Previously I reviewed an episode of Batman The Animated Series featuring Clayface a lesser known yet well loved Batman baddie. The shapeshifting nature of this villain made him very difficult to animate and as such he only appeared in three episodes. Today I’ll be looking at another, far more well known villain who was easy to animate yet very difficult to write.
Edward Nigma aka The Riddler has a genius level intellect and a penchant for puzzles. His various criminal plots always incorporate mind and word games for Batman to solve. It seems odd to give Batman a clue to his crimes but The Riddler’s massive ego would never allow him to miss an opportunity of proving his intellectual superiority. Frank Gorshin made the character a household name with his engagingly eccentric performance in the 1960’s. For Batman: The Animated Series, he was redesigned as a more cerebral opponent, focusing on his psyche and arrogance. Not an easy task for a 21 minute Saturday morning cartoon which explains why this iconic character only appears in three episodes. Paul Dini himself said that it was very difficult coming up with unique puzzles and riddles for Batman and Robin to solve. Despite this, he did make a decent impact on the show thanks to some clever conundrums by the writers and the fantastic voice talent of John Glover.
If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
Edward Nigma is a videogame designer behind the hugely successful puzzle game ‘The Riddle of the Minotaur’. Thanks to his greedy boss Mockeridge, he was cheated out of royalties and gets fired when he tries to sue the company. Two years later, Nigma returns. Calling himself The Riddler, he kidnaps his former boss and is determined to prove that Mockeridge’s greed is no match for Nigma’s brains. Batman and Robin discover what Nigma is up to and are forced to partake in a real life version of ‘Riddle of the Minotaur’, where the consequences of failure are lethal.
‘If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich’ is a lot of fun. The Riddler is given a fresh motivation and the script has got some wonderfully playful word games. John Glover is a delight, perfectly capturing his wit and vanity with a touch of bitterness. The episode is slightly let down by some cheesy giant props and an overly elaborate trap which kind of undermines the analytical interpretation of the character. Despite this, I still really enjoy it for the screenplay, the voice acting and the downbeat ending in which The Riddler evades capture and Mockeridge continues to live in fear.
What Is Reality?
In an attempt to destroy all known records of his identity, The Riddler leads Batman, Robin and Commissioner Gordon on a chase through Gotham and eventually into a Virtual Reality system, where he kidnaps Gordon and entraps Batman into another battle of wits.
This episode is not one of my favourites. It has a nice pace and holds one’s interest but the climax is a huge let down. We’ve seen the elaborate scheme/maze/trap done before. The only difference this time is it’s in super high tech Virtual Reality. This gives the animators more freedom to go nuts with the fantasy but, even as a kid, I felt it was going against what made Batman such a great show. Sure there is a context to it and it does indeed look pretty but it is essentially a more fantastical version of what we already saw in the previous Riddler story and a step back in the development of the character. It’s not all together terrible but is instantly forgettable.
Edward Nigma is out on parole and has seemingly gone straight. Becoming business partners with a toy manufacturer, he uses his Riddler persona to promote a new line of puzzle based games. He has everyone fooled, except Batman who suspects he is behind a string of recent crimes, despite Riddler’s clues being a lot more cryptic and subtle than before. While Nigma is indeed behind these crimes, he is being deliberately more obtuse in order to catch Batman out. Alas, The Dark Knight is still determined to catch him and a dejected Riddler finally decides to end it once and for all by killing his most worthy adversary.
Grounded, psychological, tense and witty, ‘Riddler’s Reform’ represents everything we love about Batman The Animated Series. It may have taken them three attempts but they finally managed to give this iconic character a classic episode. The Riddler engages Batman in a full on psychological duel and it’s just as exciting as any fight scene. No gimmicks, no props and no giant maze with an intercom. Nigma’s weapons are manipulation, double bluffs and sincerity, all used to prove once and for all that he, The Riddler, is the cleverest of them all. John Glover is tremendous here. He was always good but this time he’s given a lot more to work with. In one episode Nigma goes from his usual scheming arrogance to uncertainty, dejection and eventually a full mental breakdown; a victim of his own ego. This is a lot to convey in such a short time and a lesser actor would make it seem forced. Not Glover, who owns The Riddler better than any other actor whoever portrayed him. Even Frank Gorshin.
So there you have it. The fourth most famous Batman villain may not have had a lot of episodes but he did have a fresh interpretation and the perfect voice actor. Few Saturday morning cartoon bad guys challenge the hero on a purely intellectual level. These three, especially ‘Riddler’s Reform’, bring a lovely change of pace and are recommended for the puzzle solving and, once again, the excellence that is John Glover. I dare say you will not find a more satisfying version of this character on TV, video games or even in comics.