13th Sep2019

‘The Riddler: Year of the Villain #1’ Review (DC Comics)

by Dean Fuller

Written by Mark Russell | Art by Scott Godlewski | Published by DC Comics


Another One Shot in the continuing Year of the Villain DC Event comes our way, after last month’s rather excellent Sinestro issue. I’m pleased to see the same scripter, Mark Russell, is back on writing duties as I hugely enjoyed his take on Sinestro. In what could have easily been a throwaway issue, Russell really strived to write a meaningful story and succeeded, and I hope we get a similar payoff here, especially as I like The Riddler. Although a very colourful character with a great modus operandi, let’s face it Riddler has always been second banana, always a mid-level Batman foe at best. I often got the impression Riddler doesn’t really have the heart of a villain, just enjoys the mischief, and that endears him to me. And the name. Edward Nygma. E.Nygma. Pretty cool, right? Let’s see if, like Sinestro before him, he gets a good spotlight to perform under.

‘Thanks for Nothing’ opens in Scarab’s, a restaurant owned by King Tut, a villain even lower down the pecking order than Riddler. Riddler and Tut are having dinner, and both complaining about the fact that they can never beat Batman. No matter what they do, or how hard they try he always outwits them. For The Riddler, obviously very intelligent, this is particularly galling. Tut, to put it nicely, is, er, merely enthusiastic. Riddler is also pretty miffed that Lex Luthor, or Apex Lex as everyone’s calling him these days owing to his recent gaining of supreme power, has not dished out any new powers his way. Lex has been giving out enhanced abilities to major villains to enable them to live their best lives, to beat their hero nemesis’s once and for all. For Riddler? Nada. Life’s just not fair.

As Riddler sinks into a depression over all this, he arrives back home at the Riddler lair (Riddle Cave? Riddler Mansion? House of Riddles?) to find who else but Apex Lex waiting for him. Riddler starts to have it out with him, trying to find out why he has been so slighted. Lex, a lot more philosophical than the old ‘Superman must die’ model, tells him a story from his youth in Smallville, a sad story of obsession that did not end well. This is why Riddler is not (yet) worthy of help. He has trapped himself in his own obsession, an obsession with riddles and with Batman. Prove he can grow beyond that, and Lex may re-think, although Lex thinks his advice is a pretty good gift in itself.

So Riddler will take a long hard look at himself, right? Actually, no. He lets himself get persuaded by Tut to team up to beat Batman, by combining two differently themed traps into one. Yep, according to Tut, all you need to beat Batman is to combine Egyptian themed traps with some riddles. Apparently. I’ve got to say that I love the portrayal of Tut here. Like a averagely famous rapper, everything he has is gold, including his phone, and his house has a giant Sphinx head on it. Brilliant. As the pair lay their trap, we get insight into some of the mundaneness of being a villain. The effort into setting up your traps, the expense involved…crocodiles don’t come cheap you know. We get a real glimpse behind the curtain alright. So, trap set, Batman alerted, the game is afoot.

Batman arrives, and as he fights his way through Tut’s initial trap, Riddler has time to kill in his sarcophagus waiting for his bit. He thinks over his conversation with Lex, flashing back to important moments on the path that led to him being here now. The bullying, the inferiority complex, the desire to be popular. The fact that although times have changed, the people around him have changed, he has not. He will never get better, improve, until he grasps that fact, so The Riddler must die. Edward Nygma needs to move on. Which he does, both spiritually and literally, which is unfortunate as he leaves Tut hanging as Batman reaches him and punches out his lights. Some friend. Riddler realises that far from Lex not giving him a gift, he gave him the greatest gift of all. The gift of Nothing.

This was nothing short of excellent. Tut and Riddler read like a supervillain version of Blue Beetle and Booster Gold at their height, hilarious dialogue and a fun insight into the world of the lower league villains. Never malicious, Mark Russell’s script kept the jabbing light, and let the characters shine, despite their less than stellar abilities. It was a great character study of Nygma especially, really capturing what makes him tick, and I’m genuinely interested in seeing where this leads him. The art by Scott Godlewski was also excellent, I loved his depiction of the classic oversized traps Tut put Batman through. The art style, and colouring, suited the lightheartedness perfectly. Brilliant book.

Riddle me this. Who has two first names and is fast becoming my favourite writer?

***** 5/5

The Riddler: Year of the Villain #1 is out now from DC Comics.


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