A Tribute to the of

It isn't often in the annals of comics that a super villain evolves or changes his identity, but this edition of the Silver Age Sage focuses on one such instance.  This time around I've selected Batman #121 from February of 1959 when Batman first encounters Mr. Freeze, or, as he's known in this first appearance, Mr. Zero.  Credit for cover art of this issue goes to Curt Swan and Stan Kaye.  The writer is Dave Wood and internal art is courtesy of Sheldon Moldoff (ghosting for Batman's creator Bob Kane) and Charles Paris. Jack Schiff is the editor. Let us now witness "The Ice Crimes of Mr. Zero!"

Midnight in Gotham City and an innocuous looking ice cream truck pulls up in front of a jewelry exchange.  Dressed in white, as all good ice cream vendors should be, the men exit the truck and one speaks to the freezer compartment, announcing to Mr. Zero that they've arrived.  A muffled voice replies that he should open the door and he'll get to work.  As two of the henchmen break the picture window, another opens the door and a strange figure leaps forth.  The uniform is a pale green with red trunks boots and gloves.  His completely bald head is covered in a spaceman type bubble and he carries some sort of apparatus on his back.  The alarm is sounding upon the breaking of the window, but the supremely confident Mr. Zero says that they'll be long gone before any police arrive with their fortune of "ice."

Zero approaches the vault and uses a heat capsule on it, following it directly with a blast of ice gas from a canister he's carrying that looks for the entire world like a paint gun for spraying automobiles.  The desired effect is achieved as the intense cold following the intense heat causes the metal to freeze and crack, allowing the criminals access to the valuable jewelry inside.  As they exit the exchange, the bat signal is visible in the night sky.  They hustle into the truck and accelerate away, just as Batman and Robin arrive on some jet-powered skates rather than the famed Batmobile.  They quickly pursue the vehicle, noting the figure of Mr. Zero in the freezer compartment and Batman throws a silken lasso around one of the thugs, but Zero immediately begins spraying the street with his ice gas, converting it into a massive skating rink.  The Dynamic Duo loses their footing, but manages to hang onto the man roped by the lasso.  They hope to get information from him, but he refuses, saying Mr. Zero would put him "on ice" if he talked.  Batman replies that perhaps he'll change his mind after some time in the cooler.  Great.  Cold puns.

We now change scenes to a "remote mountain outside Gotham City" where Zero has his hideout established.  The place is outfitted like a giant deep freeze including furniture made of ice with the exception of a warmed sofa, vaguely resembling a radiator.  A man is ushered into the odd setting and is introduced as a replacement for Gus, who was captured.  Kirk, the new guy, asks about the strange surroundings.  Zero soon addresses three men seated on the heated sofa and explains that he is the victim of an unfortunate accident when he was experimenting with his ice gun.  The freezing solution he'd just developed in his laboratory slipped from his hand and saturated his body.  Almost immediately he could not breathe at room temperature.  He quickly retreated to the lab's cold storage area, sort of a walk-in freezer and gained relief.  Soon he developed the special air-conditioned costume and the refrigerated mountain hideaway.  With that, they begin to plan the next heist.

The next day, three men are making a delivery of frozen meat to the Gotham hotel, where visiting royalty are staying.  In the next dramatic moment, Mr. Zero crashes the party with the aid of his ice gas and he and his men begin collecting the royal jewelry of the visiting dignitaries.

Meanwhile, outside, the caped crusaders spot the spectacle and rush to intervene.  They soon swing up to the terrace where Zero is using balls of ice to kayo the guards.  He then turns his ice gun on Batman and Robin, freezing their batlines to ice and forcing them to tumble into a nearby awning to avoid injury.  As they prepare to tackle the frozen felon, he again uses his device to create an ice chute that they use to escape to the ground and their waiting getaway car.  As the heroes follow, Zero reverses tactics and uses a heat ray to melt the chute out from under them.  They manage to alter their trajectory into some shrubs and then, more determined than ever, retrieve their bat-copters to continue the chase.  As the pair begins to gain on the fleeing vehicle, they note a police car in pursuit as well.  Before they can descend to aid the law, though, the villain strikes again, this time freezing the motor of the prowl car solid.  The crime fighters continue to follow until they come to a nearby mountain.  Batman shouts a warning to his sidekick, but it's too late as yet another burst of freezing force erupts from below them, locking the rotors of their copters in place.  Batman and Robin plummet down into the lair of Mr. Zero, but are strangely unharmed despite helicopters having no glide path.  Ah, the liberties you can take with a comic...

A short while later, back in the main room, we see the Gotham Goliath and Boy Wonder frozen into blocks of solid ice, serving as bizarre trophies for Mr. Zero.  Zero and his hoodlums then begin to lay plans for freezing Gotham arena during the upcoming international gem show.  He seems to have a thing for jewels.  While their attention is turned elsewhere, Batman begins to rock his block back and forth as Robin looks on, thinking that this is hopeless as even if his partner is successful, they'll merely re-freeze the Batman.  What the young crime buster did not notice, though, was that Batman was working his block toward the steam pipe leading to the heated couch.  He successfully snaps the pipe, filling the room with blinding steam that expands rapidly on contact with the arctic air in the chamber.  The World's Greatest Detective has also managed to rock his prison into Robin's, breaking and freeing them both.

Wasting no time, Batman leaps forward to apprehend the villain before he can bring his ice gun into play.  The heat from the broken pipe is weakening him and he's moving slowly, so it is an easy task to land a gauntleted fist across his jaw.  In the final panels of this very short story (only 8-1/2 pages) Zero pleads for his air-conditioned suit so that he can survive, but he then finds to his surprise and delight that he's able to somehow again breathe in normal temperatures.  Batman speculates that the steam treatment somehow returned him to normal, but he will still be turned over to the authorities to answer for his crimes.

Super cold criminals are nothing new in the DC Universe.  The Icicle roamed the Golden Age and plagued the Justice Society of America.  Captain Cold was the first villain with staying power in the Silver Age Flash's rogue's gallery.  Later Killer Frost made her appearance.  There have even been heroes with sub-zero capabilities, to include the Legion of Substitute Heroes' Polar Boy and modern continuity Justice Leaguer Ice, who was linked with Icemaiden.  Despite the foregoing, though, I would submit that when we think of a chilly villain, we inevitably think of this one, who of course morphed into Mr. Freeze.  The explanation for the change is that Mr. Zero's "cure" didn't take and upon his escape from prison he promptly began upgrading his cooling suit and weaponry and also decided his moniker needed updating as well.  Consequently it was a new and improved villain, even more lethal, now going as Mr. Freeze, who confronted the Dark Knight in Detective Comics #373 in March of 1968.

I'm afraid we're back to the Batman stories that just don't do a lot for me with this one.  Maybe due to its brevity there just wasn't much story development and there were also some highly implausible scenarios.  I already mentioned the fall in the bat copters, but I would think that being frozen into a block of ice would be crippling if not fatal and how on earth would you get any sort of leverage to rock a man-sized block of ice, particularly when you're inside it?  So, this wasn't the most imaginative story I've read about the Batman.  I could still be spoiled after reading the exceptional story of the debut of Ra's Al Ghul, too, who knows?  This at least had the saving grace of introducing a new and formidable villain, even if they did put him in cold storage (sorry, but I just couldn't resist) for nearly a decade.  I can also be thankful that his character was nothing like the portrayal by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the dismal "Batman and Robin."  This story gets a rating of 5.

I'll once again reiterate the standing invitation for you to return for the next edition of this feature, which will be in this same location in approximately two weeks.  I also welcome any questions or feedback you may have.  Drop me a line at professor_the@hotmail.com.

See you next time and…

Long live the Silver Age!

© 2000-2009 by B.D.S.

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