Following one of the show’s least successful episodes, “Heart of Ice” is a triumph on nearly every level, fulfilling almost all of the creative team’s ambitions. It is widely considered one of the best installments of the series, and often named as its best.
This episode was the first written by series co-creator Paul Dini and directed by co-creator Bruce Timm. Dini’s script earned the show an Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in an Animated Program. Timm’s direction provides the cinematic quality the script deserves.
“Heart of Ice” reimagines Mr. Freeze, lifting him out of the third tier of Batman villains. Freeze had appeared infrequently in the comics, originally under the name “Mr. Zero.” He was renamed and elevated by the 1966 live-action Batman series. These versions of the character usually portrayed him as a thief motivated by greed.
This episode provides the former Victor Fries with a tragic backstory which became canon in the comics for a number of years and in the disastrous movie, “Batman and Robin” (1997). Mr. Freeze seeks revenge on a vendetta which is not entirely unjustified. He now more closely fits the template of “Two-Face,” including a secondary heavy who is arguably less sympathetic.
Not that this version of Mr. Freeze is nice. Rather, he has become ruthless and indifferent to human suffering, save for the woman he mourns. Even his voice (Michael Ansara supplying the traditional European accent) is icy and filtered to sound slightly robotic through his life-preserving exoskeleton.
Speaking of which, “Heart of Ice” also redefines Mr. Freeze visually, courtesy of comics master Mike Mignola (the creator of Hellboy). Gone are the tights of the comics or the Apollo-era space suits of the live-action show. The new-model Freeze exoskeleton has a more retro look perhaps loosely inspired by Robby the Robot from the sci-fi classic “Forbidden Planet” (1956). The frozen head inside the helmet wears goggles which give him bright red eyes.
Freeze’s eyes are part of the way “Heart of Ice” tells its story with color. Much of the episode is awash in cool blues and grays; the few splashes of red really pop onscreen. The attention to all facets of production suggests this episode was a labor of love.
Our drama opens on a ballerina figurine in pink and red, pirouetting inside a large snow globe. Mr. Freeze holds the globe, promising the tiny dancer revenge—”a dish best served cold”—will soon be visited on the monster who took her from him. (Visually, the scene oddly echoes the rose scenes in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” (1991).)
On television, Summer Gleeson reports on a series of thefts committed against GothCorp with a freeze gun. GothCorp CEO Ferris Boyle (a homonym of “boil”) professes bewilderment at the crimes. GothCorp is identified by its motto, “The People’s Company.”
Batman switches off the broadcast in the Batcave. Hacking into the police reports, he deduces the stolen items can be assembled into a freezing cannon. There is one component remaining and one GothCorp plant manufacturing it.
That night, Freeze busts into the GothCorp plant with an armored van—followed closely by the Batmobile. A freeze gun mounted on the van fires, causing the Batmobile to skid and crash.
Batman catches up and begins fighting Freeze’s henchmen. Freeze fires his gun, missing Batman and immobilizing a henchman’s legs. Freeze later scores a hit on Batman, encasing him in ice, if shielded from the full effect by his cape.
Freeze obtains the final component and directs his goons into the van. He abandons the half-frozen henchman, over the objections of the others and the pleas of the victim. Batman frees himself from the ice and saves the henchman instead of chasing Freeze.
In the Batcave, the henchman is treated in a tank recalling the one which heals Luke Skywalker in “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980). Batman, now nursing a cold, decides to visit to GothCorp in search of answers.
Bruce Wayne meets with Boyle, who says the only person who might want revenge on GothCorp is dead. According to Boyle, a research scientist died in an accident while using company funds for his own experiments. Boyle refers to his employees as wage slaves who must be kept in line, cynically noting that “The People’s Company” line is pure public relations.
As a disgusted Bruce rises to leave, Boyle mentions he is receiving a humanitarian award and extends an invitation. Bruce declines with the double-entendre, “I feel ill.”
Going to GothCorp
Back at the Batcave, Batman researches the accident and suspects a cover-up. He decides to return to GothCorp and access the personnel files. Alfred gives the ill crimefighter a thermos of chicken soup.
Disguised as a security guard, Batman finds the file on Victor Fries, including a videotape. On the tape, Fries explains his cryonics experiments may save people with terminal illnesses like his wife Nora, who is frozen in a chamber behind him.
Boyle and security guards enter the lab. Boyle complains funding for the project was cut weeks ago and orders the guards to disconnect Nora.
Fries seizes a guard’s gun and trains it on Boyle. The oleaginous CEO convinces Fries to lower the weapon, then kicks Fries in the chest. Fries tumbles backward into a lab table full of volatile chemicals. As a cold cloud fills the lab, Boyle and the guards flee. Fries collapses on the cryonic chamber, moaning his wife’s name.
Batman stops the video, exclaiming, “My god.” (Kevin Conroy makes this simple line carry the emotional weight of someone who now pities his adversary.)
The video caused Batman to miss Freeze standing behind him. Freeze remarks the tape would move him to tears, if he still had tears to shed. Freeze then blasts Batman with his freeze gun.
At Freeze’s hideout, Batman’s utility belt is removed; he is hung upside down (not unlike Luke Skywalker in the Wampa cave in “Empire.”) Freeze readies his new freezing cannon to attack Boyle’s award ceremony. He confirms Batman’s deduction that his suit preserves the subzero temperature he now needs to live.
Batman invokes the innocents who may be killed in the revenge plot. Freeze replies, “Think of it, Batman. To never again walk on a summer’s day with a hot wind in your face, and a warm hand to hold. Oh yes … I’d kill for that.”
Batman Frees Himself
After Freeze leaves, Batman free himself using a large icicle. Meanwhile, Freeze deploys his cannon to create a wall of ice climbing the high-rise where the awards ceremony is being held. Batman arrives, disabling the cannon and regaining his utility belt. Freeze opens a fire hydrant and uses his freeze gun to ride a pillar of ice to the top floor of the building.
Freeze confronts Boyle during the ceremony, freezing his legs. Boyle begs for his life. Freeze refers to his nightmares, where Nora begs him with frozen eyes. Freeze adds, “How I’ve longed to see that look frozen on you.”
Batman attacks Freeze but is viciously thrown against a window; Freeze’s exoskeleton triples his strength. Freeze lifts Batman slightly above him, but the Caped Crusader breaks Alfred’s thermos of chicken soup on Freeze’s helmet. The temperature differential cracks and shatters the helmet, paralyzing the villain upon exposure to room temperature.
Freeze sputters that he has been denied justice, but Batman tells the assembled guests what Boyle did to Fries. The Caped Crusader also provides the videotape of the incident to Summer Gleeson. He sarcastically calls Boyle a “humanitarian” before leaving without freeing Boyle from the ice.
Later at Arkham Asylum, Freeze sits in a cold storage cell, begging the Nora figurine to forgive his failure.
While “Heart of Ice” is an episode with few flaws, it is possible to nitpick. In the comics, Freeze likely would have killed the injured henchmen to prevent him from providing information; such are the limits of a show primarily targeted at young people. Also, for all of the quality animation in this episode, the accumulation of ice is achieved through dissolves, which is cheaper but not particularly elegant. But these are nitpicks, given the artistic achievement in almost every other respect.