CREDITS: Written by Paul Dini; directed by Bruce Timm.
REVIEW: Before this episode, Mr. Freeze was nothing. A C-lister at best in Batman's rogues gallery, there's no way he would have appeared in a big budget Batman movie only a few years later (not even a terrible one). While Batman does have some credible "science fiction" villains (Clayface maybe?), they don't always fit in with a cast that's almost entirely made up of psychological pathologies, driven by obsession and trauma. That's what Paul Dini gave Freeze. Psychological depth. In retrospect, it was fairly easy to do. Dini simply gave him attributes associated with the cold - emotionlessness, bitterness, calculating revenge, ruthlessness - and worked his way back from there to give Freeze an origin story that would lead the character there. Recast as a loving husband whose dying wife was taken from him by his corporate masters when they pulled the plug on his cryogenic experiments, also accidentally giving him his frozen condition, Mr. Freeze becomes a rather sympathetic figure, if one frozen mid-motivation, the very essence of obsession. And the more you contrast such villains to Batman, who also "lost everything" and still came out on the right side of things, the more remarkable the Dark Knight becomes.
The story is full of amazing touches. Freeze using a fire hydrant to propel himself on a plume of ice. Batman getting a cold. Alfred's chicken soup joke, and how it figures in Freeze's defeat. The double meanings lacing Bruce Wayne's conversation with "CEO of the People" Ferris Boyle (including Bruce's sarcastic "I feel ill"). How Boyle is just as cold as Freeze is, probably more, but masks it in a philanthropist's cause; Freeze just refuses, or is unable, to hide the same way. Batman saving the henchman coldly left behind and saving him from hypothermia. His ice cold retort to Boyle, "Good night... humanitarian." Freeze worshiping a representation of his wife in a snow globe. I'd say the only weak part is the MacGuffin of the ice cannon's different parts needing to be stolen and assembled, but it's a MacGuffin, that's usually how it goes.
And while the script alone might have been enough to make this a triumph, Bruce Timm's direction puts it way over the top. This is an episode filled with motion. Wind, snow, ice, debris, all in swirling motion, and responsive to the characters' actions. A lesser episode wouldn't trouble itself with squishing a small amount of snow under a walking character's boots. The episode literally shines thanks to a glittering effect, and metaphorically by the amount of detail put in. Kids playing in the background in the aftermath of Freeze's attacks. Nora's snow globe fogging up. Tiny reflections in Freeze's red goggles. There's more atmosphere in the Batcave, a better than usual use of shadows... the episode is just more ANIMATED. About the only note I'd give it is to dial down the distortion on Freeze's voice, which was sometimes hard to understand. But you damn right these guys won an Emmy for Heart of Ice.
IN THE COMICS: Mr. Freeze first appeared as Mr. Zero in Batman #121 (1959) - leading to three appearances on the '66 TV series under that name with different actors in the role - and became Mr. Freeze with Detective Comics #373 (1968). He was such a loser, the Joker had killed him unceremoniously in the Robin II mini-series in 1991. This episode's quality and popularity led to DC Comics minting Paul Dini as a bona fide comics writer, and his first non-DCAU assignment was to adapt his origin story to mainstream continuity (in 1997, though the villain was quickly resurrected in 'Tec #670, 1994, and brought in line with the cartoon version), giving Nora Fries and Ferris Boyle their first appearances in continuity.
SOUNDS LIKE: Michael Ansara, famous as the TOS era Klingon Kang, voices Mr. Freeze. That's Mark Hamill as Ferris Boyle.
REWATCHABILITY: High - Many still consider it the best BTAS episode ever made, and you can see why. The bar's been set very high, gentlemen. (Imagine, this originally aired THIRD.)