DC Histories: Edward Nigma (The Riddler)

Here at DC Histories, we try to make sense of the continuity that perplexes, befuddles, and intimidates. We discuss what worked and what didn’t. This week, we’re talking about the man who never met a question mark he didn’t like, the Riddler.

Batman: Riddler - The Riddle Factory (1995) Cover

The Riddler made his debut in 1948 where he was another in a long line of villains trying to take down Batman. While several of his contemporaries simply debuted with nary a backstory, the history of Edward Nigma was detailed during his very first appearance. A con man who valued his intelligence above all else, Edward wasn’t above cheating to make sure he stay on top of his adversaries. After doing a variety of small cons around Gotham, he eventually decided to up his game and attempt to outwit not only the Gotham City Police but also Batman. He would do this by donning the colorful costume of the Riddler.

From Detective Comics (Vol. 1) #140 (1948)

Quickly, the Riddler’s regular M.O. was established. Before every crime, he would send out some sort of word game, puzzle, or riddle whose solution would hint as to where Edward would strike next. However, this solution would generally be more than it seemed as there were also several locations that would serve as the answer to the question. It was all a big game to see if anyone would figure out the Riddler’s plan before it was too late.

From Detective Comics (Vol. 1) #140 (1948)

Edward was almost lost as another forgotten, moldy Golden Age Batman villain. After his initial appearance, he showed up again two months later and then, nothing. He was only remembered by readers who had happened to read one of his two appearances in 1948. That all changed in the mid-1960s.

When Julie Schwartz took over as editor of the Batman comics in 1964, he changed things up a bit. Gone were the more fantastic elements to Batman’s story that had developed in the 1950s. A more grounded Batman meant that he needed more grounded villains. To that end, the Riddler was brought back in the summer of 1965. Edward was once again up to his same old tricks.

However, Edward’s return to comic pages didn’t raise his profile nearly as much as his portrayal by Frank Gorshin. In the first episode of the Adam West Batman series, Gorshin made his memorable debut as the Riddler.

Gorshin’s manic performance as the Riddler made him a memorable villain and one who became a favorite with fans of the series. From there, Edward became a mainstay of Batman’s rogues gallery of enemies in the comics. He appeared in the various Batman stories with a renewed frequency.

In his second Silver Age appearance, Edward’s psychosis was examined a bit more. While attempting to ditch his gimmick of providing riddles that would inevitably lead to his being caught red-handed, Edward found that he simply couldn’t commit a crime without sending out a clue first.

From Batman (Vol. 1) #179 (1966)

After discovering that he simply had to leave riddles for his crimes, Edward attempted to leave riddles that were written in invisible link or exploded as soon as they were examined so that they couldn’t actually be used to track him down. This didn’t even work as Batman is simply amazing.

From Detective Comics (Vol. 1) #377 (1968)

Edward continued as an occasional roadblock to law and order in Gotham, but he wasn’t too much of a problem for the Dynamic Duo to handle.

The question of why Edward did the things he did remained. While others may have complicated origins involving childhood trauma, mental illness, or a sad home life, Edward had none of those things. He was just a jerk who always wanted to win. During an interview that Edward gave to a documentary television crew, he seemed to indicate that he was the Riddler simply because he was the Riddler. A more personal and thorough explanation wasn’t needed for Edward to know himself.

From Secret Origins Special #1 (1989)

The following year, Edward became a much darker, more vicious criminal. Out of nowhere, he suddenly set about hanging a library security guard and shooting another one in the head. He was still in his dapper ensemble, but there was murder in his eye.

From Batman (Vol. 1) #452 (1990)

Through this story, named “Dark Knight, Dark City,” Edward continued to act in surprising ways. He set up explosives in a blood bank to bathe Batman in donated type O negative, allowed a newborn baby to eat a ping pong ball so that Batman was forced to perform a back alley tracheotomy, and used a flamethrower to force Batman to preform acrobatics in front of a goat. Eventually, it came out that Edward was preparing Batman as a human sacrifice that would allow him to finish an ancient ritual. At the ritual’s completion, Edward would be in control of an ancient demon named Barbathos who had been stuck in Gotham City since its earliest days.

From Batman (Vol. 1) #454 (1990)

This obsession with a demon led to Edward’s changed mannerisms. Though the story ended with Batman apparently freeing Barbathos from its Gotham imprisonment, Grant Morrison would later reference this tale by referring to a demon named ‘Barbatos’ who had ties back to the very beginning of Gotham’s creation.

Edward continued to appear here and there in the Batman books. He would continue to pop into Batman’s life in an attempt to flummox and outwit the Caped Crusader, but would invariably fail.

In late 2002, the massive Hush story began. In the pages of twelve issues, seemingly every single one of Batman’s foes made an appearance. From Clayface to Killer Croc to the Joker, Gotham’s villains were out in force. Seeming to only be connected tangentially to the affair was the Riddler. However, after Batman unraveled the case, he discovered Edward at the story’s center. It had been the Riddler’s idea to run Batman through a gauntlet and, perhaps, kill him. This was all explained during a massive exposition dump in the final issue.

From Batman (Vol. 1) #619 (2003)

There it was shown that Edward had nearly died from a brain tumor. Only a dip in one of Ras al Ghul’s Lazarus Pits saved his life. The Pit had also given Edward a moment of clarity and he’d finally deduced that Batman was really Bruce Wayne. From there, he helped Hush, a childhood friend of Bruce Wayne’s, get his revenge against the man who he blamed for all of his problems.

Though he knew Batman’s secret identity, Edward found that he couldn’t tell anyone else this secret. It was the ultimate riddle and Edward was compelled to keep it to himself. After all, if everyone knew the answer to the question “Who is Batman?”, it wasn’t a riddle any longer.

Over the next few years, Riddler hounded the DCU’s heroes, eventually facing off against Green Arrow a time or two. However, he was sent into a coma during the events of Infinite Crisis. Edward awoke from that coma nearly a year later to find himself to be a new man. He dropped his compulsion for crimes and began using his impressive intellect as a private investigator. The coma also happened to make him forget that Bruce Wayne was Batman.

From Detective Comics (Vol. 1) #822 (2006)

This was quite the fun new identity for Edward. No one trusted him even though he had done nothing illegal since opening his private enterprise and he did help Batman during a handful of cases. Perhaps the lack of trust came from Edward’s ability to woo the media and his focus on his image. Or, perhaps, it was the many crimes he’d committed in the past. In any case, Edward still had his wits about him. He was quickly able to deduce that someone new was behind the cowl the first time he ran into Dick Grayson after Bruce Wayne appeared to have died.

From Gotham City Sirens #3 (2009)

That all changed once again when Edward found himself in an explosion during an investigation. The blast raddled his brain and seemed to change it yet again.

From Batman (Vol. 1) #693 (2010)

During the last few days of the pre-New 52 continuity, the Riddler began to return to his former glory. He grew out his hair and was seen around town spending time with a character named Enigma, who he claimed was his daughter. Enigma had been associated with various Titans group for a while but I believe this is the first time that “daughter” and “father” were ever together. Edward’s criminal ways blossomed as he began to work for large criminal organizations and even got involved with Two-Face.

From Batman (Vol. 1) #705 (2011)

In his final appearance, Edward appeared to actually kill Enigma off-panel. So, I suppose that she really wasn’t his daughter. In any case, this tale had all the markings of a story cut short by Flashpoint and the New 52.

Today marks Edward’s full debut in the New 52. However, he may have popped up all the way back to the beginning of this reboot. During a riot at Arkham Asylum in the very first issue of the new Batman series, a character with a green question mark haircut, an improvised green mask, and question mark head tattoos was seen battling Batman.

From Batman (Vol. 2) #1 (2011)

Was this the Riddler? Perhaps. The character wasn’t identified by name in this story, but if that’s not Edward, it’s at least a thug who worked for him. If this was the Riddler, he’s gotten a makeover since then. In the pages of Batman #15′s backup tale, Edward returns looking like his old self again and I’m happy to see him. The green suit with the question marks on it always appealed to me. Its well-tailored simplicity mirrored the structured mind within and made Edward stand out as a class act. And Batman needs more classy villains in his life.


Jeff Reid also loves the Batman: The Animated Series version of the Riddler but couldn’t think of a way to fit that into this article. Sometimes, he’ll discuss such things on Twitter.

Comments

  1. I loved Eddie as the dubious PI pre new 52. Excited to see the character in Snyder’s hands.

  2. APoetSomeday APoetSomeday says:

    Big love for ‘The Riddler’ – a classic comic book villain who will never go out of style (well, not for long anyway).

  3. farceur318 says:

    Frank Gorshin’s performance is probably the thing that’s held up the best from the Adam West Batman series. Like all the actors on the show, Gorshin was hamming it up, but while everyone else was playing it for laughs, Gorshin was aiming to be about as creepy and plainly frightening as as it was possible to be on tv back then. You honestly got the impression that this was a guy who was so smart that he had become unhinged. He portrays the Riddler the way modern incarnations of Batman portray the Joker.

    Also, he never ever blinks.

    • pmallory says:

      The reruns were on Nickelodeon when I was a kid, and I remember Riddler very well. The character was true to form, better even than Julie Newmar’s Catwoman.

    • Conor Kilpatrick Conor Kilpatrick (@cskilpatrick) says:

      The Frank Gorshin Riddler is my favorite version of the Riddler. He was funny but also completely unhinged and at times terrifying. The Joker on the show was a perfect embodiment of the Silver Age Joker, but the Riddler was more like the Modern Age Joker. He was by far my favorite of the villains on that show.

      To this day, Frank Gorshin is the only celebrity that I’ve sought out (along with Ron) at San Diego Comic-Con.

    • mark. mark. says:

      interesting. gorshin’s riddler always reminded me of the joker too, which i suppose is why i was never too crazy about him. too much of a character overlap.

      for my money, the best interpretation of the character was done in the original batman: the animated series. i always appreciated the logical, controlled, analytic version of the riddler that’s driven by a real need to prove his superiority. i actually almost feel bad for the guy. almost.

  4. WheelHands WheelHands says:

    Never been a fan.

    Riddler’s pretty low on my list of favorite Gotham villains. But hey, even the worst Batman villain is more interesting than your average supervillain. I’m looking forward to seeing what Snyder/Tynion and Capullo/Jock can do with the character.

    Good work as always, Jeff.

  5. Very interesting read. I’ve always liked Riddler. Litho ugh Scarecrow is my favorite, Riddler I right up there.

  6. Xtianhardy Xtianhardy (@Xtianhardy) says:

    I’ve always liked the Riddler in concept, but rarely in execution and costume design. My favorite interpretation of The Riddler has to be from the Arkham City game.

  7. CaseyJustice CaseyJustice says:

    Fantastic article, Jeff, as all of these DC Histories are.

    I recognize that there are objectively better rogues in his gallery, but the Riddler is absolutely my favorite Batman villain. Something about this man with a massive intellect, driven only by a maddening compulsion to outwit the World’s Greatest Detective, unable to commit a crime without simultaneously confessing to it… It’s fascinating to me.

    It might also have to do with the fact that I was introduced to the character through the Animated Series and the 60′s series, both of which presented fantastic interpretations of the character. That first Riddler BTAS episode, “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich,” is probably one of my favorite cartoons of all time.

    I feel like there may have been a story about his compulsions being related to his father, but I have no idea where.

    • Conor Kilpatrick Conor Kilpatrick (@cskilpatrick) says:

      “Something about this man with a massive intellect, driven only by a maddening compulsion to outwit the World’s Greatest Detective, unable to commit a crime without simultaneously confessing to it… It’s fascinating to me. ”

      Yeah, that really is one of the main things that makes him so interesting and fun.

      I like where Snyder and Tynion seem to be taking him in his appearance in BATMAN #15. It seems to be along those lines.

  8. cosmo cosmo says:

    My favorite Riddler is the gone “straight” PI version from a few years ago. The ambiguity of his character made him more compelling in my mind than as standard Bat-Villain. Intrigued to see what Snyder & Tynion have planned for him. Am I the only one beginning to suspect that the Joker is drawing a Family of Rogues around him to battle the Family of Bats . . ?

  9. DeadpoolFan1 DeadpoolFan1 says:

    You know, my wife and I almost went to Barbathos for our honeymoon, but we went to St. Lucia instead.

  10. RoiVampire RoiVampire says:

    That Matt Wagner Riddler book pictured at the top of the article is insanely good. A classic riddler story

    • theWAC1 theWAC1 says:

      Thank you! Saw the comic in a back issue bin this weekend and picked it up because of your praise (and Matt Wagner of course). AWESOME Riddler story.Showed his depth as a character very well. If you’re a Riddler nay-sayer check it out.

  11. nastysnow nastysnow says:

    Only riddler story ive read is hush

  12. dkbrain dkbrain says:

    Best Batman TV series laugh – Joker or Riddler?

  13. dkbrain dkbrain says:

    My God, I love this episode of Batman.