Batman: The Animated Series, in. . . HEART OF ICE

Look outside your window. What do you see? Maybe you see some trees in the distance, all their leaves are gone. Maybe you see some birds flying south for the winter. Look outside, look real hard, and you'll see the chill in the air. Do you feel it in your bones? If you do, then maybe you're ready for. . .

"Heart of Ice" was the 14th episode in the 1st season of Batman: The Animated Series. Helmed by creative geniuses like Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, with a rockin' score from Danny Elfman, B:TAS pushed the industry forward and created a number of Batman stories that have seeped into the comics. Today we examine the episode of Mr. Freeze's origin. After the credits sweep you in, and after the episode title, we zoom in on the snowglobe of a ballet dancer.

Through a raspy, almost monotone voice, we hear,
"This is how I'll always remember you. Surrounded by winter. Forever young, forever beautiful. Rest well my love. The monster who took you from me will soon learn that revenge is a dish, best served cold."
It's a chilling voice that tells us his story. He wants revenge, and he wants us to know it.

Cut to Summer Gleeson, news reporter for your channel 12 news break! Someone's been stealing a number of Gothcorp industrial machines, leaving a blizzard in the wake. CEO of Gothcorp, Ferris Boyle implores the criminal to come talk to him about the items. Because, after all, Gothcorp is a people company.

Zoom out to Batman. He turns off the news and resumes his investigation on the Gothcorp raids. The machines don't seem to have a connection, but in this one configuration, they almost seem to make. . . a blizzard machine. There's just only one component missing, and only one factory has that component!

Batman, in a show of his detective skills, grabs the Batmobile and heads out. Sure enough, Mr. Freeze is making a raid on the factory with his goonies, and we enter a chase scene! Mr. Freeze peeks his freeze gun out, and freezes the pavement before Batman.

Batman crashes into a warehouse! I thought this was amazing. How often do we see things like this? Batman is still a man, and even for all his gadgets, he is still fallible. Even he is prone to car crashes.

We're left hanging as to Batman's fate, but as for Mr. Freeze, he's raiding the factory! After freezing up the door to block the security guards, we get back to Batman. The Batmobile's hatch opens and he jumps out, fearlessly! This guy is relentless, and he'll stop at nothing to stop crime. He catches up to the criminals, and takes them out, one by one. After sweeping the legs of the three thugs surrounding him, he defiantly points at the supercriminal and says,

"FREEZE!" It's a dash of humor that we don't see very often in the Dark Knight. Mr. Freeze ices the Batarang that Batman tosses at him, and proceeds to target Batman himself. After accidentally freezing one of his own thugs, Johnny, Freeze eventually succeeds. When the other thugs try to help Johnny up to escape, Mr. Freeze commands them to leave him! This sets up an important character trait of Freeze's: he's a douchebag he's a dispassionate, detached man. Revenge is all he has left.

Batman being Batman, of course, he breaks out and notices that Mr. Freeze is getting away, while Johnny is suffering from his legs being frozen in blocks of ice. He looks between the two of them, but for him the choice is easy: save Johnny. Where Mr. Freeze will shrug off the people around him for vengeance, Batman foregoes justice to protect the people hurt by it.

Back at the Batcave, Batman's put Johnny in a chemical bath to protect him from hypothermia. Alfred has a great remark.
With all those compartments on your belt, you'd think there'd be one for tissues.

Batman is only human -- and he's got a cold! After warming the ice off of Johnny's legs, Bruce Wayne has a meeting with Gothcorp's CEO, Ferris Boyle. In the conversation, Ferris Boyle talks about one employee who used company time and money for his own projects (COUGHfreezeCOUGH). He goes on,
Look, Bruce. That "People Company" line is great PR, but when the wage slaves start acting like they own the place, it's time to pull the plug.
Ferris Boyle begins to show his true colors, but not before he gets a call from the Humanitarian Industrialist Committee. Boyle's won an award, and it's to be presented at a gala this very night! His interview with Summer Gleeson is put up on the news, and the television is frozen to the point of explosion and we hear, in that chilling voice again:
Humanity. Compassion! Charity. Where were those pretty words when she needed to hear them.
Mr. Freeze mushes his goonies on the construction of his blizzard machine. They've gotta finish it tonight.

Cut back to Batman. Bruce's conversation with Boyle reminds him of an old article from a year back. Sifting through the records of the newspaper, he finds it. His detective skills come into play again, and he knows who to look for. He knows what to do, and sets out, right after Alfred gives him a thermos of chicken soup.

"Chicken soup," he says, "Only way to fight a cold."

Cut to the gala now! The security guard is bored, and he's approached by another security guard, with a Jersey accent. After sneezing, he tells him that he'll be taking his place. If you listen closely, you can hear that Kevin Conroy voice in the security guard -- it's what Bruce Wayne would sound like if he was from Joisey! It's details like these that make this story so rich. No moment is wasted, and a piece of the story is told in seconds. Animation accomplishes a story beat that comic books would take at least a page to tell.

Now that Batman's gained access to the building, he sifts through Gothcorp records, anything that can prove to him Mr. Freeze's identity. We see Batman as a detective. Before he can act, before he can impose justice, he has to know, to be able to prove the facts.

He runs into a videocassette of Dr. Victor Fries. There's hair on the Doctor's head, and his voice sounds -- human. In the video he explains the cryogenics system that he's devised, along with his wife, Nora, sustained in a chamber. As he's explaining the system, Boyle bursts in the laboratory with a couple of security guards. Boyle demands that Fries shut down the system and quit wasting company time! Fries gets into a struggle: this is his life's work after all, meant to sustain the last hope for his wife! Boyle pushes Fries into a bunch of chemicals, which engulf the poor doctor. Boyle and the guards seal the room, and we see the lone hand of Dr. Fries, grasping for his wife, and slipping.

After watching the video, Batman can only say, "My god. . ." which is followed by an icy voice behind him.
Yes. It would move me to tears. . . If I still had tears to shed.
Mr. Freeze puts Batman on ice and proceeds to interrupt the gala. There's another great story beat where the valet asks Mr. Freeze, "Keys?" This is how he responds.

BY GLARING AT HIM IN THE FACE. It's a great moment that, again, animation can tell in seconds. He has his minions set up the blizzard machine and creates a wall of ice that traps everyone inside the gala. When Batman wrecks the machine, Mr. Freeze takes matters into his own hands and rides the water from a fire hydrant right into the party.

Mr. Freeze makes a beeline for Ferris Boyle, and freezes him.

When Boyle begs, Mr. Freeze has a great line,
You beg? In my nightmares I see my Nora behind the glass begging to me with frozen eyes. How I've longed to see that look frozen on you.
When Batman interferes, and of course he does, Mr. Freeze admits that the suit that keeps him in subzero also triples his strength. When Freeze has the caped crusader in a choke grip, Batman pulls out a warm thermos from his hand and breaks it on Mr. Freeze. It was the thermos of chicken soup that Alfred gave him earlier! The thermos cracks Freeze's helmet, and cripples him.

He crawls toward Boyle, and he utters one last word before he collapses: "revenge," to which Batman responds, "Not revenge. Justice." He shows the tapes of Ferris Boyle's that destroyed not one, but two lives. The both of them are incarcerated, but we only get to see Mr. Freeze in prison.

We end with the same way we began: Mr. Freeze lamenting his wife's death. From start to finish, Mr. Freeze is a man stuck (frozen?) on one event in his life. He can't get past it and he can't escape it.

That's the episode. I love the voice that they gave to Mr. Freeze -- it just sends chills up my spine to hear. There are some great lines from him that I didn't mention, as well as other great scenes, but I've rambled for long enough. What really makes this episode excellent are the individual beats from every character. Mr. Freeze's sadness and his loss of humanity. Batman as the relentless, inquisitive detective, culminating in his discovery of Mr. Freeze's tragic origin. The humanity of Batman, from the compassion that he shows Johnny right down to the human fallibility of having the common cold. It's some of the most amazing 21 minutes of storytelling that I've ever witnessed.

Of a dude who dresses up as a bat anyways.

If you've taken the time to read this, you can surely take the time to watch the episode. It's on DC Beyond's website. You might want to mute the obnoxious Green Lantern trading card adverts. After watching it, I looked the episode up on Wikipedia: this episode's won an Emmy, and the origin for Freeze was so good that they retconned it to include it in the comic books! Good stuff.

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