Batman: The Animated Series, “Deep Freeze”

24Jun12

Mister Freeze returns, and thank God he didn’t come back sooner.

I don’t mean that because I have any issues with him. If anything, as a kid I loved his origin episode, and the fact that he didn’t show again until near the very end bothered me so much. He was so cool! Why don’t they use him more? What’s wrong with these people?!? Well, this was one of my more youthful adventures in being wrong as a fan, because it would be easy for Freeze to get overexposed. After all, he only had one motivation in his origin: revenge against the man who killed his wife. Without that to drive him, why would he try to escape prison? Why would he team up with anyone else? He worked so well as a one-shot adversary because he was given room to breathe in his episode, and then his story ended in a heartbreaking, elegant moment of regret. If nothing else, you believed that Freeze really did love his wife Nora, and ached at the fact that she’d been taken from him.

That makes it a little jarring to find out that a Walt Disney analogue kidnaps Freeze and blackmails him by revealing that Nora Fries is not, in fact, dead. However, it’s the only natural evolution of the character; it gives Freeze something to fight for, not just against. Finding a way to save Nora is the only thing that matters if she’s still alive. Thankfully, this episode also gives the story room to breathe, as Freeze is clearly shown to be completely uninterested in helping an old man live forever…until the right leverage is revealed.

Speaking of that kidnapping, it’s neat that Batman is observant enough to note that Freeze doesn’t look happy or glad to see a giant robot show up and take him out of his cell, but afraid. And that he consults Carl Rossum (last seen in “His Silicon Soul”) about it without accusing him of kidnapping Freeze. Obviously having such a visible kidnapping gives him plenty of clues to work with, but I’d rather have a proactive Batman than one who can’t put two and two together until the plot allows him.

Our Walt Disney impersonator, Walker, wants Freeze to help him live forever, as it turns out the accident that made Freeze who he is has greatly slowed down his physical decay. Also, he’s building an island city to get away from the scary mainland, and plans to….freeze everyone outside the island? For some reason? I’ll admit that I’m pretty leery of Libertarian principles, especially when they revolve around “I got mine, screw you.” But I’m pretty sure that even the most isolationist, “let’s live out in the middle of the ocean to make our own rules” Libertarians don’t plan to murder the rest of the world to boot. Then again, we’re talking about a man who wants to be immortal through freezing himself without losing consciousness, so he’s pretty warped already. That or he’s just very bored; after all, he makes his missiles look like sharks when he sends them after Batman and Robin.

As ridiculous as that plan is, it does give Batman the leverage to convince Freeze to stop Walker, using Nora as the same point of leverage; specifically, pointing out how she’ll hate him for helping to create a dead world. Once again, the ’emotionless’ man cracks and gives in to anger, before having to concede the point. Freeze may be dedicated to saving his wife at any cost, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be reasoned with.

Having said that, don’t turn to Freeze for quiet actions. Rather than trying to do anything stealthy to stop Walker’s plan to kill the rest of the globe (or is it just Gotham? It’s not clear whether they’re targeting everyone, or just looking to freeze the Super Villain capital of the US), Freeze walks in, and starts freezing all of the robotic operators in front of Walker and his assistant. The chilly man does not give a fuck. Batman and Robin have to step in to save him from robot attacks, but he’s still able to overload the giant ice cannon, pop onto the giant monitor to warn everyone to get out before they get killed-and five seconds later, giant ice spikes are ripping up through the ground. Nice of Freeze to warn everyone, but maybe a little more time could have been used? While the perfect city uses the lifeboats provided by the one person on staff smart enough to assume things could go wrong, Batman tries to get Freeze to evacuate as well; Freeze refuses once, then zaps Robin to make Batman leave. After commandeering one giant boat just for him and Robin, they make their escape before the city explodes, leaving both Walker and Freeze to float away in separate chunks of ice; Walker on his own, and Freeze with Nora and her canister. Though there is no ending monologue as there was in “Heart of Ice,” it’s still an arresting image to see the two of them together. Never mind that neither of them will survive for long in a giant chunk of ice…

This is another blockbuster episode with Mister Freeze, giving him a perfect 2-0 record in the Fox series. If anything, it’s arguably stronger than “Heart of Ice.” Freeze isn’t defeated with chicken soup, and he gets to win on his own terms at the end, without making Batman look weak or unimportant. Here, at least, Freeze is less a member of Batman’s rogues gallery, and more a character in his own right; with some minor changes, he could even be used in a heroic capacity instead of as an antagonist. The only other person you could say that of is Catwoman, and she doesn’t have the driving motivation Freeze does. If Freeze represents anything about Batman’s personality, it’s Batman’s drive without the tempering influence of compassion; he does love his wife, and he’s not as emotionless as he claims. But if there’s anything he does lack, it’s concern for others when Nora is involved.

On the visual front, “Deep Freeze” is full of good images. But while there’s some nice animation in this episode, it’s not in every scene; for example, when the robots drop Robin, the frame rate drops noticeably. That’s not a constant issue, thankfully, but it keeps this from being among the highest animation quality episodes.

Go watch “Deep Freeze.” There is no debating, just go watch it. It’s that good.

 

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