“Deep Freeze” (season 2, episode 19; originally aired 11/26/1994)
Victor Fries’ Emmy-winning debut was such a masterful story that the Batman: The Animated Series producers wanted to keep it a permanent one-off story and never return to Mr. Freeze again. “Deep Freeze” isn’t as poetic or emotional as “Heart Of Ice,” but Mr. Freeze remains one of this series’ most compelling villains, even in a more traditional superhero plot. The story by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm begins with a robot breaking Fries out of Arkham Asylum and taking him to Oceania, the marine utopia masterminded by theme-park revolutionary Grant Walker. Reunited by Walker with his long-lost wife, Fries is offered the chance to be with Nora again—all he has to do is help his captor become a human popsicle like him.
In Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV’s Batman Annual #1, it was revealed that in the New 52 continuity, Nora Fields isn’t Victor Fries’ wife, but the first person ever cryogenically frozen. A cryonics-obsessed Fries deludes himself into believing this woman is his wife, resulting in a much crazier version of Mr. Freeze that maintains the love connection that made the B:TAS incarnation so captivating. I bring this up because Grant Walker is a lot like the New 52 Mr. Freeze, a man obsessed with achieving a state of “blessed, eternal cold.”
What is lost in Mr. Freeze’s New 52 origin is the tragedy of being trapped in a world of numbness when all you want is to feel. Victor Fries was accidentally caught in the chill while trying to save his wife, but Grant Walker wants to be frozen and have everything in his perfect world remain static. When Walker wants to become a frozen man, too, Victor expresses his discontent in a rare moment of emotion: “You want to live like this? Abandoned and alone? A prisoner in a world you can see, but never touch? Old and infirm as you are, I’d trade 1,000 years for your worst day.” Walker doesn’t understand what eternal life means when you can’t feel anything, but he isn’t concerned with feelings and emotions—he wants power and order.
To find out who abducted Freeze, Batman and Robin check in with Gotham’s resident robot guy Karl Rossum, who has totally not gone crazy—he’s just dedicated his life to making living toys to keep him company. I feel like the creators wanted to find a way to get Bat-Mite on this show before it ended, so they had Rossum come back in a peripheral role in this story. (The series also has an affinity for William Sanderson—Rossum is one of the few characters modeled after a voice actor—and the writers probably liked having him back when it suited their story.) Rossum worked as one of Walker’s “Visioneers,” beginning this episode’s many allusions to Walt Disney, who is represented by the megalomaniacal ruler of Oceania.
Paul Dini and Bruce Dini essentially built an entire plot around the urban myth that Walt Disney was cryogenically frozen, looking at how a man like Disney would function in a heightened superhero world. Walker’s Oceania is intended to be the perfect world, but winter must come before spring, and to prevent any interference from the outside, Walker plans on freezing Gotham City for five years. During that time, Oceania can grow into a world without crime, violence, or pain. Or free will, as Robin points out. Walker’s city shares the name of George Orwell’s dystopia in 1984, and Walker is portrayed as Big Brother, keeping everyone in line with the promise of a perfect society. “Walt Disney as Big Brother” is a theme that Grant Morrison would further expand on in his Vertigo miniseries Seaguy, but not in the same mustache-twirling supervillain vein as “Deep Freeze.”
In order to get Mr. Freeze to help him, Walker reveals his ace in the hole: Nora’s presumed-disappeared body. It works initially, but once Batman shows up, Nora’s presence becomes the thing that destroy’s Walker’s plan. Batman appeals to Fries’ feelings for his wife and asks how she would feel is she saw what her husband was doing, and he’s motivated to betray Walker and destroy Oceania. The episode becomes a traditional beat-’em-up/heroic-escape story at this point, but it’s fun to see Victor Fries fighting for the angels. He doesn’t want to be a supervillain, he just wants to be with his wife—and hopefully, with the destruction of Oceania they can be together in death.
When Batman tries to stop Freeze from blowing up the city, Freeze traps Robin in a block of ice and forces the Dynamic Duo to retreat before Robin dies of hypothermia. As Oceania goes under, Victor and Nora are trapped together in a block of ice. Against a melancholy blue background (see the screenshot above), Victor says, “We are together again, my love.” As he kneels before his frozen wife, the empty white space of his helmet emphasizes how alone he is, even though he’s finally reunited with his lost beloved.
- Batman Beatdown: When one of Walker’s robots is starting up the freeze ray, Batman drops from the ceiling, crushes the bot, and throws a batarang that decapitates the two machines that Robin is fighting.
- The episode foreshadows Nora’s reappearance nicely, by having Victor’s ballerina snow globe shatter when he’s pulled out of Arkham. He won’t need the fake Nora, because he’ll have the real one soon.
- “Yes, eternal life trapped in this wretched shell. What a miserable joke.” Michael Ansara’s Mr. Freeze comes right after Kevin Conroy’s Batman and Mark Hamill’s Joker when it comes to the show’s most definitive character voice.