Back in 1998, Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero capped an era of Batman: The Animated Series, as the second animated feature inspired by the beloved series, following Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. SubZero helped cement Mr. Freeze as a tragic villain -- a depiction that's remained in many iterations of the character -- rather than a goofy pun-spinning bad guy.
Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero was a little under the radar at the time it first came out, but it will resurface with a new home release on March 27. To commemorate the reissue and the feature's 20th anniversary, SubZero was the subject of a panel midday Friday at WonderCon in Anaheim. On the panel: SubZero screenwriter Randy Rogel, psychologist Dr. Andrea Letamendi, voice of Robin Loren Lester and Warner Archive podcast hosts D.W. Ferranti & Matthew Patterson.
At the start of the panel, the original trailer for SubZero -- for its VHS release -- was shown, along with a Mr. Freeze appearance on the '60s Batman TV series, and one of Freeze's early appearances on Batman: The Animated Series. Rogel discussed the decision to make Mr. Freeze a more complex character, a victim of circumstance driven by saving his wife, Nora.
Rogel pointed out that he's a rare villain "motivated by love," which makes him "a much more sympathetic character."
Letamendi complimented the "meaningful arc" of Mr. Freeze in animation. "This is really a character who is a victim of his circumstances," Letamendi said, due to the "trauma he has endured." Letamendi said the character has helped her "with communicating about psychological science."
SubZero was released in 1998, a year after Arnold Schwarzenegger played Mr. Freeze in live-action in the infamous Batman & Robin. Rogel said the release of SubZero was deliberately held back to avoid any confusion with Batman & Robin.
Lester complimented SubZero for having a major character arc for Robin, and expressed the excitement he had for working with the late Michael Ansara, who voiced Mr. Freeze.
"I really love this narrative, because Batgirl really comes into her own," Letamendi said of SubZero. Letamendi also complimented the feature's depiction of Robin, because the character is vulnerable -- unlike Bruce Wayne, who needs to be seen as perfect, which is problematic.
The panel then screened the opening of the new remaster of SubZero. Ferranti told the audience that the Blu-ray will also include the "entire Mr. Freeze" saga -- his other Batman animated appearances -- in standard definition as part of the package.
Lester spoke further on Robin's development. "More and more they were making them partners," Lester told the crowd. "I really enjoyed playing that growth -- it was very different. And actors need that. We need a place to go. It can't be the same place every time."
Letamendi mentioned the New Batman Adventures episode "Old Wounds" as one that showed the crucial character differences between Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson. "Batman is willing to push the limit and really do some damage that is longstanding," she said. "Batman is just pummeling this guy. He's just a guy that's get into trouble, and Batman is just beating him up. This man's son and wife are in the room, and this little kid witnesses Batman's destruction of this guy. At that point, Dick Grayson decides, 'This is not the line I will cross.'"
"And you know where he got that morality from? Batman," Rogel added.
Highlighting another difference between Mr. Freeze and Batman's other villains, Letamendi said, "If people just get out of his way, he's not going to cause destruction. We have lots of villains in this universe who seek destruction, or are just criminals for no reason. Here, we see that Mr. Freeze is really not motivated to hurt other people. That's not something he's interested in doing. If left alone, I wouldn't even really consider him a villain."
"He truly wants Nora to be well," Letamendi continued. "He wants her to live a functioning life. We get a little bit closer to that, and we see his humanity again. He is really quite heartfelt and compassionate."
The first fan question concerned Mr. Freeze's depiction in Batman Beyond. "He's something of more of a horrific figure in Batman Beyond," Ferranti told the fan. "But it's really Terry McGinnis that pulls him back. It's a very good sendoff, because it reflects the earlier characteristics that he's had."
Lester told the next audience member at the microphone that he's "never had a bad fan experience" -- which, he made clear, isn't an invitation for that to change.
A fan asked about the origins of crafting Mr. Freeze into a more sympathetic character. "Because he was motivated just to save his wife, when he crosses the line, you're very sympathetic to him," Rogel said. "Now, he's willing to kill somebody else to save her, and that's where he crosses the line, and that's where Batman has to come in."
"I like guys that are motivated by something deeper," Rogel said. Channeling advice from Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne, he said, "If you can find out what your lead character is afraid of -- what is he or she really afraid of? -- then you have the makings of a good character and a good story." Batman, for instance is most afraid of being powerless, Rogel said.
Ferranti hinted to a fan that there are new projects coming that should be specifically appealing to Batman: The Animated Series fans, but didn't divulge any further details.