Today, Patrick and guest writer Sarah are discussing Batman: The Dark Knight 23.2: Mr. Freeze, originally released September 11th, 2013. This issue is part of the Villain’s Month event. Click here for our Villains Month coverage.
Patrick: A buddy of mine just had his car stolen. He lives in Los Angeles, and it’s not like that kind of thing is common place, but… well, you expect to encounter a certain amount of shit living in a big city. Cost of doing business, I suppose. His folks don’t live in the area, so he reached out to his friends for help, advice and rides — they were happy to oblige him with all three. It became clear that my friend had found a “family,” which is a concept just abstract enough to really mean something. It didn’t much matter that not everyone could help him in tangible ways, love and emotional support were exactly what he needed in that moment, and this “family” was able to provide it. They were a comfort, a safety net and a reason to push past the tragedy and on to better things. Victor Fries longs for that connection so much it that drove him to project nonexistent feelings on to a perpetually frozen wife. Now that he’s discovered he has real family out there, it’s becoming increasingly clear: it wasn’t the “wife” part of the “frozen wife” of which he was so enamored.
This issue borrows liberally from the Batman Annual 1 – something that would have been disappointing, but it gave me a reason to go back and explore that piece a second time. (You guys, it was really good. On the off chance that you are insane — and didn’t read it — I urge you to pick it up right now.) It’s a relief that writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey have such a handle on what made that issue so compelling in the first place. Early on, there’s a flashback that overlaps with the final page of the Batman Annual 1, and while the drawing and staging are all unique to this issue, artist Jason Masters makes sure to place that bright red apple prominently in frame.
And it’s with that explicit reference to both the incident and the tone of the previous Mr. Freeze story that Palmiotti and Gray embark on their own.
Freeze is locked up in Arkham and receiving regular counseling. But the good doctor is savvy enough to know that the shrink has no interest in curing him — in fact, Freeze’s file reads “Incurable.” Instead, the psychiatrist teases Victor with news about his absentee-father’s second family. Victor takes the bait, and writes numerous letters to his heretofore unknown family. When the Justice Leagues are killed and the Crime Syndicate tears the gates of Arkham asunder, Freeze takes some quick, frosty revenge on that snooty doctor and then heads out in search of his long-lost-maybe-family. He has to murder a few cannibalistic henchmen to do it, but he eventually finds them and promptly Freezes them all to death.
The story is slight, and it’s largely a retread of the emotional territory covered by Snyder over a year ago. But Palmiotti and Gray seem to have struck on a meta-nerve here, emphasizing Freeze’s confusion and making it our own. For starters, the chronology of this issue is fucking crazy. We begin “over thirty years ago” and the narrative ricochets spastically around time, with brief detours to Victor’s life as a child, his time working at Wayne Labs, the night he fought Batman, his therapy sessions, the night of the breakout, searching for his family, and their disastrous reunion. The full-page spread on page four looks to be the very last thing that happens in the issue, and the action leading up to those final moments is muddled profusely. As Freeze explains his past to his new family, the pages fill up with unused white space, and the story becomes gradually focused on the fighting and pointless bickering between Batman and Freeze.
By the time we snap back to the present, we’re not entirely sure why Freeze has taken us on this journey, but then I’m not sure Freeze knows either. He wants to be understood and to be loved, but he has no concept of what any of that means. Ultimately, he’s just obsessed with the cold, seemingly only telling parts of his history that have to do with ice to people he’s newly encased in ice.
There are some other big looming question marks this issue poses. Freeze states that he doesn’t know who slipped him the newspaper article that informed him of his family. We never get an answer to that. Victor’s father left him and his mother “over thirty years ago” – does it even make sense that he’d have a new family with young kids? If Victor was a teenage when his father left, the man must be pushing 70 at this point, right? Or how about that ending? What’s Victor doing in the basement? Are those chopped up bodies in the garbage bags? Whose? His family’s or those henchmen he slaughtered? The issue seems content to just pose these questions and let them sit, nagging at us like something we should be able to understand, but just don’t.
Well maybe I’ll just freeze some people and see if that gives me some clarity.
With that, I’ll hand it off to my ladyfriend, Sarah. What do you think? Did the confusing narrative help you get into the mindset of a cold-obsessed lunatic, or did it just leave you wanting clarity? And hey, how about Jason Masters’ art? He pulls of some impressive violence and innovative staging, and his cityscapes are super ghostly – those first couple panels of Gotham in the winter set the tone perfectly for me.
Sarah: First off, I have to admit that my only knowledge of the character Mr. Freeze, unfortunately, comes from the ill-conceived and universally hated Batman and Robin movie, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in the role. It was so poorly written and acted that a friend of mine and I in college would poke fun at its terrible dialogue by pointing at objects and yelling, “FROZEN!” as that was as clever as any of the other Mr. Freeze puns the film relied upon. When Villains Month came around, I was intrigued by the idea of exploring a Batman villain that was somewhat known to me, though was also still very much a mystery. Thankfully, after reading the Mr. Freeze section in Batman Annual 1, and this issue, I can say that I truly have a better understanding of the character’s origin, if not his motives.
Because the story takes place over a 30-year period, it is indeed ambitious, though I think effective in helping tie together the story of Victor’s mother falling through the ice and exploring both his preservationist and Oedipal tendencies. Victor’s abandonment issues likely stem from his father’s cold departure and his ultimate goal of preserving the family unit in its entirety, vividly displayed on the last page, which ties the 30-year journey together nicely.
I love the pose of the archetypal mother, toasting the father with a glass of wine (her heart not really in it, a steely expression on her face). The young boy, refusing to look up, focuses his gaze away from the father’s face. Even with all of the truly haunting art on this concluding panel, I believe the most important takeaway to be the word Mr. Freeze identifies as the what he is ultimately preserving: “integrity.” Now, to me, that’s a disconnect to the Freeze story back in Batman Annual 1 – that story was ultimately still about preserving a loved one – but integrity? That’s something new. A word I never thought to associate with Freeze until this last panel. Integrity, as I think about it more, can be defined in both terms of values and strength, which is exactly what breaks in young Victor’s world, and is a great way to show the warm heart at the center of this cold monster.
Mr. Freeze’s red eyes are a fine way to show there’s a part of him that can’t be frozen, but I really enjoy the other pops of red and their significance in a world of white. Why red wine on the last panel, and why isn’t it frozen? Beats me, but it looks great when Freeze is getting ready for dinner.
I also can’t deny the red apple and its connotations with Eve and original sin. I’m not sure the Genesis story fits at all into this narrative, though Victor says, “she broke a promise,” as he watches her fall through the lake (to hell?). The tension in Victor’s mother’s hand as she claws at the ice and her ghostly face as she sinks into the lake are particularly striking – certainly enough to scar a young boy and to spawn a lunatic obsessed with ice.
Young Victor’s pain is clearly demonstrated and makes a solid case for empathy. (I have to assume Mr. Freeze has committed worse crimes than ripping off a cannibal’s face or kidnapping/freezing his asshole father’s new family. Arkham had a reason to incarcerate him, right?) I would hope that this origin retelling will pay off for those of you who encounter Mr. Freeze in other Batman titles, but by itself, it’s a fine enough tale of loss, revenge and coping, with some pretty cool letter-murder:
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