The Caped Crusader will make his long-awaited return to theatres in March 2022 with director Matt Reeves’ The Batman. Robert Pattinson’s new take on the iconic superhero, alongside Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon, Andy Serkis as Alfred Pennyworth, Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman (Selina Kyle) and Colin Farrell as Oswald Cobblepot (Penguin), is bound to revolutionise the franchise. However, it’s Paul Dano’s Riddler, who continues to remain a mystery, that has comic book fans excited for The Batman.
While many of The Batman‘s trailers feature Paul Dano’s voice as the Riddler, his face is hardly seen at all. The most we’ve seen of the villain is when he is unravelling a roll of duct tape, which he uses to cover the faces of his victims. This is the first time the character has been depicted this way.
Why The Riddler Is The Perfect Villain For The Batman
The last time Edward Nigma appeared in a live-action Batman film, it was in 1995’s Batman Forever, where he was portrayed by Jim Carrey. Carrey’s performance divided the audience as many fans felt the villain felt too much like the Joker than the master of mind games. It’s a fair comment as Joel Schumacher’s picture didn’t establish the Riddler as a major threat but rather as a goofy trickster.
Since then, DC has done its best to build up Nigma as the true chess master he is. There’s been an intense menace and psychological sinisterism to his actions, as he shrugs off the tag of being a gimmick villain.
“I think he’s actually been one of Batman’s most underused villains over the years. He’s got some terrific stories, but he appears relatively infrequently when you look at his history, or sometimes he has more of a supporting role,” writer Scott Snyder told CBR. “When you think about it, Batman is the world’s greatest detective, and a case is the same as a riddle a lot of the time. At least in fiction, you investigate a crime and add these pieces up to get your answer. There’s always some kind of closed-circuit to that, but the Riddler is always about confounding that loop and confounding that notion of finding an answer. He loves putting forward something that has an answer, but it always becomes more and more buried. So, he’s actually testing Batman’s most essential quality in some ways, which is his detection skill.”
This is why Nigma had to be the main mastermind of The Batman. If Reeves’ forthcoming reboot will be about Batman’s detective skills, there’s no better villain than the Riddler to test the Dark Knight’s mettle. Naturally, Batman’s main rival will always remain the Joker, but there’s space to explore the intellectual warfare between him and the Riddler. Most superhero films are all about the brawn, so let’s see one that’s about the brain.
Why The Riddler Is the Best Villain
When you think of the best Batman villains, there’s usually a pasty-faced clown that comes to mind. But much like high school, popularity isn’t allocated based on worth. Sometimes, it’s only years later that we realise that we had it all wrong. For this reason alone, it’s important to analyse why the Riddler is the best Batman villain.
Considering how the Dark Knight has a rogues’ gallery like no other (except for maybe Spider-Man), there are numerous foes who can challenge him on various levels. Bane provides a physical threat, while the Scarecrow is about confronting fears—but it’s Edward Nygma who makes the hero truly work for his World’s Greatest Detective tag.
For too long, the Riddler has been portrayed as some twisted game show host, who has a weird obsession with puzzles and double meanings. What lurks beneath the surface, though, is a dangerous adversary who forces you to use you brain along with brawn and fortitude.
Much like Jigsaw in Saw, the Riddler knows how to push all the buttons and create a plan that cuts deep—both emotionally and intellectually. He’s as frightening as the Zodiac killer, without needing to be as gory as the likes of the Night Stalker. His schemes push Batman to the limit, and there have been a few close shaves that nearly cost the Dark Knight and his sidekicks.
In recent years, DC Comics has shown why the Riddler (first created by Bill Finger and Dick Sprang in 1948) is the best villain. Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Greg Capullo, Danny Miki, and Rafael Albuquerque’s “Zero Year” put the rogue in control of Gotham City for nearly year, establishing him as one of the most dangerous enemies of that Batman run. Tom King and Mikel Janín followed suit, as “The War of Jokes and Riddles” again set up the Riddler as calculating and sinister enough to take on the Joker. The two Batman villains divided the city and sent it into a full-blown war.
Judging by the trailers for The Batman, it appears as if actor Paul Dano will embrace the psychological thriller aspect of the Riddler character as well. No longer will he be purely question marks and bright green suits, but he’ll be disturbing and lethal—just like the traps from the Batman: Arkham games.
The thing is, the Riddler is missing one thing that the Joker has in abundance: the one storyline that everyone remembers. He’s featured in numerous arcs and events, but he hasn’t had that story. You know, his Killing Joke. Imagine a David Fincher-inspired tale where the Caped Crusader is pushed to the limit and needs to solve an unsolvable mystery to win? In fact, what if the Riddler stops playing by the rules and starts feeding false information altogether?
Perhaps The Batman will be the Riddler’s big moment. It’s long overdue, really. With such a history and the potential for so much more, there’s no reason to not re-establish Nigma as a force to be reckoned with. No one else can even come close to getting inside Batman’s head and forcing him to think, and that’s why the Riddler is the best villain.
Saw Theory: Jigsaw Is Part of the Riddler’s Origin Story
Riddle me this, do you think Saw could serve as an origin story for the Riddler?
In 2004 director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell introduced the world to the Jigsaw Killer in the horror film Saw. Over the next eight films, audiences found out about John Kramer—the man behind all of the devious contraptions—and his motives. Believing himself to be someone who challenges people’s willpower and forces them to sacrifice to appreciate life more, his methods resulted in a pile of corpses, as well as the inspiration of several copycats.
Let’s say one of the people who saw and appreciated Kramer’s work was Edward Nashton (Eddie), aka Edward Nigma. He reads the stories of Jigsaw’s murders and studies all of the clues and traps, appreciating how every trap is merely a puzzle that needs creative solving. In theory, every trap is escapable, but it requires the player to understand the true price of playing. Even if you win, it might cost you everything…
Now, that you’ve read it, you can’t unsee it, because Saw is literally an origin story for the Riddler! From the theatricality of setting up clues and games to the sheer brutality of the consequence for failure, the Riddler is definitely more homicidal maniac than a puzzle master. Yet, like Kramer, he believes there should be an opportunity for someone to escape the tortuous devices or solve the puzzle—even if it’s slightly slanted in the gamemaster’s favour.
While there have been more comical and kid-friendly versions of the Riddler over the years, the Batman: Arkham series introduced someone who played deadly games. From death races to forcing the Dark Knight to fly through high-speed metal fans, these mini-missions made you wonder if all the Riddler trophies were worth the mental and physical anguish.
Judging by the first trailers for The Batman, Paul Dano’s version of The Riddler (the main villain in the story) looks like he’ll lean more into this psychological sinister version of the character. Warner Bros. has gotten it right. There’s no bright green question mark on his chest. Watching the Caped Crusader investigate the clues as the Riddler’s voice lingers throughout the footage, there was a moment or two where you wondered if this might secretly be a new Saw film.
To be fair, it’s about time that the Riddler receives the limelight. On paper, he has the potential to be one of Batman’s most dangerous foes, but he keeps getting passed off as just another gimmicky rogue. Maybe this Saw-inspired version of the character (a serial killer) will be the one that eventually convinces everyone about how truly disturbing he can be.
The Riddler’s Origin Story In The Batman
Building up to The Batman’s release date, Random House has published a new tie-in children’s book titled Before the Batman: An Original Movie Novel (The Batman). Diving into Bruce Wayne’s early years, the novel also highlights the origin story of Edward Nashton (The Riddler). The book reveals that Bruce and Edward attended the same high school. The latter sang in the school choir and “always carried a book of crosswords or other puzzles”. A victim of bullying, some of the other kids would call him “Ed-weird”.
As he begins to make his way in the world, Gotham’s enigmatic puzzler (who has an interest in forensic accounting) becomes increasingly jealous of the Wayne Family (especially Robert Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne – who he refers to as “lucky rich kid“). This explains why the trailers have shown The Riddler targetting Bruce Wayne specifically.
With the upcoming Batman movie nearly three hours long, it’s surprising that the above information wasn’t squeezed into the movie instead. But perhaps they needed more time for The Riddler’s sinister series of puzzles.
Regardless, it’s safe to say this isn’t anything like Jim Carrey’s Riddler. Nor is it like Cory Michael Smith’s. And it certainly isn’t Frank Gorshin’s or John Astin’s version.
In fact, Reeves describes Paul Dano’s Riddler (who seems to be armed with an ice picker and a gun) as more of a terrorist. “He’s not just a serial killer. He definitely has a political agenda. There’s a terrorist aspect to him,” said Reeves. “He’s indicting the city for what it is. And one of the things he’s doing with each of these crimes is, he’s attacking the co-called legitimate pillars of the city. The whole point of it was to put [Batman] on the path of trying to solve a mystery that was not only going to reveal the history of the city, and why it’s so corrupt, but that also is going to turn at a point, and become actually quite personal.”
When asked about the changes in his costume, Reeves explained that he was inspired by the Zodiac killer. “I read Mindhunter. It made me think of the Zodiac killer, and how he actually wore this primitive costume that really is a primitive superhero costume… a rogue’s galley costume. And I was like, ‘Oh, that’s really scary, the idea of people really wearing masks, and withholding their identities, and terrorizing people and how scary that is.’ And so I started thinking, ‘Well, it could be an origin tale for the Riddler, and it could be an origin tale for some of these other characters.'”
In a later interview, he continued to explain the idea even further. “I thought, wow, that actually sounds like a horrifying version of the Riddler, because he was leaving all these puzzles. So the Riddler was part of the conception very early on in trying to figure out, which of the Rogues Gallery characters would communicate in that way with Batman. So that happened right away. Then I started thinking, well, to me, what’s interesting, like I said before, it’s not his origin, but I thought it would be interesting, that as you followed the details of the crime, that it would take him across the paths of these other characters.”
As you can see in the new clip below (where Peter Sarsgaard’s character crashes a funeral), this incarnation of The Riddler is much darker. More importantly, he seems to know exactly who Batman is. He even watches Bruce from above to see how he’ll react to the chaos.
The film, also inspired by Batman: The Animated Series and Batman: Year One, is meant to serve as the first movie in a new franchise, with Matt Reeves pointing out that the Caped Crusader is only in his second year of fighting crime. The 3-hour movie is also meant to setup a lot of the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery.
A synopsis for the film reads: “Two years of stalking the streets as the Batman, striking fear into the hearts of criminals, has led Bruce Wayne deep into the shadows of Gotham City. With only a few trusted allies – Alfred Pennyworth, Lt. James Gordon – amongst the city’s corrupt network of officials and high-profile figures, the lone vigilante has established himself as the sole embodiment of vengeance amongst his fellow citizens.”
The Batman stars Robert Pattinson as the Batman and Bruce Wayne, Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle, Andy Serkis as Alfred Pennyworth, Jeffrey Wright as James Gordon, Paul Dano as The Riddler, John Turturro as Carmine Falcone, Rupert Penry-Jones as Mayor Don Mitchell and Colin Farrell as Oswald Cobblepot. Although Reeves’ film has yet to be released, Warner Bros. has already greenlit two spin-offs set in the Batman universe, one that will feature Farrell reprising his role as The Penguin and an HBO Max series that will focus on the Gotham City Police Department.
Meanwhile, two other Batman actors, Ben Affleck (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Justice League) and Michael Keaton (Batman, Batman Returns), will reprise their roles in The Flash movie.
Tell us, are you excited about Paul Dano’s version of The Riddler in The Batman?
Sergio Pereira is a prolific and recognised journalist and writer from Johannesburg, South Africa. His expertise encompasses the topics of comic books, film, television, and video games. For over 16 years, he has built up his reputation and knowledge in entertainment journalism by writing for and learning from the world's largest publications.
Sergio is also an accredited Rotten Tomatoes reviewer and has interviewed numerous celebrities, such as Andy Serkis, Ben Barnes, Idris Elba, Letitia Wright and Frank Miller. He is the author of the highly rated fantasy comedy novel The Not-So-Grim Reaper and numerous short stories. In addition, he is the co-writer of the South African crime drama film The Lifesaver. As a regular columnist, he contributes to Looper, Grunge, Screen Rant, Ranker, CBR, SYFY WIRE, IGN Africa, Thought Catalog and Fortress of Solitude.
For Sergio, all he wants in life is to see the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles eclipse the Justice League as the greatest heroes of all time. Then, he will sleep peacefully.