The Riddler is one of Batman's most interesting adversaries, but it really took Frank Gorshin to bring him into the limelight. And now there's a DC Universe Classics figure of him.
Apparently to kick off the fact that they're finally going to start carrying a wider range of DC Universe toy products, Wal-Mart has received an exclusive assortment of Mattel's superb-looking DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS 6" action figures. This assortment includes Black Lightning, The Atom, Amazo, the Eradicator, and -- the Riddler. There's also a Collect-and-Connect figure of Metallo.
Of this group, I found myself especially interested in Black Lightning, the Atom, and the Riddler.
The Riddler's action figure history is an interesting one. Setting aside the multiple assorted versions that turned up in toy lines based on the various animated series, as well as the third Batman movie, the first notable Riddler figure was produced by Mego in the 1970's. After turning out a highly successful run of super-heroes from both DC and Marvel, somebody realized that these guys needed someone to fight. And so, a foursome of villains, all DC, were brought forth. This included Superman's enemy Mr. Mxyzptlk, as well as three of Batman's most notorious foes -- the Joker, the Penguin, and the Riddler.
Let me just say briefly as an aside that I always sort of considered Mego's villain choices rather odd. These four were later joined by Marvel villains Lizard and Green Goblin, two of Spider-Man's arch-enemies. But come on -- Mxyzptlk? Where was Lex Luthor? On the other side of the fence, where was someone like Doctor Doom?
However, the three Bat-villains were logical choices, although for some peculiar reason, the Riddler was notoriously hard to find. I eventually did come up with him, though.
In the 1980's, when Kenner's Super Powers line carried the DC banner, a bizarre sort of Riddler figure came along, but not technically from Kenner. A South American company called Pacipa was producing a line using the Kenner molds, called Super Amigos. Here the Riddler turned up as a repainted Green Lantern. Probably the most -- um -- heroic the character has ever looked.
Several years later, when Toy Biz briefly had the DC license, they turned out a distinctive Riddler figure, that fortunately was entirely size-compatible and very close to the construction of the Kenner Super Powers figures.
And now we have the DC Universe Classics Riddler. Let's consider the history of the character:
Created by writer Bill Finger and artist Dick Sprang, the Riddler -- real name Edward Nigma -- or "E. Nigma" -- first appeared in Detective Comics #140 (October 1948).
The Riddler is obsessed with riddles, puzzles and word games. He delights in forewarning both Batman and the police of his capers by sending them complex clues. The character is often depicted as wearing a domino mask either with a green suit and bowler hat, or a green jumpsuit. His trademark is a black or purple question mark "?".
The Riddler is typically portrayed as a smooth-talking, yet quirky, victim of an intense obsessive compulsion. This was first introduced in the 1965 issue of Batman (titled, "The Remarkable Ruse of The Riddler") in which he tries to refrain from leaving a riddle, but fails. This compulsion has been a recurring theme, as shown in a 1999 issue of Gotham Adventures, in which he tried to commit a crime without leaving a riddle, but fails: "You don't understand...I really didn't want to leave you any clues. I really planned never to go back to Arkham Asylum. But I left you a clue anyway. So I...I have to go back there. Because I might need help. I...I might actually be crazy."
After a teacher announces that a contest will be held over who can solve a puzzle the fastest, a young Edward Nigma sets his sights on winning this, craving the glory and satisfaction that will come with the victory. He sneaks into the school one night, takes the puzzle out of the teacher's desk, and practices it until he is able to solve it in under a minute. As predicted, he wins the contest and is given a book about riddles as a prize. His cheating rewarded, Edward embraced the mastery of puzzles of all kinds, eventually becoming a carnival employee who excelled at cheating his customers out of their money with his bizarre puzzles and mindgames. He soon finds himself longing for greater challenges and thrills, and dons the guise of the Riddler to challenge Batman, who he believes could possibly be a worthy adversary for him.
The Riddler only had three comic appearances from his initial debut until the mid-1960's, and generally wasn't regarded as a major player. But that was before the TV series. Actor Frank Gorshin was chosen to play the role of the Riddler, and approched the role with a manic intensity that quickly became legendary, along with a lunatic laugh that made Cesar Romero's Joker pale (no pun intended on the Joker's complexion) by comparison. Gorshin portrayed the Riddler as a man obsessed with leaving riddles and clues, in one moment calm and methodical, the next teetering on the edge of complete mania. It was enough to see Gorshin nominated for an Emmy for the role.
It's worth mentioning, certainly, that the Riddler was the main villain for the initial episode of the Batman TV series. In fact, the storyline was based somewhat loosely on the Riddler's initial appearance in the comics. Gorshin portrayed the Riddler in all but one of the appearances of the character, including the theatrical movie based on the TV series. For reasons unknown, actor John Astin, perhaps best known as Gomez Addams from the sitcom "The Addams Family", put on the green question-marked tights once. Astin was a capable Riddler, but he was no Gorshin.
Gorshin brought the Riddler back to prominence in the DC Universe in the process. However, unlike most of the other prominent members of Batman's rogues gallery, the Riddler is not a psychopathic murderer. Actually, a large number of Riddler's crimes are non-violent in nature. Batman's direct conflicts with the Riddler are typically more cerebral than physical and usually involve defeating him non-violently.
The Riddler's more recent history in the comics has been rather complex, and has even seen the character semi-reform.
In Batman: The Long Halloween, the Riddler appears as a smooth-talking, yet odd, informant. He first appears when Carmine "The Roman" Falcone hires him to figure out who the Holiday Killer is. Despite giving several reasonable theories as to who is behind the killer's identity, the Roman eventually loses his patience. Carmine orders his daughter, Sophia, to force the Riddler to leave. Upon exiting Falcone's office, the Riddler is attacked, but for some reason left alive, by Holiday.
He appeared again in the same chapter of the story that Harvey Dent gets disfigured in, when Batman comes to him for information about the attack.
He plays a slightly larger role in the story's sequel, Batman: Dark Victory, in which Batman turns to him to figure out the significance of the lost games of hangman that are left at the scenes of the Hangman killer's crimes. He later showed up as a member of Two-Face's jury during the Hangman's trial.
During the Batman crossover storyline No Man's Land, after Gotham City is ravaged by an earthquake and Arkham Asylum frees its inmates, Riddler elects to flee Gotham rather than stay behind in the lawless chaos that ensues, unlike many of Batman's other foes, who set up shop and try to claim "turf" in the ruined city.
It is during this period that he makes the poor choice of attacking Black Canary and Green Arrow in Star City, where he is easily defeated. This event helps lay the foundations for Riddler's future confrontations with Green Arrow.
In the 12-part storyline Hush, it is revealed that Riddler suffers from cancer, which also afflicted Dr. Thomas Elliot's mother. Riddler uses one of Ra's al Ghul's Lazarus Pits to rid himself of the disease, and offers Elliot the chance to cure his mother as well, provided he pays a large sum of money. However, Elliott is in fact eager for his mother to die in order to inherit her fortune. Elliott, who goes on to secretly become the masked criminal Hush, explains he wants to get revenge on his childhood friend Bruce Wayne. The two of them agree to work together and the Riddler sets Killer Croc, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Joker, Clayface and Scarecrow out to destroy Batman, with Ra's and Talia Al Ghul, Lady Shiva and Superman being temporarily drawn into the scheme as well.
During the psychotic break that follows exposure to the Lazarus Pit, Riddler deduces Batman's secret identity, When the Riddler threatens to expose Batman's secret identity, however, the Caped Crusader mockingly labels it an empty threat, pointing out that if Riddler revealed the answer to the riddle "who is Batman?", it would become worthless, something Riddler wouldn't be able to stand. In addition, Batman warns him that if he reveals the secret, it would give Ra's al Ghul a vital clue that he used a Lazarus Pit without his permission, and Ra's' League of Assassins wouldn't take too kindly to that.
Riddler later shows up in Infinite Crisis #1, with a group of villains, which includes the Fisherman and Murmur, attacking the Gotham City Police Department. He is next seen escaping Arkham Asylum during the worldwide supervillain breakout engineered by the Secret Society of Super Villains in Villains United: Infinite Crisis Special #1, which takes place only days after the prior supernatural disaster. Riddler re-appears as part of the Society's "Phase Three" attack on Metropolis. He is defeated by the Shining Knight and is struck in the head by the Knight's mace.
In Detective Comics #822, The Riddler returns, having spent much of the previous year in a coma due to the one-sided fight against the Knight. He has seemingly reformed, and is now a private consultant on the murder of a wealthy socialite. Hired by the socialite's father, he proves that a photo of Bruce Wayne apparently implicating him in the crime depicts an impostor and briefly works with Batman to investigate the crime.
As a result of his coma, The Riddler has apparently lost his compulsion for riddles, although still enjoying them in an abstract sense, but he retains both his intellect and his mammoth ego. Furthermore, he suffered severe memory loss while unconscious; upon emerging from his coma, he barely remembers his own name. He does not appear to remember that Bruce Wayne and Batman are one and the same, although he does harbor some suspicions of once knowing something amazing about Bruce Wayne.
In Detective Comics #837 Riddler is hired by Bruce Wayne to track down an experimental drug developed by Wayne Enterprises currently being tested for muscle stamina and cellular regeneration which has been stolen by a lab assistant named Lisa Newman. He discovers that Newman is staying at the same Athenian Women's Help Shelter as Harley Quinn. With Harley's help he defeats Newman and returns the drug to Wayne Enterprises, earning Batman's trust for the time being.
In the 2008 miniseries Gotham Underground, Riddler investigates the Penguin's involvement with the events of Salvation Run. He saves Dick Grayson, who was undercover during the Gotham Gang War between Penguin and Tobias Whale and deduces that Grayson is Nightwing.
The Riddler has no superhuman abilities, but is a highly cunning criminal strategist. He is not especially talented in fisticuffs (although his endurance has grown from having to engage in them over the years), and sometimes employs weaponry disguised as puzzles, such as exploding jigsaw pieces, or question mark shaped pistols. He is shown to be skilled with engineering and technology, confronting Batman and Robin with unique and elaborate deathtraps. In his new role of private detective, he is shown to have investigative skills that rival those of the Dark Knight.
Honestly, I'm rather pleased to hear that the Riddler has, at least to some degree, reformed. I've always liked the character.
The Riddler has had two major "costumes" over the years. One, perhaps his best known and certainly the focal point for most of his most prominent action figure appearances, was a fairly standard "super-suit", on other words, tights. These were bright green in color, festooned with question marks, including a particularly large one in the center of his chest. The outfit was completed with purple gloves and a purple belt.
The Riddler's other main outfit is basically a personal version of a business suit. The coat and slacks are green, the coat is often decorated with question marks, and he wears purple gloves, mask, and necktie. He generally has a green bowler hat with a question mark on it, as well.
To be honest, I tend to prefer the tights. Visually, it helps the character fit into the super-community a little bit better. However, I can see the logic of the suit. Nigma is not a muscleman. He uses his brains more than his body, and has generally been portrayed as rather slender. If you can't fill out the spandex, you're probably better off in the suit. And in his new role as a private investigator, the suit is also more -- well, suitable.
And it is the suit that is used as the basis for the DC Universe Classics action figure. I wasn't entirely convinced that Mattel would sculpt an entirely new figure for a store-exclusive assortment. I was even less convinced when I noticed the 2006 copyright date on the bottom of one show. Then there was the little matter of the sculpted vertical stripe down the necktie.
Thanks be to Lee's Toy Review for their recent Photo Guide to DC Universe Classics and its predecessor, which I didn't follow as closely as perhaps I should have, DC Super-Heroes. Sure enough, the Riddler's body is based in large degree on the Two-Face figure from the DCSH line. That's okay, it still works, although to be honest, it works better as Riddler than I think it would as Two-Face. I didn't think Two-Face was supposed to be so skinny. I half-expected to discover that components of this body had been used for a Joker figure, but they weren't.
Really, I had no problem with this. The DC Universe Classics line makes considerable multiple use of a basic "male hero" set of molds, with minimal alterations. It's a good set of molds. Mattel's having some pretty serious quality control problems getting the figures assembled properly these days, but the basic molds are a good design.
I was hoping that this Riddler figure would be able to bypass most of those assembly problems, as well, since a lot of them are centered on swapped arms and leg parts. My hope was that the Riddler was a distinctive enough figure that it wouldn't really be possible to misassemble the parts. I either was right, or I got very lucky, because the figure I received was assembled entirely correctly.
If I'm a lot more fortunate than recent examples would indicate, maybe it's a trend...
Anyway, for a figure of the "suit" version of the Riddler, the figure is truly excellent. Some have complained that the head is too small, and to a degree, they have a point. The head is of average size compared to other DCUS figures, but somehow, it does look a little small on the Riddler figure. However, I tend to think that this is something of an illusion created by the way the jacket rests.
The body of the Riddler's coat is a separate piece made from flexible plastic and placed over the figure's torso during assembly. It's a common enough procedure these days for figures wearing robes or jackets or vests, and most of the time, it works quite well. It works well enough on the Riddler, too, although it does make him look a little hunched in the shoulders, and this may contribute to his "small head" look.
The jacket and the trousers -- as well as the hat -- are all the same shade of a fairly light, but intense green. The jacket is marked with a great many question marks, which oddly do not carry over to the sleeves. This is perhaps my one major complaint with the paint work. It almost makes the Riddler look like he's wearing a question-marked vest over a green jacket. If Mattel had stamped question marks on the arms, it would've looked a lot better.
Riddler appears to be wearing a black shirt underneath the coat, and a reddish-purple necktie, gloves, and mask. He also has black shoes, which are a nice complement to the black shirt.
Overall paint work is excellent, even including little gold buttons on his coat front and cuffs. The face sculpt is superb, and can't have been easy. It's too easy to go cartoonish with the Riddler, but that wouldn't have been appropriate for a like that prides itself on a straightforward realism. Riddler's face is a little quirky, including a ski-nose the likes of which hasn't been seen since the late, great Bob Hope passed away, but it's not so exaggerated that he doesn't fit in well with other DCUC figures.
The figure's articulation is excellent. Riddler is poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles. He lacks the mid-torso articulation of most of the DCUC figures, but that's because of the jacket. About the worst thing I can say about the articulation is that some of the swivels tend to "ruin the lines" of his pressed jacket and trousers.
Riddler comes with one accessory (other than the Metallo part), his traditional question-mark-topped cane.
So, what's my final word here? I'll be honest -- it's difficult for me to fully recommend this line. Mattel has been having some of the most serious and inexcusable quality control problems regarding proper figure assembly that I have ever encountered in all the years that I've collected action figures. And at this time, I've received no conclusive evidence that matters are improving. One would hope they can rectify the problems they're having with their factories, because this line has way too much potential over nonsense like this.
However, I am pleased to report that I encountered no difficulties with the Riddler. He's in perfectly fine shape, no complaints. And according to reports, he's the easiest to find, since in a shipping case of six figures featuring five different characters, there's two Riddlers to one of everyone else.
My final word? As ever with any DC Universe Classics figure, use caution. Give the figure as much of an in-package visual inspection as you possibly can. But, if you find a good Riddler, and the odds are likely better for him than for some that you will, then get him. This is a cool figure of a legendary character in the DC Universe, and he's a fine addition to the collection. The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS RIDDLER figure definitely has my enthusiastic recommendation!