THIS WEEK: DC kicks off their ‘One Bad Day’ series of one-shots focused on Batman’s rogues gallery with an epic tale involving The Riddler from the Mister Miracle creative team of Tom King and Mitch Gerads.
Note: the reviews below contain spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.
Batman – One Bad Day: The Riddler #1
Writer: Tom King
Artist: Mitch Gerads
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Cover Artist: Mitch Gerads
Of all of Batman’s many famous rogues, The Riddler might be my favorite. I’ve always thought the Frank Gorshin-starring episodes of the ‘60s Batman series were among some of the strongest (…maybe not so much the one where he and Batman box), and the episodes of Batman: The Animated Series featuring John Glover in the role are also personal favorites of mine from that series. It feels like there’s been a dearth of great Riddler stories over the past thirty years, though – sure, he was the mastermind behind Hush but that always felt out-of-nowhere to me, and The War of Jokes and Riddles had him front and center but it’s hard to stand out when you’re next to The Joker, a character whose presence tends to overwhelm all others.
Still, I find The Riddler to be an endlessly fascinating character. The Batman villains I enjoy he most tend to be the ones who have some sort of a compulsion (let’s…not read into that too much). Two-Face has his coin. Mad Hatter has the whole ‘Alice in Wonderland’ thing. The Joker has, well, Batman. And The Riddler has his riddles. A criminal who cannot help himself but send clues to the authorities, taunting them to catch him if only they’re smart enough, which always leads to his inevitable downfall, is such a great hook. It also bakes in a ticking clock for any time the character appears – will Batman solve the latest riddle in time to stop him?
Batman – One Bad Day: The Riddler #1 is the first in DC’s series of one-shots starring various members of Batman’s rogues gallery. Each one-shot sets out, as the ad copy at the end of the issue describes it, to tell “their best stor[y] yet!” The Riddler’s one-shot opens with the character committing a seemingly random murder and then allowing himself to be caught, with no accompanying clue or riddle to go with the crime. The riddle that writer Tom King, artist Mitch Gerads, and letterer Clayton Cowles lay out over the 64 pages of the issue, then, is ‘why did The Riddler kill this person?’ It’s the question that drives the whole issue, both the present-day sequences and the flashbacks to young Edward Tierney and the origin of his relationship with riddles.
In answering that riddle, King & Gerads add a new layer to the basic conceit of The Riddler. Gone is the compulsion to leave clues and prove himself to be smarter than Batman; this Nygma already knows he’s smarter than everyone, and only leaves riddles behind to give those pursuing him a fighting chance. Removing that compulsion aspect from The Riddler is sure to be a controversial take on the character. While the concept of the One Bad Day one-shots takes its inspiration from Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s seminal Batman: The Killing Joke, King & Gerads’s story, with its ‘everything you thought you knew about The Riddler is wrong’ twist, seems to owe more to a different Moore-written story, “The Anatomy Lesson,” from he, Steve Bissette, John Totleben, and Tatjana Wood’s Swamp Thing #21. It’ll be interesting to see if the changes made here have the same kind of staying power.
Regardless of whether they do or not, the craft on display here from King and Gerads is undeniable. These two are a well-oiled machine together, and the extra-long page count of this issue gives them both some space to stretch their legs. I must admit that I don’t always enjoy Tom King’s stories on an emotional level, but I do generally admire or at least find something interesting in the skill with which he tells them, which was very much the case here. Gerads’s artwork is incredible as always, his coloring in particular making each page pop with life. I do wish some of the characters weren’t quite so photo-referenced, though – seeing Bradley Whitford or Michael Stipe as characters in a Batman comic kind of takes me out of it.
Is One Bad Day: The Riddler the best Riddler story yet? Your mileage will likely vary on that, but even if it’s not it’s definitely worth reading, as it’s a well-constructed, gorgeous comic. The take on the character King & Gerads present is an interesting one, and sure to be a topic of discussion. It’s hard to imagine this Riddler ever getting into a boxing ring with Batman. Stranger things have happened, though.
Final Verdict: Buy.
- It’s another strong week of new releases from DC, so I’ll just hit on the ones that I particularly enjoyed. Batman/Superman: World’s Finest continues to be an absolute treat. Mark Waid is joined by Travis Moore for this one-and-done story where a time-lost Dick Grayson solves a mystery at the circus. Batman and Superman are there, but this is Robin’s show, and it’s incredibly fun.
- Meanwhile, in the present day, things in Blüdhaven continue to escalate in Nightwing #95. After months of everything going right for him, Dick was due for a loss, and Tom Taylor and Bruno Redondo hand it to him with aplomb. The final page cliffhanger has felt inevitable for some time now, and I can’t wait to see where it goes.
- And in the pleasant surprise department, Aquaman & The Flash: Voidsong wraps up this week with a satisfying conclusion. I didn’t expect much from this three-issue miniseries going into it – a team-up between Aquaman and The Flash doesn’t feel like the most natural thing in the world, but then neither did a body-swap story with Aquaman and Green Arrow and that turned out great so what the hell do I know. This series worked in part because of how unnatural the team-up was, while also drawing parallels between the characters I hadn’t considered before. Really fun stuff from writers Collin Kelly & Jackson Lanzing and artists Vasco Georgiev and Rain Beredo.
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