Why the Riddler Is the Villain 'The Batman' Deserves

Edward Nygma is one of the few villains who could argue that they’re the intellectual equal to the Dark Knight.
Mikel Janin/DC
Edward Nygma is one of the few villains who could argue that they’re the intellectual equal to the Dark Knight.

Pity poor Edward Nygma. While the Riddler has a sizable fan base of his own — with a taste for outfits festooned with question marks and a love of overly complicated crimes, how could he not? — it can’t be denied that the Batman villain has often found himself in the shadow of other nefarious figures from the Gotham underground, in particular one who’s very fond of finding the humor in any given situation. Yet, there’s more to the Riddler than meets the eye, especially for those whose main exposure to the character comes from Jim Carrey’s performance in 1995’s Batman Forever. In 2021, audiences will be able to see a new interpretation, with Paul Dano on board for Matt Reeves' The Batman.

The Riddler shares a creative parent with the Joker, with writer Bill Finger responsible for both. Finger’s involvement shouldn’t be that surprising; as the co-creator and lead writer on the early adventures of Batman, he was also responsible for co-creating Robin, the Batmobile, the Batcave, Batwoman and naming Gotham City, amongst many other iconic elements of the franchise. His artistic partner for the Riddler’s creation was Dick Sprang, arguably the iconic Batman artist of the 1950s era of the character.

Together, they came up with Edward Nigma — later, Edward Nashton, when self-consciousness over the name’s inherent corniness set in, and later still, Edward Nygma, when some of that self-consciousness thankfully burned away. He is a man who has been obsessed with puzzles since childhood and who couldn’t help but wonder how they could be used for more perverse fun and profit…especially that last bit.

The mixture of the eye-catching visual — although the bright green bodysuit covered with question marks would be adapted throughout the years, most memorably becoming a three-piece suit in a similar hue and pattern, complete with a bowler hat — and the memorable gimmick ensured that the Riddler made multiple appearances following his 1948 debut in Detective Comics No. 140, and not just in comic books; he was one of the recurring villains in the 1960s Adam West TV show and in Fox’s recent prequel show Gotham, not to mention appearances in the 1990s and 2000s animated series and Batman: Arkham video games, in addition to 1995’s Forever.

Despite this, the actual character feels surprisingly overshadowed by others. The Joker, after all, has a larger-than-life personality and an easier buy-in: He’s a psychopath that looks like a clown. Catwoman, too, has a more straightforward, interesting elevator pitch: she’s the forbidden love interest and femme fatale of the story. By contrast the Riddler is…a guy who likes puzzles…? It hardly seems to measure up.

There’s a lot more to him, of course; for one thing, he’s one of the few villains who could argue that they’re the intellectual equal to Batman — an argument supported by recent comic book storylines like 2013’s “Zero Year,” in which the Riddler defeated the Caped Crusader and took over Gotham, or 2017’s “The War of Jokes and Riddles,” in which the rivalry between the Joker and the Riddler becomes full-on civil war in the Gotham criminal world. He’s also, unusually for a Batman antagonist, not necessarily irredeemable — he worked on the side of the good guys for a number of years, starting in 2006 when Batman went on a sabbatical and the Riddler stepped up to take his place.

Sure, the Riddler has his foibles, centering around dual obsessions of one-upping Batman and making everything fit around puzzles — a fact most recently put under the microscope in the fun and insightful The Riddler: Year of the Villain comic book released last month — but, if used properly, Edward Nygma might just be the most dangerous and unpredictable threat to the Dark Knight in his entire rogues gallery.

Not bad for a guy who only looks good in green.