This year Kevin Conroy, voice of Batman from Batman the Animated Series passed away. It feels only fitting that the final review in my December animated reviews be from that show. And no episode could be better than the award winning one that redefined what was once a joke villain into a fan favourite.
Heart of Ice is the story of revenge, of tragedy, of how the selfish greedy acts by a man beloved in the public eye but rotten in reality, stole two lives. It is the story of Mr. Freeze.
Introduced back in the late 50s as a silly gimmicky villain originally called Mr. Zero, he was a man who after being doused in chemicals could no longer survive in normal weather, needing to be in constant below freezing to live. This and his somewhat silly ice man suit and freeze gun is how he would remain…until this episode.
Our first moments are not with Batman or a crime being committed, but instead look upon the image of a ballerina figure in a snow globe while the figure holding it remains in shadows, only his deep voice and red goggles showing. Batman the Animated Series was always good at fleshing out or reinventing its villains. Already we had Two-Face created in a 2 parter after having Harvey Dent became a recurring character before this point. But this episode right away gives the feeling of tragedy behind its main villain.
When Batman first faces Mr. Freeze he struggles and Freeze gets away. For this Batman is not some ‘Bat god’ who is impossibly able to take down the entire Justice League (hate when writers do that). He is Human, skilled, a genius and at peak physical condition, but still mortal and Freeze is not some mere thug or criminal. But there is one other thing this Batman is, a detective (often forgotten in favour of the ‘Bat god’) And when he investigates GothCorp and its CEO Ferris Boyle a man being praised as a humanitarian to the point he is getting an award, the character of Mr. Freeze was completely reinvented as we see the tragedy of how Victor Fries became Mr. Freeze. While still doused in chemicals it was while trying to save his wife who had an incurable disease and was put in cryostasis, only for the greedy Ferris Boyle to pull the plug right in front of him for daring to use company money, which he saw as his and his alone.
The Importance of this episode cannot be understated. Already BTAS is a fantastic series and the start of the amazing DCAU, but this episode so re wrote the character of Mr. Freeze to a tragic one, it is what people now think of when they look to his origin. Even Batman and Robin the much-maligned movie used this origin for the character.
Freeze would go on through the series and even into Batman Beyond, the animated sequel set in the future, but never lost the tragic nature this episode imparted.
And what of Batman himself? Kevin Conroy’s Batman shall always be the Batman I think of. Skilled, yes even in Justice League he took on foes much vaster than himself, but still ultimately human. He was able to make mistakes, even laugh a few times. I look at people that try to claim Batman is this perfect hero that can take on anything, and I disagree, but that doesn’t make him a bad character. He is a detective, to the point DC stood for Detective Comics the name of the title he first appeared in.
The Series as a whole is a must see, while there are some episodes best avoided (before this one was the infamous “I’ve Got Batman in My Basement” ) there are so many classics, “Beware the Grey Ghost” “Feet of Clay part 1 and 2” “Jokers Favour” (first appearance of Harley Quinn) and what is in my mind the best Batman Movie “Mask of the Phantasm”. If you want a good Batman meets Superman story “World’s Finest” is there too which played both characters to their strengths but also showed why one works in one situation when the other doesn’t.
I love animation, I have done since I have been a child. I can’t say when it first happened, perhaps when my parents took me to see “Land Before Time” as a child. When I saw people hyping up the Lion King CGI movie (it’s not really live action but claims to be) and saying “we have never seen anything like this before” I was yelling at the TV going ” I DID, back in the mid-90s, it was magnificent”. I see other people agree with me as heart felt magical works are remade soullessly to get quick money off a name, yet act like this is the superior version simply because they put their nose up at an artform I fell in love with.
But I suppose I get the last laugh don’t I. For all the things they praise about modern live action films… they still use animation to pull it off. All they do is remove what made live action unique, its practical special effects. And instead insert animation instead.
In the words of the Joker from the animated movie Return Of The Joker “it would be funny if it wasn’t so pathetic”
Rating: 6/5 (Just like Gojira, this is so good it breaks the normal rankings)