The Batman franchise is being rebooted on the big screen once again, this time with Robert Pattinson taking up the cape and cowl. The Batman looks to be darker and more violent than even Batman Begins or Batman v Superman. But there’s one important difference this time around. Batman’s first major foe isn’t the Joker or Ra’s al Ghul -- it’s Paul Dano’s Riddler.
You might think you know this colorful, flamboyant trickster, but how much are you really clued in on the history of Edward Nigma? And what makes him the natural choice to be this Batman’s first major nemesis? Let’s take a deep dive into the complex puzzle that is the Riddler. And for more on the movie, check out all our DC FanDome coverage!
The Riddler’s Origins
The Riddler first appeared in 1948’s Detective Comics #140. If not quite as old as Batman rogues like Joker and Catwoman, he’s still part of that classic first generation of Gotham villains. More contemporary Batman comics have even reworked Riddler’s origins to show he was among the first to grapple with the Caped Crusader, even before Joker himself.
Given the fluid nature of DC continuity and Riddler’s own disjointed mind, we don’t know a lot about the origin of his criminal career. We don’t even know if his real name is Edward Nygma or Eddie Nash. There is one constant, however. Since childhood, Riddler has been fueled by a compulsive need to prove himself as the smartest person in the room. He craves intellectual validation, and he believes Batman to be his only truly worthy opponent.
That’s the core of every crime Riddler has committed in Gotham. He’s not really in it for the wealth or the love of killing, though he and his gang have certainly left a bodycount over the years. Riddler simply wants everyone to know how clever he is. He can’t help but create complex puzzles and leave clues behind for the Dark Knight Detective to solve. To his eternal shame, Riddler has never succeeded in hatching a mystery Batman can’t solve. But that never seems to stop him from trying.
Gotham City’s Zero Year
2013’s Batman: Zero Year offers a dramatically revamped take on Batman and Riddler’s first battle, and it’s one that reestablished Edward Nygma as one of Gotham’s most dangerous super-criminals.
Similar to Batman: Year One, Zero Year showcases Bruce Wayne’s early months back in Gotham City from his world travels, as he works to establish himself as a costumed vigilante. But where Year One is basically a crime noir with Batman battling gangsters and the police, Zero Year offers a complex conspiracy with Riddler at its center.
The name “Zero Year” comes from the climax of the story, as Riddler floods Gotham and transforms the city into a lawless wasteland. For those hellish few months, the survivors are stuck living out of time. That is, at least, until Batman solves Riddler’s puzzles, restores power and proves himself to be Edward Nygma’s intellectual superior.
A later storyline called The War of Jokes and Riddles revolves around the idea that Joker and Riddler are the only two villains truly worthy of killing Batman. Naturally, that means the two go to war with each other for the privilege, forcing Batman to contend with the hundreds of dead bodies left in their wake.
In the end, Riddler manages to hurt Batman in a way even Joker never could. Batman and Riddler form a temporary alliance to stop Joker, only for Batman to discover just how twisted his new partner truly is. Batman snaps and tries to stab Riddler, only for the Joker of all people to save Nygma’s life. Batman has always managed to stop himself from killing the Joker, but somehow Riddler knows how to push the Dark Knight’s buttons like no other.
Solving the Ultimate Mystery
In many Batman stories, Riddler is consumed by what he considers to be the ultimate mystery - who is Batman underneath the mask? That’s the basis for the version seen in the Batman: Earth One graphic novels, where Riddler is depicted as a sadistic serial killer obsessed with this mystery.
Ultimately, Riddler is too smart not to finally uncover the truth. That’s the reveal at the heart of a comic book storyline called Batman: Hush. While the titular villain of this winding murder mystery turns out to be Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend, Tommy Elliot, ultimately it’s Riddler at the center of the web.
Batman’s smartest enemy figuring out his secret identity may seem like a recipe for disaster, but Batman reminds Riddler that knowledge isn’t always power. After all, what good is the world’s most valuable secret if everyone knows about it? Even Riddler has no answer to that puzzle.
Luckily for Batman, Riddler promptly forgot this secret after a convenient case of amnesia.
Hush was later adapted into an animated movie, with one key difference. In this version, Riddler himself is revealed to be Hush, part of his ploy to elevate his status among Gotham’s villains. In this case, Riddler is killed by Catwoman before he can share his secret with the world.
Riddler’s Role in The Batman
Based on these storylines alone, it’s clear why Riddler is worthy of becoming Batman’s first foe in the new movies. He’s not only smart enough to give Batman a run for his money, but he can rival Joker for collateral damage when he has the right motivation.
Emphasizing Riddler also makes sense given that the new series seems to be drawing inspiration from Batman comic writer Scott Snyder, who penned Zero Year and several other key stories. One telltale clue is Batman’s gauntlets, which closely resemble those worn by the Talons. These undead assassins serve the Court of Owls, another of Snyder’s DC creations. This underground organization existed in Gotham long before Batman came on the scene, and some fans are speculating that Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne may have trained with the Court in the same way Christian Bale’s Bruce was a member of the League of Shadows.
The trailers for The Batman reveal Dano’s Riddler to be a terrifying serial killer with a deep interest in Gotham’s secret history. This version of Riddler seems more Zodiac Killer than campy DC villain, and his full-body leather suit is a far cry from the bright green, question mark-heavy suits we’ve seen in the past
Based on these trailers, Riddler seems intent on exposing a vast conspiracy at the heart of Gotham City, and he’s leaving a trail of bodies to help Batman piece together the clues. He’s targeting everyone from the mayor to the District Attorney to the police. He’s even live-streaming his crimes for good measure, because what good is a riddle without an audience?
But where that trail ultimately leads, we’ll just have to wait and see when The Batman hits theaters in 2022.
Do you think Riddler is a worthy villain to kick off the rebooted Batman franchise? Let us know down in the comments. And for even more on the upcoming film, check out our The Batman trailer breakdown where we delve into why the Robert Pattinson Dark Knight might be the craziest one yet.
Jesse is a mild-mannered staff writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter.