Bat Signal

Issue 140 – “The Riddler!”

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Hello there everyone, and welcome back to another week of Bat Signal, my ongoing project wherein I try to read every issue of Detective Comics in random order and with very little context. And I have a fun issue to talk about today, folks. I realized something when preparing this week’s Bat Signal. It’s been a shockingly long time since I last discussed an issue of Batman that had the Dynamic Duo fighting one of their classic Rogue’s. Unless I missed something, it’s been since June! So it was high time that the random number generator gods smiled upon me to give me a good old-fashioned villain. And, as luck would have it, not only do we get a fun old villain, and not only is it my favorite Batman villain the Riddler, we have just so happened to pull the very first issue that the Riddler ever appeared in. That’s right. We have an origin story!

The issue begins with the Riddler’s backstory, which is kind of hilarious. We see Edward Nygma, a cocky and unfortunately balding child who is obsessed with riddles and puzzles. However, we also learn that he’s not overly good at puzzles, and actually just cheats all the time. Which is a bit of a bummer. As a child he realized how easy it was to trick stupid people by pretending he’s a genius, and that carries through to his adult life. Nygma becomes a somehow wealthy carnival attraction where people come to test wits with Nygma, who cheats the whole time. He becomes pretty successful from these scams, but doesn’t really feel too fulfilled with this life. Instead Nygma wants to ramp thing up. he decides that he should use his innate ability to cheat people to become a supervillain, and ends up creating the persona of the Riddler.

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The Riddler then gets right to work, and plans his first big stunt/heist. And it all starts by finding out that a local cleaning company known as Cross has a giant crossword puzzle on their building, which they hold nightly puzzles on. So, of course, the Riddler bursts into the control room, knocks out the technician, and begins broadcasting his own puzzle. Oh, and he also puts up a message to Batman and Robin, telling them that if they solve the puzzle they’ll be able to figure out what his evil crime will be. He then gives three clues, a five-letter word for a water utensil, a six-letter word for a public way, and a seven-letter word for a formal dinner. Batman and Robin then puzzle things out, and realize that it’s basin, street, and banquet. Which they decide refers to a banquet on Basin Street.

Batman and Robin then race off to Basin Street where they come across a charity banquet. They burst in, and are pretty confused to find that the Riddler is not there. Until an officer runs in with word that a bank down the street just had a water main rupture in it. Which they realize was a pun on banquet, with bank-wet. Fun. The Riddler has apparently ruptured a water main, and is now stealing all of the money by sending it all down a drain.

So Batman and Robin have had one strike out. But that also means that the Riddler is going to strike again. And his next plan is kind of hilarious. He sends a whole fleet of trucks to the police headquarters, full of giant puzzle pieces. Batman and Robin are called in, and with the help of a bunch of cops in a stadium they build the giant puzzle, which informs them that the Riddler will be robbing “The Eagle’s Nest.” Robin assumes that this refers to a popular nightclub called the Eyrie, but Batman has another idea. He goes to the home of a millionaire collector named Eagle. And Batman got it right. He finds the Riddler robbing the place. But, the Riddler has a backup plan.

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Yeah, so the Riddler has trapped Eagle, and put him in some crazy trap where he’s suffocating. So Batman is left in the room, trying to figure out how to get Eagle out of this crazy puzzle, and he’s not doing a great job. Eventually Batman is able to figure out the sequence of the puzzle though, and frees Eagle before he dies. Which means it’s time for the third Riddle. And, to accomplish it, the Riddler puts a giant fake ear of corn on a truck, and has it drive through downtown Gotham without a driver. Batman is able to take out the truck with the Batmobile, and they then look at the riddle pasted onto the corn, which says “Why is Corn Hard to Escape From.”

The Dynamic Duo decide that this refers to Maize, and therefore mazes. And, as luck would have it, there’s a new all-glass maze out on a Gotham City boardwalk. Which actually seems like a fun idea. So Batman and Robin head out to the glass maze, and head in. Which is exactly what the Riddler wanted. He seals the exit of the maze, and then tells Batman and Robin that there’s a bomb in the maze, and it’ll be killing them soon. They realize that the glass in indestructible, so they won’t be able to break their way out, so Batman comes up with a ridiculous idea. He takes a bunch of rugs from the ground, piles them up in a corner, and lights them on fire so that the heat will warp the metal frames of the glass, freeing them. However, in doing so a pane of glass falls on the Riddler, pinning him to the ground, so when the bomb goes off he seems to explode too. But, of course, he doesn’t.

 

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I don’t if it’s just been too long since I got to talk about a Riddler story, or if this actually is an incredibly solid first story for the Riddler, but I had a lot of fun with it. I did find it a little weird that a major part of this back story is the idea that Edward Nygma is a renowned cheater, and isn’t actually good at puzzles at all. That didn’t really jive for me, and I’m glad that that concept eventually fell off. Although, I do thoroughly enjoy the idea that Edward Nygma had a receding hairline, even as a child. Also, as per usual with Riddler issues, the riddles themselves were kind of ridiculous, but as I’ve come to understand while writing about these comics for so long, riddles are near impossible to make clever enough to be riddles, and yet easy enough to not distract from the plot. But, whatever, it’s still a fun issue of Detective Comics, and it’s been too long since we got to hang out with the Riddler.

 

“The Riddler!” was written by Bill Finger, penciled by Dick Sprang, and inked by Charles Paris, 1948.

 

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