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.

CREDITS

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 400 (October 1986)

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I hate this comic. I hate how DC used it, I hate how Moench writes it, even if it was an editorial decision.

There are nods to Moench’s run, but only so far as he gets to give each of his characters a page to sort of say goodbye. There’s no closure on any of the story lines, not a single one.

There’s also a lot of crappy art. It’s an anniversary issue with a lot of big names drawing either poorly or against their style. Rick Leonardi and Arthur Adams are some of the worst offenders, but not even Brian Bolland does particularly well. Ken Steacy is the only decent one.

Moench’s writing for a different audience than usual, the casual Batman reader, not the regular. Apparently he thinks the casual readers like endless exposition and incredible stupidity. It’s a distressing, long read; a terrible capstone to Moench’s run.

D- 

CREDITS

Resurrection Night!; writer, Doug Moench; pencillers, John Byrne, Steve Lightle, George Perez, Paris Cullins, Bill Sienkiewicz, Art Adams, Tom Sutton, Steve Leialoha, Joe Kubert, Ken Steacy, Rick Leonardi and Brian Bolland; inkers, Byrne, Bruce Patterson, Perez, Larry Mahlstedt, Sienkiewicz, Terry Austin, Ricardo Villagran, Leialoha, Kubert, Steacy, Karl Kesel and Bolland; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterers, John Costanza and Andy Kubert; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 566 (September 1986)

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I wish they had done a recap issue back when Colan was at the top of his game. This issue sets up the big anniversary special over in Batman, with he and Robin going over the villain files in the Batcave. Gordon got an ominous note.

One might think Batman should do that work during the day instead of when he should be fighting crime, but whatever. Moench uses the issue not to just give a recap of the villains in general, but how he’s used them in his run. Jason’s got a lot to say, but it seems like a major cop out Moench downgraded the character for months only to bring him back to spout exposition.

Still, it’s fine for what Moench’s doing, it just isn’t clear why he had to do it.

Cavalieri hits new silliness in Green Arrow but the art’s great. Except the goofy villain.

C 

CREDITS

Know Your Foes; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Bob Smith; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Todd Klein. Green Arrow, Old Enemies Die Hard; writer, Joey Cavalieri; penciller, Jerome Moore; inker, Dell Barras; colorist, Shelley Eiber; letterer, Bob Lappan. Editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 399 (September 1986)

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It’s a depressing issue, but Moench’s ambitious in that depression. He plays some of the thriller scenes like a melodrama–a guy storming over to have it out with the murderer of his girlfriend–while having Batman moon over Catwoman.

Most interesting is the scene where Bruce Wayne, cowl off, calls Catwoman on the phone and comes off desperate. Moench’s trying real hard at it.

He doesn’t make it. Not with that scene, not with the two or three breakup scenes in the rest of the issue, but he tries real hard. It’s too bad because it feels like Moench doing a course correction for the series, which had toyed with bringing a female compatriot in for the boys.

Sadly, no, Moench just wasted months hinting at it.

As his run winds down, there’s not much left for him to resolve. Batman’s going from pre to post-Crisis very quietly.

C+ 

CREDITS

Strike Two!; writer, Doug Moench; artist, Tom Mandrake; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, Albert De Guzman; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 565 (August 1986)

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Colan’s really slipping. His faces are getting lifeless and awkward. The scene where Jason is making out with his girlfriend, the girl looks like a mannequin.

Moench goes on and on about love this issue in the very close to Batman third person narration. He’s got a serial killer shrinking ex-girlfriends heads, all sorts of romance. Batman and Catwoman are fighting, she’s had enough of his lack of trust. On and on. But Moench hasn’t set up the series for this arc to have much impact. It definitely should, but it doesn’t. Maybe because the relationships–except Jason, who’s got game, apparently–are so chaste. I think Jane Austen would’ve gotten more indiscreet than Moench.

The story’s fine, it’s just meandering.

The Green Arrow backup has some nice Stan Woch art and a really dumb story from Cavalieri. It ends with some guy benevolently holding a woman hostage. Seriously.

C+ 

CREDITS

The Love Killing; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Bob Smith; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza. Green Arrow, Death by Misadventure; writer, Joey Cavalieri; artist, Stan Woch; colorist, Shelley Eiber; letterer, Bob Lappan. Editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 398 (August 1986)

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Moench finally starts dealing with some things this issue–Jason finally stops being such a little turd and Catwoman finally stops letting Batman treat her like half a partner. There’s a big showdown between Batman and Catwoman; what’s unspoken is how Bruce Wayne figures in. Batman gets to know Selina’s life, she doesn’t get to know (or share) his. It’s a good scene.

The Two-Face story comes to an end with an intricate plan from Batman to capture Harvey. Except, in this plan, there’s very little interaction between them during the majority of the issue. They have a showdown. Until then, it’s sort of goofy because Batman and Catwoman are following him through Gotham on motorcycles. Mandrake draws Batman’s figure odd, so it reminds a little too much of the TV show.

Speaking of Mandrake, some of his figures are really rough, but his Catwoman pages are absolutely phenomenal.

B 

CREDITS

About Faces!; writer, Doug Moench; artist, Tom Mandrake; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 564 (July 1986)

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Colan’s art seems to have stabilized quite a bit. In a lot of ways, it’s less ambitious and a waste of his talent, but at least there aren’t any awful Jason panels. Instead, Jason’s barely in the comic. Moench sends him out on a date because he’s so perturbed at Batman hanging out with Catwoman all the time.

Catwoman, in the meantime, is perturbed Batman doesn’t treat her as a full partner. Batman’s oblivious to all these things, of course. He’s too busy trying to work up a plan against Two-Face, which Moench hides from the reader to get a surprise (or two).

It’s an okay enough feature, but it feels padded. Moench’s either avoiding a lot–like Bruce Wayne–or he’s just bored.

The Green Arrow backup has a terrible story. Inker Steve Montano and Rodin Rodriguez give Moore’s a more static quality; it’s still good, but different.

C+ 

CREDITS

Double Crosses; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Bob Smith; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza. Green Arrow, This Masquerade; writer, Joey Cavalieri; penciller, Jerome Moore; inkers, Steve Montano and Rodin Rodriguez; colorist, Shelley Eiber; letterer, Todd Klein. Editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Batman 397 (July 1986)

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Mandrake draws Two-Face’s head a little wide–probably to give himself room–but otherwise his art has gotten rather refined. There are some excellent panels this issue; Mandrake is able to do the more outlandish superhero ones too, which is nice. Moench doesn’t write many of them, but they’re there.

Speaking of Moench, he’s trying things again. While he’s again reduced Robin to whining about Catwoman, there is a whole subplot about Circe. She’s the model with the burned face; she’s stripping–in mask–to make ends meet. Catwoman has a reaction to it. Moench doesn’t seem to get having Catwoman, in scant garb, considered about the objectification of women is a little off, but it’s an honest response from her at least. Just problematic.

Moench’s focus on her in the supporting cast has reduced Gordon to background. Even Bullock gets a courting subplot.

Still, it’s perfectly serviceable stuff.

B- 

CREDITS

Binary Brains; writer, Doug Moench; artist, Tom Mandrake; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza; editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

Detective Comics 563 (June 1986)

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Finally, a villain Moench can write–he does a great job with Two-Face this issue, just great. It makes up for Batman not really having a story. He and Catwoman are out on case, there’s something mysterious going on with Jerry Hall. Sorry, Circe.

Meanwhile, Jason is ready to tell some girl he goes to school with all about Robin. As disastrously bad as Moench writes this particular character arc–all the anti-drug messages really make me miss Jason and Nocturna’s awkward, but at least ambitious, doomed relationship. Anyway, as bad as Moench writes Jason in high school… it’s nothing compared to how Colan pencils him. Jason’s this fat little cherub. Maybe Smith was overextended and couldn’t ink properly.

Generally okay art otherwise. Not great Colan, but decent.

Cavalieri tells the Green Arrow backup through flashbacks to cut down on action. It’s lame but Moore’s pencils are breathtaking.

B 

CREDITS

Free Faces; writer, Doug Moench; penciller, Gene Colan; inker, Bob Smith; colorist, Adrienne Roy; letterer, John Costanza. Green Arrow, Winner and Still Champion; writer, Joey Cavalieri; penciller, Jerome Moore; inker, Dell Barras; colorist, Jeanine Casey; letterer, Bob Lappan. Editor, Len Wein; publisher, DC Comics.

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