Batman: One Bad Day – The Riddler #1
- Writer: Tom King
- Illustrator: Mitch Gerards
- Publisher: DC
Of all the DC and Marvel heroes, I’ve likely read Batman-related comics the most. It’s not that Batman or Bruce Wayne has been radically reinvented over the years, outside of the major milestones from Frank Miller or Alan Moore, but there’s a kind of reassurance you get with most Batman titles. The Dark Knight rarely has personal conflicts that get in the way of his duty to Gotham, or from beating up the bad guys. If anything has undergone a change throughout the character’s run, it’s been the villains. Enter Tom King and Mitch Gerards’ newest series, Batman: One Bad Day, a series of one-shot comics which provide a new origin story for Batman’s greatest foes.
It makes perfect sense to explore the Riddler as the series’s first antagonist: not only is the character in the zeitgeist thanks to Matt Reeves’ The Batman, but he’s a worthy foil for the World’s Greatest Detective. And this issue of One Bad Day showcases the Riddler’s genius and malevolence in equal measure. I’m far from a librarian when it comes to charting the various origin stories of Batman’s villains, so I can’t say how much One Bad Day strays from other retellings of the Riddler.
The comic splits its time between the youth of Edward Tierney – who would go on to become the Riddler/Edward Nygma – an educational prodigy at a prestigious boarding school, and the present day, after the Riddler commits a heinous murder on an unsuspecting bystander. Gerards, who serves as the illustrator and cover artist, begins from the POV of John Oates, an innocent civilian that Riddler uses to confront Batman in Arkham. Gerards’s illustration throughout is gritty and beautiful, in line with most of the Batman comics I’ve read, and he visually distinguishes the two timelines with an orange-red tone in the past and a green-black tint in the present.
Both sides of the story are compelling in different ways, but it’s actually the backstory that had me most interested. Tierney is the adopted son of the academy’s headmaster, a strict disciplinarian who admonishes his son for anything less than perfection. And standing in Tierney’s way of that perfection is a curious professor who adds riddles to his exams, and prevents Tierney from achieving a perfect score. Bruce’s fear of bats is what provided the inception for Batman, so it makes sense that the Riddler’s formative frustration with riddles was the basis for his villain persona.
The present day sees Batman as he attempts to find the logic of the Riddler’s scheme. After all, he’s a villain that always provides some sort of clue about his master plan, so why kill a random civilian all of a sudden? The Joker has always been known as having a firm grip around every facet of Gotham, but this time it’s the Riddler who demonstrates just how ruthless he can be in search of his ultimate goal. Not only does he inspire his fellow inmates to brutally kill themselves, but he threatens the Arkham guards and their families until he’s granted the one-on-one with the Caped Crusader that he craves. His plan isn’t necessarily grand in its ambitions, but the psychological toll it threatens to take on Batman is devious. As Batman interrogates Tierney/Nygma’s old associates, King’s writing gets a little lost in the weeds, especially when voiceover narration blends the two stories together, but it all ties together nicely in the end.
Crucially, One Bad Day doesn’t set out to be an anti-hero origin story, a la Joker. Make no mistake, the Riddler is a monster and King never sets out to redeem him. Rather, the goal of the series is to understand the villains, and to provide a fresh perspective on some of comics’ most iconic characters. Diehard comics readers will no doubt notice The Killing Joke’s influence on the series, which is never a bad aspiration to make (the title of the series is an explicit reference to one of the Joker’s lines in the comic, and Riddler makes a specific nod to Barbara Gordon’s fate from the same story). Future installments will feature similar takes on Two-Face, Penguin, and more (I personally can’t wait for the Mr. Freeze edition). If King and Gerards can continue the momentum shown in its initial focus on the Riddler, the rest of the series looks to be a promising addition to your pull list.
Batman: One Bad Day – The Riddler #1 is available now at bookstores and online wherever books are sold.