Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Batman: The Animated Series - "Heart of Ice"

“Think of it, Batman. To never again walk on a summer’s day with a hot wind in your face, and a warm hand to hold. Oh, yes. I’d kill for that.”

An impromptu winter falls over Gotham City, and it’s Mr. Freeze (Michael Ansara) who’s to blame. His tragic past pushes him on a quest for revenge against the morally bankrupt industrialist Ferris Boyle (a decidedly un-Joker but delectably oily Mark Hamill) and into the path of Batman, who must stop Mr. Freeze’s crime wave before Gotham freezes over.

Every once in a while on this blog, I feel the urge to write a very short review, in all capital letters, to the effect of “THIS IS THE GREATEST. TRUST ME.” And good heavens, does that apply here. With apologies for spoiling the Top 10 list I’ll be doing at the end of this run, “Heart of Ice” is without a doubt the single greatest episode of Batman: The Animated Series, probably the greatest episode in the entire DC Animated Universe, and perhaps even hyperbolically the greatest episode of any television show ever.

It’s perhaps difficult 25 years later to appreciate what a third-rate nobody Mr. Freeze was before this episode. At the time in the comics, he was literally a resident of the metafictional realm Limbo, where forgotten comic book characters languish until somebody remembers them. He had no compelling storyline, and there was little to differentiate him from The Flash’s nemesis Captain Cold. Enter Paul Dini on scripting duties, and the public perception of the character changes right alongside the newly-tragic core of Mr. Freeze. The decision to recast him as a man devoid of feeling after losing his wife and his humanity in a cryogenic accident is positively inspired, and the marriage of that tragedy to the “gimmick” of being cold makes for synchronized perfection.

Kudos to Michael Ansara as the voice of Mr. Freeze, who finds a pitch-perfect middle ground between cold emotionlessness and abject pathos (helped ably by a haunting music box score by Todd Hayen & Shirley Walker) – “I’m beyond emotions,” he tells Batman; “they’ve been frozen dead in me.” And yet we hear the heartbreak behind his cold exterior, sense the pain of love in his motivations. The recurring image of the snowglobe, which not accidentally resembles the dome over Freeze’s head, serves as a reminder of the way that Freeze has frozen his past, his memory, and his identity, and he’s encased them all, walled off from the world. The Joker has always been Batman’s greatest nemesis, but Mr. Freeze might here be the most well-defined.

Wisely, though, “Heart of Ice” doesn’t forget that this is a Batman show first and foremost, and so Batman gets to strut his detective stuff in the finest form since “On Leather Wings.” Even the Bruce Wayne persona gets in on the sleuthing, paying a visit to the supposed humanitarian who stands at the center of Freeze’s heists. And Dini’s script, smart as ever, even loops in the fact that Batman is suffering from the common cold and uses it for the deus ex thermos in the film’s climax.

“Heart of Ice” is a tightly written and smartly plotted episode in which nothing goes to waste, and the fact that it rehabilitates a now-major villain in the process is a true testament to what Paul Dini can do with the Bat-universe. I can say with a high degree of confidence that at least three of my “top five” episodes of Batman: The Animated Series are all written by Paul Dini, and “Heart of Ice” illustrates poetically why that’s so.

Original Air Date: September 7, 1992

Writer: Paul Dini

Director: Bruce Timm

Villain: Mr. Freeze (Michael Ansara)

Next episode: “The Cat and the Claw,” in which Batman gets an object lesson in casual misogyny.

🦇For the full list of Batman: The Animated Series reviews, click here.🦇

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