Comic Character Spotlight: The Riddler 

Welcome to this week’s Comic Character Spotlight! Today we’ll be continuing our exploration of DC villains as the focus shifts to the cunning Riddler, also known as Edward Nigma. Interestingly, the last name “Nigma” unveils an important component to his character as it is derived from the word “enigma.” An enigma refers to an unsolved problem or mystery, thus reflecting the Riddler’s approach to concocting crime as it revolves around the construction of complex riddles his victims are forced to grapple with. 

1948 saw his debut in the “Detective Comics” adorned in a green unitard decorated with multiple black question marks thanks to Bill Finger and Dick Sprang. Alongside previous villains highlighted by the column such as Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy, he is a part of the ‘Rogues Gallery’ – a term used in reference to a plethora of longtime foes for the superhero Batman.  

How did he become a criminal mastermind with a lust for puzzle-solving in Gotham City? The Riddler’s love for solving complexities originated at a young age when he won a puzzle-solving contest and got rewarded with a book of riddles as a result. This ignited a love for puzzles as he developed a craving for victory and intellectual dominance over others. Later on, The Riddler became a carnival employee who would often scam customers through a wild variety of mind games. His yearning for greater trials to overcome accumulated to the point where he adopted the mask of The Riddler in order to face off against Batman, whom he saw as an intriguing potential rival.  

The Riddler’s dark past is further illustrated in “Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight” (1989) as it shows through flashbacks that his father was envious of his son’s academic brilliance, believing it to be a facade, and abused him as a result. This led the Riddler to realize his desire to create puzzle-driven schemes birthed out of thirst to show the truth behind his intelligence.  

The Riddler is known for his trademark “?” that he tends to leave in the wake of his crimes. This is shown in the “Detective Comics” after he fails to defeat the Dynamic Duo – consisting of Batman and Robin – with a booby-trapped glass maze. The Riddler escapes through the ocean and only leaves his question mark behind.  

His visual motif ignited significant excitement among longtime Batman fans when the first trailer for the movie “The Batman” (2022) was released. The trailer ended by depicting Paul Dano, the actor for The Riddler in the film, forming a question mark in his drink before being apprehended by the police. As the most typical Batman villain portrayed in live-action media is the Joker, fans were thrilled with the reveal that the Riddler would be taking the main stage in the 2022 movie.  

Other live action iterations of the Riddler include Frank Gorshin and John Astin 1960’s version in the television series “Batman,” Jim Carrey in the film “Batman Forever” (1995), and Cory Michael Smith in the television series “Gotham” (2014). 

In the series “Batman: Hush” Riddler works with the masked criminal Hush who desires a chance at revenge on his former childhood friend Bruce Wayne. Remarkably, the Riddler is able to deduce that Batman is Bruce Wayne, however upon threatening to expose the secret, Batman points out that revealing his identity would be akin to spoiling the answer to a puzzle which the general public is unaware of the answer to.  

A version of the Riddler without his villainy is portrayed in “Detective Comics,” where he wakes up from a coma caused by brain damage and suffers severe memory loss and loses the compulsion to create riddles as a result. Due to maintaining his impressive intellect, he takes on the role of a private consultant that coincidentally works with Batman to investigate a murder case.  

This temporary break from villainy starts to crumble in the series “Life After Death” (2009) as a bomb detonation at a gala where the Riddler is in attendance reignites his psychosis.  This leads him to continue to pretend that his sanity is still intact while continuing his work as a private consultant, only for Batman to eventually figure out the Riddler’s role in meddling with the crime.  

One thing I absolutely adore about DC villains is that their writers tend to always include an element that enables readers to sympathize with them. For example, we previously covered Harley Quinn, a victim of an abusive lover, and Poison Ivy, who is driven by an earnest love of nature. The Riddler suffered from abuse as a child and wishes to receive validation by showcasing his riddles in grandiose schemes. Although these sympathetic aspects do not excuse the crimes these villains commit, they’re a huge part of why I love DC villains and all their complexities.