Mr. Freeze: The Ice Cold Star of TV, Movies, and Video Games

Feature Mike Cecchini John Saavedra
3/7/2016 at 7:38PM

Mr. Freeze concludes his two-part reign of icy terror on Gotham. We look at why this minor Batman villain thrives in other media.

What is it about Mr. Freeze, perhaps more than any other Batman villain, that makes him ideally suited for portrayal in media outside of comic books? For a character that has been in print for over fifty years, Mr. Freeze has gone on to find his greatest successes off the printed page, from TV to movies, and ultimately to video games.

First appearing as Mr. Zero in Batman #121 (1959), Mr. Freeze was an unremarkable bald villain in a gaudy costume, brandishing a cold gun and an air-conditioned suit that allowed him to live at normal temperatures. In true Batman villain fashion, he made heisting diamonds (or “ice”) his criminal profession, and he was behind bars by the end of his brief first adventure. It was 1966 before we’d see Mr. Zero again, when the character was revived for the seventh and eighth episodes of the Batman TV series and rechristened Mr. Freeze. Here we can see the beginnings of the character’s love affair with other media. While Mr. Freeze made only a handful of comic appearances over the first thirty plus years of his existence, in short order he featured in three two-part adventures on the now legendary Batman TV series, where he was portrayed by three different actors.

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George Sanders played Mr. Freeze on episodes 7 & 8 of Batman. The two-parter was a loose adaptation of the character’s first appearance in Batman #121. He returned in the season two episodes 53 and 54, played by Otto Preminger (whose bald head certainly looked the most like that of his comic book counterpart). He returned for one more two-parter in Batman season three (episodes 93 and 94 for those keeping track), this time played by a visually striking Eli Wallach.

Not only does Mr. Freeze owe his name to the Batman TV series, but the most recognizable traits of his look also stem from the show. While “Mr. Zero” wore a gaudily colored red and green refrigeration suit, almost indistinguishable from the tights that most other superheroes and supervillains wore, the famously garish Batman show actually toned down Mr. Freeze’s look. Gone were the red and green tights, replaced with a more space-age refrigeration suit, and in later episodes, a chilly blue-grey pallor for the villain, as well!

But that was practically it for Mr. Freeze. He packed up his freeze gun, new name, and more sensible design sense and appeared sporadically at best for the next twenty years. Even his brief comic appearances in the early '90s showed him in heavily armored, blue and white garb that had actually been designed for a little seen Kenner Super Powers action figure from that line’s relatively limited production third wave (that mold was reproduced for Toy Biz’s first line of DC Comics Super Heroes action figures in 1989).

Mr. Freeze’s finest hour remains the Batman: The Animated Series episode, “Heart of Ice,” the Emmy-winning tale written by Paul Dini and directed by Bruce Timm. “Heart of Ice” radically reinvented Mr. Freeze, giving him not only a striking art-deco design (courtesy of comic book artist and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola) and an unforgettable vocal performance (by Michael Ansara), but a meaningful backstory.

In "Heart of Ice," Victor Fries commits his crimes to raise money for his terminally ill wife, who lies in cryogenic stasis until a cure can be found. Not only a great Mr. Freeze story, “Heart of Ice” may very well be one of the single greatest superhero stories told in any forum.

How important did “Heart of Ice” ultimately become to the Batman mythology? So important that it has become the standard take on the Mr. Freeze character across all media for the last two decades, including the one and only big screen live-action interpretation of Mr. Freeze, as played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in Batman and Robin (the less said about this the better, although we did write more about it here if you're interested).

It's the "Heart of Ice" story that also informs how Mr. Freeze is portrayed on Gotham, where Nathan Darrow plays Victor Fries. Gotham takes full advantage of its Batman prequel format to delve into the relationship between Victor and Nora Fries, showcasing her rapidly declining health and the extreme measures Victor is willing to take to save her life.

Subtlety has never been Gotham's strong point, and the two-parter that delves into his origin, "Mr. Freeze" followed by "A Dead Man Feels No Cold" is no exception. But since Mr. Freeze has always been depicted as someone considerably older than Batman and his usual Rogues, and it was never really implied that the journey of Victor Fries from scientist trying to save his doomed wife to super villain happened overnight, this chapter of Mr. Freeze's story is a natural fit for Gotham.

Striking visuals and his specific power set has also made Mr. Freeze a perfect character for video games. The very concept of a “freeze gun” that can immobilize enemies temporarily (we can ignore such technicalities as frostbite and hypothermia), or make them brittle and subject to devastating physical attacks, is tailor-made for a good boss battle. Mr. Freeze was probably the biggest selling point in 2001’s Batman: Vengeance (a game based on Batman: The Animated Series).

Players face off against Freeze not once, but THREE times throughout the game before finally defeating him. You dodge ice left and right, unable to get close to Freeze (he’s too strong for melee attacks). The only way to beat him is to use his environment against him.

The first time we see Freeze in the much more modern Arkham series, he is a pawn in the Joker’s game, forced to synthesize a cure for the TITAN virus in order to get his wife back from the Clown Prince of Crime. Arkham City is incredibly rough on Freeze: he’s also betrayed by Hugo Strange and taken prisoner by Penguin, who steals his freeze gun for his own amusement. Things look hopeless for Freeze until Batman rescues him and helps him create the cure for TITAN. Of course, Freeze’s true motivation is to get his wife back to safety. Always the tragic character.

After the events of Arkham City, Freeze sails away from Gotham with his beloved on a ship called The Nora, giving him the time and space he needs to find a cure for his wife. That peace is not meant to last, of course. When the Scarecrow unleashes his plan to take Gotham hostage in Arkham Knight, he wants Freeze to be a vital part of the chaos. The villain refuses, so his ship is attacked by the Arkham Knight's militia. The ship's cryo-generator, the only thing keeping Nora alive long enough for Freeze to find a cure, is damaged in the attack. Freeze is forced to team up with Batman to take down their common enemy, fix the generator, and save Nora.

Notably, Arkham Knight is meant to be the definitive conclusion to Freeze and Nora's story. After Nora is freed from her icy prison, Freeze is forced to denotate the cryo-generator to defeat the militia forces, effectively ending his chances of curing his wife. Nora tells Freeze not to despair, though, as she's just happy to spend her final days with her husband. In a particularly uncharacteristic ending for the tragic villain, Freeze and Nora sail off into the sunset, enjoying whatever time Nora has left. 

Freeze is also the main antagonist of Arkham Origins' "Cold, Cold Heart" DLC, which tells the story of Freeze’s first showdown with the Dark Knight. The story, which is basically a retelling of "Heart of Ice," is a bit too familiar to really stand out, but it does at least allow player's to be a part of the villain's origin story. The Dark Knight even dons a special Extreme Environment (XE) suit and new gadgets, including the Thermal Gloves and Thermocharged Batarangs. So that's pretty...cool.

Mr. Freeze began life as a ridiculously costumed Lex Luthor lookalike with an interesting bit of weaponry, but it took a television show to perfect not just his look, but his very name! Perhaps ironically, it was the brightly-colored Batman TV show (one of the most faithful live-action visual representations of a comic book of all time) that actually had the good sense to tone down Mr. Freeze’s color scheme and replace it with a more appropriately space age, utilitarian look. It was animation that finally visualized the beautiful destructive power of Mr. Freeze’s weaponry, with an indescribable sound effect and hypnotic electric blue laser beam fury. And it was the Arkham games that finally allowed him some peace. 

Be it in the games or cartoons or movies, Mr. Freeze remains an iconic presence, a villain creators continue to depend on when they need a story to pull on the heartstrings of the audience. It's just imposible to ignore his big, cold heart. 

A version of this article originally appeared in February of 2014. It has been updated with new information since then.