Supervillains are fascinating.
Villains as a whole are a compelling part of any story, but supervillains are a breed in and of themselves. It’s not that they just have an evil code (or a “morally ambiguous” one if you’re a coward), it’s that they have to look fun while doing committing acts of evil. Every villain has a different costume, theme, attitude, gimmick – it’s a form of theatre, where every performer is vying for centre stage. It’s no wonder that the man who usually gets the top spot is a clown.
As such, the struggle of a supervillain is ultimately a struggle for relevancy. How do they keep reinventing themselves to succeed in the modern day? Can a B, C, or even D-Lister become an A-Lister with enough new perspective? Or are they doomed to be trapped in their old ways? This is just the question that Year of the Villain: Riddler, written by Mark Russell and illustrated by Scott Godlewski, seeks to ask. Of course, who better to ask this question than one of the most brilliant – yet mocked – villains of Batman’s rogues gallery? Someone who deserves their time in the spotlight, but is constantly held back by how the rest of the world perceives him? And how he perceives himself?
I’m talking, of course, about King Tut.
What? You thought this issue was about The Riddler? Hahahahahaha! No, you stupid idiot. You moron. You complete imbecile, you dolt.
This is Tut Town now, baby!
Look at him! This new Tut is so handsome you could cut yourself on his cheekbones. His jaw is more finely chiseled than the Sphinx itself. He has to wear glasses because without poor eyesight, he’d be so powerful that he could command Batman to walk into the jaws of Ammut, and the Caped Crusader would thank him for it. Look at him being a supportive friend, too – you think you’d get that from Penguin? Please. I’m glad we’re finally getting the Tutenkomeback™️ we’ve been waiting years for.
…oh, and Riddler’s there too, I guess.
I’ve read some of Wonder Twins and enjoyed Russell’s unique flair in the writing – that style is just as strong here. He has a very good voice for the titular character, Edward Nygma, even if this isn’t his usual self-assured, arrogant, hyper-intelligent self. That’s intentional – you feel like it’s the same character, trying to come to terms with his own inadequacy, and working past a life of denial and false validation that he’s built up for himself. While Tut is (obviously) the show-stealer, Riddler’s story is well-done here, and the journey he takes easily justifies the book’s existence. Luthor’s appearance is mostly effective, too – I feel some of his lines are a little stiff, but he has an excellent monologue about his life in Kansas, and presents the crux of the issue in his conversation with Riddler.
Much of the commentary about Riddler in this book has been said before, but to say it in an effective, concise (and funny!) manner gives the book the kick that it needs to succeed. Russell’s books are in-continuity, but they aren’t afraid to poke a little fun at the universe they’re in, and bend what might normally happen in this world. I don’t like it all the time, but I think that’s more on me being a grouch than commentary on Russell’s tongue-in-cheek plays on an, admittedly, already silly superhero world. It’s a comic book, after all. Why SHOULDN’T there be a “Lair Magazine”?
I’m serious about Tut being the star of the show, though. His moments in the story are great, from his attempts at being a genuine friend to Riddler, to his “schemes” that are equal parts hilarious, impressive and pathetic.
And, seriously, this new design is literally TOO attractive. I’m not sure why this guy doesn’t take up modelling instead of being a supervillain. Maybe that’s what he’s been doing for the last few years. It’s thanks to Scott Godlewski’s distinct and charming artwork that I’ve been having these unsavory thoughts, and the book is all the better for it.
During a panel at a con I once went to, one of the artists at the front mentioned how important it is to have distinct silhouettes for each character – each design should be recognizable from a distance, so that there’s variety in each of your panels and scenes. This is done to great effect here: Batman is buff and imposing; Luthor is tall, thin and menacing; Tut is confident in his ridiculous Egyptian attire; and Riddler, for most of the issue, is ever-so-slightly sagged, in a suit that never quite looks like he wants to be wearing it. Godlewski portrays the acting of the scene rather nicely too. Riddler’s not in top form, and he knows it; the illustrations are excellent at portraying the doubt in his eyes as the issue progresses.
The action is well-done, too. It’s certainly not the focus of the issue, but it provides a nice spectacle for the climax of the story (and where it takes Riddler), while providing some fun, classic “super-villain deathtraps” that make this an absolute must for “people who want to read comics about obscure goofy Batman villains in the modern day”. [Editor’s note: Which should be each and every one of you, dear readers. -Jay] Which, considering Kite Man’s resurgence in popularity, seems to be a large group.
Coloring is also incredibly striking and charming, and works well with the illustrations that embrace the silliness of its world. My only nitpick is that Batman’s costume is a strange mix of his classic and Rebirth suit, which I believe is an error.
The last thing I’d like to mention is what I believe to be the best moment of the book, which is set up by Russell’s script and executed wonderfully by Godlewski’s artwork. I’ll hide it behind spoiler tags, though.
The box worked – too well. The house collapsed and burned underneath him, and he had no way of escaping inside the metal box that cooked him alive. Riddler doesn’t understand the meaning of the story, at first, and how this might apply to him. But when he and Tut decide to team up in a scheme against Batman, Eddie is placed in a sarcophagus in order to activate his trap.
The symbolism – and callback – in this moment didn’t dawn on me at first, but the comic continues to cut back to Riddler’s eyes observing the scene from the sarcophagus. Eventually, you – and Riddler – pick up on the fact that he is essentially in the same death trap as Dale was; and the book manages to do this with nothing but Eddie’s eyes inside the tomb, and the telling words of his peers looming around him.
- You’ve been a fan of Year of the Villain so far, and how it seeks to reinvent its antagonists.
- You like a comic that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
- You enjoy Lex Luthor monologues, because who doesn’t? (Other than Superman.)
- You want a Riddler story that doesn’t begin and end with him in the same place as before, and goes beyond his usual games.
- You love King Tut as much as you god damn should.
Even if I don’t love every moment of its self-awareness, I loved a lot of it; I had a great time reading and re-reading this issue. It’s funny, vibrant, witty, and ponderous about a villain who has always walked the line between A and B-list on Batman’s rogue’s gallery. It tackles that question of relevancy in a world of supervillainy, and posits that the answer to that riddle might just lie in rejecting it altogether. Now for the true riddle: where does Edward Nygma go from here?
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.