Reviewing The Riddler: Year One is an interesting experience. After three years of reviewing for Batman News, I’ve tackled all kinds of books, good and bad; and each of them had their own unique challenges when I would put my thoughts on them into words. Sure, some good books were easy to write, but so were plenty of bad ones! The real problems came from those in the middle. I can think of so many books that, while not terrible, I didn’t have anything much to say about that I hadn’t already said in a previous issue. What makes The Riddler: Year One special for me is that I feel that same problem – even though in this case, I know this book is good.
The reasons behind this problem aren’t all that special. Such is the curse of the monthly release cycle: when a story is designed for a single sitting yet its release is stretched out over months, retaining the comic’s information becomes hard. You already know this, of course – I said the same thing in my review for chapter 2! Eventually, critiques start to carry over from review to review, and no one likes to hear the same thing over and over again. Perhaps that’s more of a skill issue on my part, but you try reviewing a movie in a series of 20 minute chunks.
That said, it’s not all downsides. Even if I’d prefer this to be released as one collective edition, it is fun to look forward to the next issue every few weeks! Besides, spotting Stevan Subic’s updates on Twitter is a treat in and of itself. I’m happy that we’re getting a book that’s consistent (both in quality and release schedule) out on our shelves for readers – and it’s not like there’s nothing interesting for me to say here. It’s just that, good as the storytelling may be, the information it’s telling us isn’t all that memorable.
This is, I suspect, by design. Eddie Nashton is an island of a man in this story: while everyone else struggles to follow the numbers and patterns that he sees throughout his world, he finds himself uniquely capable of seeing the forest for the trees. This sends him spiraling deeper and deeper into the criminal conspiracy around Gotham’s Renewal project, the central mystery of both Year One and The Batman. It’s as interesting a concept as it was in the film, but it’s also little more than a bunch of numbers jumping from company to company; that alone won’t keep a reader’s attention. Where writer Paul Dano finds some true narrative bite is within the people forced to cook the books: immigrants and lower-class citizens doing the dirty work of the higher-ups in order to keep living in the country. Riddler’s discovery of this is a sad moment, made all the more powerful by his genuine empathy for these people in need. It does a good job of establishing Riddler’s disillusionment with Gotham and its heroes, as well as why he would look up to the caped crusader. I almost wonder if it does too good of a job.
While it’s not a critic’s place to make a definitive statement about a book’s morality, questioning it does bear some relevance. I brought this up last issue, but I want to dive into it more here: there comes a point where making Riddler too heroic is a genuine issue. If this book didn’t tie into The Batman, then do whatever you like – but come the time of that movie, Riddler’s good intentions have been twisted by extremism and sadism. There’s a lot of genuinely great discussion about what Riddler’s trying to do in both this book and the film, but when your character reaches a point where they plan to flood an entire city, their motives have passed the point of sensibility. While adding layers to Riddler in this book does make his plight more relatable and authentic, it also runs the risk of making his actions come the end of The Batman all the more at-odds with his character. I hope that in future issues, more time is dedicated to how his online communities corrupt and poison his mind, turning his genuine disenfranchisement into something sicker. Fortunately, there are plenty of seeds in this story that lead me to believe that’s what will happen.
Stevan Subic carries the weight of this book in so many ways, and I’m incredibly grateful for his efforts. I feel like his craft only improves with each issue, and I’m glad to see him having even more fun with the panel composition in this story. Simple tricks like flicking pages and text upside down are fun things you can do with comics to help set a mood – reminding me of 2011’s Batman #5, though the trick has been done by plenty of creators. I’ve also enjoyed seeing Subic’s borders full of their own imagery, which readers know has been a consistent praise I’ve given to artist Xermanico. Eddie’s monsters follow him more and more the deeper he falls into this conspiracy, and here, they eventually lap at the edges of the panels themselves. It’s creepy, sinister, and does a perfect job of setting up Eddie’s mental state come the time of The Batman – when your entire life is numbers, lies and screaming monsters, you start to think that a man dressed as a Bat is comparatively sane.
- You were rooting for Riddler in The Batman, at least a little. Guy was basically acting like The Punisher until he blew up half the city.
- The logistics of Renewal were something that you wanted to know more about…? I can’t imagine that’s a huge audience.
- You’re a fan of seeing someone’s take on a character they’ve creatively inhabited for months.
On this final issue of– wait, there’s six issues? Why the hell did I think there was only three? Guess you guys will be seeing me for a little while longer!
On this latest issue of The Riddler: Year One, we see more of the same… which, ultimately, is a good thing. Much like Riddler himself, reviewing a book as slow as this requires seeing the forest for the trees, criticizing what you can with the space that you have. But the big picture remains the same: the quality remains, and the forest this book is cultivating is a deep, dark and mysterious one indeed.
P.S. Don’t tell me this isn’t Riddler at the beginning of this issue.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch