Riddle Scott Snyder this: What’s green, purple and never appears often enough in “Batman”?
It’s the Riddler of course. CBR readers who have already checked out our exclusive look at the “Batman” solicitations for DC Comics’ Villains Month know he’s one of four Gotham Rogues who will be taking over the titular Dark Knight title come September. While there will be four separate “Batman” issues for the promotion — a feat used to keep the number of titles at 52 even though some series like “Legion of Super-Heroes” will be wrapping in August — Edward Nigma will appear in “Batman” #23.2 by regular writer Scott Snyder (with an assist by Ray Fawkes) and artist Jeremy Haun.
Snyder has spoken often at conventions about his love for the master of puzzles and his place in Batman’s rogue’s gallery, and in an exclusive first interview with CBR on the one-shot story, he explains how Riddler remains one of the very best Bat bad guys even as creators and readers have given him less time than the more murder-happy Arkham inmates. Below, the writer digs into his own favorite Riddler stories, his view of E. Nigma’s desire to be the smartest man in the room and the reasons why the powerful combination of the two shows why Riddler is the only villain who can truly test Batman’s mind.
CBR News: Scott, as part of DC’s Villains Month, you’ll be doing a story with The Riddler, which I think will pique the interest of readers both because of your previous talk about the character and because you’re in the middle of the “Zero Year” story in September. What was your reaction to the Villain Month idea, and does this at all impact or tie in to what’s going on with “Zero Year”?
Scott Snyder: Well, with “Zero Year” I’m trying to really play it close to my chest and not say who’s going to appear in it at all. You might see Riddler. You might see Joker. You might see Penguin or anybody. Nobody is off limits. But in terms of the Villains Month itself and the Riddler in general, obviously he’s someone I’ve said I’ve been dying to use. And even though he’s a lot of people’s favorite villain, I think he’s actually been one of Batman’s most underused villains over the years. He’s got some terrific stories, but he appears relatively infrequently when you look at his history, or sometimes he has more of a supporting role. So I thought it’d be fun to do an issue that shows why he’s so bad ass and why he is really one of the great Batman rogues.
When you think about it, Batman is the world’s greatest detective, and a case is the same as a riddle a lot of the time. At least in fiction, you investigate a crime and add these pieces up to get your answer. There’s always some kind of closed circuit to that, but the Riddler is always about confounding that loop and confounding that notion of finding an answer. He loves putting forward something that has an answer, but it always becomes more and more buried. So he’s actually testing Batman’s most essential quality in some ways, which is his detection skill. It’s his ability to be smart enough to protect the city from threats that require more than brute force. And what the Riddler sees himself as — and this is something for me to explore — is someone working in a great tradition of riddles. He sees riddles as battles of wits that are all about life and death, which they’ve been throughout moments in history.
You know, the Riddler has always been my favorite Batman villain, and I don’t know if I can lay that at the feet of a lot more than “Frank Gorshin was really awesome in that part.” [Laughter] Why do you think he’s been underused or ignored by some readers and creators?
I think in some ways the great thing about the Gorshin version of the character is that it’s loomed so large in the culture. He was so wonderfully fun in the part that it’s been stamped in everyone’s imagination that Riddler is sort of humorous. Then with Jim Carey playing him in the movies gave him this big comedic, campy element for a long time. But some of my favorite stories with the character from Paul Dini’s work to “Dark Knight, Dark City” to “Hush” to “Riddler Year One” all look at what it means for him to be a master of puzzles and mysteries and riddles. There’s a lot of potential still there to be tapped.
That doesn’t in any way mean that I’m interested in making him something he’s not. He’s not a psycho killer or vicious murderer or anything like that. This isn’t the total revamp you’ve seen with some of the other villains from time to time — nothing against those at all because some of those are totally inventive and cool — but this issue for me is an exploration of what’s at the core of the character and what makes him a terrific villain. He is funny and he is boastful. And at the same time, he’s pretty deadly. When he first appeared in “Batman,” what did he do? He created a death trap for his victim and said, “Solve this or he dies.” That kind of villain who can be funny and arrogant and charismatic all at the same time is something really intriguing to me. I do think he cuts to the heart of one of Batman’s greatest fears which is that he won’t be smart enough to save the city in time from a villain like Riddler.
In the classic Batman TV show, every villain seemed to end up building a giant, crazy death trap, but that really was the Riddler’s bread and butter before it was viewed as a general Batman trope. Is this the story where you get to play with those big, crazy riddle trap visuals?
Well, it’s still just a one-shot so I don’t have that much room. [Laughs] I don’t think he’ll be building anything too crazy. My thinking with this story is to show why the Riddler is one of the greats. It shows how smart he is and why no one can match wits with him except Batman. It’d be really fun if I had more room to have him set one of those massive traps that shows all his wonderful, twisted creativity. But for now, I’m just trying to cut to the heart of why he’s so charismatic, fun and dangerous — literally one of the great rogues.
I think one of the questions for the Villains Month books is going to be how each writer approaches the story in terms of point of view. Is this a Batman comic where the Riddler plays a major role, or is it really a comic written from the Riddler’s perspective?
I want you to wait and see because I think a lot of these issues are going to have different takes on that idea. They’ve given us a lot of latitude for each one. For me, the focus is heavy on the Riddler, and it does track from his point of view more than anyone else in the story. It shows how he can go very quickly from someone you think of as a quirky, super smart but also socially strange guy to someone who’s an incredibly deadly, terrifying force. One of the things I love about the Riddler is that he is the smartest guy in the room and he knows it, but he’s also a total dick about it. There’s something off in him where he can’t keep it to himself. That’s part of his Achilles heel. He wants to make it seem like he’s challenging his victims to make them smarter. “I’m going to test you and sharpen your wits.” He’s Batman’s greatest sword sharpener in a way, and in the Joker event, that was his title. But on top of being that strategist, at the end of the day he does it just to prove that he’s the smartest.
I was working on the story, and at one point someone asks him why he wears green all the time, and he goes into the idea of how green attracts the eye of a greater percentage of females across the animal kingdom. It’s just biology. He says, “They may be talking to you, but they’re looking at me no matter what they say.” He just always sees himself as the smartest guy even as he’s completely socially incorrect and off base in terms of impressing people.
Yeah. He peacocks in a way that even when it doesn’t work, there’s something about it that is working because it’s so clinical. It’s kind of scary in how it’s so scientific and odd.
Villains Month marks the two-year anniversary of the New 52. How do you feel about your part in the relaunch now that you’re two years deep and still going so strong on the title?
I’m just grateful that they let me be a part of it in the first place! [Laughs] I’ve always had issues with anxiety, and when I found out I was on “Batman” #1 I seriously had so much trouble getting over that hump and the idea I was going to be a part of this big relaunch where it was all starting over. But the way that fans welcomed the relaunch and this story and embraced the concept really meant the world to me. It gave me a lot of confidence going forward to do things like our Joker story and now “Zero Year.” I feel really lucky to have been a part of this.
And with the stuff we have coming up in “Zero Year,” [the New 52] has made us feel like we can do anything we think will be the best story. That’s one thing I would say. What the New 52 has meant to me, personally, is that due to the fan response and the fact that you guys out there have been so supportive of me and Greg and the team, we’re trying to keep the promise we made when we came on the book. We’ll only do the stories we love, even if they are the riskiest. With “Zero Year,” this is the story we believe is the best thing we’ve done. And even though it’s risky and crazy and out there, when DC said “Batman doesn’t have an origin in the New 52. We’ve seen Diana’s origin and Superman’s and Aquaman’s and everybody else, but Batman’s origin doesn’t work any more. Do you want to do it?” And I’d had this idea in my head where I felt, “Do you do this, or do you do something easier and safer like another Calendar Man story or a Mr. Freeze story?” But because of the New 52 and the reception you gave us, we promised to always do those bold stories, so here we are. I feel really good about where “Batman” is in terms of the stories we’re telling and extremely, extremely grateful. We never thought “Batman” would be where it is in terms of sales. We have the readers to thank, and we appreciate it greatly.
Let’s wrap on some super Riddler nerd talk with some of the great, under-appreciated Riddler stories of all time to prep for your one-shot. Personally, my favorite is “Batman Adventures” #10 by Kelley Puckett and Mike Parobeck which is not only a great Riddler story but also introduces the caricatures of DC’s big three Editors at the time in the form of Mike Carlin, Denny O’Neil and Archie Goodwin as Mastermind, the Professor and Mr. Nice.
I’m going to go check that out as soon as we’re off the phone!
The other one I’d say is “Run, Riddler, Run” by Gerard Jones and Mark Badger, though I’m curious what yours would be.
I love that story. I went on a whole Riddler kick when I found out about doing this, and I asked a bunch of people for their favorite Riddler stories. “Run, Riddler, Run” was at the top of a lot of lists. That and “Gotham City Sirens” were great. There are so many great stories from that period where he was a detective. But even though there are a lot of great stories, I still feel he’s been underused.
Stay tuned for more on Villains Month in the days ahead on CBR.