Okay. I’m gonna be honest. I already had thoughts about this back when it was announced. Mostly thoughts of “oh god no”, “boy they sure want to milk The Killing Joke for all it’s worth, huh?”, and “oh god please no why are you making The Riddler kill people why oh god oh god.” The Riddler is my favorite Batman villain, in a close tie with Mr. Freeze, and I’m always super excited to read anything he’s in, even if it’ll probably be bad.
If you were like me, and had similar fears, rest assured, dear reader. You were right.
Before we begin,
Riddle me this. Not a cat or a clothes maker, I sit on a throne. My friend’s name is Edward, he’s pretty well known. But when I try to make him my own, the reader may find this character blown. Who am I?
If you said Tom King, you’d be right! I’ll get to him in a second, as 90% of my problems with this book lie entirely with the writing. So because of that, let’s talk about the stuff I like first!
The Good Stuff
Look, a lot of the criticism you’re going to read later on in this article is going to involve the weirdly dark nature of this story, something I’ll admit is a personal gripe, but also generally drags the story down in general. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the art here HEAVILY contributes to the dark and dreary atmosphere, sometimes to the book’s detriment. Just take a look at this scene:
There’s a weird lack of physical space around both Gordon and Batman, with the space instead being filled up with a weird collage of shadows, steam, and cigarette smoke. A little visually complicated for a small conversation.
The rest of the book isn’t quite as bad as this, in fact there’s a lot of great moments (coming up next!), but I do think there’s an overly grimy look to the whole book that, when coupled with King’s attempt at an intellectual thriller (most of which amounts to “oh look the Riddler can be scary guys!! What if Batman was like “woah that’s so messed up” because stuff was so messed up!), creates a very gloomy world that insists upon itself a little too much.
As far as the rest of the art, when it is good, it is GOOD. There’s a swap in color palettes to indicate the flashback’s to Eddie’s titular “One Bad Day”, and there’s a juxtaposition between the past and present later in the issue that absolutely OWNS.
Gerads is absolutely one of my favorite artists in the game right now, and his art sells the whole book for me. I could post entire pages if I wanted, but neither of us has the time for that, so I’ll just say that that fracturing motif, the white leaves/shards/whatever they are are a running theme throughout the book, and they’re incredible. I really enjoy when the visuals of a book have a common thread throughout. Really ties the book together.
I don’t want spend all of my time ragging on the writing of this story. I think there’s a lot of good stuff here. Eddie spends a lot of his childhood fixated on knowing all the answers, on always being right. So much so that, when presented with the opportunity to learn for himself, to think critically and creatively, he chooses to cheat instead. I really like this conflict, I think it’s a good way to show Eddie’s intelligence being undermined by his compulsive need to be the best. It’s just a shame that-
Sorry. This is the nice part of the article.
Another thing I appreciated about the writing was Bruce’s contact with the widow throughout the story. It’s not necessarily the greatest thing under the sun (more on that later), but it’s a nice way to show the man side of Batman. It’s nice in a story like this.
This review is going to run a little long anyway, so I should probably get to the uh… well…
The Rest of It
Let’s do this.
My ultimate problem with Tom King’s writing in this story is that it feels like every other “grimy definitive gritty villain special” we’ve gotten, especially when the Riddler is involved. Tom King’s Edward is cold, manipulative, and extremely violent, which is an extremely tired concept for what could and should be a fun, spectacular villain. A lot of the tension for present-day Batman comes from deciphering the now incomprehensible motives of the Riddler, but those motivations are flimsy at best. I’ll discuss a lot of this in spoiler tags below, but for now, just know that it’s a classic case of the story telling you a villain is extremely smart without doing much to prove it.
The past sections of Eddie’s life are extremely rocky, both literally in the text and in terms of quality. Young Edward is reimagined here as the son of a dean, constantly berated by his father for not acing every test, not knowing every answer. This isn’t an inherently bad motivation for Edward, if a little trope-y, but my real problem arises in the actual characterization of young Edward.
Ed’s problem, according to the text, is that he can’t think creatively. There are questions on one of his teachers’ exams that are riddles, and he falters when expected to think outside the box. Now, I’m not saying this is intentional, but this situation is extremely reminiscent of my school years. For those of you who do not know, I am a neurodivergent person, and as such, I required several accommodations in the form of an Individual Education Plan, or IEP. The way this situation plays out and is resolved in the book absolutely infuriates me. I’ll break it down in spoiler tags for anyone who wants to go in blind.
This. This right here. First off, on a tangent note, riddles as school curriculum is absolutely not allowed. But more importantly, a child approaches their teacher with a genuine concern about their performance, BEFORE the test has even been administered, and asks for help. The teacher then immediately assumes that it’s a case of being the headmaster’s kid, and responds with this:
As someone who has been on the receiving end of speeches like this, this is absolutely not the way to handle this discussion. Telling a kid to literally relax and not worry about this instead of asking why they are struggling so much? Offering to help them work on the skills needed to solve the problem? It’s incredibly bad teaching, and Eddie absolutely did nothing wrong here. And honestly, this scene wouldn’t be so big of a deal if we weren’t supposed to sympathize with the teacher. At every turn, Tom King treats a very neurodivergent-coded Edward as an overly obsessive loser who simply isn’t trying hard enough, and I cannot express enough how much I absolutely despise this choice in storytelling.
Alright, now that that’s over, let’s catch up with Eddie in the present. His latest scheme involves murdering random civilians if Batman so much as touches him, leading to an unprecedented wave of crime in Gotham. All because he’s “bored of the riddles”.
If you listen closely, you can still hear the best parts of the Riddler being brutally murdered.
This in turn means that Batman just can’t or won’t touch him. Unless, of course, the story [READ THE SPOILER TAGS FOR THIS AT YOUR OWN RISK]
ends with Batman killing the bad guy… What a novel concept.
You see, the genius of this is that Batman killed somebody, which is something you usually would not expect him to do. It’s quite clever, really.
Every time I think this book can’t run itself further into the ground, there it goes.
- You honestly believe the “One Bad Day” quote from TKJ was deep enough to warrant a whole series of spinoffs.
- The Riddler is too fun for you normally, but his depictions in the Telltale games and The Batman (2022) did something too interesting for you.
- Mitch Gerads’ art is good, at least.
- Oh shoot, I forgot to shoutout Clayton Cowley. His lettering in this issue is fantastic.
This book is bad. The whole “One Bad Day” line seemed pointless in the first place, and I’m still honestly not even sure what the theme is. Is it Batman’s bad days? Is it a showcase of these villains origins? Do we need it? The Riddler issue certainly seems to point to no.
Score: 4/10 for Gerads’ art.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.