So, how many of our readers are D&D players?
There’s a certain feeling one gains the more familiar you become with the game – though this applies to any tabletop, really. The more you immerse yourself in the world you’ve been transported into, the more invested you become in your character you’ve made. Eventually, whether you created them or not, you gain a sense of ownership to them.
I think it’s a similar feeling to acting. After spending so much time with the character, Paul Dano would have to have an intimate understanding of Edward Nashton, AKA the Riddler. He’s eager to share that understanding with everyone else, too – and while there are hints of overenthusiasm at play, I’m happy to say that Dano and artist Stevan Subic’s first foray into the world of The Batman is a success!
The Riddler: Year One is a prequel to 2022’s The Batman, which I personally view as one of my favourite superhero films of all time. Here, we’re seeing what happens that made Riddler who he is, diving under the surface of the antagonist that terrorized Gotham.
Let’s get my criticism right out of the way, because it’s a small complaint in the face of all the praises I have for this book. Maybe part of the reason I bring this up is because I’ve been subject to the critique myself, but I feel narration is used as something of a crutch here. Dano is obviously very excited to tell everyone what’s going on in the mind of the Riddler, so there’s a lot of Eddie’s internal monologue going on throughout this book. It’s not especially cluttered, so the art has plenty of space to breathe – but it is there, and occasionally seems somewhat redundant.
Picturing Dano narrate all of this is quite fun, mind you! I certainly wouldn’t trade the narration, especially when the entire point of the story is situating us inside Riddler’s head. But when you have a line of dialogue about how the walls are closing in next to an image of that fear manifest, maybe you can let the picture speak for itself.
Speaking of which, the art is a thing of beauty here! A common trap with artists who are adapting live-action works is that some characters feel too photo-realistic to their actors, as opposed to what fits for their respective style. There’s not really much of that here. While there’s the occasional panel that looks a little too close to a promotional photo of Dano, most of the issue shows how Subic is more than happy to illustrate Eddie in all sorts of positions, whether they be unassuming or sinister.
I do find his colours a little inconsistent. A changing colour palette is fine for this kind of story, but Eddie’s supervisor changing hair colour feels a little strange when we barely even know the guy. Mostly, though, the work is incredibly solid! I think the highlights of Subic’s work this issue are when Eddie’s real world gives way to the world of his mind. The more Eddie’s depression grows, the more he gets lost in his own head; Subic paints that picture beautifully for us, with the people around him being distorted into the monsters Eddie believes they are. Of course, that also makes the more beautiful moments stand out in their own right.
There are some interesting parallels here between Eddie Nashton and Bruce Wayne – and I’m positive these are intentional. Obviously the film was eager to show Edward as a darker side to Bruce’s cause, and this book dives in a little deeper into it. All the questions you ask about Riddler in the film are addressed in some way here: How does he come into contact with the Falcone conspiracy? How does he gain his obsession with Batman? What drives a man to turn from one of society’s disenfranchised to a ruthless maniac? It’s the beginnings of a tragic story, and we know how it ends – so it’s up to Dano and Subic to make that inbetween entertaining.
My one worry for this book is that it runs the risk of being less interesting without the usual characters that populate Batman’s world. Instead of complex, dynamic characters like Penguin, Alfred and Selina Kyle, we get more one-dimensional characters: Eddie’s supervisor, for example, who only seems interested in stepping over Eddie to climb the corporate ladder. The book mitigates this by diving deep into Eddie’s psyche – he may be the only character we care about here, but we are really invested in his story. By the time this panel comes around, the book has my full confidence. I’m not going to spoil how we get here, but those with some pattern recognition should be able to see the parallel here. I get the feeling we’re in for something good.
- You can not wait for the next instalment in The Batman universe – like me!
- Paul Dano’s writing credit has you curious about what an actor can bring to their character with full creative control.
- You’re looking for exciting, moving art that’s out of DC’s current “house style”.
It’s been a while since I reviewed a book that had this level of quality, time and care put into it – and it’s a very rewarding feeling. I love that this was a project born out of passion, and that enthusiasm seeps through onto the page – whether or not it’s translated perfectly into script form. But there’s a big difference between my misgivings with this issue and my misgivings with other comics: here, I know what I have in my hands is good, and want to make sure it’s the best it can be. Going into the next issue, I know one thing for certain: Paul Dano knows his character, and this character is quintissentially Riddler.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch