Batman: The Animated Series – Heart Of Ice

Heart Of Ice

Mister_Freeze_BTAS

This is how I shall 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. 

Air Date: 7/9/92

Director: Bruce Timm

Writer: Paul Dini

Themes: Vengeance, Justice, Cover-Ups, Greed, Love

Villain: Victor Fries/Mr Freeze

Synopsis: Batman faces a vengeful scientist, hellbent on using his cold-based technology to get back at the CEO responsible for his wife’s demise.

Review:

When you talk about the best episodes of B:TAS, the best episodes of superhero animation, the best episodes of animation alone, “Heart of Ice” is frequently put at or near the top. This is the epitome of B:TAS under Bruce Timm, a dark tale with very serious themes, with an excellent emotional core. This is an episode that has many wonderful elements to enjoy: a multi-layered villain, wonderful artwork, great VA, some appropriate comic moments, tense scenes and a truly fantastic ending. This is not a kids show, this is as deadly serious as B:TAS ever will be.

Mr Freeze is our “bad guy”. This episode single-handedly reversed the treatment of Freeze in the comics, turning him from a bog-standard “cold” adversary in the same line as Captain Cold and Killer Frost, used mostly for comedic purposes, into one of the most enthralling and sympathetic members of the caped crusaders rogues gallery. In Freeze, the creators of B:TAS found the empty shell they needed to create a new villain for their Batman to face, one who does not easily fit into the same club as all the others that he has already faced. This Freeze, a million miles away from the generic icicle of the 60’s to 80’s, is no Joker, or Penguin out only for their own gratification and excess. Only Two-Face comes close to the tragedy of Freeze, but “Heart of Ice” is, in my eyes, an even better story than the crime origins of Harvey Dent.

Freeze has now gone on, in the comics and other animations, to become one of the A-List Batman villains and it is largely down to the work that Bruce Timm and Paul Dini did here. Their backstory was even retained for Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin, but that was pretty much ruined by the never ending ice puns and other comedic elements. Anyway.

The entire plot, like a surprising number of the last few episodes, revolves around a character other than Batman. As we begin, that character is just a disembodied voice and glaring red eyes holding a snowglobe, within which is the figure of a ballerina. Those opening lines set the scene in an incredibly simple and effective way: the man who is holding this model is someone seeking revenge in the name of the woman being depicted, doing so with a regretful air, having to be content with an image “surrounded by winter”.

This is Mr Freeze. His wife was taken from him and for that crime, he seeks to enact his own vengeance. Immediately, the comparison is drawn with Batman, who also lost his closest loved ones to an uncaring criminal. Batman took that tragedy and used what he had to become the personification of blind justice, hunting down all who commit wrongs with his own absolute set of values. Freeze is focused on one man, his eye for an eye. He is revenge: the coldest and most brutal kind. This will be a clash of ideologies as much as it of men.

Such a motivation must bring some unique feelings for the audience of this show, used to our villains seeking money or revenge for crimes committed against themselves. Freeze is an avenger: from the start we cannot completely condemn him or his quest.

Especially when we get a look at the target. Ferris Boyle, his very name indicating a dirtbag, is the greasy corporate weasel we have to contend with. We know full well that his TV image, of a trusting, understanding CEO, must be a lie – this is animation, so no such character can exist without a dark undercurrent. I was reminded very much of BP Chairman Tony Hayward when watching that opening TV spot, the way Boyle tries to relate to the “little” people while talking down to them. He exerts a persona of measured power, of wounded emotions because of some pesky criminal stealing his merchandise. That kind of propaganda, while buyable for the fictional denizens of Gotham, indicates straight away that he is some kind of villain himself.

Batman is in the Bat-cave, showing off his detective skills once more. This has become a pretty standard set-up scene by now, with Wayne easily set as the competent, technically astute crime fighter so many episodes into the production run. He identifies the things that Freeze is targeting and uses that data to determine where he will strike next. B:TAS doesn’t need any kind of incredibly leaps of logic or Sherlock level thinking to make Batman look good: simple, “honest” police work does the job just as well.

That leads us into one of the series’ first car chases, which is animated very well, even if it is a bit on the short side. This entire sequence is important for showing Freeze as a genuine threat to Batman from the off, more than a Penguin or a “Big Boss”. By just pulling a trigger, Freeze causes the Batmobile to crash. That’s a lot more than most bad guys are usually able to do, so the tension is racked up nicely.

The first showdown comes after. “Heart of Ice” actually has a few decent fight scenes for Batman to get through, as he deals with Freeze’s goon squad (important to show Batman as a powerful figure as well).

Batman and Freeze’s first confrontation shows us a lot about the would-be assassin. He talks the talk, acting emotionless and, well, cold. But it is a clear that a fight with Batman is something he does not really want, with Freeze only firing when Batman leaves him no choice. For Freeze, the friend of his enemy is his enemy as well, and for that reason alone does he attempt to take out Batman. But even though, he just immobilises the detective, and does not finish the job.

Freeze has his task to do, and the means to do it. Damage done to Gotham beyond that is not part of the plan. But this single-mindedness does make him cruel and villainous at the same time: he leaves behind one of the henchmen who was foolish enough to get in the way of his gun. The shocked looks on the faces of the remaining goons are more than enough to pull off the horror of this scene. Freeze is a heartless man, the only affection he has left given to the ballerina in the snowglobe. He has nothing really against this goon presumably, he’s just slowing him down and being an obstacle to the end goal.

In just a few short minutes, Timm and Dini have created a three dimensional character for Batman to spar against, and it is a match that Batman is coming worse off in. Like the Scarecrow in “Nothing to Fear”, this is a bad guy who has hurt Batman in the opening fight scene and actually succeeded in his goal, which makes him an effective threat.

Back in the Batcave, the difference between Batman and Freeze are outlined clearly, as the hero saves the henchmen using his own resources, never mind his prior allegiance. Alfred questions Wayne on this, but Wayne doesn’t even give him much of an answer. It’s just the way Batman is. He might be the caped crusader, but he’s an army medic too. No one deserves to die for their crimes, no matter that they may not show Batman the same courtesy.

Now suffering from a cold, a plot device used for humours sake more than anything, Wayne transforms into the billionaire playboy in order to meet Ferris Boyle of Gothcorp. The way this whole conversation turns into an exposition scene is probably the episodes weakest part, being honest, but it still required. Boyle is as sleazy as they come, masquerading as the caring CEO while mocking such pretensions in private. That he does so with Wayne, instantly assuming that the other billionaire will share his feelings, is rather telling of the circles Boyle moves in.

Wayne is, naturally, disgusted by Boyle and the kind of lifestyle he represents, though he has the sense to keep such thoughts to himself. Boyle is just another crook, he just needs a particular kind of interrogation. Boyle provides a smattering of information, depicting an ungrateful employee stealing money out of his unjustly treated employers pocket. We know instantly that this must be a lie, or at least some misinformation.

Boyle is our real villain. He’s a nasty human being, and while Freeze is going too far in his efforts to persecute him, one can’t help but note the bit of righteousness that Freeze is carrying.

Having used his public persona to dig deeper into the case, Wayne now shows off another side – the master of disguise, last seen properly in “The Forgotten”. As generic security guard he fobs his way into a self-aggrandizing party Boyle is hosting and is able to find out the true story of what happened with Freeze and Boyle.

It’s a really awesome flashback, the black and white footage, the change in “Victor Fries’” voice, the way Boyle flip flops between aggressive and conciliatory at the drop of a hat. Fries is a man with a heartbreaking burden, the love of his life an inch away from death and being unable to save her. Such a situation would easily drive a man to desperate ends, but such affections are alien to the likes of Boyle, who only see a bottom line. Boyle might be a billionaire company owner, but Bruce Wayne is actually a lot closer to Fries as a person. The Victor we see in this security tape is a man using up his last dregs of trust and seeing them thrown back at him. His tragedy and transformation comes with the (apparent) death of his wife, which is truly dark territory for this show to venture into.

So now we know the full extent of Freeze’s motivations and quest. Is he justified? No, not in the world of Batman. Murder is not the answer, if it was, Batman would just be another Punisher. But the sole persecution of Freeze is not the answer either. Many crimes have been committed in this sad tale, and no one is fully in the clear.

Batman has a similar story to Freeze. In fact, the security tape footage closely matches the shooting in Crime Alley that led to the creation of Batman, with Nora Fries taking the place of young Bruce as the innocent bystander whose fate is sealed by criminal violence. But unlike Batman, Freeze has a very specific target with which to pursue his idea of justice. Batman had to make do with a very general aim of combating crime. For Freeze, seeking recompense for the destruction of Nora, Boyle is the only way. And he’s going to do that with the same technology that Boyle tried to appropriate before.

Freeze is able to ambush Batman and capture him, allowing us a more considered look into his mindset. He claims to be “beyond emotions”, yet pursues his vendetta with an anger and ruthlessness that can only come from emotion. He also spends sometime admiring the “beauty” of snow with the captured Batman, so all feeling is not gone from the man, no matter how he proclaims. Vengeance is not a “cold hand”, it’s as hot as they come.

Freeze has his murderous plans to implement, but again, we should note his behaviour towards Batman. He could have killed Wayne in the tape room, but didn’t. Instead he brought him to a safe place, restrained him, and did not even uncover his identity. Then he leaves him alone while he goes to carry out his plans. These are not the actions of madman or an “evil” super villain. These are the actions of a man who is hesitant, who does not want to step into the shoes of an immoral criminal fully. He see’s Batman as an equal, someone he can converse with, someone who has similar motives in his life in rooting out corruption and deceit. He might have said otherwise earlier, but Batman is not someone that he wants to fight: he has no quarrel with him. He just wants to plug up the hole in his heart with Boyle’s death.

That isn’t something that Batman is going to allow. He might have sympathy for Freeze and contempt for Boyle – much like the audience – but right is right. Freeze has to be stopped. I think that it is a convenient conflict breaker that Freeze is also going to kill a lot of other people in the building while carrying out his plan, making it easier to root for him to fail. A better option might have been to have his vengeance quest remain strictly personal and targeted only at Boyle.

So, the audience might be on Batman’s side, but that’s not to say that there isn’t a certain satisfaction in how things turn out with the villain…and Freeze. First, an excellent little action sequence see’s Batman escape and take out the goon squad, before Freeze makes his own rather spectacular move into the building and the final confrontation.

After seeing the despicable side of his character earlier, it is some gratifying to see Boyle reduced to this low ebb, caught and made to beg for his life. This is the kind of justice that vengeance brings, and it has its emotional highs. But it is still a dirty, unjust thing.

Batman saves Boyle and has his final standoff with Freeze. The method that he uses to defeat Freeze also illustrates a rather small difference in the two men: Freeze dismisses his support and leaves them to rot when it suits his own ends, but Batman is able to use Alfred’s support to best Freeze. We’ve seen so much of Freeze being a bad ass in this episode that it’s almost odd to see him so easily defeated, but it does illustrate his rather stark weaknesses.

It is up to Batman to ensure that Boyle gets his own comeuppance, left to the real justice system after the investigations of Batman. Boyle is scum and deserves a harsh fate, just not as harsh as the one Freeze had in mind. Batman and Freeze have clashed on the methods of punishment and though they have the same target, they cannot work in sync with the other. Batman wins out because he has a slightly cooler, more rational approach. He has had a lifetime to prepare his way of fighting for justice. Freeze has not.

All that’s left is that last heartbreaking scene, as Freeze laments his fate – and failure – in his frozen prison cell, his icy tears betraying the very real emotion he still carries inside. Vengeance has cooled into regret. Yes, Boyle will face justice, but it is not what Freeze wanted, not, in his eyes, the retribution to balance the scales. As we leave Freeze, we see a totally broken man, already contemplating his own death and reunion with his beloved Nora. Batman watches from afar, perhaps as unsettled and unhappy with this resolution – a very real and believable resolution at that– as the audience. Sometimes, there are no happy endings.

Tidbits/Quotes:

-You have that haunting music all episode, with the shrill whistles and bells, almost like a manipulated Christmas tune. In combination with the snow, it creates a very nostalgic tone.

-Some brilliant VA in this episode, with Conroy able to show off his Wayne and New York voices, Mark Hamail doing brilliantly as Boyle and Michael Ansara nailing the droning, yet emotional voice of Freeze dead on.

-It took me many viewing to realise the symbolism of Ferris Boyle’s name.

-I know it is an easy target, but the Bat-computer is kind of ridiculous, with the unmarked buttons and simple graphics.

-In the first fight, Batman does this spin kick move to take out a good few bad guys, but appears to do a 360 turn with barely any momentum.

-Man, that scene with the henchmen begging for help is almost hard to watch. They really do capture a great sense of desperation in the guys voice.

-Batman having a cold is a bit off alright, and might be the only way they could think to give Batman a beaker of something hot for the final scene.

-Boyle’s office, a gigantic cavern that dwarfs his desk, is a pretty good location to have a meeting with the over-inflated ego.

-And Mr Freeze has a lair as well, one of the first we’ve seen, right down to the “cold” theme.

-Some good continuity moments as Batman scans the archives of the Gotham Times, revealing headlines from past episodes like “Pretty Poison” and “Nothing to Fear”.

-The chicken soup line from Alfred is one of the only proper comedic lines in this episode, and it is kind of funny. Using the soup as the plot resolution is interesting, but a little distracting in its ridiculousness.

-God I love the accent Conroy puts on for the security guard. Just so different to his usual voice.

-As stated, the whole security tape bit is solid gold at revealing the true origins of Freeze and the true nature of Boyle.

-After watching the tape Batman exclaims “My God.” This is actually a bit of a no-no for children’s animation in the States, but someone made it past the censors.

-I really like the opening shot of the final act, the snowflakes falling upside down from the view of the restrained Batman. It’s a very simple, but noticeable, inversion.

-Certainly, the fact that Freeze doesn’t decide to have a look at Batman’s identity when he is unconscious could be put down as a plot hole, but I prefer to think of it as just another aspect of the characters lack of hate for Batman.

-“Think of it, Batman. To never again walk on a summer’s day with the hot wind in your face and a warm hand to hold. Oh yes, I’d kill for that! “ What a line. This is a brilliantly written episode.

-More comedic stiff with the valet at the building, but I kind of liked it.

-What I didn’t like was the animations of the ice engulfing the building, with the stuff just popping into existence.

-Love that shot of Batman swooping down from the shadows onto the ice machine. Very dark knight.

-Some genius animation for Freeze’s escape from Batman, using the broken hydrant as an ice bridge.

-“I failed you. I wish there were another way for me to say it. I cannot. I can only beg your forgiveness, and pray you hear me somehow, someplace… someplace where a warm hand waits for mine. ” What an absolute gut punch of a last line.

-The creators apparently planned to finish off the show with Freeze’s tears turning into snowflakes in the prison cell, but left out this aspect for unknown reasons. It would have been perfect really, and such an idea was used in Batman and Robin, in one of the only emotionally effective scenes of that disaster.

Overall, an absolutely brilliant piece of animation and an excellent Batman story. Hard to top.

To see the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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2 Responses to Batman: The Animated Series – Heart Of Ice

  1. Pingback: Batman: The Animated Series – Index | Never Felt Better

  2. Pingback: Batman: The Animated Series – The Cat And The Claw, Part Two | Never Felt Better

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