Mr. Freeze targets the industrialist responsible for his wife's death.
Written by Paul Dini
Directed by Bruce W. Timm
Music by Todd Hayen & Shirley Walker
Animation by Spectrum
Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne
Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Alfred
Michael Ansara as Mr. Freeze
Mark Hamill as Ferris Boyle
Robert David Hall
This is the standard by which all the other episodes are measured. I don't say this because it is the best of them; that honor I would reserve for "Perchance to Dream." But it refines and elevates those features that typify the series, taking them to a level unmatched by any other episode. It is not just a classic, but a piece in the classical style, chamber music for hero and villain. "Vengeance" is Mr. Freeze's theme. "Justice" is Batman's. The result is a double fugue as each composes variations on his own theme and comments upon the other's.
Victor Fries is a good man, working with noble motives for a good end; he commits no real crime, but his obsessive quest puts him afoul of Ferris Boyle, who, though he pretends it, is not a good man and does not work to good ends with noble motives. The resulting accident leaves Fries cold on the outside but hot on the inside. Bruce Wayne has his own inside/outside problem, of course, the result of his own losing a loved one while meeting the wrong person in the wrong place. But having no object to attack, Wayne has turned himself into the materialized principle of abstract justice. Both Freeze and Batman are cut off from certain kinds of human contact, and both feel the loss acutely.
Freeze's accident resulted when he "misappropriated" company equipment, and his revenge begins when he "misappropriates" some more equipment to create a giant freeze gun. The accident left him sealed in a world of cold, so he will revenge himself by freezing Ferris shut inside his corporate headquarters. Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth: Vengeance notices not only the ends (punishment, the balancing of the moral scales) but also the means. Even the name of his nemesis, "Ferris Boyle," suggests not just the other end of the temperature gradient but the presence of a cyclical "what goes around, comes around" dynamic.
Batman recognizes no such discriminations. He cares for real justice, not poetic justice, and though he is careful in the means he uses, they are general principles that guide and constrain his actions, not ones tailored to each adversary. He has no personal quarrel with his foes (a fact Freeze recognizes: "This is not your fight!") and seeks only to incapacitate them before turning them over to the authorities. The abstractness of his motives sometimes leaves him seeming cold in his own way; at least Freeze cares enough about Boyle to try to hurt him back.
Their confrontations are spare but illuminating. Freeze is pitiless but not cruelhe incommodes Batman when he could have killed himwhile Batman is hampered by his own scruples. They comprehend each other perfectly and judge each other with generosity, but they can come to no agreement. Though they are both against Boylethe man in the middle, innocent yet culpable, uncomprehending yet laden with guilty knowledgethey cannot unite. But neither, perhaps, could have succeeded in getting at Boyle without the other. At the end, Freeze can console himself with the knowledge that Batman's intervention will ensure Boyle's punishment; but Batman would never have become involved if not for Freeze's obsession.
This is only the mathematics of the episode. The music is in Ansara's chilling monotone, in Dini's coolly eloquent soliloquies, in Timm's ice-sharp visuals.
Bruce Timm on Michael Ansara's performance: "It was really frustrating for him. He had never done cartoons before and an actor's first natural instinct is to act. He kept giving these line readings with all this inflection in them. I kept telling them that it had to be less, a lot less--like a robot. He kept saying it sounded so flat. Everybody else was looking at me too, and was asking me if I was sure. To them it sounded flat. I think it really sells it. I wanted his voice to sound like the Ebonites in that old Outer Limits episode, 'Nightmare.' They sound real metallic and hollow. I even played that for him at the recording session, and explained that was what I wanted it to sound like. It drove the sound guys crazy doing it."
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Heart of Steel