Snow Job
Posted: September 27, 2008

The more contemptuously Mr. Freeze rejected our sympathies, the more we sentimentalized him. The harder he pushed away his humanity, the tighter we hugged him to our bosoms. By the end he was an inhuman monster, but we insisted he was really just a lambchop, a cutie-pie, an ootchie-kootchie fuzzi-wuzzikins. In fact, he was a Mephistophlean tempter, luring us down the path of corrupt pride toward arctic nihilism.

Responsibility for this dynamic rests with his premiere (in both senses of the word) episode, "Heart of Ice." He immediately won us over with his implacability, his commanding intensity, and the pathos of his predicament. His correct if cold manner gave a him a not altogether spurious aura of decency. His situation made him a victim and an underdog, but his refusal to compromise made him seem admirable. But the logic that drove him was already sterile: from his acts of vengeance nothing fruitful could ever spring. He had been robbed of love, of hope, and of his own humanity, but he could win nothing back from Ferris Boyle but a sense of honor and dignity. Pride drove him on. Conventional opinion has it that the later stories somehow betrayed him and his sympathetic origins, but in actuality they drew out and refined the core of his character. Fan disappointment with those stories in turn drove them to insist he was, really, just a misunderstood cuddlebunny. But he would consume any foolish enough to follow him.

His career could have ended with "Heart of Ice": Though baulked of his goal, he at least knew that his victimizer had also been ruined, and he had no other plans to realize. That changed fatally in "Deep Freeze," where he was given a chance to revive his wife. Though he rejected the price asked of him, and even deepened our regard for him by acting for once as an irreproachable hero, he was ultimately overthrown by temptation. In SubZero his earlier indifference to the lives of others reasserted itself and then crusted over with a frozen carapace. His willingness to murder the innocent Barbara Gordon bespoke a self-regard that didn't dismiss the lives of others so much as it simply ignored them. That was the moment he lost his humanity, an act of willed alienation that was later realized physically in "Cold Comfort." By then there was no turning back. Though it looked for awhile that "Meltdown" might signal the beginning of a long-delayed redemption, the ease with which he fell back into old patterns argued that habits, once acquired, become character. But those habits had been implicit even in his beginning.

This is not an argument for inevitability; the glacier need never reach, let alone dissolve into, the sea. But it scores the earth deeply where it travels, and the white snow of indulgent forgiveness can never completely cover its traces.

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