“Joker’s Asylum II: The Riddler” is, at a glance, a standard story about the Riddler. Set in the past before the Riddler began his reform in the pages of “Detective Comics,” it follows the Riddler as he falls in love with a woman during an art heist, and then finds that the one riddle he can’t solve is how to make her fall in love with him.
On that level alone, it’s fine. Peter Calloway (who comes to comics via writing episodes of the television show “Brothers & Sisters”) has a fun time making the Riddler squirm, and watching the Riddler have to solve a riddle himself is more entertaining than you might think. It shows off the flaws in his character, and at the same time makes him slightly sympathetic even though he’s still quite firmly (and at times horrifically) a bad guy, one who does his own share of killings along the way.
Killings might not be a normal part of a Riddler story, but it’s important here. That’s because there’s more going on in “Joker’s Asylum II: The Riddler” than you might think at first. Early on the Riddler is approached by a mystery figure to help put together a master plan to finally kill Batman. The identity of the figure is never directly given to us, but as the Joker-as-narrator explains at the end of the comic, we are told the answer. It’s a riddle within the story about the Riddler, and the identity of the figure is left up to you to determine. It’s a nice twist, and once you start to put together the clues yourself it’s a fun bonus in what would have otherwise been fairly run of the mill.
Everything here is carefully drawn by Andres Guinaldo and Raul Fernandez, who provided some guest art on “Gotham City Sirens” just recently. Their art is slick and lush, and there’s a surprisingly high amount of detail for both the characters and the backgrounds of the comic. Best of all, though, are all the little touches along the way. There’s an early scene where the Riddler first sees Jessica and his eyes behind his domino mask transform into two little red hearts while a dumbstruck expression comes over his face. It’s funny and it’s attractive, and it helped sell me on the look of the comic from that point on. The art is also a crucial part to finding the clues as to the mystery figure, and once you figure out the pattern it makes the art that much more impressive at how well it’s integrated into the final look.
Reading “Joker’s Asylum II: The Riddler” was much more fun than I had expected. I don’t know if the mystery figure story will continue into the later one-shots (although I suspect so), but regardless, I’m giving it a big thumbs up. It was a nice enough story even without the additional riddle, but that inclusion made me happy to have spent the time going back through the comic. I’d definitely like to see more from these creators down the line.