In ‘First Snow,’ the story that introduces the rebooted Freeze, we are presented with a revelation in the climax. It turns out that Victor Fries has never even met Nora. She was frozen in the 1960s, and was the subject of Fries’ doctoral thesis. Mr. Freeze is transformed, with this twist, from a loving husband descended into extremity, into an obsessed and deluded stalker.
This is a change that fans and critics have objected to in great numbers. However, around this unpalatable bit of alteration to a familiar universe, there exists a well-told chiller of a tale (sue me, I had to do at least one pun about cold here somewhere). For the bulk of the story, recurring bat-fans are given the familiarly tragic Freeze they know, and new readers have that same sympathetic origin set up for them—until the revelation, readers can reasonably assume that Nora really is Victor Fries’ wife. In fact, up until the revelation, readers are set up to, to some extent, root for Freeze. In this story, he has found a way to safely unfreeze Nora, whose heart condition is now treatable with modern medicine, and intends to leave Gotham with her, forever. Since readers still think that Nora is his wife, this seems to be a good outcome—Victor Fries gets to be happy, and Gotham has one less supervillain to worry about.
While the plan’s component of killing Bruce Wayne may not be something readers root for, Snyder, has, at this point, at least given us a sympathetic motive for Freeze’s doing so. After all, it was Bruce Wayne who shut down the cryogenics project that would find a way to unfreeze Nora, and it was in a confrontation with Wayne over this very project that Victor Fries suffered the accident that altered his body chemistry, transforming him into the Mr. Freeze with whom we are familiar.
The shock of discovering the truth about Fries and Nora is made all the more potent by the way in which Snyder has thus far set us, the readers, up so that we feel sympathetic to Freeze. Our emotional momentum is reversed with the revelation in the story’s third act. The power of the ending comes not solely from the shock of the unfamiliar, but from the sudden necessity to reevaluate our sympathies, and the way in which all of Freeze’s actions become, in retrospect, profoundly disquieting. The putting-on-a-pedestal of a woman who may not want any such attention is the dark flip-side to the sorts of stories that make Dini’s take on Freeze so sympathetic, and Snyder’s ‘First Snow’ brings this to the fore. The title of the story is taken from a line within, said by Victor’s mother: “How I love the first snow, unbroken and white, before it’s ruined by footprints.”
The symbolic connection to Nora, then, is that, to Snyder’s Freeze, her frozen state renders her unspoiled: she is inert, unable to act, and it his his prerogative to act upon her. She is an idealization of the innocent victim—Freeze knows her only insofar as he knows the details of the process by which she is put in stasis. She is his project, but not really a person. In a sense, the relationship between Freeze and Nora can be seen as a critique of the damsel-in-distress archetype. As readers, our sympathy is so easily gained, in part, because, even if we are unfamiliar with Dini’s Freeze, we know to root for the guy trying to save the girl. Another layer of the shock of the twist, then, is that we must, in some way, face the dark underbelly of the structures we accept daily in narratives both fictional and about the real world.
The most common objections to the changes to Freeze are centered around the idea that the new Freeze, without the angle of sympathy, will have less interesting stories centered around him. This is entirely possible. Indeed, within Batman’s rogue’s gallery, he now occupies a similar niche to the Mad Hatter, who is obsessively in pursuit of a woman to be his ‘Alice.’ However, regardless of what can be done with the new Freeze, as a self-contained story, ‘First Snow’ is a thought-provoking and well-written work.