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Batman's History With Mr. Freeze Explained

Whenever someone brings up the topic of fictional characters who successfully made the leap from a TV show to a comic book, Harley Quinn is typically the first one that comes to mind. The breakout star of 1992's "Batman: The Animated Series," the Joker's clown-themed sidekick proved to be such a hit that she eventually became one of DC Comics' most prominent anti-heroes. That said, Harleen Quinzel is far from the only character in Batman's world who owes her existence and popularity to her television counterpart.

Among all of the Dark Knight's rogues, the modern-day version of Mr. Freeze has one of the most unique and instantly recognizable designs. He's also a strong contender for the title of "Bat-villain with the most tragic backstory." However, this wasn't always the case: When he first showed up to bedevil Batman and his allies, he not only had a rather boring look, but also a forgettable nom de guerre. In fact, it took not one, but two small-screen reimaginings to get comic book fans to stop giving Bruce Wayne's icy villain the cold shoulder.

Batman faces off against Mr. Zero

The man who would eventually be known as Mr. Freeze first reared his dome-encased head in 1959's "Batman" #121. Judging from the amount of effort that went into this character's debut, it's safe to assume that back then, no one really had any serious plans for him to become a recurring villain in the Bat-books.

Originally an unnamed scientist who went by the codename "Mr. Zero," the frosty fiend's origin tale is relatively simple, despite being straight out of some wacky science fiction. While designing a gun that could shoot ice, an accident causes him to spill a dangerous amount of concentrated freezing solution all over himself. This mishap severely alters his body, to the point where he physically could not survive in temperatures that are above the freezing point. To compensate, he creates an air-conditioned full-body suit that allows him to move around. Unfortunately, this also inspires him to live on the wrong side of the law, as he gathers a group of henchmen and subjects Gotham City to a string of robberies. Naturally, his weapon of choice is his freeze gun.

When Batman and Robin attempt to stop him, Mr. Zero freezes and captures them. Luckily, while they are trapped in Mr. Zero's hideout, Batman manages to fill Mr. Zero's headquarters with steam, inadvertently ridding the villain of his popsicle-like predicament. Long story short, Mr. Zero was likely created to be one of Batman's numerous filler villains.

An icy rivalry on live-action TV

Had it not been for the decision to use Mr. Zero as one of the villains in the hit live-action 1960s "Batman" series headlined by Adam West, the character almost certainly would have languished in obscurity. As fate would have it, his appearance in the 1966 episode "Instant Freeze" (portrayed by George Sanders) would mark the beginning of the icy bad guy's near-total revamp.

In this live-action continuity, Mr. Zero has both a civilian identity and a different codename. During a scuffle with Batman, a brilliant criminal named Dr. Schievel suffers a similar fate to his comic book counterpart after getting doused in a special freezing solution. Unable to live under normal temperatures, Schievel comes up with a means to survive: an ice-cold special suit and a house that is perpetually supercooled. Just like his four-color counterpart, the freezing felon has lackeys to help him steal expensive pieces of jewelry. He also carries a powerful freeze gun as his weapon of choice.

Batman defeats him with the help of his special Bat-thermal underwear, which saves him from the chilling effects of Mr. Freeze's powers. As it turned out, this oddball villain was a perfect fit for the goofy, campy feel of the show and made a few appearances in the second season, brought to life by Otto Preminger and Eli Wallach.

From Mr. Zero to Mr. Freeze in the comics

DC certainly found some merit in Mr. Zero's cathode ray reimagining, which explains why 1968's "Detective Comics" #373 officially renamed him as Mr. Freeze. That said, he still didn't look quite like the ice-cold criminal that Batman fans know today.

In the issue, Mr. Freeze wears a green suit — a color strongly associated with comic book villainy, but not with ice powers — that didn't really do him any favors in terms of making him a memorable part of Batman's rogues gallery. Still nothing more than a small-time crook with some lackeys and a freezing gun, Batman and Robin escape Mr. Freeze's death trap and defeat him and his minions with relative ease.

For the rest of his career prior to DC's 1986 universe-wide reboot, "Crisis on Infinite Earths," Mr. Freeze remained a mostly irrelevant and far less popular thorn in Batman's side. One of his few noteworthy exploits pre-"Crisis" took place in 1984's "Batman" #375, in which he built a gigantic version of his freezing gun and plotted to send the entirety of Gotham City into a permanent "ice age" of sorts. Unsurprisingly, this ridiculous plan was easily shattered by the Dynamic Duo.

Post-Crisis: iced by Batman's greatest villain

For a long time, Mr. Freeze was one of Batman's more forgettable foes, despite his admittedly formidable powers. However, something about the character really seemed to work from a toy design perspective, which is why Mr. Freeze became one of the most visually captivating action figures in the now-defunct toy company Kenner's "Super Powers" toy line from 1986. Decked out in white and blue, Batman's frozen foe truly looked like a force to reckon with. Unfortunately, not even his spiffy new duds could spare him from getting killed in cold blood by the Clown Prince of Crime, the Joker.

In 1991 "Robin II" #1, the Joker returns to one of his hideouts, only to find that his henchmen had already stopped working for him and pledged allegiance to Mr. Freeze. When the icy supervillain approaches the Joker and threatens him, the pasty-skinned clown simply brushes it off — and surprises Mr. Freeze with a devastating attack using his signature joke weapons. Stunned, Mr. Freeze gets taken down embarrassingly fast, especially for someone in overcomplicated armor. Suffice to say, this was not one of the best moments in the cold-hearted criminal's career.

For a couple of years, Mr. Freeze was presumed dead. This changed in 1994, when "Detective Comics" #670 revealed that Mr. Freeze had actually spent time in confinement. During this period, Jean-Paul Valley was filling in for Bruce Wayne as Batman, confusing the newly revived villain.

Batman: The Animated Series and Mr. Freeze's renaissance

Ironically, Mr. Freeze's status as a throwaway Batman villain worked to his advantage when Bruce Timm and Paul Dini began working on the seminal, critically acclaimed "Batman: The Animated Series" in 1992.

When "Heart of Ice" debuted on September 7, 1992, it provided an all-new, tragic backstory for the frosty villain, explaining how his heart had turned so ice-cold. In this interpretation, Mr. Freeze is Dr. Victor Fries, a scientific genius whose wife Nora is suffering from a terrible, seemingly incurable disease. To buy himself time to develop a cure for her, Fries puts Nora into a deep cryogenic sleep, and stores her body in a reinforced chamber to keep her alive. Unfortunately, corporate greed derails his efforts and exposes him to dangerous cold substances. Desperate to find a cure for Nora, the newly mutated Fries becomes the vengeful criminal called Mr. Freeze.

Almost overnight, "Heart of Ice" turned Mr. Freeze from an oddball character that no one took seriously into a tragic figure whom many fans could empathize with. It also helped that the episode itself was widely recognized for its quality, even winning a Daytime Emmy for the caliber of its writing. According to Dini, the reason behind the episode's success was a mix of aesthetic excellence, a sense of romantic sadness that appealed to the viewers, and Timm's masterful direction.

A revamped rivalry

The warm reception to the ice-cold Mr. Freeze in "Batman: The Animated Series" made DC Comics decide to flesh out his comic book version even further, with help from "Animated Series" head writer Paul Dini. Through Dini's 1997 comic "Batman: Mr. Freeze," the source material formally embraced the retconned background that the cartoon had crafted for the character, but with an extra helping or two of tragedy.

As a young boy, Victor Fries displayed an apparent obsession with cryonics, even going so far as to take small animals, put them in containers, and stick them in the freezer. He also experienced maltreatment from both his parents and his professors, who could not understand his peculiar tendencies. Only one person showed him affection: his fellow student Nora, whom he would later marry. The rest of Freeze's cartoon origin more or less finds its way into the comic book story, with one critical difference: In his battle with Batman, Mr. Freeze inadvertently destroys Nora's cryogenic chamber, effectively killing her.

In an interview with writer Jim Harvey, Dini said, "I felt I did a reasonable job incorporating the elements of the animated Mr. Freeze with the darker tone of the Batman comics at that time ... I also killed off Nora for good in that story, so now Freeze blames Batman for killing her, though Freeze himself caused the fatal accident."

Batman and Robin gets an ice-cold reception

The surge in Mr. Freeze's popularity following his TV and comic revamp likely influenced the decision to include him in the 1997 Joel Schumacher film "Batman and Robin." The filmmakers even managed to get a famous face to play him: none other than the Terminator himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Alongside Uma Thurman's Poison Ivy and Robert Swenson's Bane, Schwarzenegger squared off against Batman (George Clooney), Robin (Chris O'Donnell), and Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone). Sadly, what should have been a surefire success turned into a frozen failure that stopped the Batman film franchise cold in its tracks. 

For some reason, Schwarzenegger's approach to portraying the character zagged where the animated series zigged. Instead of coming off as a powerfully tragic figure with relatable motivations, this version of Mr. Freeze felt like a campy joke, with hammy acting and lines full of rapid-fire ice-related puns. Add that to the film's bombastic, over-the-top tone, and it becomes clear why it took Warner Bros. eight years before releasing another Batman film, "Batman Begins" (which rebooted the franchise).

That said, not everyone hated how Mr. Freeze was part of such a reviled and ridiculed film. As writer Paul Dini shared: "I was actually quite happy to see certain elements of Freeze's origin used in the movie. I wish the entire picture had been as powerful as those few moments that focused on Victor and Nora, but I think pretty much all the moviegoers and fans would have liked that, too."

Batman and Mr. Freeze vs. Predator

Despite their frosty rivalry, there have been a few occasions in which the Dark Knight and the cold-hearted criminal worked together in pursuit of a common goal. One of the most noteworthy examples of this was in the 1997 franchise crossover book "Batman Versus Predator III: Blood Ties," wherein Mr. Freeze's curse turns out to be the very thing that saves his life — and helps turn the tide against a pair of vicious intergalactic hunters.

When two Predators turn Gotham City into their hunting grounds, one of the areas they hit is Mr. Freeze's headquarters. They brutally eliminate Mr. Freeze's associates, but fail to bring down their boss for an unexpected reason: Their thermal vision, which they rely on for tracking and finding their targets, could not see Mr. Freeze due to his extremely low body temperature. When Batman and Robin manage to capture Mr. Freeze some time later, he reveals this odd experience to them, giving the Caped Crusader an idea as to how to beat these unstoppable killers. He ends up using Mr. Freeze's technology to subdue one of the aliens, and convinces the other to leave the planet while it still can.

Batman and Mister Freeze in the New 52

In 2011, DC did yet another line-wide reboot under the "New 52" banner. In an attempt to streamline the increasingly convoluted origins of its classic characters, the company retconned many of their stories, subsequently putting a fresh spin on both its heroes and villains. Mr. Freeze's origin, in particular, was revamped in 2012's "Batman" Annual #1 and given a chilling new dimension. Moreover, it connected the Dark Knight directly to his metamorphosis from ordinary citizen to villain — not as Batman, but as Bruce Wayne.

This version of Victor Fries nearly lost his mother as a boy, when she fell through a frozen lake. Miraculously, the sheer cold ensured that she could still be rescued, but for the rest of her life, Victor's mother lived in never-ending pain. Meanwhile, the boy grew up obsessed with cryonics because of the incident; ultimately, he dumped his mother into the same lake as a mercy killing of sorts. Finding employment at Wayne Industries after obtaining his PhD, he devoted time and resources to reviving a cryogenically preserved woman from 1934 named Nora Fields. However, before he could save the object of his affections, Bruce pulled the plug on the project. In a rage, Victor destroyed some tanks containing experimental cryonic fluid, prompting the same transformation his pre-"New 52" counterparts went through.

Gotham: A young Bruce Wayne vs. Mr. Freeze

One of the more recent re-imaginings of Mr. Freeze came in the form of the Fox series "Gotham." Portrayed by Nathan Darrow, this live-action interpretation of the chilly villain finds himself deeply entangled in the complicated web of the city's criminal underworld — a departure of sorts from his comic book version, who often works alone. And since "Gotham" is set during the period of time before Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, their antagonistic relationship in the series differs significantly from other adaptations.

In an interview with TV Guide, executive producer Bruno Heller describes Mr. Freeze's journey in "Gotham" as the story of Victor Fries and his wife Nora prior to him becoming one of Batman's most dangerous foes: "It's very much a story of the heart rather than a story about technology and super-villainy. It's a doomed romance. It will make people cry."

Mr. Freeze's life takes an arguably more tragic turn in this universe. The ailing Nora decides to take her own life after discovering that, in his quest to find a cure for her, Victor had been conducting cryogenic experiments on Gotham City's citizens against their will. Overcome with grief, Victor tries to kill himself with his own chemicals, but ends up permanently altering his body. Over the course of the show, Fries becomes an accomplice to some of Gotham's most notorious criminals, including Hugo Strange, Fish Mooney, Oswald Cobblepot a.k.a. the Penguin, and proto-Joker Jerome Valeska.

Enter: Mrs. Freeze

Interestingly, Mr. Freeze has seen some success in attempting to revive his wife Nora. However, neither of the two most noteworthy instances of this ended well for the villain.

In 2006's "Batgirl" #70, Mr. Freeze submerges Nora's cryogenically preserved body into a Lazarus Pit. While this has the intended effect of restoring the woman to life, it also gives her some unwanted abilities. Because of her years in cold stasis, the newly revived Nora suddenly has the power to control the dead and generate flames from her body. Unhappy with her second lease on life and blaming her husband for her unexpected transformation, Nora adopts the codename Lazara. Left with no choice, Mr. Freeze uses his technology on her to freeze her and prevent her from becoming a full-on supervillain.

Meanwhile, 2019's "Detective Comics" #1014 sees Mr. Freeze using an experimental cure given to him by Lex Luthor to thaw and revive his wife. However, Nora wakes up mentally unstable and resentful of her husband for forcing her into cryogenic sleep, and assumes the moniker Mrs. Freeze. Despite the combined efforts of Batman and Mr. Freeze to restrain her long enough for the villain to find a cure, she manages to escape, promising to wreak havoc in Gotham as well as in her hated husband's life. She never gets to fulfill this vow, though, as she ends up being murdered in the pages of 2021's "Batman: Urban Legends" #1.

Freeze vs. the Batman of the future

Set in the year 2039, "Batman Beyond" features the adventures of Bruce Wayne's successor, Terry McGinnis. While the majority of the rogues in "Batman Beyond" are brand-new threats, some are legacy characters, and even fewer are threats from the first Batman's career. Interestingly, one of these returning foes is Mr. Freeze — though he does get a shot at redemption in his final moments.

In the episode "Meltdown," Mr. Freeze's consciousness in his preserved head finds new life inside a cloned body. Treating this as his second chance at life, Mr. Freeze starts going to impressive lengths to atone for his past misdeeds. Unfortunately, the combination of a stinging betrayal from the company that helped revive him and the reemergence of his unique sub-zero body temperature cause Mr. Freeze to fall back down into the rabbit hole of villainy. He dons a special sub-zero suit that allows him to shoot ice from his hands, and proceeds to exact revenge on those who he feels have wronged him.

However, when Batman attempts to rescue Mr. Freeze from a building whose collapse he had caused, Mr. Freeze refuses, choosing instead to die on his own terms. He ends up being buried under the rubble, and is presumed dead by both Terry and his mentor Bruce Wayne.