Hello all! We’re on the back half of The Riddler: Year One now, and as the issues progress, I feel a need to change up my reviewing style.
If I have to give this book points for anything, it would have to be consistency. Since issue #1, I’ve felt its strengths and flaws have remained more or less the same: gorgeous art and a tight script, with dialogue that doesn’t hit as hard as its sometimes obtuse imagery. I’ve also clearly made my point about how this reads better as a trade, so I won’t be rehashing these thoughts here. Instead, I’ll be going into specific details I liked and disliked! Just know that whatever I say here, my conclusions about the book probably won’t change.
This issue, the readers are taken by Dano and Subic into Edward Nashton’s past: his life in the orphanage, growing up in terrible living conditions with an unstable mental state. It’s another attempt to make an already relatable story even more sympathetic, which makes me wonder how they’ll be reconciling that with his violent nature in the film. I’m going to be delving deeper into this today, because your enjoyment of this comic hinges on just how connected you are to Eddie.
Now, I’ll freely admit I have a slight bias when approaching this matter. To general audiences, I’m sure Riddler came across as an unhinged maniac, so a story dedicated to fleshing that out makes perfect sense. However, I have always been on board with the sympathetic elements of Dano’s Riddler as presented in the original text: what little we knew of Eddie was telling enough. Through his monologues and visual cues, we could see he grew up in a terrible environment with no support system, and that his isolation led to a very real disenfranchisement festering into violent and terroristic impulses. Sure – it’s not an extended, detailed look like we get here. But a character doesn’t need to be explained to feel real and effective.
Take Silence of the Lambs, for example: both Buffalo Bill and Hannibal Lecter are criminals whose motivations are speculated at, yet remain effective without the need to see “what makes them tick”. I’m beginning to wonder if this applies here as well – and if my empathy for Riddler from the film makes this book somewhat redundant.
Now, let’s be clear here: in no way is this book doing a poor job at endearing us to Riddler. As usual, that’s thanks to Subic’s brilliant artwork, which I think is a particular standout here. The way he illustrates Eddie losing himself to his mind is deeply haunting, and that’s only amplified by how he feels as a child: it makes every moment all the more distinct. Like how Thomas Wayne glows on the page when he arrives, akin to an angel coming down from high and bringing light to Eddie’s dark world.
The book also has one of the best examples of Dano and Subic’s collaboration raising both of their work, which can be found in the “light switch” imagery towards the end of the chapter. Riddler’s mind shutting down as he’s beaten by his trauma is brought to life through a literal light switch – on one side of the double-page spread, switched on, on the other side, off. Riddler’s journalling font returns as he compartmentalizes his memory, the messy text occasionally escaping the frame as his own face folds in on itself. Genuinely excellent work, and easily the biggest appeal of reading this book month to month: every release is a new treat for the eyes.
The reason I’m focusing so hard on this, though, is that I worry that the book isn’t using all of its time wisely. As supplemental material, Riddler: Year One fundamentally exists to expand on someone else’s work. In the first three issues, that space is effectively used by delving into Riddler’s mind as he’s involved in a city-wide conspiracy – told from the ground level, rather than from the fast-paced investigation Batman makes in the film itself. It’s a good way to endear us to Riddler, while showing his connection to the Gotham we’ve already seen. But here, the information we’re being told isn’t particularly new. Yes, we see Riddler meeting Thomas from his perspective, but nothing we’ve seen here hasn’t already been portrayed to us.
A book doesn’t need to have plot progression to be good, but we’re four issues in and we’ve only seen hints of Riddler’s path towards violence – not to mention the manic rage that bubbles over the surface in Dano’s excellent performance. While I’m not the biggest fan of the movie Joker, I do believe it played out the main character’s downward spiral more effectively: showing his murderous impulses early on, while still not overshadowing what made him interesting and sympathetic. We only have two issues left to see that happen to Edward. I assume this is meant to emulate a kettle coming to a boil – I’m just hoping that moment doesn’t come too late.
- You’ve grown used to a new chapter every month or two: bite-sized snippets of Riddler’s mind, pieces of a puzzle you can’t yet finish.
- A flashback to Riddler’s childhood sounds more introspective than it does redundant.
- Again, if you like the art. Gorgeous work, if occasionally a little lost within itself.
This is a much more critical and specific review than my last three, mainly because I don’t want to be stuck saying the same things again and again. Riddler: Year One is a good book – maybe even a great one, by the end! But I think it’s spending a lot of time trying to endear us to its protagonist, a job that was honestly accomplished some time ago. Show us where this horrible life takes him – a lot of Riddler’s appeal lies in his extremities! He was an excellent villain in The Batman, and come the end of this book, I hope we get to see what that looks like from Paul Dano’s point of view.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch