Batman Arkham: The Riddler (May 2015)

rid.pngMost Bat-fans glorify and self-identify with The Joker, but in actuality the average DC Comics fanboy is closer to The Riddler: needy, nerdy, narcissistic and way too smug about the lifetime of meaningless trivia they’ve accumulated.

That said, I love the guy. His gimmick is basically self-sabotage disguised as grandiosity. He’s every overweight dork in jean shorts and a fedora who just spent six months in the gym and studying how to be a Pickup Artist, whose core of vicious insecurity is barely inches below his flamboyantly confident new exterior. There’s a neurotic underdog aspect to his criminal insanity, as opposed to the anarchist self-indulgence or melodramatic tragedy of so many other Batman villains.

Chuck Dixon’s 1995 origin story Questions Multiply the Mystery formally introduced this angle on Edward Nygma, and it’s a real pity it wasn’t included in this first official Riddler “greatest hits” trade paperback. Why not? Where also is the other key Riddler appearance of the modern era, Neil Gaiman’s deft little post-modern 1989 tale When is a Door? Essentially a monologue by an aged, wistful Riddler, he reflects on how everything in Gotham’s gotten so grim and gritty of late and there doesn’t seem to be a place anymore for super-criminals like him who just want to have some goofy fun – rather than rack up a body count. A simple observation, but the entire key to Riddler’s role in a post-Dark Knight Returns world: compared to the rest of Batman’s increasingly depraved Rogue’s Gallery, Eddie is relatively something of a gentleman.

Batman Arkham: The Riddler doesn’t include either of those gems, or even a single story from 1984 to 2006. As if there wasn’t a decent Riddler comic for 22 years! Absent any apparent legal reprinting issues, this yawning historical gap seems to have been caused simply by editorial ambivalence. The laziness is there at first glance, from the recycled New 52 cover art to the title – who’s “Batman Arkham”? I gather the idea that the collection is akin to a trip to the E. Nygma cell at Arkham Asylum, but there’s not even an introduction describing the character’s legacy, let alone some “Heh, heh, heh! Welcome to Arkham, kiddies!” kind of Cryptkeeper curtain-opener. Of the 14 compiled issues, the first 9 are from the Golden, Silver and Bronze ages of DC and that alone probably makes the book worthwhile overall, especially for Riddler’s 1948 debut by Bill Finger & Dick Sprang, and 1960s revival by Gardner Fox.

The Riddle-Less Robberies of the Riddler from 1966 is a particularly memorable bit of introspective villain psychoanalysis: Riddler decides to stop leaving riddles and just be a normal thief, only to discover his addictive obsession won’t let him quit. A definitive story, but its inclusion is probably chance. Why, for instance, if you’re only going to reprint two Riddler stories from the whole decade of the 1970s, wouldn’t you want to include the one that Neal Adams drew? It’s like they were picked at random. Even the modern age choices feel arbitrary – like an abysmal 2007 Paul Dini issue of Detective Comics which is primarily a Harley Quinn timewaster using Edward Nygma as mere supporting player. No respect. How appropriate.

The contemporary stuff isn’t all bad, however. Scott Snyder & Ray Fawkes’ 2013 Riddler one-shot Solitaire is the only Batman comic I’ve read since the Animated Series spinoffs to build thoughtfully on the conception of Edward Nygma as a conceited intellectual who doesn’t realize he’s also a lunatic.

Batman Arkham: The Riddler is far from the ideal compendium for one of Batman’s oldest, most unique and iconic adversaries, but asks a fair enough price for all his earliest classic battles of wits in one volume.


Writers, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, David Vern Reed, Len Wein, Don Kraar, Doug Moench, Paul Dini, Peter Calloway, Scott Snyder, Ray Fawkes, Charles Soule; artists, Dick Sprang, Sheldon Moldoff, Frank Springer, John Calnan, Irv Novick, Carmine Infantino, Don Newton, Don Kramer, Andres Guinaldo, Jeremy Haun, Dennis Calero; editor, Rachel Pinnelas; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 379 (January 1985)


It’s a crazy issue. The last half has not just Robin telling Nocturna he’d love her as a man would if he were older, it’s got Batman blathering on to her about… no, I’m wrong. That thing with Robin telling his newly adopted mother he’d have the hots for her, Moench never tops that one.

It’s kind of bad and kind of great. Moench can’t do this story, he just can’t make it work–Nocturna wanting to be a crime fighting family with Robin and Batman–but he tries so hard. And then there’s a lot better stuff with Alfred feeling like he’s losing his daughter even more. That bit is good.

The Mad Hatter returns, but not with enough page time for much personality. The Hatter-Zombies are kind of a neat touch.

Sadly, Newton and Alcala go lazy from time to time. There’s way too much going on.


Bedtime Stories; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Ben Oda; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 378 (December 1984)


I’m kind of hoping Moench’s got a good back story saved up for Nocturna. She gets what I think is her first interior monologue–if not first, first significant one she’s come back–where she’s questioning her motives. There are hints at some strange origin. It would help.

Batman too gets a lengthy internal monologue as he tries to figure out how to kill time after Nocturna’s adoption of Jason goes through. Moench even goes through Bruce’s thought processes on deciding what case to investigate. That sequence, still problematic due to the adoption thing, is nice.

The Mad Hatter also gets a subplot–he’s the cover villain–and Moench writes him rather well. He’s far more engaging than most of the regular cast.

I really wish Alfred had smacked Vicki Vale for disparaging his daughter though. Moench’s pushing the hostility between the women and it’s getting long in the toothi


One Hat Madder!; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 377 (November 1984)


Moench runs directly into that Bruce Wayne problem he’s been having for a while. He has to have Bruce decide he wants to sneak around with Nocturna; it comes after a lengthy conversation with Alfred. Moench does fine with that conversation–the art from Newton and Alcala is fantastic, Newton’s compositions this issue are amazing–but he hasn’t established any of Bruce’s romances well.

It doesn’t help the issue starts with an absurd courtroom scene with Bruce acting nuts.

As for Nocturna–who Bruce apparently picks over Vicki (who he hasn’t seen romantically in five or ten issues) and Alfred’s daughter (Moench avoids a mention of her when Alfred’s talking to Bruce)–Moench basically just makes her Catwoman. The back and forth about her life of crime sounds like Batman and Catwoman.

Moench’s digging himself a deeper hole, but Newton’s apparently more than capable of getting him out of it.


The Slayer of Night; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterers, Ben Oda and Alcala; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 376 (October 1984)

Batman 376

Moench has a lengthy conversation between Alfred and Bruce about the state of affairs–Jason, Bruce’s love life, a little with Batman–and it’s a decent scene. Even though much of the content is absurd, with Bruce mentioning he hadn’t thought through the legalities of being Jason’s guardian, it’s a good enough scene.

The main plot has to do with a group of thieves masquerading as party monsters–they dress as monsters for rich people’s parties. It’s decent enough stuff. Newton and Alcala do a fine job on the art. The best might be this mid-flight dive Batman takes out of a window though. Something about it is just very striking.

But there’s not much else to the issue. Jason gets a little moment where he’s rude to his new foster mother, Vicki and Julia bicker. Same old, same old.

The villains aren’t much good either.

Still, not terrible.


Nightmares, Inc.; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Ben Oda; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 375 (September 1984)

Batman 375

It’s not the best issue. It’s maybe the weakest art I’ve seen from Don Newton (with Alfredo Alcala inking him). A lot of the art is still amazing–most of it probably, but there’s also a lack of detail in a lot of places. Not like Alcala’s rushed because he still over-inks a couple faces. Very strange art this issue. Unfinished or over-cooked.

But then there’s the story itself. Or, how Doug Moench tells it. He tells it in a rhyming homage to How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It’s hilarious and wonderful. The opening is good and poetic–Moench’s narration, I mean–but later on it gets funny. It’s extremely creative and Moench has some great couplets.

There’s also some good stuff with Vicki and Alfred’s daughter teaming up for an adventure. Moench writes them better than Jason and Bruce; he hasn’t found a good chemistry for them.


The Glacier Under Gotham!; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Todd Klein; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 374 (August 1984)

Batman 374

This issue is particularly strong. There’s great art from Newton and Alcala on the Penguin, but there’s also a lot of good stuff from Moench.

After many issues of ignoring the supporting cast, he’s got great scenes for Vicki Vale, Alfred’s daughter and even Bullock. The Vicki Vale one is the best though–the Penguin comes in looking for her to take his picture as a promotion of his crime spree; she’s the best photographer in the city, it’s going to be art.

It also sounds a lot like the Tim Burton Batman movie with a character change.

Moench nearly brings Bruce Wayne in, something he’s not comfortable doing normally. It’s like Jason Todd was an addition to keep Bruce from having any actual stories. But here, there are a few hints Moench might change his approach.

Again, the art’s simply gorgeous. Newton and Alcala outdo themselves on this issue.


Pieces of Penguin!; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 539 (June 1984)


Bob Smith inking Don Newton is something to see. There’s almost an Eisner-like quality to the faces. It’s beautiful art on the feature.

But Moench’s writing is awesome too, whether it’s the main plot line with Batman teaming up with the Rocky stand-in to hunt down a killer or Jason feeling bad he was so crappy to Alfred’s daughter. Moench actually asks a bit of the reader–Vicki Vale figures in, but she hasn’t even had an appearance recently–but the scenes pay off.

The big boxing finale is only okay, however. Something about the way Batman stands down doesn’t play right. The epilogue’s very strong though. Moench’s trying hard to do something special with the comic.

Sadly, slapped on to this ambition is another odd Cavalieri’s Green Arrow backup. Half of this one is dedicated to the evils of corporate journalism. Cavalieri just can’t make Ollie likable.


Boxing; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Don Newton; inker, Bob Smith; colorist, Adrienne Roy. Green Arrow, The Devil You Don’t Know; writer, Joey Cavalieri; penciller, Shawn McManus; inker, Sal Trapani; colorist, Jeanine Casey. Letterer, Ben Oda; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 372 (June 1984)


Moench retells Rocky with a handful of changes. Batman isn’t the biggest one, instead it’s how upfront Moench is about race. The champ’s black, the challenger is white and Moench talks about it length. It’s not just the boxers and their managers, it’s the regular people of Gotham. It’s kind of incredible.

And the majority of the issue doesn’t have anything to do with Batman. He gets something like three or five precent when Alfred’s daughter is jealous Bruce likes Vicki Vale more than her and then a little thing about Jason wearing Dr. Fang’s fake tooth.

Otherwise, the issue is about the boxers. Moench introduces three lead characters–boxers, trainer–and gives them a bunch ambitious scenes together. His conversations don’t always come off. For instance, the hardest talk about race pushes too much on honesty.

But he always tries. Moench doesn’t wimp away from the issues he’s raising.


What Price, the Prize?; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Don Newton; letterer and inker, Alfredo Alcala; colorist, Adrienne Roy; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

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