“Gotham” has already featured some of Batman’s most famous foes, but when the Fox series returns from its winter break on February 29 the Dark Knight’s coldest rogue will make sure winter is far from over. Actor Nathan Darrow’s journey as Victor Fries will lay the foundation for the latest Gotham City threat to one day become the super villain known as Mr. Freeze.
Freeze’s appearance on “Gotham” is just the latest in the character’s long and complex history. From his comic book origins to numerous appearances in animation and live-action, Mr. Freeze’s history is as varied as it is fascinating. The villain has adopted numerous personas and taken several different forms since his introduction nearly 70 years ago. Grab something warm and get comfortable as CBR takes the icy plunge into the history of “Gotham’s” latest threat, Mr. Freeze.
While the name Mr. Freeze has become iconic, this ice-themed bad guy began his career with the rather forgettable moniker of Mr. Zero in “Batman” #121 in February, 1959. Created Bob Kane, David Wood, Sheldon Moldoff and Logan Sowadski, this gaudily dressed villain was as disposable as other “classic” villains for the era. A once benevolent scientist, after Zero created an experimental freeze gun, the weapon exploded and the ensuing trauma forced the scientist to wear a special air conditioned suit. The newly dubbed Mr. Zero began to commit crimes until Batman cured him using simple steam. The villain languished in obscurity in comics before being revived in another medium.
Thanks to three talented actors and one raucous TV series, Mr. Freeze never fully faded away. When the “Batman” TV series hit the airwaves in 1966, it was an instant camp sensation featuring classic villains like Joker, Penguin and Catwoman. With adversaries like Two-Face considered too disturbing for the show, producers were forced to take a deep dive into Batman’s crime files. Mr. Zero was pulled from the comics, though plenty about him was changed. His name was the first adjustment, fine tuned into the more threatening and marketable Mr. Freeze; the series also abandoned his hard-on-the-eyes costume in favor of a sleek, blue-and-white design. Perhaps the greatest change was the tragic elements added to Freeze’s backstory that made him more of a more classic monster/scientist type than a gimmick-filled super villain. The newly dubbed Mr. Freeze was trapped in his containment suit, forced to live in sub-zero temperatures as any exposure to heat would result in his death. This fatal flaw humanized the villain and added a level of vulnerability absent from most of Batman’s zanier foes. Three actors wore the ice suit and wielded the cold gun as Mr. Freeze, one for each season the show. George Sanders, Otto Preminger and Eli Wallach’s portrayals all added to the growing legend of the character, each bestowing Freeze with a fierceness and a vulnerability amid the campy world of Adam West’s Batman.
A Long Winter
Mr. Freeze’s mainstream popularity didn’t directly translate to the comics. His first comic book appearance as Mr. Freeze was in 1968’s “Detective Comics” #373, which established that Zero and Freeze were one and the same and also incorporated the TV version’s new traits into the comics. At this point in the character’s history, other cold-themed DC villains like Captain Cold and the Icicle were given much more respect than Freeze keeping him firmly off of the villainous A-list. Strangely, this updated version of Freeze eschewed the TV series’s elegant costume for a nondescript green number that didn’t exactly pop off the four-color page. Despite his live-action success, Freeze remained a comic book afterthought for the next few decades.
A Cold Day in the Toy Aisles
While Mr. Freeze continued to pop up from time to time in the comics, his next major exposure was in yet another different form of media. By 1986, Kenner’s “Super Powers” line was in full swing. This classic line of action figures brought such characters as Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and Doctor Fate to the toy shelves for the first time, and the line’s third and final wave gave Mr. Freeze a redesign. This action figure featured a full revamping of the character with freeze guns embedded into the villain’s torso. Just as the character changed his name thanks to the 1966 “Batman” TV series, the toy redefined the character’s looks. Subsequent comic appearances saw Freeze wearing the battle armor but didn’t affect his status or popularity. The icy villain suffered his most inglorious defeat during this era the hands of the Joker. In 1991’s “Robin II: The Joker’s Wild” miniseries, Mr. Freeze and his toyetic battle armor were easily dispatched by the Joker with… a squirt gun and joy buzzer. Seriously. Freeze might have been honored by Kenner with an action figure, but he was still a joke in the pages of DC Comics.
Heart of Ice
The next time a new form of media embraced the ice cold killer Mr. Freeze finally became the legend he was always meant to be. “Batman: The Animated Series” hit the airwaves in 1992 and became arguably the most influential comic book adaptation of the late 20th Century. Many of Batman’s classic foes were reimagined in a timeless and iconic fashion, and Mr. Freeze benefitted from the treatment as the animated series explored the character’s subtle psychological depths. The character’s new look was sleek, subtle and efficient thanks to a design by Mike Mignola, and his villainous origin was refashioned by writer Paul Dini and director Bruce Timm. The classic episode, “Heart of Ice,” painted Freeze in a new light as Victor Fries, a brilliant scientist and loving husband. When his wife Nora was struck down by a debilitating illness, Victor used his brilliance to create an advanced cryogenic chamber to keep her alive until a cure could be found. Fries’ greedy corporate bosses demanded that he hand over his technology and during a scuffle, tragically, the chamber ruptured, bathing Freeze in sub-zero temperatures. Fries was transformed into Mr. Freeze and a tragic battle of vengeance ensued. The character was brilliantly voiced by Michael Ansara who used a flat, soulless intonation to show just how far removed from humanity Victor Fries had become. Freeze returned a number of times over the course of Batman’s animated run and even starred in the 1998 animated feature “Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero.” Based on this tragic interpretation of the character, the next time Freeze appeared in a comic he was far from a joke.
That’s Not Very Ice
Mr. Freeze may have finally been taken seriously in the comic, but when the character next appeared in live action media, it was an experience that nearly killed the “Batman” film franchise. “Batman: The Animated Series” created a timeless, classical origin for Mr. Freeze. The pathos and emotional resonance of Freeze’ story should have been low hanging fruit to filmmakers, but when “Batman & Robin” hit theaters in 1997, it wasn’t the cold hearted Freeze that appeared on screen. This Mr. Freeze, played by a scenery chewing Arnold Schwarzenegger, was anything but subtle. He was a pun-spewing eyesore of a villain even less frightening than the camped up Sanders/Preminger/Walsh Freeze of the ’60s. Schwarzenegger was as wrong for the part as an actor could be. Sadly, the Nora Fries origin was still in place but it was drowned out by the sheer gaudiness of the film as well as Schwarzenegger’s over the top performance.
Respect at Last
Even though the portrayal of Mr. Freeze in “Batman & Robin” left fans cold, to say the least, the comics were finally showing the villain some respect. In 2005, the powerhouse creative team of writers J.H. Williams III & Dan Curtis Johnson and penciler Seth Fisher presented “Snow” in the pages of “Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight” #192-196. This tale represented the new origin of Freeze in comic form as a newly created Mr. Freeze takes on a very young Batman. This origin story had all the power of the animated tale with mind-bending artwork from a true master. A few years before “Snow,” Mr. Freeze made a memorable appearance in “Batman vs. Predator III,”(1997) assisting his mortal enemy against the threat of the intergalactic huntsmen. The villain also made an unforgettably brutal appearance in the opening arc of Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark’s modern classic “Gotham Central.” That was just the tip of the iceberg, as it now seemed every Bat creator had a Mr. Freeze story in them, a far cry from the afterthought status the villain held for so long in the world of comics.
DC’s New 52 reboot also rebooted Mr. Freeze’s origin. As presented by “Batman” writer Scott Snyder, the New 52 Mr. Freeze was still completely obsessed with Nora, but the new continuity presented her not as the villain’s lost wife but a woman who suffered a terrible illness in 1943. This twisted origin moved the villain away from the sympathetic figure he became after his animated origin and into a being of sick, frozen fixation. The New 52 Freeze also played a pivotal role in Snyder and Greg Capullo’s acclaimed “The Court of Owls” storyline as it was revealed that the Court’s genetically enhanced operatives, the Talons, were vulnerable to cold. The origins may have been altered for this new Mr. Freeze, but he was still as terrifying as his predecessors.
What’s your favorite take on Mr. Freeze? Let us know in the comments.