Who Am I? The Origin of…The Riddler (1948/1989/1995)

Sometimes I wear green leotard, and I question it.
Sometimes I wear a green suit, and I question it.
Sometimes I wear a bowler, and I question it.
Sometimes I question my hair.
But I never question my struggle with The Batman.
Who am I?

riddler1Detective Comics #140 written by Bill Finger with Dick Sprang in 1948. A great story of the time filled with larger than life props, and introducing the larger than life super villain Edward Nigma – The Riddler.

Made famous by the legendary Frank Gorshin portrayal, and the not quite as legendary but just as stuck in our head Jim Carry portrayal. He’s even on Gotham (a show I can not get into). You probably know him as the king of the quiz. A villain whose MO is to pull of elaborate crimes, but to leave Batman and the police clues, giving them a chance to stop him. But you may not know where he came from.

the-riddler-2This original story wasn’t just his first encounter with the dynamic duo, but it also told his origin. He was a guy who loved to beat everyone at puzzles going back to his school days. He would challenge his peers to various puzzles and challenges,  but he usually had tricks up his sleeve to ensure his victory. He would rig unsolvable puzzles, and switch them out or fix them so that only he knew how to solve it. He wasn’t really good at them himself. Not being happy enough outdoing his friends, or challenging strangers in a midway games tent, he turned his attention to outsmarting the police and Batman.

His initial riddles are actually pretty clever. They would lead Batman and Robin to one location, but he would actually be somewhere different pulling off something different. His first scheme was the underwater robbing of a bank. He doesn’t do things small. And his ego will be his downfall. He eventually tricks Batman and Robin into a glass maze with a ticking time bomb he waits and watches as they escape at the last minute. But he is watching so close that when the bomb goes off he gets knocked into the water where they don’t know if he has drowned or escaped. They never actually beat him.

batvillainsYears pass and things change. In the 1989 Secret Origins Special Neil Gaiman, Bernie Mireault, and Matt Wagner reanalyze his early days. In their story a news crew is interviewing the Riddler in his current base, a warehousing holding all of the larger than life products that Gotham was filled with in those Finger/Sprang days. It even has the giant Corn on the Cob that lead Batman and Robin to the glass maze. (you know, cuz corn is maise). I really liked this quick story, and after reading the Poison Ivy story that Gaiman did, I have to wonder what is wrong with the world that he never did more with the rogues gallery.

The news crew ask several questions of his past, and most of what he says reaffirms what we know from Detective 140, but means nothing to the newscrew. Its all just a riddle. They ask why he won’t answer their questions. I love his response. He says:

I’m E. Nigma. An enigma. Is it any surprise that I’m enigmatic. Understand me: You come to the Riddler for answers… you just come the questions.

Jump to Detective Comics Annual #8 by Chuck Dixon and Kieron Dwyer.

Questions! Questions! Questions! I’M SICK OF ALL YOUR QUESTIONS!

Another retelling of Detective 181. This time with a great deal of detail added. His past stays the same, with only a touch of bad parenting mentioned. This is a more vulnerable Riddler we are dealing with.

Detective_Comics_Annual_8He is in a cell, presumably at Arkham, presumably speaking to a therapist. He tells of his past and of being unrecognized. Not even the bullies noticed him. Until he found puzzles.

As an Early Childhood Educator we talked in school a lot about the child that hits. If a child is good at hitting, and it gets him attention, he is going to keep on doing it. Even negative attention is better than no attention. That’s sometimes why children act out even when things are going well. It is what they are used to.

That’s what the riddler went through. It got him attention from bullies, which he hated, but was still better than nothing, and he was good at puzzles so of course he excelled. And this version lends his cheating ways to being more a mastery of slight of hand and changing the problem than to being outright devious. So I feel him, somewhat.

When he grew up and entered the real world, he hated working a 9-5 and felt like he was capable of more. But criminals wouldn’t pay attention to him, so he went to the cops. The police didn’t understand his riddles, and he got away with his crimes. But he wanted the attention. So he dumbed down his riddles, and sent them straight to Gordon, the only cop smart enough for him.

This got him the recognition he wanted. He got credibility in the underworld. Most importantly, it put Batman on his scent. He had to work to get to that first heist we see where he floods and robs the bank. He has to put together a team, and raise the funds to pull off this grande of a job, it wasn’t just go big or go home like we originally saw.

But Batman stopped him. And he hasn’t been able to beat Batman since. Yeah he has the attention, but he isn’t able to be a show off anymore, and its driving him nuts.

The twist? He’s in Arkham, but he wasn’t speaking to a therapist. He just assumed that he was important enough to have somebody listening from the other side of a one way mirror. But he was simply all alone. Losing it.

While this book certainly still has a lot of holes, it is still a great build on what had come so far.

There is one thing that is kind of great about these Batman villains. They are so messed up and crazy that they become unreliable narrators. They can speak one way of their origin once and think that their origin is completely different the next time. Any of these could be fact. Or none of them. Even Batman has been through so much over such a long period of time, that he is an unreliable narrator. We just have to take it as we read it, and interpret what we want.

Some of the best Riddler scenes really can be seen in Frank Gorshin’s portrayal from the 60’s show. That version has helped make him who he is today.

Other great riddler depictions lie in Jeph Loeb’s work. He is the mastermind behind Hush, though his presence is lacking he still is used to his full potential. and as said before Catwoman: When in Rome is my favourite use of him. Even more than his brilliant Long Halloween issue.

There is one more Riddler story to look at, but it won’t be for a little while. Riddler plays heavily into Batman: Zero Year, but that story deserves its own post, so we will see him again then.

Thanks for reading.

Images from:,,,


One thought on “Who Am I? The Origin of…The Riddler (1948/1989/1995)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s