Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Problem With... Writing The Riddler.

The Penguin is a fat guy who looks like a penguin. He has a thing for trick umbrellas. He also happens to be a crime boss who also runs a "legit" business from his club, "The Iceberg Lounge."

Writer writes a story.

The Joker is a colorfully dressed, homicidal maniac who looks like a clown or the joker in a deck of playing cards. He's completely without ethics, morals and is totally devoid of order. He's nearly an exact opposite of his arch-enemy, The Batman.

Writer writes a story.

Catwoman is a woman dressed like a black cat so she rarely brings anyone good luck. Like a cat, she'll let you get only so close before she tires of you. She flirts with Batman. She's is a cat burglar.

Writer writes a story.

The Riddler is a master criminal with a genius IQ who uses riddles to try and stump the world's greatest detective.

Writer writes a story... and may not do that great of a job.

The Penguin, The Joker and Catwoman are all pretty much straightforward in their motivations, they are creatures of want. The Riddler is unique in his. He is a entirely a creature of need. His sole need in life is to upstage one of, if the smartest player in the comics universe, The Batman. He needs to know that he is better than you.

The problem with writing The Riddler is that, as a writer, one should be smart, one should be clever. Sometimes smarter and more clever than the main character, Batman, you've been hired to write. While you can be the cleverest of writers, in the actual writing The Riddler, you run the risk of exposing your weaknesses as a plotter.

If the biggest clue you have The Riddler drop is something along the lines of "What gets bigger the more you take away," to this reader, the deal's been broken.

The Riddler works best when you can't see him coming and as much as I generally dislike most of Jeph Loeb's Batman work, I truly did like the end of his Batman:Hush saga. He had The Riddler remove himself from the equation early on and proceeded to watch The Batman run himself ragged over the identity of the man who'd turned his world inside out. In doing so, The Riddler manipulated the likes of The Joker, Ra's al Ghul, Poison Ivy and even Superman, into breaking Batman down, piece by piece. While I still have issues with Loeb's execution, his having Batman believe he'd taken The Riddler out so early on was an inspired bit of storytelling. It showed a conceit on Batman's part we'd rarely seen before. We'd seen this side of Batman a bit in Mark Waid's JLA run but Hush laid it out there for stories such as Identity Crisis and The OMAC Project to pick up on.

In having The Riddler solve the ultimate riddle of "Who is Batman," Loeb inadvertently changed the character, spoiling him for every other writer after him. Really, who'd want to write the character after he'd bested the ultimate?

Well, Judd Winick could have him go to Green Arrow's city with a nuke and threaten to detonate it unless he gets $100,000,000. You could go that way but you shouldn't. Having The Riddler go against Green Arrow is like bringing a sword to a switchblade fight.

Paul Dini in his Detective Comics run has done a superb job in grasping The Riddler's own conceits, having him "reform" as Gotham's newest and greatest detective for hire, not remembering his former victory and attempting anew to best Batman at every turn. In Dini's having The Riddler attempting do so 100% legally, we get a welcome, fresh configuration of The Batman/Riddler dynamic we've been stuck on for so many years.

Long story short, The Riddler, as a character is smarter than you. If a writer is bright enough to realize this, one of two things could happen: the reader gets a good story or the writer is exposed as not very good.

The Riddler is id, ego & super ego born and like all three, hard as hell to figure out.

Godspeed to the person who can put their own ego aside and write up to The Riddler's level.


Cascade/Jordan said...

Since I'm reading Starman right now, I would love to see them do to the Riddler, what they did to Shade. Make him a villan, but a guy who really just wants to keep Gotham quiet or something or other.

SallyP said...

That could definitely work.

Unknown said...

This was an inspired post. Kudos.

I remember reading an interview or two when B:TAS was in production, and Dini & Co. lamented that they really didn't know what to do with the Riddler (hence his infrequent appearances). I've been quite happy that Dini was finally able to find a hook that works amazingly well.

And despite all the problems with "Hush", I, too, agree that the Riddler reveal was great.

Matt Worzala said...

The Riddler, Firefly and The Mad Hatter are probably my three favorite villans of The Batman. I've especially liked Dini's take as well, with The Riddler (and the Penguin) realizing there's more money (and almost more fun) in being legit and waving it in front of The Batman's nose.

One of the 'Tec's, who's number I now forget, in Dini's run had The Batman trying to solve the murder of a friend of his at a costume party. In the end he and The Riddler both solve the crime but from different angles. I just think that's cool.

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