Welcome to the thirty-third edition of Adventure(s) Time, where we examine a classic animated series and an issue of its tie-in comic that follows a similar theme. In this week’s edition, we look back on a Batman: The Animated Series episode that features one of the Riddler’s rare animated appearances, and another direct sequel from the Gotham Adventures comic book series.
Debuting on September 24, 1994, “Riddler’s Reform” features a story by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini & Randy Rogel and direction from Dan Riba, and is one of the better installments from a run of consistently strong episodes. The Riddler, voiced with equal parts wit, charm, and menace by John Glover, tends to be a beloved villain from this series, even though he only made a few appearances over the course of over a hundred episodes.
The writers have cited a difficulty conceiving of mystery plots that not only challenged Batman, but were also visually compelling, for the villain’s lack of appearances. “Riddler’s Reform” doesn’t necessarily present incredible mental puzzles (although the bit where the Riddler’s real clue is revealed by flipping his chalkboard over is brilliant), but it is an engaging look into the Riddler’s psychology, in addition to offering Batman and Robin some cool action scenes.
The episode begins with the Riddler being granted parole, and quickly accepting an offer from Charles Baxter, president of Wacko Toys. Baxter wants to exploit the Riddler’s reputation for a new series of puzzle toys, a premise that might’ve seemed slightly absurd over twenty years ago, but seems more plausible every day. Is there even a line between fame and infamy now? Of course someone could make a mint exploiting the Riddler’s legendary intelligence.
Batman, however, is dubious about the Riddler’s motives, and soon enough, he catches the Riddler leaving clues to a series of robberies on his Wacko Toys commercials and TV appearances. Even though this canon’s version of the Riddler began as a commercial video game designer, and should easily be able to make a living off his intellect, his private conversations make it clear that the Riddler has no desire to change his ways.
Yet the Riddler’s motivations aren’t steeped in revenge, violent desires, or greed. He absolutely cannot accept the idea that there’s someone, someone dressed like a flying rodent no less, with a higher IQ score. And how else can the Riddler prove his mental superiority but by committing crimes and daring Batman to stop them? It’s not as if he can challenge Batman to a public chess match. And there’s another telling moment during one of the Riddler’s conversations with his henchmen. When the goon suggests that taunting Batman and risking another stay at Arkham is kind of crazy, the Riddler responds, “Don’t you ever call me that! I fooled the police, the doctor, the parole board, all of them. There’s only one person who’s ever been able to challenge me. Batman!” The show’s portrayal of the Riddler who isn’t all there, yet isn’t “crazy” in a traditional sense, is genuinely impressive. Compare this to, say, the Riddler of Batman Forever just one year after this episode aired.
Eventually, the Riddler pushes his luck too far, forgetting one detail that enables Batman to escape his deathtrap, and accidentally allowing his confession to be audio-recorded by the hero. (Robin, meanwhile, is injured early on in the episode and mostly disappears. The producers weren’t thrilled with the network’s edict that Robin had to appear in each story, so sorry showings like this could’ve been a quiet protest.)
The episode closes with the normally cool Riddler ranting like a madman inside Arkham Asylum, screaming to the heavens, questioning how Batman escaped his trap. Not exactly the most graceful farewell for the villain (who later makes cameo appearances but never headlines another episode), but luckily writer Ty Templeton took a liking to the Riddler during his days writing the tie-in comic. Fans of the Riddler who have never followed the Adventures era are missing out on some incredible stories.
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