Batman 23.2: The Riddler

riddler 23.2

Today, Shelby and guest writer Lindsey are discussing Batman 23.2: The Riddler, originally released September 11th, 2013. This issue is part of the Villain’s Month event. Click here for our Villains Month coverage.

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Shelby: The Riddler and the Joker. Two clowns, of a sort, with very different reputations. To the Joker, the world is a gag, a cheap joke that doesn’t make sense. That’s why he’s so scary; you literally have no idea what he’ll do next. The Riddler has always been different to me. Riddles are silly, true, but they’re clever. There’s a perverted sense of logic to them. That’s how I’ve always thought of Edward Nygma: clever, but ultimately rather silly and harmless. Ray Fawkes and Scott Snyder show us a different, more dangerous Riddler, and I am liking what I see.

The issue opens with a flashback to Nygma’s last stint in Arkham. He was accosted by a guard for having fashioned a deck of playing cards for himself out of his bed sheets. When it comes to Nygma, there’s a strict “no puzzles or games” policy. Flash forward to today, where Nygma has constructed an incredibly complex plan to break into Wayne Tower, where he used to work. A planned riot, some showboating, and a few riddles later, he finds his first quarry: the guard who accosted him in prison. Nygma actually blows the guy’s arm off for daring to touch him (more on that in a bit) and continues to the roof. While he’s happy to have achieved his goal, knowing it means the world lies at his feet, his real motive was to attract the attention of Batman, the only foe worthy of Nygma’s intelligence. So, he breaks out a deck of cards and settles down to wait.

the riddler killing time

This is an Edward Nygma I can get behind. His riddles aren’t silly games, they are means to control the situation. The logic of the riddle is infallible, even if the resulting answer is not the one you would expect. We know how important control is to Nygma when we see him explosively lose it. You might think that a cheap segue into talking about his whole “blowing a man’s arm off” incident, but I’m talking about earlier in the issue. As he uses an executive to get hand-scan entry, another office worker punches him, because she’s not going to stand for his shit, and Nygma totally loses it.

you do not touch me

Nygma planned for everything, except that gal punching him. Not only did she disrupt his plan, she did not recognize his (self-perceived) superiority. In a subsequent panel, he tells her, “You have to know what you are!” Nygma fits the classic stereotype of bullied nerd perfectly. He’s got no brawn; he never directly attacks anyone, it’s always a thrown incendiary or electro-zap. But when she hits him, she becomes the bully, relying on her fists to persecute him for his wits. Unfortunately for her, he has long since come to the conclusion that brains are not only better than brawn, they make him better than everyone else; now he’s the one not taking her shit anymore.

As totally awesome as I found the panel of the guard’s arm getting blown off, it’s this loss of control with the anonymous office worker that is so much more shocking. Shocking because Nygma has so much control over the situation and himself, everything else seems almost mundane in comparison. Those mundane, OCD details shine in the art of Jeremy Haun. His pencils are clean and refined; perfectly suited for hilariously boring details, like Nygma getting himself some yogurt.

nygma with yogurt

It’s so funny because it fits so well in the office setting; if you’re at work, feeling a little low on energy, a yogurt is the perfect afternoon pick-me-up. I prefer wildberry, but strawberry is good, too. That’s what this is to Nygma; a day’s work. It’s what makes Nygma such a fascinating character here; he’s got this thin veneer of regular, nerdy guy over the megalomaniac, highly intelligent supervillain, with a psychotic core to rival some of Arkham’s finest.

With that, I’m going to turn things over to my delightful sister Lindsey, whom you may remember from such Peterson joints as Birds of Prey 0. Linds, I know you aren’t reading anything regularly, so a quick catch-up on current events; all the heroes are (maybe?) dead, and the villains have the run of the DC universe. This is our first real glimpse of the Riddler since the reboot, so this character is as new to me as he is to you; how do you think he compares with your opinions of the rest of Batman’s badguy lineup? Does this darker, crazier approach to the somewhat silly idea of a baddie who fights with riddles work for you? villain div

Lindsey: Short answer: heck yes. As a non-serial serial reader, I was surprised at how much this new Riddler got under my skin in such a small amount of time. At first I felt sympathy for him; poor guy was just trying to get in a quick game of solitaire. As he entered the building and put his plan into motion, I was lulled by the confidence of the character as illustrated in the cleanliness of the lines; this guy had things in control, I almost forgot he was bad. Also the riddles totally drew me in – every time he revealed an answer, I had to back-track and see if there were any clues that I should have been picking up on (by the by, I totally got the hand one). Then he zapped the first guy, and I was like, “Damn, ok, Riddler is not joking around.”

the riddler strikes

But then he did that yogurt trick, and again I was totally identifying with him. I was also shocked by the frame (Shel)Bee pointed out, with the office lady getting punched, even more so because it was an office lady and not a guy. It really hit home for me: to the Riddler, people are either on his side or not, there is no middle ground and there are no holds barred. Fawkes’ Riddler makes me think of people I’ve encountered in my real life, people I can only describe as “Lion People”: you can never guess what they’re going to do, they always make me feel ill at ease, like I have to be constantly on alert for any potential blow-up.

Speaking of blow-up: yeah, that guy’s arm is gone. I had to look at that panel three or four times before I could totally comprehend it. Another promising thing I found in this issue was the Riddler’s weapons were way more high tech than any I’d seen before (see Jim Carey, Batman Forever). They were more refined and more sneaky, and therefore way more dangerous and frightening. But still, even at his most grotesquely violent, I still felt a little empathy for old Eddie; George the Guard shouldn’t have messed with his card game, it looks like he had nearly all his aces out. So yeah, all told I’m 100% behind this Riddler. I dig his style, and I think the little nuggets of Asperger Syndrome I was sensing lend a depth to the character that make me want to see what he does next. I was a little disappointed there wasn’t more to read, because I totally want to see how Batman (who is totally dead, or maybe not, but probably?) deals with him. Obviously there will be an exchange/battle of wits, but I feel like Batman would also treat Edward with a little sympathy, or maybe pity; if anyone understands being frustrated with the state of one’s fellow man, it’s got to be the Bat. I do think that there will be parts of the Riddler’s story that will make me feel sad, but I’m still all in; after all, you have to play to win.

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For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page.  Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore.  If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to DC’s website and download issues there.  There’s no need to pirate, right?

14 comments on “Batman 23.2: The Riddler

    • Agreed! I like how specific and unique his brand of crazy is. I really hope this Riddler is in for the long haul, I’d love to have him show up every few issues, pulling strings in the background.

      • I agree, I definitely hope this interpretation sticks. Again, when I learned that Zero Year would feature Riddler I did a bit of homework on the character to see how he’s progressed throughout Batman’s history, and he’s definitely been more menacing like this in the past. With Neil Gaiman’s Riddler story and people’s association of him with the Adam West show(even though he was actually somewhat menacing in that too), that interpretation of him as a has-been or a never-was gained a lot of traction, and I’m sure if you went to certain discussion boards people would be complaining that Snyder isn’t writing Riddler like that, but in truth this interpretation from Snyder and Fawkes is just as valid as any.

  1. Anybody notice the little Lego Batman figure on the computer desk where Riddler was grabbing some food? I love tiny details like that!

      • I sometimes wonder about stuff like that, more specifically marketing inside a fictional universe. Marvel constantly joke references the DCU but it is never returned from DC. So… Spider-Man could be reading Batman and other DC books? DC used to do that with Earth 2, teasing them through pages, but they probably just doesn’t do that anymore.

        Just seeing little Batman there warmed me up since the New 52 has been so overtly serious and with a distinct lack of whimsy since it’s creation.

  2. I believe Riddler’s been given something called Haphephobia, or fear of being touched, and they make it work in conjunction with his OCD tendencies. I find myself identifying with the Riddler more than I thought too, especially on the whole “bullied nerd” angle.

    Riddler’s always been my favorite DC villain, and I love that they’re differentiating him from Joker even further. Whereas Joker is a guy who lacks order, Riddler is the guy who notices order is needed, but he wants to be the one controlling the order of things. He wants chaos to come and go as he sees fit. His motivation is brilliant too and really opens up a new layer for him. His primary goal isn’t to kill batman like so many other bat-rogues, rather it’s just to be tested by him and prevail. He needs his ego glorified by the only one who can challenge him. Issue was a great character study, and I hope he plays a bigger role in FE: Arkham Wars, maybe as like Bane’s strategist or something given the premise.

    • It doesn’t really seem like he’s much of a people-person, though, right? Like he’s mostly frustrated by other people, and is specifically seeking out the Batman — even though Bats wants to throw him back in Arkham — because he needs a worthy mind to spare with. Is part of that Haphephobia not playing well with others?

      • nah that’s probably his OCD working in conjunction with it. He isn’t much of a people person surely, but Arkham Wars would be the perfect setting for him. It’s Bane’s army vs. Scarecrow’s army for control of Arkham, and Riddler would be perfect as a tactician or a war strategist.

  3. I know one of the biggest hang-ups about writing Riddler stories is that riddles themselves are hard to fucking write. Never mind that they also need to play into a superhero narrative in some way. Like, not only should the solution be hard to get, but the meaning behind the solution should take some figuring too. And that’s dizzying on a conceptual level. I love having all the riddles from this issue stated up-front (and like Lindsey, I was all over that Hand one), it places you in the mindset of the man that needs to plan ahead as far as he does.

  4. While this was leaps and bounds better than last week’s unfortunate Joker issue, did anyone else feel like the plot was kind of useless? I mean, it isn’t bad or anything, but it seems to me like the whole story is meant to be a character study, and not necessarily an important narrative in itself.

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