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One of the big names when it comes to Batman villains, the Riddler has worn a number of different variations over the years. From egotistical violent criminal to relic of a more innocent period of supervillainy to Batman's Smartest Foe, Eddie Nygma is curious as he's often subject to far more internal analysis than you'd expect for a man who wears clothes covered in punctuation.

In 1948's Detective Comics 140, Eddie has something unusual for a villain of the time period: An actual explanation for who he is and why he does what he does.



The Riddler bursts into the control room of the giant crossword puzzle, incapacitating the operator by throwing a "Loudini Rope Tie" at him, and changes the crossword to ask 1. (Five Across) A water utensil, 2. (Six Down) A public way, and 3. (Seven Down) a formal dinner.

The caped crusaders arrive to free the operator, and Batman seemingly makes short work of the clues. Reasoning that the Riddler is attacking the Basin Street Banquet, Batman and Robin burst in to defend the Mayor and his dinner guests from the supervillain... only for a cop to run in and exclaim that the Basin Street Bank has just flooded.

While Batman and Robin are metaphorically smacking their foreheads over not getting the "bank wet" pun, the Riddler breaks into the place in scuba gear and manages to successfully steal tons of stuff. The next day, a fleet of trucks pulls up outside of GCPD headquarters saying they have a delivery for Batman, their cargo turning out to be giant jigsaw pieces.

They spend all day fitting the thing together, and realise that the Riddler must be targetting a local art collecting billionaire.



They rescue the guy, only for Eddie to try and escape in a truck dragging a giant corn cob, which along with the attached riddle leads them to believe that the Riddler intends to escape town via the glass mirror on the pier. They go to it, and promptly get stuck inside while the Riddler gloats that he's set up a bomb to explode while they're bumping into the walls.

Clearly having had enough of the Riddler's schenangians by this point, Batman just tears up the carpet from inside the maze and sets fire to it, the heat making the glass pop out of its frame as it expands. The Riddler attempts to flee, only to get caught in his own explosion, leaving only a mysterious question mark floating in the sea for Batman and Robin to find.

--

But the Riddler, obviously, survives this encounter and went on to annoy Batman and Robin for decades to come. Curiously, the Riddler's gimmick here seems to pass a kind of resemblance to the Joker's first appearance, where he'd warn his victims ahead of time in a cryptic way and then carry out the crime despite the police actively being on the look out for him.

Come the 1960s and the arrival of Julie Schwarz, the Batman books underwent something of a shake-up, dispensing of the more outlandish content from the Silver Age and a renewed interest in more grounded villains, with the Riddler fitting the bill nicely. Curiously, in the 1966 story "the Riddle-Less Robberies of the Riddler" they actually attempted to add some psychological complexity to the character by having him attempt to commit some regular crimes for once, only to find...



So yeah, dehabilitating mental illness had now been added to the character. Which is a narrative thread carried on through several other versions of the character, such as the later DCAU depictions, such as in Gotham Adventures 11 where the Riddler attempts to commit crimes without leaving his standard clues only to find that Batman was able to beat him by solving clues Eddie wasn't even aware he was placing.


This in turn leads into something of a tricky situation, as they have a character who was explictly being depicted as being mentally ill while at the same time being treated as a camp joke as the comics moved forwards into the 80s and 90s. Whether it was a result of Frank Gorshin's memorable depiction of the Riddler in the Adam West Batman show, or due to the fact that... well... his gimmick is kind of silly, the Riddler has been treated as something of the odd man out in Batman's rogues gallery. A villain with a silly costume and persona typical for the early days of superhero comics, while at the same time being too high profile with the comics reading public to just ignore.

This lead to some writers downplaying the threat the Riddler once was, be they having Commissioner Gordon just telling him to go straight and leave Gotham (following his release on a technicality) because the GCPD didn't have the time or patience to deal with his relatively harmless mischief (the Question 26), having him be a wormy police informant (most Jeph Loeb works besides Hush), or being used by Neil Gaiman to highlight how the nature of supervillainy has changed in Gotham over the years.



There have been a number of attempts to make the Riddler more of a threat akin to modern incarnations of the Joker or Penguin, with varying degrees of success. In the classic Dark Knight, Dark City, for example, the Riddler attempts to trick Batman into summoning a demon from colonial days to grant Eddie power... though in the end all that happened as Grant Morrison pillaged the story for parts while composing his preboot Batman story arc.


Similarly, in the post-Kevin Smith Green Arrow series there evolved a bizarre subplot where the Riddler would end up in Star City (which considering it's on the West Coast while Gotham's on the East implies Eddie roams the US committing crimes), where Green Arrow would beat him up and shoot arrows into him. This lead to a storyline where the Riddler decided to get serious, where after getting greviously injured by Green Arrow, the superhero then tortured him for information with the police's backing. This led to him updating his look to include getting a question mark tattooed on his face, start wearing lipstick, and beat up Ollie with a crowbar... which really makes it seem that the writer really wanted to use the Joker, but settled for his closest counterpoint.


This version of the character lasted for a shorter amount of time than Scarebeast (and, yeah, we'll get to that in the Scarecrow retrospective), and we were back to Riddler classic in time for Hush and its follow ups. There a bunch of stuff happened in quick succession. The Riddler got cancer, used a Lazarus Pit to get cured, worked out that Bruce Wayne was Batman, helped Hush arrange the elaborate ensemble revenge scheme, was retconned into the Killing Joke by his coincidently seeing the men who staged the Joker's wife's "accident", and was promptly beaten into a coma by Hush.

This led to what is my favourite version of the character, where in Paul Dini's Detective Comics stories Eddie awoke from his coma with both amnesia and a desire to express his intelligence and desire to show off in more constructive ways... Basically? He became a detective.



Considering the background of the character, this version actually worked really well, his former supervillain status slotting him into something of a moral gray area in the Gotham Underworld, where he'd still be friends with the Penguin, Harley Quinn and such, while also solving crimes. It was something new, and it worked more often than it didn't... at least, until someone decided it was boring and restored his old personality. Because, as the Catwoman mindwipe demonstrated, moral ambiguity and character development are for chumps.

This brings up to date, with Scott Snyder's version of the character. Here he's depicted as the most intelligent of Batman's rogues, with the Joker saying that out of all of them he's the one who keeps the caped crusader intellectually in the game by consistantly challenging him. This was expanded upon further in Snyder's Year Zero story arc, where Eddie's game was upped to the point where he became a full-on social darwinist.

Here he isolated Gotham from the outside world, and refused to let anyone in or out on pain of weather balloons filled with biological weapons until they can ask him a riddle he can't answer. His idea being that humans only evolve through times of hardship, and that by enforcing a post-apocalyptic environment on Gotham's citizens they'd become "better".


This version was... okay. The fun came more in the form of Batman and his allies defeating him with a team effort which was actually genuinely exciting. It also differentiated him from the Joker, although Snyder's continuing need to escalate the threat level of each successive villain is becoming a tad repetitious (see the Joker plague or Two-Face setting an entire state of ordinary people after Batman, for example).

Up next, viewer's choice again: Two-Face or the Scarecrow? Down for other suggestions if people have them too.
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