In Westerns, the good guys have white hats and the bad guys have black hats. In comics, the good guys tend to wear primary colors– and the bad guys get stuck wearing green or purple. I’ve always found that interesting (and it certainly gives an intriguing layer to the Hulk). All the villains I’ve looked at so far this week have had one or the other in their color schemes– tonight’s has both. He’s also one of the best Bat-villains of them all.
286. The Riddler
Don’t worry, I’ll spare you some cheesy “riddle me this” joke. No ‘When is an archive not an archive?’ or any of that crap. Nope.
The Riddler has an intriguing history. Created by Bill Finger and Dick Sprang and first appearing in Detective Comics #140, he made two early appearances in the 1940s, and wasn’t seen again until nearly 20 years later. A certain William Dozier happened to read the issue that housed Riddler’s long-overdue reappearance, and lo, was the Bat-tastic ’60s Batman show born.
Frank Gorshin (rest in peace, my friend) was the man who portrayed the Riddler during the show’s run (though John Astin filled in at one point), and he was brilliant. The Riddler was easily the show’s strongest villain, for Gorshin turned him into a delightful, cackling maniac with his excellent delivery. He owned the screen. Thanks to Dial B for Blog, I also know that Frank Gorshin put out an album in which he sung in-character. You can listen to that here. No one will ever top Gorshin’s Riddler. The less said about Jim Carrey, the better.
Anyway, the show gave the Riddler the push he needed to become permanently ingrained into Batman’s rogues gallery. Thank God for that! Edward Nigma is a marvelous villain– an obsessive-compulsive criminal mastermind whose sole mission in life is to outsmart Batman. Over the years, he’s become madder and darker, undergoing a few revamps here or there. Frankly, I don’t think The Riddler needs to be changed or transformed in order to be made formidable– he just has to be The Riddler. He’s already cool.
Quite a few good Riddler stories have appeared over the years. Everyone turns to Peter Milligan and Kieron Dwyer’s “Dark Knight, Dark City” as an example of a good Riddler story. It’s a great tale, and makes the Riddler scary. It does, in fact, appear on Greg Burgas’ “Comics You Should Own” list. However, it’s not my kind of Riddler story. I prefer a Riddler who is a littler saner and less murderous– a guy who probably wouldn’t be shut up in Arkham Asylum.
The Batman animated series provided an excellent portrayal of the Riddler, and Paul Dini has now put that version in the comics. Today, the Riddler’s more or less gone straight, working as a private detective. It’s given us some good stories, but we all know he’ll go bad again one day.
The Riddler isn’t Batman’s most popular bad guy, and he’s never been the Dark Knight’s most fearsome opponent, but he’s a cool and clever rogue that’s usually pretty fun when he shows up. I’ve always liked the Riddler. It’s a shame his best appearances are in television and film, and not the comics themselves, but I have faith we’ll see a pile of great Riddler stories in the future. He’s the perfect Batman baddie: a devilishly smart guy with a fun gimmick and a few tricks up his sleeve.
And so, I leave you with this image I ganked from one of Burgas’ old posts. It’s from a classic Riddler story by Neil Gaiman and Bernie Mirault that appeared in the 1989 Secret Origins special:
That about sums it up. For more on the Riddler, though, there’s always the Wiki.