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The Riddler(pop culture)
Riddle me this: what is the first appearance of the Prince of Puzzlers, the Riddler? The answer: Detective Comics #140 (1948), by writer Bill Finger and artist Dick Sprang. In his Finger/Sprang origin, adolescent Edward Nigma—or E. Nigma—painstakingly studies the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle he later dishonestly pretends to have mastered as he cheats his way to a classroom puzzle-assembling victory, earning a reputation as an expert at solving challenges. As an adult, he parlays his obsession into a career as a sideshow attraction (“Match Wits with E. Nigma, the Puzzle King”). Bored by the carnival's “small pickings,” he becomes the Riddler, in the question mark-studded, lime-green tights and purple domino mask recognized by millions, and plays head games with Gotham City's Batman through a series of Byzantine riddles forewarning of his impending crimes. Batman, himself a master of solving the unsolvable, and his ally Robin the Boy Wonder wade through the Riddler's crime clues and trap the lawbreaker at the end of his bomb-rigged maze on a waterfront pier. The Riddler presumably drowns, but a floating question mark left behind at the scene of his “demise” makes the Dynamic Duo wonder if this trickster might not return. Two issues later, the Riddler was back with another chain of conundrums to confound the Caped Crusader, but after this tale, he did not stage another speedy comeback. It wasn't until Batman #171 (1965) that the Riddler was seen again, cackling his way back into print at a time early into Batman's “new look,” a revitalization of the hero. In “Remarkable Ruse of the Riddler!” by writer Gardner Fox and artists Sheldon Moldoff and Joe Giella (all ghosting “as” Bob Kane, due to DC Comics' contractual agreement with Kane, Batman's credited creator), E. Nigma had spent his jail sentence strategizing a rematch with Batman. Nigma pretended to have reformed to help the Dynamic Duo corral their current crime headache, the Molehill Mob, simply so he could have Batman's full attention for his own capers. And thus the gray-matter struggles resumed, with the Riddler frequently reappearing. At face value the King of Conundrums seemed a negligible threat—his obsessive compulsiveness provided more cerebral than physical challenges for Batman. But given the Caped Crusader's crimesolving roots—he did originate in Detective Comics, after all—the Riddler's puzzles allowed the reader to witness Batman's intellect in action. The Riddler's puzzles were two-tiered, an easier initial answer hinting at a more complex meaning that connected the clue to the crime. On January 12 and 13, 1966, ABC's live-action Batman (1966–1968), the twiceweekly adventure-fest starring Adam West and Burt Ward as the Dynamic Duo, premiered with a loose adaptation of “Remarkable Ruse of the Riddler!” as the two-part “Hi Diddle Riddle” and “Smack in the Middle.” A much-told tale in comic-book circles contends that television producer William Dozier conceived the idea for the Batman show after unexpectedly spying a copy of Batman #171 while on an airplane, but in his book Batman: The Complete History (1999), author Les Daniels debunked that myth, writing that Dozier recalled that his in-flight reading of the issue transpired “because ABC had already acquired the rights to the character.” While it may not have inspired the TV show, Batman #171's importance in comics history as the reintroduction of the Riddler into the Silver Age (1956–1969) was saluted in 2005 by DC Direct's release of a “1st Appearance” action figure of the Riddler, complete with a miniature reprint of Batman #171. Impressionist Frank Gorshin, a former Vegas headliner with a smattering of TV guest credits, sprung to instant stardom in an unrestrained portrayal of the Riddler fondly remembered for the actor's infectious but dangerous chortle. “I developed the Riddler's fiendish laugh at Hollywood parties,” Gorshin revealed in a May 1, 1966, New York Times interview. “I came to realize that it wasn't so much how I laughed as what I laughed at that created a sense of menace.” Gorshin, in both a simplified version of the comics' Riddler unitard and a question mark–pocked green jacket and bowler, reprised the role in numerous episodes (often aided by costumed henchmen) and in the 1966 Batman theatrical movie. John Astin, aka Gomez of TV's The Addams Family, took an infamous turn as the Riddler in a February 1967 Batman two-parter when Gorshin was unavailable; Gorshin had so defined the role that audiences rejected the talented but miscast Astin, leading producers to coerce Gorshin back for a single third-season episode. (Gorshin also appeared in the 2003 Batman reunion TV movie, Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt.) Once Batman went off the air in 1968, the Riddler maintained a mass-market presence for a dozen years predicated upon his Gorshin-generated clout, on TV cartoons (The Batman/Superman Hour, 1968–1969, and as one of the Legion of Doom on Challenge of the Super Friends, 1978–1979), 7-11 Slurpee cups, Mego action figures, even sew-on clothing patches. As Batman's comic-book mythology grew grimmer and more gothic throughout the 1970s and 1980s, however, the Prince of Puzzlers seemed too cheery, and perhaps too goofy, a fixture for more than occasional token romps. After a lighthearted Neil Gaiman/Bernie Mireault retelling of Nigma's roots in Secret Origins Special #1 (1989), various DC Comics writers began adapting the analytical Riddler into the graphic, noir-ish Gotham City of the 1990s and 2000s, although in earlier stories, Nigma himself lamented how gruesome his once-bright reality had become. His puzzle-generating modus operandi has remained intact, but his intellect usually steers him from violent exchanges; to navigate Gotham's tough streets, he often dispatches uniformed goons—sporting variations of his own question-marked tights—to handle the rough stuff, with female agents named Query and Echo offering a nod to the 1960s TV Batman days. Writer Jeph Loeb and artist Jim Lee employed the Riddler as a central figure in their popular “Hush” Batman storyline in 2003–2004. Nigma, having deduced the answer to the ultimate riddle—“Who is Batman?”—used his knowledge of the Dark Knight's Bruce Wayne identity to attempt to eliminate his foe. He failed, but maintains Batman's secret, concocting his next puzzle from his Arkham Asylum cell. Jim Carrey's exaggerated, Gorshin-channeling performance as the Riddler in director Joel Schumacher's movie Batman Forever (1995) attracted huge box office (Robin Williams was rumored to have been offered the role before Carrey); scads of merchandising with neon-green question marks accompanied the film's release. The Riddler has also appeared in Batman: The Animated Series (1992–1995) and its continuations throughout the 1990s, voiced by John Glover; and in The Batman (2004–present), in which he was given a new, rock star–like look and played by Robert Englund.
The Supervillain Book: The Evil Side of Comics and Hollywood © 2006 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.