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A bloody puzzle: Inside the DC reinvention of the Riddler from new Batman one-shot

As Batman’s greatest foes are reimagined by DC’s One Bad Day specials, The Riddler receives a particularly terrifying makeover

Batman: One Bad Day: The Riddler excerpt by Mitch Gerads
Image credit: Mitch Gerads (DC)

One of the most enduring supervillains in Batman’s extensive rogues’ gallery is the Riddler, an emerald-clad criminal mastermind that often challenges the Dark Knight’s reputation as the World’s Greatest Detective. Though the Riddler has oscillated between a serious antagonist for Gotham City to one of the less sinister foes that Batman has combated, the enigma-obsessed enemy has been a constant presence in that Batman mythos across the DC superhero’s many multimedia adaptations. However, any question that the Riddler poses a genuine threat to the DC Universe and deserves his own place of infamy among Gotham’s most depraved is quickly settled by the prestige format one-shot Batman: One Bad Day - The Riddler by Tom King and Mitch Gerads.

No longer content with simply leaving puzzles for the Bat-Family and Gotham City Police Department to solve with all the crimes left in his wake, the Riddler decides to remind the entire city why he has been so quietly terrifying all along. Daring Batman to match wits with him, Batman: One Bad Day - The Riddler showcases a much more gruesome side to the Riddler and one that catapults the villain in a new direction. Here’s how the Riddler changes up his criminal approach in this Batman: One Bad Day one-shot and how it alters his standing in the DCU.

Spoilers ahead for August 16's Batman: One Bad Day - The Riddler.

The Riddler’s new mind games

Batman: One Bad Day: The Riddler excerpt by Mitch Gerads
Image credit: Mitch Gerads/Clayton Cowles (DC)

While Edward Nygma appears not unlike his classic appearances in Batman: One Bad Day - The Riddler, dressed in a subtly verdant suit and bowler with green grease paint covering his eyes, there is something more menacing about his demeanor this time around. No longer the gleeful trickster daring the opposition to solve the puzzles and wordplay he presents, there is something visibly darker and more sullen about the Riddler this time around. And rather than trying to get one over on Batman by trying to stay one step ahead of the law, the supervillain allows himself to be arrested after murdering a man in full view of a local security camera before coldly staring into it until he is apprehended.

This is a Riddler that is almost bored with how much smarter he is than the standard rank and file of Gotham City’s finest, including Commissioner Jim Gordon. More than simply relying on mind games and sleight of hand to get out of trouble, this is a Riddler that has no qualms with getting his hands dirty in sharp contrast to meeker and more physically diminished iterations of the character. In one gruesome display, the Riddler brutally slices off the top of one Arkham Asylum guard’s fingers with little more than a metal food tray and his own cell door. For Nygma, the police and Arkham security are little more than cannon fodder between him and the only adversary worthy of his talents: Batman.

Edward Nygma, villain of special notoriety

Batman: One Bad Day: The Riddler excerpt by Mitch Gerads
Image credit: Mitch Gerads/Clayton Cowles (DC)

Brought in for questioning after committing murder in plain sight, the Riddler makes it clear he isn’t in custody to play fun and games with Gordon – at least not in a way that Gordon has grown accustomed to. Instead, the Riddler shares an unsettling familiarity with Gordon’s personal life, including an intimate awareness of the commissioner’s extramarital affair with his young subordinate Sarah Essen as depicted in Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One. Further incensing Gordon and getting the veteran lawman to act recklessly and drop his guard is the insinuation that it was the Riddler who recommended to the Joker to shoot Barbara Gordon while she was in front of her father to further push to the breaking point of his sanity and hint that he is even more insidiously cunning and cruel than the Clown Prince of Crime.

As Batman compares notes with Gordon later, he learns that the Riddler is deliberately often kept in isolation from the other Arkham inmates to prevent them from driving them to madness and death with his mind games while he attempts to pass the time. Nightmarish examples of this are seen in Batman: One Bad Day - The Riddler, with the Riddler outsmarting the inmate next to his cell over a seemingly innocuous matter of movie trivia, causing the hapless individual to fatally stab himself in the neck with his fork.

The Riddler’s fearsome reputation carries over to more than just his fellow supervillains, however. When Gordon attempts to teach Nygma a lesson by having his men shoot the Riddler in private with rubber bullets in retaliation for mocking Gordon’s domestic life and personal tragedies, the villain quickly turns the tables. Revealing details about each of the guards’ families, the Riddler goads them into killing each other not so that he can escape but to vent his frustration that Gordon hasn’t set him up to meet with Batman yet.

The World’s Greatest Detective?

Batman: One Bad Day: The Riddler excerpt by Mitch Gerads
Image credit: Mitch Gerads (DC)

When the expected showdown between the Riddler and the Dark Knight does occur, Nygma makes it very clear very quickly that he is well aware of the superhero’s secret identity as Bruce Wayne. To make matters worse, the Riddler name-drops several of the major Bat-Family heroes by their civilian names along with details about Bruce’s home life.

This isn’t an entirely unprecedented development, with the Riddler deducing Batman’s secret identity in Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s story Batman: Hush after immersing himself in a Lazarus Pit to cure his terminal case of cancer. The Riddler would suffer from selective amnesia after enduring blunt force trauma to the head during the crossover event Infinite Crisis but the threat of him regaining his memories of Batman’s greatest secret would persist.

King and Gerads change this dynamic in Batman: One Bad Day - The Riddler, with the Riddler implying he has been aware of the true nature of the Bat-Family’s double lives for sometime but is no longer interested in playing nice. If the Riddler had casually cut through lawmen and villains alike just to get Batman’s attention previously in the story, he uses the confrontation to illustrate that he’s always been smarter than Batman all along. The Dark Knight has, of course, been doing detective work behind his nemesis in the interim, getting the implied last laugh, but does spend much of the story on the defensive.

The rise of the Riddler

The Riddler has often been seen as something as a fun villain among Batman’s rogues’ gallery, not has chaotically and murderously unhinged as the Joker and nor as globally catastrophic as Ra’s al Ghul and Poison Ivy. However, King and Gerads have positioned Edward Nygma to be the most lethally calculating foe that the Dark Knight has ever faced and a genuine challenge to his mental prowess rather than relying entirely on his usual puzzle-based gimmick.

Edward Nygma has been poised as a lackey in villainous ensembles, cutting the tension with an ill-timed riddle and easily dispatched for his lack of physical aptitude. He has been depicted as something of a coward hiding behind a veneer of boisterous cunning, with his smug facade crumbling as soon as the mysteries he sets up are solved. With Batman: One Bad Day - Riddler, Nygma is no longer a laughing stock but one of the most legitimately frightening antagonists the Bat-Family has ever faced.

Written by Tom King, illustrated by Mitch Gerads, and lettered by Clayton Cowles, Batman: One Bad Day - The Riddler is on sale now from DC Comics.

Want to know more? Read our in-depth interview with Tom King and Mitch Gerads about Batman: One Bad Day - The Riddler.