New 52 Spotlight #0: Back From Cold Storage
Note; I realized while going through some of my older articles that this article pretty much does what the later New 52 spotlights did. So, in honor of Mr. Freeze’s preferred temperature, I’m labeling this as New 52 Spotlight #0.
Several months ago, DC Comics announced that Batman Annual #1 would come out at the end of May, and that it would reintroduce my favorite supervillain, Mr. Freeze, into the New 52. Naturally, I was excited as all hell. The thing about the current Batman book is that it’s Batman fighting a new threat. That’s good, but it also means that Batman’s beloved rogues gallery is woefully absent, at least for the time. I believe that all of those characters can be found in Detective Comics, but I don’t read Detective Comics, so it was nice that I would finally be able to step into some familiar territory.
The thing about the New 52 is that Batman was one of the few things that didn’t change too much as a result of the reboot. DC apparently wanted to keep the continuity mostly the same. There are some changes, of course. Barabara Gordon is walking and in costume again, and Dick Grayson went back to being Nightwing. But the story has supposedly stayed mostly the same. It’s not clear if Batman “died”, but Batman Inc. is still around. It’s unclear if events like Knightfall happened, as there hasn’t been any reason to believe that it has or hasn’t yet. But while Batman’s origin story is (mostly) unchangeable, Mr. Freeze is different.
Not that Mr. Freeze. He’ll have his day on this site, for sure, but it is not this day.
Mr. Freeze originally debuted in the Silver Age as a goofy chump named “Mr. Zero”, who used a freezing gun to commit crimes. The 1960’s Adam West show changed his name to “Mr. Freeze”, and it stuck. But the character as he was known for that last 19 years was conceptualized by the genius writer Paul Dini, in his Emmy-winning episode of Batman: The Animated Series, “Heart of Ice”.
In fact, if you haven’t watch “Heart of Ice”, here’s a legal upload, courtesy of WB themselves. Watch it. It’s amazing.
If you’re choosing not to watch it (meaning you’re either a dumbass or are just short on time), here’s a brief summary of the important stuff: Mr. Freeze was now a scientist, Dr. Victor Fries, whose wife, Nora, had a fatal condition that couldn’t be treated. Nora was put into cryogenic stasis until the day a cure for her disease would be found, until Victor’s boss, a greedy corporate executive, caught on to Victor doing unauthorized research with company resources and ordered it to be shut down, supposedly killing Nora and causing a lab accident in which Victor’s body heat dropped drastically, turning his skin a pale blue and making it so he could not survive in warm climates. The origin story was altered for the comics, but Mr. Freeze was now a man on a quest for revenge against the world for taking away his love.
This story worked, because it gave Mr. Freeze an element of tragedy most of Batman’s villains didn’t have, at least not to such a degree. Mr. Freeze was a villain you sometimes found yourself rooting for, because he wasn’t just another murderous psychotic (although he clearly wasn’t completely mentally stable) or another crime boss, but a man who felt he had nothing left to lose.
WARNING: The rest of this post contains spoilers for Batman Annual #1. I realize comic book spoilers aren’t the biggest deal, but some people care, so you’ve been warned.
Mr. Freeze’s origin in the New 52 is the same, but with one major twist, and I’m honestly not sure how I feel about it. Victor Fries was now working for Wayne Enterprises, until Bruce Wayne told him to shut his research down, fearing that it was dangerous for Nora. The lab accident still happened, although now it was entirely Victor’s fault. It also seems to have change his body a little. He still can’t be in normal-temperature environments, but now his touch is so cold that it freezes anything he comes into contact with, including floors and people. His eyes also never adjusted to his new body, and if he takes off those red goggles of his, his eyeballs will freeze up and he’ll never see again.
There’s a joke about seeing red in here, but I’m not going to make it, although since I just referenced it, I guess I kinda did.
But none of these are the big twist. The big twist is that Nora was never Mr. Freeze’s wife. She was actually the first woman ever put into cryogenic stasis, and Freeze was so in love with the cold that while studying her, he became disillusioned and started believing that she was actually his wife. I’m really not sure how I feel about that. Nora was always the element that made Mr. Freeze sympathetic, what made his actions not necessarily justifiable, but understandable and made us feel for him. Victor Fries was a villain who acted out of the pain of a lost love, lashing out at the world for his ruined life. Like I said, he wasn’t completely right in the head, but it would be hard to classify him as insane, because unlike the Joker or Two-Face, his actions were clearly rational. Making him completely insane takes away the sympathetic element that made Freeze a great villain. Before, Mr. Freeze was just Victor Fries’s criminal name, not who he was. Now, all he is is Mr. Freeze.
At the same time, it adds a whole new level of depth when combined with the second addition to Victor’s backstory. The comic opens with young Victor walking through the Nebraska snow with his mother, on their way to a snowman-building contest. Victor’s mother falls through the ice, but the cold preserved her long enough for her to be rescued. At the end of the book, we see young Victor again, now pushing his mother in a wheelchair through the snow. She is speaking slowly, her thoughts muddled, her believing that they’re still on their way to the competition. It seems that the accident has given her some kind of brain damage, but we’re not sure how serious the mental trauma is. Victor pushes his mother into the hole in the ice, killing her. Why is unclear, but I chose to view it as a mercy kill.
One theory I read is that the reason Victor falls in love with Nora is because of his mother, that he associates her being in deep-freeze with what happened to his mother, and that his mental afflictions have an Oedipal nature behind them. Seen this way, it is genius, and instead of getting rid of the tragedy of Victor Fries, just creates a new tragedy instead. And seen in this light, the new Mr. Freeze is just as great a character as the old one.