Given the time of the season, it seems only appropriate that we look into some of the colder sides of villains. And, yes — cold powers, what we’re talking about today, is generally assigned to just villains.
( I don’t know, maybe it’s an excuse to use Killer Frost and Revenge is a dish best served cold puns all the time. )
We’ve touched on before, though, that the ‘gimmick’ powers tend to be attributed to villains in order to demonstrate that fanaticism is very much a bad thing. Obsession tends to overwhelm people and make them into, well, monsters. As we can very well see with Mr. Freeze and Captain Cold.
One of the most iconic of Batman’s nemeses, Mr. Freeze came into being in 1968. With the arrival of the new 52 comic series, his (and many other characters’) backgrounds changed, but I’ll go along with the most popular.
Doctor Victor Fries (don’t laugh) was a respected cryoscientist working in Gotham, his love for his work only surpassed by the love for his wife, Nora. His wife developed a fatal health problem and Fries put her in cryostasis (see: froze her so he could wake her up eventually) until he developed a cure. When his plan was found out by his boss, there was a scuffle and Fries fell into a vat of cryonic fluid. It rendered him unable to survive in a temperature above freezing. Driven by a need to save his wife and inflict revenge on people who wronged him, Dr. Fries became Mr. Freeze.
He’s also one of my favorite DC villains, so there’s that. This isn’t a place where I could write an essay about why Fries is such a good villain, but I could totally give you one.
Our second guy is also DC, appearing in 1957. Leonard Snart AKA Captain Cold is a fairly well-known enemy of the Flash and tried to use a cyclotron to interfere with his speed. His accidental modifications made it, essentially, a freeze gun. Unlike Dr. Fries, his goals tend to be money and women with an extra dash of Flash’s death thrown in.
One of Captain Cold’s alternate (self-given) titles is The Man Who Mastered Absolute Zero. So, what’s that mean?
Put simple, Absolute Zero is the lowest temperature you can go. It’s 0 K, -273.15 degrees Celsius, -459.67 on the Fahnreheit scale. We haven’t reached it yet and it’s theoretically impossible.
Interestingly enough, the average temperature of the universe isn’t far away — it’s at 2.73 Kelvin, or -454.76 Fahrenheit. We’ve gotten even closer in experiments. Just in June of 2015, MIT reached 500 nanoKelvins. 1 nanoKelvin is 1 billionth of a Kelvin, so as you can see, it’s possible to get very, very close.
But that’s not what we’re interested in — what we’re interested in is how viable cold can be used as a weapon.
The most obvious answer is hypothermia, your body temperature decreasing to a dangerously low level. Your internal body temp should be around 97-99. Anything below 95 is considered hypothermic.
And yes, it can kill you, remarkably quickly.
Remember that plane that went down in the Hudson a few years ago? The water there was 41 degrees. Chilly, of course, but by no means frigid. They estimated it at fifteen minutes before you’d start losing your coordination and control of your muscles. Generally speaking, the colder the water (ie, the closer it gets to the type of powers Freeze and Cold use), the quicker it happens.
With both of them, though, they don’t use cold water to get you hypothermic. Their method is more of a flash-freeze sort of thing.
Liquid nitrogen is a fairly common substance that gets things cold, fast. At 346 degrees below zero, I would wager that, if anything on Earth, that would instantaneously freeze anything, it’d be dunking your entire hand in liquid nitrogen, right?
Sometimes it’s put on motivational posters and the like that the human body has superpowers. Whether you believe that or not, this cool little physical trick could probably thwart Mr. Freeze. For a few seconds, anyway.
Say hello to the Leidenfrost Effect.
Take two objects, one significantly hotter than the other (for example, the human hand and some liquid nitrogen). The cold object, when it comes into contact, forms an insulating vapor layer. So, the liquid doesn’t rest on the hand, it rests on the vapor layer. So, it wouldn’t freeze your hand immediately.
Granted, this only lasts for that split-second. But, that split-second before the liquid nitrogen reactively and aggressively tries to cool your hand to its level, you wouldn’t feel anything. And then you’d feel excruciating pain.
The cold powers go to our villains. Other than the obvious – cold generally tends to be a thing we tend to avoid, because it reminds us of winter, of death; these villains also have one-track minds. They get obsessed over their one power and try to use it to take over the world.
That being said, cold is actually a much more realistic threat than some others. Hypothermia, as we’ve seen, can drag you down in less than ten minutes. For those who prefer a bit more of a flash-freeze method, liquid nitrogen is extraordinarily dangerous. However, for a split-second, you’ll be spared from it due to the Leidenfrost effect.
Mr. Freeze, Comic Vine
Captain Cold, DC Comics
Absolute Zero, Science Daily
Hypothermia Causes & Symptoms, Mayo Clinic
US Airways Flight 1549, Scientific American
Liquid Nitrogen, Medical Daily
Leidenfrost Effect, SciShow
Leidenfrost Effect Demonstrations, Chemistry About