Many Batman villains were featured in the famous Adam West/Burt Ward Batman TV show in the 1960s. These villains were portrayed in a comedic manner, and many people blame this television series for the fact that many people don’t take Batman, his rogues gallery or even comics in general, very seriously. However, no Batman villain that starred in that television show had their public image hurt as much as Mr. Freeze did by appearing in Batman and Robin in 1997. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Joel Schumacher have so much to answer for. Please, as we speak about Mr. Freeze, try to block out the image of that movie and that portrayal. Honestly, for your own sanity, blocking out that movie in general may be for the best. Therapy helps. I went that route. I understand they can do amazing things with hypnotism these days as well, and lobotomies are covered by a surprising number of health care plans.
With that abomination placed behind us, let’s take a look at Mr. Freeze. He was actually introduced back in 1959 and was called Mr. Zero. He was never used much in the comics, and certainly not used with any sort of real backstory or personality until that aforementioned Batman TV series, where he became one of the many villains made more popular by appearing on the show. It was the TV series that renamed him Mr. Freeze, and that name soon carried over to the comics. However, while the TV series caused a short surge in interest for Freeze in the comics, it didn’t last and he soon began to languish in obscurity once again. In fact, he was killed by the Joker in the comics, and may not have been seen again if not for Batman: The Animated Series.
For anyone who likes super-heroes, Batman, animation or well-told stories of any genre, Batman: The Animated Series is a must-see. One of the strongest portrayals of a super-hero I have ever seen, this series, with very few missteps, managed to create and re-energize many of the members of the Batman family. However, of all the characters who were favorably helped by this series, Mr. Freeze may rank at the top. In his debut episode, the animated series managed to take his origin (his wife is dying of an incurable disease; Freeze, an accomplished scientist cryogenically freezes her until a cure can be found; an unscrupulous businessman attempts to stop the cryogenic process; in the ensuing scuffle, Freeze is thrown into chemicals that turn him into the supervillain we all know and his wife is killed) and wring the pathos and tragedy from it. Freeze had always been a cold character; the animated series made him cool.
His death was quickly reversed in the comic books, and he returned to action. However, it seems that he’s not been able to retain the cool mystique that the animated series bestowed upon him when he appears in the comics. You would think that his reinvention would have made it easier for him to retain the interest that the animated series had created in the character. After all, he went from this:
See? Much cooler now. However, his appearances have been lackluster, and writers seem unsure of what to do with him. I’m not sure why, but I believe he suffers at least partly from a problem we identified with Clayface….he’s too powerful for Batman. Writers tend to look at his abilities and just write them, rather than writing his personality. Now, unlike Clayface, I don’t think you can or should reduce Freeze’s powers. Making him weaker in any way would fundamentally change the character; he IS cold, both in powers and personality, and that’s important. However, he has quite a bit to add to Batman’s rogues gallery that makes him stand out. First of all, he does have power, making Freeze and Killer Croc perhaps Batman’s only two really powerful foes. Unlike Croc, however, Freeze is also brilliant, making him, in my opinion, the toughest opponent Batman faces amongst his regular villains (in fact, I think that perhaps Freeze is limited by being stuck in Batman’s rogues gallery, and perhaps should be let loose on the larger DC universe).
Freeze is also an unusual foe for Batman because he is not insane. He is rational and analytical, making him a very different kind of enemy. However, the fact that Freeze is sane points out one of the problems in the character: motivation. Writers can get away with having the Joker commit atrocities because the Joker is insane, but why does Freeze do what he does? He wasn’t a criminal before his accident and his original motivation of revenge against those who he believes are responsible for the death of his wife seems to have been left behind. So, if we’re going to make Freeze a workable character now, I would ask, why does he do what he does?
See, I dunno, I would argue that his sanity is tenuous at best. He may not be on the same level as Joker or Mad Hatter, but Freeze is definitely at least slightly unhinged. As you point out, the initial motivation for his villainy is long gone yet he still broods and plots and fights. Remind you of anyone else?
I think that’s where the viability of the character lies: in his oddly parallel resemblance to Batman. Let’s face it, Batman’s original motivation is decades past, but he continues to fight the darkness in the name of justice. Doesn’t that mean Freeze must battle the bright lights in the name of chaos?
The way I see it, Mr. Freeze is all about making life difficult for others out of spite. His life didn’t turn out the way he wanted. He was successful, happily married and…uh…non-frozen. But what did that get him? NOTHING. So now his only real motivation is to see others suffer, either directly at his hands or as a consequence of his actions.
That’s, literally, cold-hearted.
With his power and his determination, he could easily cause much havoc in Gotham City. If you read the J.H. Williams and Dan Curtis Johnson-penned “Snow” storyline, then you know that Freeze has no problem taking out anyone who gets in his way…freezing and shattering innocent police officers included. Batman can’t get too close to him for fear of being popsicle-ized himself. Perhaps Freeze just wants to inconvenience as many people as he can. What’s more inconvenient than an unexpected ice storm? Freeze can shut down the Gotham transportation system…take out power plants…even ice over the servers that transmit financial data throughout the city.
Conversely, there’s the continued quest to find a cure that may be driving him slowly insane too. Could be simply lashing out at the perfect world he doesn’t feel he’s a part of anymore. Or maybe he realizes the extent of his power and figures, since he lost all the important things in his life already, he’s now free to take whatever he wants. Maybe a power struggle with Black Mask and Penguin for a chunk of Gotham’s underworld? I don’t think he necessarily feels he needs to battle Batman. There’s no vendetta against him. In fact, he may even view him sympathetically somehow. We could also go for a King Midas angle with him (not sure how that fits in with anything). I also agree he could be a good DC villain across the board…feeling at home in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude…or battling the other cold-themed villains (Icicle, Killer Frost, Captain Cold, etc.) for dominance.
I’m not sure of the specifics of any of this, but that might give you a spark from which to work. Sorry, I’m a bit scatterbrained today. You willing to pick up the slack here?
Not to start this discussion here (since it’s something we may get to when we actually discuss Batman), but do you realize that you made the argument that Batman’s insane? You drew parallels between Batman and Freeze, and then argued that Freeze is a little insane. I’m not necessarily saying I disagree that Batman is often written as at least slightly insane, although I would argue that I don’t believe that’s an appropriate interpretation of the character. However, that is a digression for another post.
Moving back to Freeze, is he insane? I suppose that depends on how we’re defining insanity. He’s certainly sociopathic, in his complete disregard for the lives and property of others. Webster’s defines insanity as a “deranged state of mind or lack of understanding.” I would still contend that Freeze is not insane; I do not believe he is deranged, and I think he understands what he is doing very well. I just don’t think he cares. I’m not sure why I’m bothering to argue the definition of insanity, as I think we both agree that Freeze is very different from most of Batman’s villains in that he is more rational and controlled. In the end, you would win the argument (at least from DC’s point of view) since they throw him in Arkham when they catch him.
I do want to touch on some other points you made. First of all, I would immediately dismiss the plot about Freeze trying to find a cure. It’s never made sense to me; why would Freeze want a cure? His wife is dead and he has no reason to return to humanity. I would tend to agree that much of his motivation boils down to “My life sucks; now yours does too.” That shows a degree of fatalism, of realizing that things are bad and there is nothing he can do to change what has happened, that makes his search for a cure very incongruous with the rest of his character. So, I think that plot point gets booted.
You mention two different plot points that I like, and that I think fit together. First of all, I really like the idea of portraying him as something of the anti-Batman; Batman saw criminals take away the two people who mattered most to him in the world, and so now he fights those criminals. Freeze saw respected members of society take away the one person who mattered most to him in the world, so now he fights society. I think that’s a fine motivation; it makes Freeze something of a nihilist, which I imagine he probably doesn’t mention to any henchmen he might have. He still needs to rob and gain money, both to finance his other plans, and also because that hurts society. Most of his henchmen probably assume that’s all he really is; a high-powered crook. However, Freeze is working on levels they don’t suspect, as he works to undermine the very fabric of society.
You also mentioned that Freeze finds no particular reason to fight Batman, which I also agree with wholeheartedly. Freeze is virtually passionless, and what emotion he does retain he saves for his hatred of a society that betrayed him. He’s not going to waste it on Batman. Batman is small potatoes; Freeze thinks big. I think that it makes a lot more sense to kick Freeze loose of the Bat-Books (is there any logical reason that he always carries out his plans in Gotham City, besides editorial fiat that he’s a Bat-villain?) and allow him to terrorize the DC Universe at large. If Freeze really wants to kick out some of the pillars that hold up society, what better target than super-heroes? Surely he’d be happy to knock a Flash out of Keystone City or a Starman out of Opal City, the better to destabilize the community who counts on those heroes.
Of course, Freeze is no idiot. He’s not likely to roll into Coast City and start duking it out with Green Lantern. That’s the path of defeat. It’s been stated in various stories that Freeze may be virtually immortal; since his body is basically frozen, it won’t age. Freeze is patient, and he can afford to be. If he sets his sights on taking down Green Lantern, for example, he’s going to devise a plot to do so. It might take a year or so for this plot to come to fruition, and the plot itself might not be readily apparent to either the hero or other villains who may be involved in it, but there would be a plot slowly moving forward. By this same token, if we want to keep him in Gotham City, we can always have his first target be Batman. Batman is a hugely important member of the super-hero community, and if he were killed, it would strongly destabilize both the other heroes and the city that Batman protects.
In the end, here’s how I see this working; Freeze wants a hero dead or at least removed from the field as a hero, to advance his goal of revenge on a society that betrayed him. No matter who the hero is, it’s not a personal issue. Freeze doesn’t hate the hero (even Batman); the hero is simply in Freeze’s way. Freeze knows that killing a hero isn’t easy, because if it was, everyone could do it. He devises a plot to bring about the effect he wants (and again, perhaps death isn’t his goal, but some other way of neutering a hero….how effective is Batman if you freeze his leg off, or give him severe enough frostbite that his toes have to be amputated? If doing either of those is easier than killing Batman, perhaps Freeze would go in that direction.), a plot which will take some time, and perhaps is a little byzantine. The reader would see Freeze in the hero’s book on and off for maybe a year, performing actions which seem to lead to one conclusion. Then, at the end, Freeze’s true plan is revealed, and we find out that he’s actually been going in a different direction all along.
Think that’s workable?
You’re completely correct in your reasoning. I think I was grasping for a word and I just couldn’t find it. I don’t think either Batman or Freeze is insane. They’re both completely capable of reasoned thinking. They both have full use of their faculties. And they both understand the consequences of their actions. The big difference is that Freeze just flat out doesn’t care anymore. You’re right in labeling him as a fatalist and a nihilist. I’d also suggest that he’s angry, calculating and misanthropic.
A storyline pursuing a cure wouldn’t make sense under these revelations. Because he doesn’t care anymore. He knows his fate and he has accepted it, but that doesn’t mean he’s happy about it. I also don’t think you can build any sort of emotional storyarc that plays on the weakness in his soul for the loss of his wife. First of all, I don’t believe he has emotions anymore. And, secondly, he’s not insane…he knows his wife is dead and isn’t coming back (even in the realm of comic book logic). There’s no way he would be tricked into following an apparition or doppelganger of his deceased spouse unless he wanted whoever was pulling the strings to think that he was hypnotized so that he could exact some sort of revenge upon them at the right moment.
Not that you made it a big point or anything, but I also don’t think he’d ever have henchmen. They’d just get in his way. He despises society. He doesn’t want to surround himself with happy-go-lucky, warm-blooded meatbags. He has turned his back on that life just as they turned on him. Which brings me back to my first story idea: terrorism. You argue that he’d pursue a strategy that would seek to eliminate heroes as society’s pillars. But I see it a completely different way. I think he would avoid mixing it up with the heroes because of the chance of being beat. Like most terrorists, he would pursue the path of least resistance that also led to the greatest amount of upheaval. Taking out a hero is a blow to morale, but it doesn’t really change society. Now, granted, we’re talking about superhero books and some sort of conflict has to happen, but I don’t think he’d necessarily be looking for it.
Like I said before: transportation systems, food & water supplies, data streams, financial foundations, anything that would adversely affect the weather or temperatures. These are the things he’s looking to disrupt in a big way. Maybe he has amplified his power and freezes a commercial airliner right out of the sky. Maybe he freezes the elevated train tracks and makes them crumble like glass under the weight of the train. Maybe he freezes the entire sewer system of Gotham, making mains burst and flood the city, ruining the drinking water and spreading disease.
Whatever he does, he hits quickly and unexpectedly and gets out of Dodge. He thrives on panic. And I think he starts in Gotham because that’s where he’s based, but also because his first actions would be a symbolic attempt to “break out” of the city and go bigger. Ultimately, anything he does is going to draw the attention of Batman. It’s a given and I think he’d be resigned to that fact. But like you said, he doesn’t necessarily have to defeat Batman, he just has to subdue him. Frozen toes will make pursuit impossible!
They call Ra’s Al Ghul an “eco-terrorist,” but I think Freeze would give him a run for his money. What say you?
That is a very interesting idea. I certainly can’t argue with your reasoning on why using his dead wife as a gimmick wouldn’t work. That makes a lot of sense. I also understand why you’re saying he wouldn’t have henchmen. That also makes sense. And let’s be honest….he doesn’t need henchmen. Again, this guy is pretty powerful. Someone like the Joker needs henchmen to keep Batman busy while he both completes his plan and chortles like a madman. Freeze can easily keep Batman busy while completing his own plans, and he doesn’t chortle. So, henchment useless.
In many ways, your terrorist idea is boiling him down to his core and continues to set him apart from the rest of the Rogues Gallery. This guy is becoming less of a man and more of an unstoppable force. He literally is a force of nature. I have no problem divorcing him from the idea of fighting super-heroes, at least of his own choice. As you say, once he starts committing acts of eco-terrorism, the heroes will find him, so you’ll still get your daily dosage of capes and tights.
I really like the idea of a villain who doesn’t really care to kill the heroes, and would just prefer them out of his way so he can do more important things. I think you’ve really nailed the character, and I think this positions him as a unique foe for our Dark Knight.