The Matt Signal Beyond – Episode 7: Meltdown

Plot summary: In an effort to create a new body for Derek Powers, Mr. Freeze is used as a test run, restoring one of Gotham’s most notorious criminals after 50 years in storage.

After completing the original run of Batman The Animated Series, Matt Waters looks to the future each Saturday and Sunday with recaps of every episode of Batman Beyond, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!

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Notes

Episode Title: ‘Meltdown’

Original Air Date: February 13th, 1999

Directed: Curt Geda (3)

Written: Hilary J. Bader (2) & Alan Burnett (3)

How Derek Powers came to possess the head of Mr. Freeze is told in issue 15 of Batman Adventures Vol. 2 (released four years after this episode).

The reveal of Mr. Freeze is drawn in the style of Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy. The very concept of Fries’ head in a jar was a tribute to Hellboy character Herman Von Klempt in the first place.

Despite stating Gotham is experiencing a heat wave (and thus Fries won’t last long without his suit), there are multiple instances of snow and a frozen-over pond.

Recap

Batman interrupts the illegal dumping of radioactive chemicals at the docks. Discovering Derek Powers is behind it thanks to a phone obtained from one of the goons, Terry calls Powers to gloat, angering him to the point he begins to leak green from his eyes.

Powers’ condition is worsening, emitting stronger radiation all the time, meaning his synthetic skin barely lasts a day. Dr. Stephanie Lake claims she can create him a whole new body and transfer his mind into it, but suggests a test subject first.

The poor sap in question? The ageless head of Victor Fries, in the possession of the Powers family for 50 years! Lake’s procedure is a success, and Freeze wakes up in a flesh and blood body, able to feel things again!

Naturally this troubles Bruce Wayne, who instructs Terry to follow Victor around Gotham. Fries appears completely rehabilitated though, visiting his own grave with Dr. Lake.

A masked assassin opens fire, but Batman steps in and easily takes him down, revealing an elderly man who lost his family to Victor decades earlier. Fries sincerely apologises, pledging to do what he can to make things right.

To that end he goes on television to announce the Nora Fries Foundation, a $500,000,000 fund. Bruce is dubious, while Victor begins to suffer from extreme heatstroke despite the cold weather.

Dr. Lake discovers his body is reverting to its former state, so attempts to knock him out so she can biopsy his organs, but he escapes.

Both Batman and Powers attempt to find Victor, but he makes the job easier for them by launching an icy assault on his former benefactors, having reclaimed one of his old Cryo Suits.

Victor begins overloading the main generator for the facility, planning to kill himself and blow up the building in the process. Batman attempts to stop him, but Victor is too seasoned, freezing him against a wall.

Powers, having transformed into Blight and melting his way to freedom, attacks Freeze, and the trio take turns beating each other up. Freeze eventually gets his wish, apparently perishing in the demolition of the building. Bruce finally admits Terry was right about Victor being a good man.

Best Performance

Oh hey, turns out Michael Ansara is still very good as Mr. Freeze. His tortured lamentation about his immortality garners a surplus of sympathy for Victor, which isn’t even really needed as we hate Powers and have an emotional attachment to Freeze. He pivots effortlessly into the ‘human’ Victor, softening his voice and filling it with subtle joy as he rediscovers sensation, then moving to authentic regret as he confronts his past misdeeds. He of course defaults back to zero, and I love his dry delivery of the Dr. Lake quote back at her after she betrays him. Essentially you get the entire Victor Fries experience in one episode, and a lot of it is among Ansara’s finest work. No notes!

Sherman Howard and Linda Hamilton are both solid as the other two villains in play, but few can hope to compete with Ansara’s iconic depiction of Mr. Freeze.

Ranking

I respect the creators’ decision to not bring back many classic villains, but if there’s any of them you can get away with, it’s the immortal head in a jar. On top of that, ‘Heart of Ice’ is the most beloved episode of BTAS, so it’s a lay-up to revisit in that regard as well.

But it doesn’t simply rest on its laurels, and instead is our earliest instance of what Batman Beyond is capable of being when firing on all cylinders; it utilises the legacy of its predecessor and tells an emotionally compelling new story with plenty of action and a satisfying villain vs hero vs villain battle that brings the series’ main villain into the spotlight for the first time. As is tradition with Mr. Freeze episodes, we sympathise with him and do not get confirmation of his death, leaving him potentially in play for the future… Spoilers: he will not be back.

It’s also probably the best looking episode so far, with by far the most effective fight scenes. The future setting’s colour palette is always interesting, and when combining that with some key lighting choices, you get things like Dr. Lake going from green hair and lips to purple as she moves from Derek Powers’ glowing radioactivity to Freeze’s cryo-chamber, when they’re in fact brown and pink in normal light.

  1. Meltdown (NEW ENTRY)
  2. Rebirth Part I
  3. Dead Man’s Hand
  4. Black Out
  5. Rebirth Part II
  6. The Winning Edge
  7. Golem

Villain Watch

Mr. Freeze (Michael Ansara) (first appearance)

I think this might actually be the perfect synthesis of the BTAS and TNBA designs, keeping the red-eyed head in a jar from the latter, while his new Cryo Suit evokes the classic goggled look. The suit is an improvement on the original design in my opinion, looking more sturdy and badass, rather than the slightly campy original. Upgrading from a separate Cold Gun to twin wrist-mounted ones makes him seen even more unstoppable, which makes sense given he basically stops himself.

And it’s a great little story to tell for him, as he’s briefly rescued from decades of torture, only to have it snatched away from him after Powers and Lake betray him. Thus his vengeance is both earned and poetic, sarcastically quoting Lake as he puts her on ice, and his rampage is as satisfying as ever, tearing through Powers’ security and even putting Terry on ice.

As is tradition, he undergoes a slight change of heart while maintaining his nihilism, attempting to take his own life but without confirmation if he succeeded.

Derek Powers/Blight (Sherman Howard) (fourth appearance)

I really enjoy the gimmick of Powers’ skin falling off while he’s trying to go about his business as a recurring plot device, and it was nice to finally see the ostensible Big Bad unleash the full fury of his powers against somebody uniquely suited to withstand them. They do a great job of conveying how incredibly dangerous he is, able to easily escape being frozen, and overwhelm both Victor Fries and Batman. It takes a huge effort to subdue him, and he walks away completely unscathed.

It’s a bit weird that Terry doesn’t recognise his voice, but hey, got to protect that secret! Oh, minus 10 points for self-nicknaming though.

If not for how good Inque and Freeze are, he’d be moving up the list.

Dr. Stephanie Lake (Linda Hamilton) (first appearance)

What a monster! I would love to rank her above Willie Watt, but in fairness he has more potential than a generic evil scientist. The lighting effects as she approaches Powers and Freeze help make her seem more visually distinct than she actually is, but her manipulative behaviour is truly fiendish. It seemed they were teasing some kind of romantic attraction between her and Victor, but she didn’t hesitate for a moment to try and murder him. Ice cold.

  1. Inque
  2. Mr. Freeze (NEW ENTRY)
  3. Derek Powers/Blight
  4. The Jokerz
  5. The Royal Flush Gang
  6. Willie Watt
  7. Dr. Stephanie Lake (NEW ENTRY)
  8. Jackson Chappell
  9. Mr. Fixx

Plugs

Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie including Return of the Joker.

My other recap column, Marvel Mondays, continues its coverage of What If…?

There Will Be Movies continues Ben & Matt’s look back at the 90s each Wednesday. This week Matt has brought perhaps the lowest box office movie ever covered on the website, Empire Records.

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Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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