You know, when you compare corny Silver Age superhero comics to the “darker”, “mature” superhero comics, what really sticks out is not the differences between the two, but rather the similarities. Put in all the dark cities and swear words you want, a little sliver of the Silver Age always manages to slither in.
Just look at Batman, arguably the superhero who’s changed the most over the years. I remember watching the 1966 Adam West movie and the 1989 Michael Keaton movie back to back once and seeing that they weren’t all that different. Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson both had that wacky-yet-creepy air about them, and while one was bright and the other was gloomy, both films were bombastic and ironic in their tone. A gas-spraying parade balloon wouldn’t look out of place in the 60’s movie nor flying rocket umbrellas in the 80’s movie.
Indeed, it seems that some of the campiest elements of the 60’s TV series and comics have survived to this day, as “dark” and “realistic” as Batman has gotten. Though the Dark Knight may skulk in slimy abandoned alleyways, chasing down drug dealers and murderers, he’s still facing off with a guy who can shoot ice and has the same name as an ice pop company.
Yes, Mr. Freeze. The Silver Age-iest of Silver Age baddies. A blue man in a robot suit with a gun that turns things to ice, and it’s all the more noticeable by the fact that he’s fighting against a hero without any powers. It’s like he’s a Superman villain given to Batman (like Toyman seemed like a Batman villain given to Superman), yet he’s been tormenting the Caped Crusader since 1959 (though they once tried to kill him off) and is probably one of the most famous of Batman’s enemies. Hell, he’s appeared in more Batman adaptations than fucking Two-Face.
Mr. Freeze has had his moments of glory though. He’s been compelling, even. The famous Batman: The Animated Series gave him a new origin and attitude which made him a worthy foe for Batman. The episode ‘Heart of Ice’ cast Freeze as a scientist trying to save his wife, who was forced to be trapped in an unfeeling shell of his former self. The best Batman villains are warped versions of Batman, and Mr. Freeze was a figure born of tragedy trying to exact his version of justice. The episode was so acclaimed that the new backstory ended up being incorporated into the comics…but then the New 52 buggered it up by having Nora not be Freeze’s wife and making Freeze into some creepy stalker.
Still, Mr. Freeze was never really interesting until BTAS gave him that story. Though Batman and Robin tried to use that backstory as well, they used too much of the old when doing the new, and thus their portrayal of Freeze was bipolar and awkward. One minute he’s crying about his wife, the next he’s saying ‘STAY COOHL BIRD BOY’. Another good example of how crappy Freeze was pre-TAS is the episode of Filmation’s New Adventures of Batman, ‘Deep Freeze’. It’s not as bad as Batman and Robin, it didn’t cost millions of dollars to make as evident by its stilted animation, but it’s still pretty damn corny. In a show which pretty much made every Batman villain into some goofy Skeletor-wannabe, Freeze still manages to be one of the goofiest.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the very opening minutes of his episode. It starts off with a bird sneezing, for fuck’s sake. There’s a bird near Mr. Freeze’s icy lair, and it’s sneezing. That’s the sort of background gag you’d expect in Yogi Bear, it looks out of place even in the campiest renditions of Batman. Also, in this version, Mr. Freeze has a pathetic little sidekick called ‘Professor Frost’ (no relation) who is always sneezing and whining about how everything is so cold. Oh boo hoo. It’s your fault for not reading the job description carefully.
Anyway, Mr. Freeze is watching the news, where they report that the Riddler has been arrested…did you know that Filmation couldn’t use the Riddler on this show due to Hanna Barbera using him in Challenge of the Superfriends? Likewise, Hanna Barbera wanted to have the Joker be a member of the Legion of Doom, but couldn’t due to him being in New Adventures. Considering the competency (or lack thereof) of Hanna Barbera’s Legion of Doom, I consider Joker not being a member a blessing actually.
The news also reports that Mr. Freeze is free, so Freeze responds, ‘Jail is one cooler I want no part of!’ Some of you may have noticed the resemblance to a line in Batman and Robin – ‘You’re not sending me to the cooler!’ – only this line feels a lot more stilted. Geez, I said this episode wasn’t as bad as Batman and Robin, but it definitely has worse puns. Frost then sneezes, and though he’s supposed to be behind Freeze, appears in front of him for a few seconds.
The report calls Freeze a ‘fourth-rate felon’, which offends Freeze. Oh, don’t worry, Paul Dini will help you get the respect you deserve. So Mr. Freeze decides to prove the public wrong by pulling off a big caper…and asks Frost to think of what said caper will be. Yeah, Freeze and Frost are pretty much Zitbag and Horrifido. Joy.
Frost suggests that he and Freeze pilfer a submarine to which Freeze agrees, saying…ohfuckinggod… ‘I’m glad I thought of it!’ Come on, this was cliché even back in the 70’s. Villains, can’t you give your henchmen credit for once?
So Frost invents a freezing ray for Freeze…wow, this version of Mr. Freeze is so pathetic he doesn’t even invent his own freezing ray. I mean, come on, you’re supposed to be the mad scientist, aren’t you? As Frost tests out his freezing ray, Mr. Freeze goes on about how great he is and how he’ll rule the world, which makes me long for the emotionless tones of Michael Ansara.
Then at stately Wayne Manor, Dick Grayson…sigh…has a cold. On the day Mr. Freeze decides to start a crime spree. Guess God hates Robin. Don’t blame Him. Anyway, Batman and Robin in this show are voiced by Adam West and Burt Ward from the 60’s TV series, and they’re always a joy to listen to. In fact, I think as good as the aforementioned ‘Heart of Ice’ was, it would have been better with West and Ward.
ROBIN: Holy matrimony, Batman! Mr. Freeze got his condition from trying to save his wife?
BATMAN: Yes, Robin…this proves that…there shines a ray of warm light…even in…the darkest…coldest…heart.
Sadly, in this show, they’re given some pretty banal dialogue; ‘You can bet whatever [Mr. Freeze] has planned, it’s gonna be a whopper.’ No, really? This show sounds more like a parody of superhero cartoons than an actual one.
Batman and Robin go in their Batmobile to find Freeze, only for Batman’s little goblin sidekick, Bat-mite, to show up. Yes, I am reminding everyone that there was a cartoon where one of the major characters was a magical elf in a bat costume.
Then Batman finds Mr. Freeze’s…are you ready for this…COLDSMOBILE. As smart as Freeze claims to be, he sure isn’t imaginative when it comes to names. Freeze sees Batman and asks Frost to ‘give them the cold shoulder!’ God, shut up about the cold for three seconds, won’t you? Frost freezes the Batmobile, throwing it into a wobbly.
Back at the Batcave, Batman is talking to his Batcomputer, and by that I mean, he’s actually having a conversation because the Batcomputer is sentient. Now there’s something I’d like to see used in a modern story – Batman and his (darker, grittier) talking Batcomputer. Batcomputer should be in the Batman movie reboot too, preferably played by Norman Lovett. Anyway, Batcomputer tells Batman that Mr. Freeze’s hideout is in a place that’s really really cold. At least he isn’t hiding out in an ice cream factory, so this Freeze has a few more brains than Arnie’s version.
As Batman and Robin infiltrate Freeze’s lair, and we get that fucking sneezing bird again. Frost is talking to Freeze about stealing the submarine, and Freeze freezes Frost’s diagram for no real reason. Guess he just thought it’d be funny, I dunno. Freeze spots Batman and says to Frost, ‘Let’s give these pyjama-clad clowns a snow-job!’ Well, this cartoon is good for an immature chuckle if nothing else. Still doesn’t beat the Superfriends’ ‘Bat-lube’ though.
Mr. Freeze offers Batman and Robin a snowcone, and says he doesn’t want to go to prison because it’s ‘hot’. Dude, just shut up. We know you’re cold, we know. Then he sends Batman and Robin down a trap door- you’d think for the world’s greatest detective, Batman would know when he’s standing on a trap door. Then Mr. Freeze finally freezes them, in a rather surreal way too. Some giant ice cubes materialise out of thin air and Batman and Robin run into them. So yeah, if they’re frozen they’re dead and…oh, right, corny cartoon, they’re fine. Mr. Freeze then decides to go off to steal the submarine and takes Robin along for no real reason. You’re supposed to be a genius, Freeze, stop doing things for no real reason.
As Freeze brings Robin to the submarine, Bat-mite infiltrates Freeze’s lair himself, coming across the sneezing bird. In fact, the bird’s sneeze blows Bat-mite into Freeze’s lair, making him break some machinery that thaws out Batman. You…I…THE FUCKING BIRD WAS AN IMPORTANT PLOT POINT?!?!?!?!?! That’s it, the world is ending. Oh, yes, and Batman is as good as new despite having been frozen for quite a while.
Freeze freezes the guards – I bet they’ll be alright in a few minutes – and steals the submarine. When Robin tells Freeze Batman and the Navy will ‘be all over [him] like bees on honey’, Freeze freezes over the entire fucking ocean. Boy, he’s thought of everything. At the Batcave, Batman shows that he can convert his ‘Bat-boat’ into his own personal sub. A regular Inspector Gadget, isn’t he?
Where does Mr. Freeze want to go in his submarine? Why, as he says himself, ‘THE NOOORTH POOLE!’ Maybe he wants to steal Santa’s presents or something. Now that would be a good Mr. Freeze story, Batman Saves Christmas. Then Freeze spots Batman and cries ‘I CAN’T BELIEVE MY ICY STARE!’ C’mon, just say eyes. Then he creates icebergs to stop Batman while saying things like ‘THIS IS SO MUCH FUN IT’S GIVING ME GOOSEBUMPIES!’ and ‘THIS IS MORE FUN THAN A BARREL OF COOOLD BLIZZARDS!’
Seeing Batman manoeuvre through those icebergs makes me think I’m watching a Let’s Play of some Sega Genesis game. Still, Batman then crashes into an iceberg and begins to sink. At this moment, Robin undoes the ropes Freeze tied him up with and ties up Freeze himself. But then Freeze breaks out of those ropes. See, this is why you’re the sidekick, Robin, you’re crap.
Robin escapes the sub and tries to find Batman. But Batman’s okay because he drilled through the iceberg! Of course he survived, he’s Batman.
Later at the North Pole, Freeze has apparently already built a base there, if those weird-looking sci-fi buildings in the cave are any indication. He is then ambushed by Batman and Robin who now have a weapon they can use against his freeze ray. They zap it with a red laser and Frost says the phrase no cartoon ever should have their characters utter; ‘they’ve reversed the polarity!’
They’ve reversed the polarity.
No. No no no.
Anyway, they’ve turned Freeze’s freeze ray into a heat machine of some kind, and Robin says they’ll let it melt the North Pole unless Freeze gives up. So, yeah, Batman and Robin cause global warming, it seems. Mr. Freeze gets away on a snowmobile, and Batman utters another phrase I don’t want to hear in another cartoon, ‘We only have one chance, Robin.’
Oh, and Batman has a rocket powered ski hidden in the sole of his boot. That’s even dopier than the ice skates in Batman and Robin. I should really stop talking about that film, shouldn’t I? Anyway, they catch up on Freeze, and in case you needed reminding this is a cartoon for retarded three-year –olds, it ends with some snow falling on Freeze and Batman and Robin laughing.
So what’s the verdict? Once again, it’s better than Batman and Robin, but mostly because this came before the dark Batman being known to the general public and Freeze’s revised origin, making it more forgivable. It’s still pretty corny and crappy, but interesting in the sense of seeing how can a character can evolve than devolve than evolve than devolve.