REVIEW: DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS THE RIDDLER
Riddle me this -- What's green, purple, covered with black question marks, and is easily one of the distinct highlights of Mattel's DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS sixteenth wave of action figures?
That's right, it's THE RIDDLER!
Now, some of you may say, "Wait a minute, wasn't The Riddler available as part of that near-impossible-to-find Walmart exclusive Wave 5, which eventually ended up on MattyCollector.Com for a brief time?" Well, yes, he was. But that was a different Riddler. That is, same character, different outfit. The Wave 5 Riddler was dressed in a green suit coat and trousers, complete with a bowler hat and purple necktie. The jacket had question marks on it.
And, in fairness, this is a legitimate look for The Riddler. He frequently does wear a suit. But another, just as legitimate look for the Riddler, is for him to be dressed in bright green spandex. This is in keeping with the character's very first appearance, and various other appearances throughout the years. And, I'll admit, I think it helps The Riddler be a bit more a part of the super-hero/super-villain community, than wearing a standard, if overly decorative, suit.
Granted the wardrobes for Batman's villains have tended to vary over the years. I don't think The Joker would look good in spandex, unless he put on some serious muscle. Certainly it wouldn't be appropriate for The Penguin. Then again, if DC ever wants to put Two-Face in a super-style suit, I've got a great design idea for them.
I'll admit, I've always liked The Riddler. My first exposure to the world of Batman was the 1960's TV series, and Frank Gorshin was just so over-the-top, he made Cesar Romero's Joker look positively sedate. And I have a bit of a past with Riddler action figures, too. When Mego started producing their superb line of characters, I was readily able to find Joker and Penguin, but Riddler was more elusive. It actually took a letter to Mego, from my father, who was a decidedly prominent executive in our home city, to acquire one. I think I only ever saw one in a store, sometime later. And that Riddler figure was wearing the green spandex.
Let's consider the history of The Riddler in the comics, with a little online research assistance.
The Riddler was created by Bill Finger and Dick Sprang, and first appeared in Detective Comics #140, in 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. With this self-conscious use of a gimmick, the Riddler's crimes are generally flamboyant and ostentatious. He is usually depicted as wearing a mask with either a green suit and bowler hat, or a green spandex unitard with question mark prints and purple gloves and belt.
The Riddler is typically portrayed as a smooth-talking yet quirky character, deemed insane by the courts on the basis of obsessive compulsions and neurosis. This was first shown 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, and as shown in a 1999 issue of Gotham Adventures, Riddler says, "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 might actually be crazy."
Unlike most of Batman's other enemies, the Riddler is not a psychopathic murderer. Rather, he is a quirky narcissist with an enormous ego. He commits his crimes in order to flaunt his intellectual superiority and a large portion of his crimes are non-violent in nature.
The Riddler's criminal modus operandi is so deeply ingrained into his personality that he is virtually powerless to stop himself from active it out. Has to leave clues, and come up with situations for Batman and his other enemies that are an intellectual challenge both for himself and his adversaries. Riddler's compulsion is somewhat flexible, however, allowing him to commit any crime as long as he can describe it in a riddle or puzzle.
The Riddler got his start as young Edward Nigma (sometimes spelled Nygma, and it has also been thought that his real last name may be Nashton, since "E. Nigma" is so blindingly obvious) sets his sights on winning a school contest that involves solving a puzzle, 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 dons the guise of the Riddler to challenge Batman, whom he believes could be a worthy adversary for him.
He put in few subsequent appearances in the comics, until the character of the Riddler was given greater prominence in the 1960's TV series, portrayed by Frank Gorshin in an Emmy-nominated performance. Subsequent to this, he was portrayed by Jim Carrey in the 1995 movie "Batman Forever", with Carrey allegedly drawing inspiration from Gorshin's portrayal of the character. He has also appeared in the animated series, where he has been generally portrayed as a smooth-talking intellectual who presented genuinely challenging riddles.
In modern times, Riddler's appearance in the comics have been somewhat more frequent. In "Batman: The Long Halloween", the Riddler appears as an informant. He also 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 some of the items left at the scenes of certain crimes.
In the story "Catwoman: When in Rome", Riddler joins Selina Kyle on a trip to Italy in search of his fellow rogue's origins. Here, he manipulates her into believing that some of Batman's most dangerous enemies are after her, by having his henchmen use their distinctive weapons. He hopes to extract Batman's real identity from her, but to his dismay, she actually doesn't know, or care.
Riddler has also pestered The Question, and Green Arrow from time to time.
In the 12-part storyline "Hush", it is revealed that the Riddler is suffering from cancer. Riddler uses one of Ra's al Ghul's Lazarus Pits to rid himself of the disease, and during the psychotic break that always follows exposure to the Lazarus Pit, Riddler deduces that Batman is Bruce Wayne. Later, when the Riddler threatens to expose Batman's secret identity, the Dark Knight 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 permission, something that Ra's would not take lightly.
Some time later, after spending a fair period of time alternately attacking various super-heroes or (generally) legally amassing a considerable fortune, Riddler shows up as part of the Secret Society of Super-Villains, in their attack on Metropolis during the Infinite Crisis storyline. He is defeated by the Shining Knight, and is struck in the head by the Knight's mace.
It is later learned that he spends much of the next year in a coma due to brain damage caused by this incident. When he awakens, he is cured of his insanity and of his obsession with riddles, while retaining both his genius intellect and his mammoth ego. He has seemingly reformed, and is now a private investigative consultant.
On one of his first outings as such, he went on a case involving 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. He no longer seems to remember that Batman and Bruce Wayne are one and the same.
He has since even been hired by Bruce Wayne at least once, and during the "Countdown" series specifically states to Mary Marvel that he has gone straight and is now a detective. After witnessing Mary's new malicious approach to crime-fighting, he suggests that she consider anger management counseling. Later, when he homes in on a serial killer in Gotham City, he discovers that the killer is one of his former victims. Batman intervenes just in time to save his former foe's life.
Later, Riddler assists Dick Grayson, now in the role of Batman, on a case involving a serial killer that seems to be leaving clues to the next victim in the body of the current victim. As Batman goes off to confront the killer, Riddler agrees to look after the intended victim.
After saving her life from a bomb goes off nearby, Riddler and the intended victim are confronted by two men and a woman going by the name of Conundrum, whose costumes sport black and green color schemes along with question mark insignias. As Riddler stealthily disposes of the two men via the use of his cane, Conundrum takes the original intended victim hostage at gunpoint, admitting that Riddler was her idol, and with his reformation, she and her group decided to "fill the void."
At this point, Riddler announces that Batman is en route to their location, claiming that he and Batman have a close working relationship, and that his cane now has its own GPS that alerts Batman to his location. Conundrum doesn't believe this, but Riddler calmly asks, "Why is this man smiling?"
At this moment, Batman shows up and dispatches Conundrum. Riddler admits to being baffled that Batman is indeed there, since he was bluffing, but as it turns out, his cane really does have a tracking device in it, planted by Batman. After the ordeal is over, the intended victim hugs Riddler, thanking him for saving her life, and the two later go out to dinner at a fancy restaurant, with Dick Grayson looking over them at a distance. Dick admits that Riddler is indeed on a path of recovery, but still needs to be watched.
The Riddler possesses extreme ingenuity in decoding and formulating puzzles of all kinds. His deductive ability has served him well in his new role as private detective, in which he has been shown to have investigative skills that rival Batman's. He has no superhuman abilities, and is not especially talented in fisticuffs -- although he's developed a fair level of endurance just from having to engage in them over the years. His weapon of choice is his question mark cane, which is known to house a wide variety of technological devices of his own invention.
So, how's the figure? Absolutely outstanding!
Now, granted, Riddler tends to wear his suit more than his tights these days. As indicated, he's never really been the physical type so much, and these days, he probably also figures that a suit is more fitting a private investigator than spandex. Still, to me, this is the classic Riddler, and I am truly delighted that Mattel has chosen to revisit this character in the DC Universe Classics line with this particular edition. I'm honestly surprised that they did, but also abundantly pleased.
As to the reasons why Mattel chose to do so, I'm not certain. We know that the Four Horsemen sculpting and design team that turns out these very cool figures, as well as some of the Mattel personnel directly involved with this line, are longtime fans of the Super Powers line of DC Comics figures that were produced by Kenner in the 1980's. However, technically speaking, Riddler was never part of that line.
Technically speaking... There was a Riddler figure that was a Super Powers type figure, that was released in South America, as part of its take on the Super Powers line. The figure used the molds from the Green Lantern figure, properly recolored. This resulted in an effective enough Riddler figure, if one that ended up looking a little more heroic and with a more forward hairline than the Riddler customarily had, thanks to Hal Jordan's strong chin and better hair.
Some years after the Super Powers line had run its course, a then-fledgling toy company called Toy Biz picked up the DC license, right around the time of the first Batman movie of the late 1980's. This was before they obtained the Marvel license that basically put them on the map for quite a few years to come. Many of their figures were based on Super Powers figures, but they also added a number of figures of their own, including a distinctive, decidedly non-Hal-Jordan-based, Riddler. I have this figure, and he works perfectly well with the Super Powers collection.
So there's a sort of connection to this incarnation of the Riddler, and with the Super Powers line. But on both counts, it's sort of indirect, so I can't really say here that the reason for the presence of this particular version of the Riddler has a Super Powers connection to it, the way a number of other figures in past assortments have. And in any case, with this cool a figure, I'm not going to quibble over reasons. I'm glad they did him.
The Riddler is -- green. Very green. A very bright green. As questionable (no pun intended) and variable as the distribution of DC Universe Classics figures can often tend to be, believe me, if your local retailer has The Riddler in stock, you'll know it.
The Riddler's costume is surprisingly basic for how effective it is. It's pretty much just one color -- bright green. The only additional elements to it are the purple mask that Riddler wears across his eyes, the purple gloves, and the purple belt, which has a yellow-orange buckle painted on it. These offset all that green rather nicely, but what finally sets the Riddler apart are the question marks. Anybody can wear green. Anybody can wear green and purple, for that matter. The Hulk is green and wears purple, and he's pretty much this shade of green, and the Riddler's gloves could've been cut from the same cloth as Hulk's pants. But when you start seeing all those question marks -- well, ironic as it may be, there's no question who you're dealing with.
Somewhere between prototype and production, there was an interesting alteration. If you look at the picture of the prototype on the back of the Riddler's package card, the question marks appear to be of a certain type font. I'd call it a very bold Helvetica. It's a good, straightforward, basic font that is very commonly used for a great many things. And there's no reason it couldn't have been used on the Riddler. However, generally speaking, the question marks on his uniform have not resembled this font. They've tended to be something more of a Times Roman. And somewhere along the way, somebody figured this out, and changed the font of the question marks on the final figure. They are, in fact, a serif font that's not too far removed from Times Roman, and is certainly appropriate for The Riddler.
And, there's no shortage of question marks. Of course, there's the big one in the center of the chest, but then there's others all over the place on the figure. There's four more on his front, one on his left side, six on his back, three on each upper arm above the swivel, three on one bicep and five on the other, one on each side of his -- lower torso, six on one upper leg above the swivel, five on the other, two on each upper leg below the swivel, and then three on one lower leg and five on the other. That's a lot of question marks.
I have no idea how they did this. I'm assuming that they must have somehow been imprinted on the figure, rather than painted on. They're too neatly done to have been even painted on through a spray paint stencil. And then there's the placement of a couple of these question marks. One of them, on the right upper leg, actually has the period of the question mark BELOW the swivel, while the rest of the question mark is above it. And on the left upper leg, there's a question mark whose period is actually on the assembly peg of the articulation joint! This tells me that at least some of these question marks had to be put into place after the figure was at least partially assembled. I think it would have been interesting to see it done.
The headsculpt is excellent. There were some criticisms of the Riddler figure from Wave 5, that its head was too small. I didn't entirely agree with this assessment, although I could see how the comment might arise. In fairness, that figure used the body molds to the Two-Face figure that had actually been a part of the predecessor to the DC Universe Classics line, the Superman-Batman-centric DC Super-Heroes line. The worst thing I'd be inclined to say about that Riddler's headsculpt is that it came close to looking a little cartoonish, with a too-long nose and somewhat exaggerated features.
I am very pleased with the fact that the headsculpt for this Riddler is better proportioned. The nose is a little -- pointy, but that's about it. Riddler is wearing a purple mask over his eyes, which have been painted solid white. He has a definite smirk on one side of his face, giving him a definite "I know more than you do" sort of attitude. His hair is black, and brushed back. He has a somewhat high forehead as a result. Probably he thinks it makes him look more cerebral.
The purple gloves are not just painted on to the lower arms, but flare out very slightly. I've seen these body molds before, and they certainly work well for the Riddler. There honestly isn't all that much painted detail on this figure, the question marks notwithstanding. Most of the painted detail is on the head, and is superbly well done. There's a bit of flesh color around the neck, and of course the gloves, all of which has been very neatly carried out.
There's one other thing that makes this Riddler figure a real highlight for me -- he uses the standard male body molds. Some might argue that the Riddler isn't really that muscular, and it's a fair point, but this is also something open to a certain amount of artistic interpretation. There's no question (!) that the figure looks outstanding, and he certainly looks great alongside other DC Universe Classics figures. But here's my point.
The Riddler is a highlight and a standout in a wave of figures that, with the exception of the excellent and entirely distinctive Jonah Hex. The Creeper could have been another highlight of this line, but he ended up with a thinner body build, which was inappropriate, and double-jointed elbows and knees, which in the case of the legs, added some height to him which was also inappropriate. Then there's the Robin figure, who could've been cool, had it not been for the double-jointed elbows and knees, which given that this was the classic Robin, naturally appeared on his bare arms and legs, leaving Robin looking like some strange robotic-Bionicle version of himself for all the pieces and articulation pins required.
Metal Man Mercury probably gets away with the double-joints better than the others, and Azrael Batman -- eh, cool figure, but there are certainly other characters I would have rather seen.
This is NOT intended to diminish The Riddler. He would've been a standout in any wave. This is an abundantly cool figure. But given the wave that he's been placed in, The Riddler can stand up and say, "Hey, people, here's how a DC Universe Classics figure SHOULD be made!" Feel free to see my reviews of Creeper and Robin to see what I have to say about why this double-jointed articulation needs to be excised from the DC Universe Classics line as quickly as possible -- and permanently.
The Riddler is fully poseable at the head, arms, upper arm swivel, elbows, wrists, mid-torso, waist, legs, upper leg swivel, knees, and ankles.
Accessorywise, he comes with his question-mark-topped cane. Nicely done, as well. Any complaints? None whatsoever. The card back describes him as a villain, but I suppose these days, he could just as easily be treated as one of the good guys, albeit a slightly quirky one, even dressed in the spandex.
So, what's my final word? Get this figure. If you're any sort of DC Comics fan, Batman fan, DC Universe Classics fan, or just a fan of really cool action figures -- get this figure. This is a DC Universe Classics figure DONE RIGHT, he looks great, he looks like the character, and he's almost unquestionably (!) the most impressive Riddler figure of all time.
The DC UNIVERSE CLASSICS figure of THE RIDDLER definitely has my very highest recommendation!