You know who needs more love? The Riddler.
Like the Penguin, the Riddler is one of those classic Batman villains, one of the true iconic big baddies* that everyone remembers and no one cares about. Why is this? Well, to answer the first part, the reason why they're remembered is obvious: the 1960's Adam West BATMAN show. Burgess Meredith rivals Paul Williams III's vocal performance as what I think of when it comes to the definitive Pengers, and was definitely one of the genuine highlights of that show.
But then there was Frank Gorshin. Everyone rightly holds Frank Gorshin up as the one true non-ironic non-campy element of excellence from that whole show. I've heard people describe Gorshin's Riddler as the only villain on that show who had legitimate menace, that at any moment, this guy could snap from serious to giggling to downright dangerous and right back again within an instant.
How ironic, then, that the Riddler should be left behind in rise of the "grim 'n gritty" era of comics. In the bright and shiny Silver Age of comics, the Riddler (the TV Riddler, anyway) at least felt
like a genuine threat, in the Modern Age of Comics--as Neil Gaiman once excellently observed
--he's a relic of a bygone era, lamenting the past and wondering where it all went wrong.
There's a poignancy in Eddie's line, "The Joker's killing
people, for god's sake!" And it's that very sentiment that touches upon why people these days so often consider the Riddler to be... well, a joke. In this era of Batman, this dark and creepy age where monsters like the Joker and Two-Face fit in perfectly, what kind of threat can the Riddler really pose?
Of course, inevitably, some writers have come along to try and make the Riddler "dark," because to the minds of lazy comic writers, "dark" automatically equals "relevant." One story had him as the Lovecraftian herald for some evil spirit, doing things like choking babies with ping-pong balls and forcing Batman to perform emergency tracheotomy (yeah, wish I had scans to prove that one exists, but here are the covers to said storyline
But I never noticed just how much the Riddler was considered a has-been (or even a never-had-been to some) until that general assumption was used as the driving force behind HUSH, where Jeph Loeb revealed the Riddler to have been the mastermind behind a massive--and utterly nonsensical--plot-hole-ridden plot to destroy Batman and Bruce Wayne (whom he knew were one and the same).
Much as I furiously loathe Loeb and HUSH, I reluctantly grant that he was on the right track here. The Riddler as a mastermind is a great take for this intellect-based character, and would have been a great direction for other, better writers to develop.
Instead, we got the tattooed metrosexual bishie Riddler.
Riddle me this: when does my forehead meet a writing desk?
Thank god for Paul Dini. Not only did BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES provide a magnificently smug and brilliant Riddler (with a magnificently smug and brilliant vocal performance by John "Lionel Luthor" Glover), but little over a decade later, Dini would give metrosexual mastermind Riddler a classic case of head-trauma-amnesia (assuming he's not faking) to reinvent the character as a camera-whoring grandstanding private investigator.
As a morally dubious
P.I. with a dark past still lurking behind the shadows
, the Riddler now fits perfectly
into the neo-classic noir of Batman's world.
So now he doesn't have
to be a threat, not to Batman anyway. But while I hope this current incarnation sticks around for as long as possible before the inevitable reversion to status quo, I still wish we could see more of a Riddler that's a threat while still being the Riddler
I keep hearing talk of people thinking about the Riddler for THE DARK KNIGHT's sequel, which could go wrong in oh so many ways (see above). I've already seen fan imaginings of Nolanverse Riddler as something akin to Kevin Spacey's character in SEVEN, madly scribbling questions on newspapers, photos, even his own skin (or maybe they're tattoooooooos! OOOH EDGY!)
Ultimately, I realized why we've seen so few good Riddler stories when I read Paul Dini's described Eddie as "a constant frustration" to the B:TAS writing staff, as well as to Batman. The problem, I fear, is simply that the Riddler is too smart
, at least too smart for most writers.
Most writers can bullshit their way around the brilliance of characters like Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Lex Luthor, and Dr. Doom. How do we know they're brilliant? They invent all these crazy things! Yeah, but how
did they invent those crazy things? The specifics don't matter, just trust us, they're brilliant. And that's fine, you can get away with that.
But with the Riddler, his brilliance has to be revealed by explicitly exploring, step by step, the mental puzzles he creates expressly to stump Batman. Not just anybody, I mean fucking Batman
. The riddles are his entire motivation, the triumph of his intellect, all accomplished with style and art. And yes, people might get killed, but that's not the goal. It's just part of the game, part of the risk, part of the fun.
As such, perhaps the best comic depiction of classic (true) Riddler as a real threat comes, mind-bogglingly enough, from this issue of GREEN ARROW written by the otherwise-intolerable Judd Winnick
. Following not long after Kevin Smith's terrible (but snappier-looking!) game show host take
, Winnick's Riddler would eventually go right back to lame sub-Joker "urban terrorism," but for those four pages, I dare say we come close to a perfect Riddler: brilliant, smug, stylish, whimsical, theatrical, cold, psychotic, calculating, vicious, dangerous, changing any combination of the above from one panel to the next. It's John Glover cool with Frank Gorshin menace, and I love it.
Such a character could fit perfectly in any era Batman story, from the Silver Age to THE DARK KNIGHT, but pulling it off takes a deft hand and a cunning mind. As such, barring the character starring in some legendary and influential "Killing Joke" of his own, I fear Eddie Nigma's doomed to languish in the C-list. I seriously doubt I could write that story to do him justice, yet I will always have a fondness for the character. After all, this is a guy who values theatrics and style, the only villain who would employ jazz hands, rocking the bowler derby and snazztastic suits all the while. Hell, the Riddler even has his own Spunky Lesbian Sidekicks! Two of them!
The guy simply rocks, no matter what anyone else thinks.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I'm dressing up as the Riddler** for this year's "Project: Rooftop--Fights, Flights, and Tights" costume contest.***
*I refuse to ever use the term "Big Bad"
**A Victorian take, specifically. Imagine the Riddler by way of the Shade.
***I just hope there's some way to also submit one or all three of our massive Joker/Harley photoshoot. Maybe I should just send in the ones of us in sexywear? Aw, I wanna submit them all!