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Detective Comics 373
"Mr. Freeze's Chilling Deathtrap!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND March, 1968
Story & Art: Unknown

The cover shows Batman, frozen solid in a block of ice, being kicked off the roof of a skyscraper by the nefarious Mr. Freeze: "You're the world's greatest escape-artist, Batman! So -- let's see you get out of THIS trap!" (Talk about kicking someone to the curb!). The cover appears to be the work of Irv Novick. Mr. Freeze looks very much like his television counterpart (loose-fitting jumpsuit, metal helmet), except his suit is green instead of silver.

The story opens with an ambulance speeding through the streets of Gotham. None other than Aunt Harriet is being rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery for some unnamed ailment. Her doctor is employing a new tecnique called "cryosurgery" -- killing diseased tissue with blasts of liquid nitrogen. (I actually had a wart removed that way once, though the methods were less hi-tech -- the doctor brought the nitrogen in a paper cup and spread it on the wart with a Q-tip!)

Meanwhile, in another part of the city, Mr. Freeze and his gang are on their way to rob the home of millionaire Ralph Porter. Porter has just acquired an expensive painting, a winter landscape that Freeze wants to get his clammy hands on. He prepares to freeze the front door of the mansion, so it will be brittle enough to break down.

Simultaneously, both Mr. Freeze and the surgeon operating on Aunt Harriet relize that their equipment has conked out on them. It's only a minor setback for Freeze, who simply switches to his Cryothermal Gun's heat-ray instead. But the doctor grimly announces that if they can't get the cryosurgical cannula tube working again, Aunt Harriet will die!

As Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson try to digest this grim news, they spot the Bat-Signal shining in the night sky. The duo are reluctant to leave Harriet's side at this critical time, but duty compels them, and Bruce uses a nearby phone booth to call in to Commissioner Gordon. Gordon tells them about Mr. Freeze's latest robbery, and Bruce realizes that this is his old opponent Mr. Zero, and comments that he thought the crook's dependence on cold had been cured in their previous encounter. No such luck, apparently.

But Bruce is heartened when he realizes that Mr. Freeze's cold-ray might be used as a substitute for the malfunctioning surgical device, and he and Dick are determined to capture the Frigid Felon as quickly as possible. Bruce is friends with Ralph Porter, and knows that the "Winter Wonderland" painting arrived from Europe only that morning. For Mr. Freeze to find out about it so quickly, he deduces, the villain must have Porter's phone tapped. So Bruce calls Porter, and congratulates him on having the foresight to hide the real painting in his office safe, while displaying a copy in his home! Sure enough, Mr. Freeze overhears the conversation, and heads for the Porter Import Company to get the real painting.

Bruce and Dick switch to their Batman and Robin costumes, and race to confront Freeze and his gang. On the way, Batman theorizes that it was the simultaneous use of Mr. Freeze's freeze-ray and the surgeon's cannula device, operating in "opposite phases", that caused both of them to short out. He also reminds Robin that Zero -- or Freeze -- uses both cold and heat, and mentions that he is taking special precautions. Robin comments that Mr. Freeze's new name sounds like something out of a campy tv show (Holy breaking the fourth wall, Batman!).

When the Dynamic Duo reach Porter's office, Mr. Freeze and his gang are already there. Freeze has replaced the burnt-out tube in his freeze-gun (a solution the hospital apparently didn't think of), and coats the floor with a sheet of ice. But Batman and Robin came prepared, and they throw handfuls of sand onto the ice so they can maintain their footing. Batman takes out one of the thugs with a left jab, and then the two heroes slam into Freeze from opposite sides.

But the Refrigerated Rogue quickly recovers, and freezes the bamboo poles on the ceiling, the extra weight causing them to come crashing down. Batman and Robin activate the thermal controls in their Utitlity Belts, to protect them from freezing, and then smash their way through the falling bamboo-icicles. Batman knocks Freeze off his feet with a mighty WHAK!, and Robin grabs the all-important Cryothermal Gun and makes a run for it. Freeze immediately produces his *spare* gun (now here's a guy who likes to be prepared!) and tries to stop Robin cold in his tracks. But Robin simply uses the heat-ray on the gun he holds to melt the ice as fast as Freeze can produce it. He races off to the hospital, leaving Batman to finish off the crooks.

Taking a different tactic, Mr. Freeze uses his gun to produce a cloud of icy slush around Batman, preventing him from breathing. He finally manages to get free of the choking ice crystals, but the effort has weakened him, and Freeze's thugs manage to grab and hold him. Freeze switches off the heating unit in Batman's belt, then coats him from head to toe in a block of solid ice. He comments that he's not foolish enough to just leave Batman to freeze to death, since someone might find and rescue him in time (another sarcastic reference to the tv show?). Instead, he carries Batman to the roof of the building, and kicks him over the edge! (There's a switch -- the cover scene actually occurs in the story!)

As he plummets to certain doom, Batman calmly calculates his acceleration and wind resistance, and figures he has about ten seconds before he hits the ground. Eight seconds later, his icy cocoon suddenly shatters, and he quickly uses his bat-rope to snag a nearby flagpole, stopping his fall! A flabbergasted Freeze demands to know how he escaped, but Batman merely comments "Your ice wasn't all it was cracked up to be!" (since Robin isn't present, Batman has to come up with his own bad puns!) Freeze and his men escape on an ice-slide, melting it behind them so Batman can't follow. But the Caped Crusader is confident that he can track them down.

Sure enough, Batman is soon charging into Freeze's secret hideout, where he quickly subdues the startled villain, then uses his freeze-gun to immobilize the rest of the gang. After turning the prisoners over to the police, he changes back into his Bruce Wayne identity and rushes back to the hospital. He fills in Dick on what happened, and the Boy Wonder wants to know how he escaped from that block of ice. Bruce reveals that he had taken the precaution of switching the labels on his belt's thermal unit, so when Freeze thought he was turning it off, he was actually turning it on! The heating unit caused the ice to melt, allowing Batman to break free in time. Likewise, he mentions that he used a counter-tracer on the tapped phone line in order to track Freeze back to his hideout.

All ends well, as the doctor is able to use the freeze-gun to finish the operation, and Aunt Harriet is expected to make a full recovery. When she hears how Batman and Robin helped save her life, she hopes she'll be able to thank them in person. Bruce, Dick and Alfred assure her that it can easily be arranged.

A typically solid, if unexceptional, Batman adventure. Although the so-called "New Look" had wrought big changes in the artwork, making it more realistic (and less interesting, to my eyes), the writing is much the same as before -- colorful villains, clever gimmicks, and hair's-breadth escapes. I was a bit surprised to see the "digs" at the Adam West tv show -- evidently, some folks at DC resented the series, even as they were benefitting from its huge success.

Like the Riddler before him, Mr. Freeze went from being a minor villain to a fairly important one, thanks to several appearances on the aforementioned show. Although, as Steve Chung pointed out, his stock went up even higher thanks to the haunting, melancholy portrayal on Batman: The Animated Series.

Speaking of the Riddler, he appears in this issue's Elongated Man back-up story, "Riddler on the Roof", which probably merits a review of it's own one of these days...

This review dedicated to (Holy Inevitability!) Steve Chung. :-)

JKC