Driven to break the law to extend the frozen life of his fatally ill wife, Mr Freeze arguably has the most poignant backstory of all Batman's archfoes. Last week, the video game version of the frozen-hearted felon got some ice-cold closure.
Victor Fries returns to the Bat-game franchise as one of the featured bad guys in Arkham Knight's Season of Infamy expansion. Taking place before the end of the main campaign's story, the questline centered on Freeze adds a new locale, a freighter run aground on a glacier off Gotham City. Players find out that the Arkham Knight's army attacked the vessel that was carrying Freeze and his cryogenically preserved wife Nora. The mercenaries have taken her to try and blackmail Freeze into helping them kill the Batman.
The Dark Knight intervenes, of course, and what follows is a multipart adventure much like the game's other Most Wanted missions. This one weaves together the series' signature combo of strategic stealth and 360-degree combat with the Batmobile-vs-drone tanks skirmishes introduced in Arkham Knight. I went in expecting to have a showdown with Freeze but Victor doesn't want to fight. His sole desire is what he's always wanted to do: to save his wife's life.
They may be evil as heck, but almost all of Batman's villains have been given traumatic pasts that they blame for the messed-up things they do. Part of the reason for that construction — sometimes added on after the characters have been around for while — is to add depth to the characters and make them at least a little sympathetic. The efficacy of such thinking varies, of course. It doesn't matter how sad the Joker's life was before he became the Clown Prince of Crime; he's killed so many people that sympathy for him is practically impossible in most storylines.
Freeze has killed loads of people, too, but his morose affect and pining away for a loved one he couldn't save always made it seem like there might some kind of unlikely redemption in the cards for him. The best take on his origins came in 1992 in the "Heart of Ice" episode of Batman: The Animated Series, seen excerpted above.
That story showed a scientist who wasn't inherently unhinged or evil. Fries was a man who suffered a metaphorically fatal icicle through his heart, leaving him with no emotions except for the desire for vengeance and pining away for his wife. Since then, the best Freeze stories have focused on the tragic nature of the character, which includes his ache for a woman he couldn't be with, even if she was restored to a normal existence.
The Freeze mission is only a quarter of the Season of Infamy package and isn't much longer than the standalone Arkham Episodes that spotlighted Batgirl, Red Hood, Robin or Catwoman. But it's far more satisfying from a storytelling standpoint. There's an actual arc here, with characters starting in one narrative place and ending up in another. You get to hear the persona of Victor Fries — and the even more rarely heard perspective of wife Nora — change in this mission. I wasn't expecting get any kind of advancement or denouement here but am very happy to have gotten some.