Bringing back a character from the original Batman animated series is tough. That show reimagined characters in ways that bled out into the comics and pop culture in ways that still resonate today. Batman Beyond is a very different world from that of Batman: The Animated Series, even if it was made just a few years after. The way Batman Beyond handles Mr. Freeze isn’t a bad way to go about it.
Batman Beyond: Meltdown
Things are going badly for Derek Powers, the heavily irradiated CEO of Wayne-Powers who moonlights as a glowing green skeleton. While his synthetic skin is still working, his radioactive output is growing, and that causes it to break through the skin more and more quickly. A new member of his support team, Dr. Stephanie Lake, proposes an idea that’s just crazy enough to work: Put Mr. Powers in a new body. But they need to do a test first, and Dr. Lake already has a candidate in mind.
Wayne-Powers Corporation has been, apparently, keeping the still-living head of Mr. Freeze, also known as Victor Fries, in a vault. There’s kind of a weird plot hole here, because it’s hard to imagine Bruce Wayne locking someone up in a vault and closing the door. He would definitely be at the Neo Arkham CyberAsylum or something.
The Sad Villain
We can set aside that aspect, though, because the rest of the episode is actually pretty rad.
Writer Paul Dini turned Mr. Freeze–voiced in both that series and this one by Michael Ansara–from a C-tier goofball villain from Batman’s wacky 1960s era into a deeply sad character who only broke bad when mistreatment pushed him over the edge. Batman is sympathetic to Freeze’s goals but has to stand up to his methods, and the last we see of him in that incredible two-parter is Batman watching Freeze’s cell, saying “there but for the grace of god go I.” Batman knows he could’ve taken a very different direction with his life and ended up where Freeze did.
In this episode, writer Hilary J. Bader tries hard to respect that. After a warning about discomfort, Victor Fries wakes up in a flesh-and-blood body in a distinctly not-frozen room. He places his hand on the window–he can feel cold.
The Ice Breaks
Bruce has his suspicions and asks Terry to follow Fries, who is attacked by a gunman while standing over the grave where his old head resides. Batman saves Fries from the shot, and the man says Fries has to die for the things he’s done to his family. The gunman isn’t anyone from a previous Freeze appearance, unfortunately. In an attempt to atone for his sins, Fries starts a foundation to pay reparations to people whose lives he affected.
After that, his body starts to revert, and things go bad quickly. Dr. Lake tries to kill him so that she can autopsy him, and he escapes, showing up in a new version of his cryo-suit that he apparently had in “cold storage.”
Batman Beyond has, if nothing else, some truly sick-looking villains. Just wait for when we meet Spellbinder. Mr. Freeze’s new suit is no exception and the Batman Beyond visual style makes excellent use of shadow on Mr. Freeze’s gaunt face.
Derek Powers appears as Blight, and it’s then that we realize that Batman and Blight haven’t met up yet formally, and that Batman doesn’t know that Blight is actually Powers himself. In a rock-paper-scissors battle of ice, radiation, focus, commitment, and sheer will, the three battle it out, with Freeze taking the opportunity of a collapsing building to sacrifice himself and finally die.
There’s a lot going on here. Freeze pushes hard on the boundaries of the sympathy we have for him when he freezes Dr. Lake to death as she screams. This is pretty dark for a cartoon that showed on Saturday mornings and after school, as well as being a reminder that for as much as the on-screen violence in these shows is essentially pro wrestling and Nerf guns, some truly gnarly stuff happens off-screen where the network censors can’t reach it as easily.
The episode also seems to have something to say about escaping our own natures, but I’m not sure if it knows what it’s saying.
Mr. Freeze: Bad, or just unlucky?
Bruce says that Mr. Freeze always defaults to vengeance, but here’s the thing. People keep trying to destroy his life. His old employer fired him and tried to kill his wife Nora, and now Powers and Lake promised him a new shot at life, only to try to kill him the moment his condition began to resurface. Is this recidivism or is it just a dude responding in kind to the treatment he gets over and over again?
If Fries had been allowed to completely revert biologically, would he have turned bad? His whole thing is getting revenge on the people who tried to kill Nora and destroy his life. Up until the moment Stephanie cranks the heat on Fries’ room up to a searing 81℉, Fries has shown no ill intent toward anyone–Batman even helped to inspire him to set up that fund, in a roundabout way.
The moral of the episode seems to really be “if you keep pushing Victor Fries he’ll eventually get an ice suit and kill you with it.” It’s an unfortunate, tragic situation about a guy who cannot catch a break.
The overall vibe, though, still works. It feels like a distant future coda to the Heart of Ice episodes of Batman: The Animated Series that gives Bruce one more chance to save Fries and redeem him.
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