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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.