Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero
The Blu-ray release of Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero is the best argument yet for how any medium can be used to tell substantial, meaningful stories. The reinvention of Mr. Freeze as a tormented widower instead of just a guy with an ice gun gives the battles and action scenes more depth.
I started my viewing with “Heart of Ice” from Batman: The Animated Series, one of the extras. This episode introduces the character and his motivation, revenge on a money-driven businessman (Mark Hamill) who interrupted Freeze’s attempt to preserve his dying wife’s life. It’s written by Paul Dini and directed by Bruce Timm.
I hadn’t realized that this was only the third episode of the series, setting a high bar from the start. (It’s considered by some the best of the series.) The art deco, high-contrast look and the heartbreaking motivation of the “bad guy” make this more than the usual superhero cartoon. Plus, I liked the humor between Batman (Kevin Conroy) and the long-suffering Alfred (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), as fighting the icy villain (Michael Ansara) gives Batman a cold. “With all those compartments on your belt,” says Alfred, “you’d think there’d be one for tissues.”
After that came “Deep Freeze” from the renamed Adventures of Batman and Robin. Written by Paul Dini with story help from Bruce Timm, it was directed by Kevin Altieri. Mr. Freeze is broken out of Arkham by a theme park mogul (Dan O’Herlihy) who wants to be immortal. Robin (Loren Lester) helps Batman defeat them, but not before Freeze talks about how living forever is no prize:
“Eternal life trapped in this wretched shell. What a miserable joke…. Abandoned and alone? A prisoner in a world you can see, but never touch?
We also get a debate about safety vs. free will, as the mogul wants to destroy most of the world so his chosen few can live in peace. This episode shows how Mr. Freeze’s character and the depth of his story may require more space than a 21-minute cartoon episode, which leads us to the Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero movie, which clocks in at 67 minutes. It’s written by Randy Rogel and Boyd Kirkland and directed by Kirkland.
Mr. Freeze, last seen alone with his wife’s body in an iceberg, has set up housekeeping in the arctic, skindiving for fish accompanied by polar bears. When her containment capsule is damaged by a military submarine exercise, he becomes determined to revive her by using organs from a donor with matching blood: Batgirl (Mary Kay Bergman), aka Commissioner Gordon’s (Robert Hastings) daughter Barbara.
The movie isn’t as visually and stylistically distinct as the original cartoon, and I’m not wild about the “wise-cracking dame” voice they’re using for Barbara (she sounds like a junior league Harley Quinn), but I did like that she does a lot of trying to save herself, even though most of the time she’s not in costume. In fact, instead of an insulated costume, she’s running around in the ice and cold in a short-sleeved dress. Gave me shivers.
Freeze’s characterization isn’t as subtle as in his introduction, with him being bent on saving his wife no matter who gets hurt, but it’s a lot of fun seeing the characters in a longer-format piece, which allows for more development, as when they’re all at a fancy party, or when Robin and Batgirl go on a date. And I like the Commissioner, who sums it up with “A guy in a weird suit with two polar bears can’t be too hard to spot!”
Then come two more cartoon episodes, “Cold Comfort” from The New Batman Adventures and “Meltdown” from Batman Beyond. In the first, Freeze is back to being a typical bad guy, with a simplified redesign that makes him look more robotic and henchgirls in parkas with no pants. There didn’t seem to have been any need for this pointless reinvention, and it stomps on the memory of the more nuanced approach previously taken. (Also, Batgirl and Robin are back to being kids.) “Meltdown” is a followup of interest only to completists. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more if I’d ever seen the series.
Beyond the episodes with Mr. Freeze that take place before and after the movie, there are three extras: the movie’s trailer, the minute-long wordless “Get the Picture: How to Draw Batman” (of which half the minute is shading), and “Art of Batman: Music Montage”, two-and-a-half minutes of movie clips and design sketches set to a techno beat. The episode history set is neat; the rest of this is unnecessary. (The studio provided a review copy.)