Welcome to the thirty-second edition of Adventure(s) Time, where we examine a classic animated series and an issue of its tie-in comic that follows a similar theme. This week’s edition, following a suggestion from readers Antonio Canales and Gravity Falls Poland, looks back on a Batman: The Animated Series episode that features the return of what could be the show’s most popular villain, and a direct sequel from the Gotham Adventures comic book series.
Airing on November 26th, 1994 during the Adventures of Batman & Robin era, “Deep Freeze” features the long-awaited return of Mr. Freeze, who had previously made only one memorable appearance during the earliest days of the show. Series architects Paul Dini and Bruce Timm provided the offbeat story, which features superb direction from Kevin Altieri.
The starting place for the episode is almost too odd for words — according to urban legend, Walt Disney cheated death by having his body frozen in a cryonic chamber, awaiting the day technology would enable him to live again. So, naturally, that means a thinly veiled caricature of the mogul has to appear as a villain on the show, obsessed with the cryogenic technology that’s halted Mr. Freeze’s aging.
The plot has Mr. Freeze abducted from prison by a robot, the creation of theme park magnate Grant Walker. Walker is fascinated by Mr. Freeze’s inability to age, and hires him to recreate the cryogenic accident from Freeze’s origin, which will allegedly grant Walker immortality. Freeze has no time for Walker’s nonsense and is ready to kill the eccentric when Walker unveils his trump card; as an investor in GothCorp, Walker knows the details of Mr. Freeze’s origin, and has uncovered the frozen body of his beloved wife Nora Fries.
Mr. Freeze agrees to Walker’s terms and constructs a new suit for his employer, while Walker goes about the business of addressing the cult he’s somehow amassed. In the eerily sanitary arctic kingdom of Oceania, Walker will rule over his chosen few, biding their time until Gotham City is released from its five-year freeze and declared worthy of his followers’ return. Batman and Robin, meanwhile, are investigating Freeze’s escape, which means a quick cameo from inventor Karl Rossum, another figure from the show’s past (previously in the early two-parter “Heart of Steel”.) For a show that normally eschewed continuity, there’s no shortage of callbacks for fans to enjoy here.
Ultimately, Batman and Robin discover Freeze inside Oceania and convince him that if Nora is ever revived, she could never love the man who helped Walker commit mass genocide. Freeze agrees, helping the heroes to foil Walker’s plan. In the show’s final moments, Walker is trapped in a hunk of ice headed for the bottom of the ocean, while Freeze adamantly remains in the collapsing ruins of Oceania. Content, as much Freeze can be, with the preserved body of his wife, the episode nearly has a happy ending.
Every aspect of this episode is simply strange. Reportedly, the producers were reluctant to do another Mr. Freeze story following his debut in “Heart of Ice,” due to the perfect ending of the episode and the legendary status it quickly developed. Bringing him back with one of the more absurd plots ever witnessed on the series was certainly not what anyone would’ve expected.
Which doesn’t mean the episode is a total loss, however. As unusual as it is to see such a serious, tragic villain stuck in a plot that feels like an early 1970s James Bond film, the episode isn’t a total loss. Grant Walker doesn’t have any obvious depth as a character, but the subtext of Walker presenting altruistic motivations to the world while in fact being colder inside than Freeze could ever be is well played. Freeze’s indignant response to discover Walker wants the eternal numbness that’s been forced upon him, while all Freeze wants is to feel again, is also one of actor Michael Ansara’s best line deliveries as the character.
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