Who is the Riddler?
Riddle me this! Who is a green-clad, narcistic, and brilliant member of Batman’s iconic rogues gallery who has shown up in every form of media related to the Caped Crusader? Of course, the answer is The Riddler. Created by the legendary Batman creative team of the Dark Knight’s own co-creator Bill Finger and Golden Age artistic great Dick Sprang, the Riddler first appeared in Detective Comics #140. The appropriately named Edward Nygma has an obsession with using puzzles, games and of course riddles as a means to prove his intellectual superiority. In later origin exploration it is implied that this stems from having a father who verbally degraded and abused him as being “stupid” so Nygma devoted himself to proving his father wrong. His greatest strength also proved to be his greatest weakness as no matter how clever the caper he pulls off is, the Riddler feels compelled to leave clues for Batman to follow.
For years he was just another theatrical and costumed villain among the Caped Crusader’s infamous rogues gallery, but the character elevated himself to a new level of fame in 1966. When the now classic TV series Batman premiered on ABC the Riddler was the first villain to be featured. Character actor Frank Gorshin brought the egomaniac to life with a brilliant combination of cold ruthlessness and manic energy. The Riddler became an immediate hit with fans and Gorshin even received an Emmy nomination for his performance. With the exception of a one-off when John Astin of The Addams Family fame, took on the role, Gorshin portrayed the green-clad menace for the rest of the series as well as the film adaptation.
In the years that followed the Riddler rested comfortable among the A-list of Bat-villains alongside the likes of The Joker, Penguin, and Catwoman. In 1993, Jim Carey at the height of his popularity brought his hyperactive, physical style to playing the Riddler in the blockbuster film Batman Forever. The talented creative duo of Matt Wagner and Dave Taylor gave comic fans one of the greatest Riddler stories ever in “Riddler and the Riddle Factory” which sees the villain running a macabre game show puzzling contestants with dangerous consequences.
In 2002, the Riddler would play an integral part in one of the biggest Batman stories in the characters’ 70+ years history “Hush”. A mysterious new villain who seemly knew very personal information about the Dark Knight had united his greatest enemies in a complex plan to bring the superhero down. Of course the Riddler would pop up in the story proper, but it was until the end when the true impact of Edward Nygma in the events was revealed. Leave it to the smartest enemy in Batman’s rogues gallery to deduce that the superhero was actually billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. Apparently submerging himself in a Lazarus Pit took his already immense intellect to new heights making the Riddler all the more dangerous. As fate would have it a head injury would erase much of Nygma’s memory and when he reemerged it was as a private detective for a spell. During Tom King’s acclaimed run on Batman, he revealed that during the early years of Batman’s crusade, the Riddler went to an all-out war against the Joker which of course had devastating consequences for everyone in Gotham City.
A new approach to the Riddler’s origin was taken in the 2014 TV series Gotham. Set in a time immediately after the Wayne’s were murdered and Jim Gordon is still climbing the ranks of the Gotham City PD while Oswald Cobblepot is climbing his own ranks in the criminal underworld. In this era of Gotham City’s history Edward Nygma was a quirky but brilliant forensics specialist for the police. For five seasons audiences got to watch the evolution of the character into the supervillain we all know. As a shameless plug, be sure to pre-order a copy of We Are Gotham by Richard Hall, Maria Antonieta Reyes, and a rather handsome writer for this site (who happens to be me). Most recently, the Riddler appeared as the primary antagonist in Matt Reeves’ The Batman, where he is portrayed as a Zodiac-esque villain targeting the elites of Gotham posing as a new threat for a young Batman to face.
Batman’s rogues gallery has no shortage of thematic supervillains, but the Riddler has been able to carve out a spot for himself as one of the top baddies. Creative talents over decades have found new ways to portray the character to implement him into their Batman tales, much like the Joker, a villain he is often tied to. He has been a cold strategist, an awkward geek, a hyper egomaniac, and now a chilling serial killer. With a clever gimmick of using brains over brute strength with his riddles and puzzles, Edward Nygma (sometimes Nashton) is malleable enough to fill into a number of different situations to challenge the Dark Knight on an intellectual level. So be sure to go check out The Batman now in theaters and pre-order your copy of We are Gotham to see how the Riddler maintains relevancy even today.