TV series where he was just some old guy with an affinity for the cold. He was a nothing character and a throw-away villain for Batman to dispatch when a little variety was needed. After this episode, Mr. Freeze was suddenly a star villain in Batman’s rogues gallery and is now probably among his top adversaries in terms of notoriety. He was resurrected in the comics and his backstory was retconned to closely mirror the events of this episode. Freeze isn’t the only instance of the show influencing the comics, and it’s probably debatable which contribution from this show is most important:  Freeze or Harley Quinn. Regardless, this episode is my personal favorite from the show and one that stuck with me when I first saw it back in 1992. Prior to seeing this, I’m not sure if I had ever really empathized with a superhero villain on such a level and it really created a unique viewing experience for me as a child.

The episode opens in a foreboding fashion with a shot of a ballerina dancing in place. It’s a figurine encased in a snow globe and Mr. Freeze (Michael Ansara) is gazing at it longingly remarking how this is how he’ll always remember “you.” His character model is partially obscured by shadow and is illustrated like a background from the show clearly done on black paper. His mouth is the only thing that animates until his red, glowing eyes open. The eye bit makes no sense, since we’ll soon see that they’re goggles, but it does add a nice dramatic flourish which is something we will also see again.

Cut to a TV report from Summer Gleeson and the episode becomes a more conventional setup. Someone armed with an ice gun has been knocking off GothCorp locations and making off with some tech pieces. Batman, via his magic computer, is able to figure out what these pieces of equipment are being acquired for (a giant freeze canon) and knows what the next item targeted will be and where it’s manufactured. He’s able to arrive as Mr. Freeze and his henchmen hit the scene and Batman has his first encounter with his new adversary. Mr. Freeze, unlike some villains we’ve seen already, is debuting in the show and in the show’s universe as Batman has never encountered him before. We’re shown pretty early that he’s a vicious sort, not in his methods, but his mindset. He cares nothing for the men working for him or those his actions could harm. Batman is warned to stay out of his way, and he genuinely holds no ill will towards the caped crusader, but he also has no problem with killing him either. Freeze’s callousness is demonstrated in leaving behind one of his henchmen who he inadvertently froze. He shows no remorse and offers no apology that he froze the man with his handy ice gun and Batman is forced to help the guy out at the cost of letting Freeze escape.

hqdefault-27

Victor Fries seen pleading with Ferris Boyle not to pull the plug on his wife.

Batman decides he needs to do a little sleuthing about Freeze and goes straight to the source:  GothCorp CEO Ferris Boyle (Mark Hamill). Boyle is at a loss as to why someone would be targeting his company, but does tell Batman (as Bruce Wayne) that a former research scientist would possibly hold a grudge due to the company pulling funding, but adds that he died in a lab accident. It’s a curious thing to bring up if the man is dead, but it’s enough of a lead for Bruce to return as Batman to scour the security tapes. He locates the one for the accident Boyle mentioned and witnesses a rather disturbing scene. Scientist Victor Fries (pronounced Freeze, naturally) was experimenting with cryogenics and freezing a live human to place them into a state of suspended animation. His test subject was his wife, Nora, as she was terminally ill with what we can only assume is likely some form of cancer, and he hopes to keep her in this state until a cure is found. Boyle storms in with some guards to tell Fries his funding is being withdrawn as it’s proving too costly. He has the apparatus housing Nora Fries shutdown, despite the protests of Victor as this will surely result in his wife’s demise. Boyle cares little for the predicament of Nora, and when Victor begs him to reconsider Boyle tosses him aside into a bunch of random chemicals. Victor can only look on helplessly as his wife is essentially murdered before his eyes, the contact with the chemicals apparently resulting in his current state. It’s a haunting video, though I can’t help but snicker a little at the dramatic cuts contained in supposed security footage, but it helps tell the story.

hqdefault-26

Zzzzzap!

Batman is horrified, and even utters a “My God,” at the sight which was surprisingly allowed to make it to air as any mention of God like that is usually rejected by network censors for a kid’s show. Mr. Freeze conveniently shows up to offer a little commentary on Batman’s reaction to the security footage before firing his ice gun at the screen ending the scene. Batman is taken prisoner and suspended from the ceiling via ice shackles. From here he’s able to pry Mr. Freeze about the night Boyle ruined his life. The “accident” he suffered has forced him to reside in a sub-zero temperature as he cannot live in any other climate. The suit he wears keeps him alive, and we’ll learn later it also triples his strength making him a pretty good physical adversary as well for Batman. Batman offers his sympathy and tries to reason with Freeze, but Freeze doesn’t care. His heart is ice and he only desires revenge against the man who murdered his wife and no one will stand in his way.

heartofice

I’ve seen enough cartoons and movies to know that you probably shouldn’t just leave Batman like this.

This is where Freeze makes the mistake of behaving like a typical villain, for all of his bluster about not caring about the lives of those who get in his way, he makes the mistake of leaving Batman alive. He even spills the beans on his plan to crash a dinner where Boyle is being presented with a humanitarian award, and soon departs with his super weapon now complete. Batman is left to extricate himself from his confines and pursue Freeze. He’s able to arrive just in time as Freeze is in the process of encasing a begging, pleading, Boyle in ice. Batman even retrieves his utility belt, and it’s a good thing, because Alfred had equipped him with a thermos of chicken soup to fight off a cold he acquired during the episode which comes in handy when he uses it to smash the glass bubble around Freeze’s head. He hands the Gotham PD the security tape he took from GothCorp depicting what happened to Nora Fries. The episode ends on a sad scene of Mr. Freeze in his frozen prison cell gazing at his snow globe representation of his wife apologizing through tears that he could not avenge her.

“Heart of Ice” is a triumph due to its story-telling and its style. Mr. Freeze has a retro sci-fi look with a dash of Darth Vader thrown in. His voice is modulated and fuzzy since it’s being amplified by the suit, and the red goggles work to hide any emotion his eyes could convey. His brow is in a constant frown and his cold mannerisms are achieved naturally without being too overstated by the character (something the film version from Batman & Robin was unable to achieve). His ice gun is a fun piece of animation and it’s particularly neat to see him use it in a manner similar to how Marvel’s Ice Man uses his powers when he smashes a fire hydrant and creates an ice track to a high rise. The pacing of the episode is well done, though the limited running time is felt a bit when Batman is able to figure out Freeze is improbably building a giant ice canon right away. I guess an ice canon isn’t a completely foreign concept to Batman. There is also a goof that probably bothers Timm and Dini when they watch this when the colors on Batman’s logo are flipped, and I do kind of hate that Freeze just captures Batman and makes the classic villain error of revealing his hand to the hero and letting him live to do something about it.

The shortcomings for “Heart of Ice” are real and go beyond nitpicking, but they’re not enough to do any real harm to the episode or take away from the fantastic back story dreamed up by Dini for the character of Mr. Freeze. Giving him the motivation of wanting to avenge his lost wife, and in turn making Boyle the real villain of the episode, means the viewer is in some scenes rooting against Batman. We want to see Boyle get what’s coming to him and we don’t want Freeze punished further. At the same time, the episode does make the crimes of Mr. Freeze obvious so it doesn’t go too far in making him sympathetic. The tragic air of the episode’s conclusion is a somber touch to end on, and appropriate one given the mood of the episode. The only real drawback is it’s too good, making it hard for the show to come back to the character because how can it possibly top this?

Heart-of-Ice-BatmanThankfully, Mr. Freeze avoids the Two-Face treatment which saw that villain return more than once as basically a conventional Batman foil. The show never forgets the true motivation for Freeze and Nora is a part of the few times he does reappear. He never schemes with the Joker or serves as hired muscle for Poison Ivy. And best of all, Mr. Freeze is provided a legacy that still endures today making him one of Batman’s greatest foes, and he owes it all to this episode of a children’s cartoon.


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