Saturday, October 30, 2010
In Defense of the Riddler
Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve probably already heard that the Riddler will not be the villain in Christopher Nolan’s next Batman film, “The Dark Knight Rises”. I certainly did hope that the Riddler would be the villain, and was looking forward to Nolan's interpretation of this underappreciated character. But I am okay with the announcement, particularly if the villain is the Catwoman, the Penguin, or Hugo Strange, all of whom arrived in continuity at least seven years before the Riddler did, and deserve their chance at a respectable turn on the silver screen.
What I am not okay with is the snark of the ‘thank god it’s not the Riddler!’ variety, particularly if the source of the snark is one of the many unread pop culture commenters who talk about comic book properties, but know too little about comic books.
Such commenters tend to make points like, "The Riddler is too much like the Joker."
“I think that there may be too many similarities with The Joker and The Riddler for one villain to follow the other in consecutive sequels.” Nick Newman at thefilmstage.com.
“So would it be a good idea to pit Batman against an enemy who, to casual fans, will appear to be exactly like the Clown Prince of Crime? Both are apparent maniacal lunatics and delight in using mind games to get under Batman’s skin as opposed to beating him senseless. For those who haven’t followed the comics, the two are far too interchangeable.” Gabriel Ruzin at shadowlocked.com.
Okay, I get it. If you draw from only a handful of non-comicbook media portrayals of the two characters and judge them a bit myopically by a few superficial characteristics, you might have this reaction. But really— you don’t have to have read any comic book portrayals of either to know that there is more than one way to play any character (certainly one that’s been around for seventy years). Anyone who doesn't understand that really shouldn't be a public commenter on popular fiction in any medium.
And, with even a little thought, the differences become obvious; they are intrinsic to the characters. If the Joker bothers to manipulate you, it's subtly, using ridicule and challenging your worldview. The Riddler delights in openly manipulating the hero, through forcing him to jump through hoops. The Joker is that annoying game opponent who psychs you out; the Riddler is the dungeon-master who delights in being fair- but only technically so. The Joker flaunts rules; The Riddler revels in using them to his advantage. The Joker is happy to tell you what his next crime is and dares you to stop him; the Riddler challenges you to figure it out. The Joker is an adaptive, philosophical challenge; the Riddler is a creative, intellectual challenge. As an opponent, the Joker's advantage is that you never know what he'll do next and neither does he; the Riddler's advantage is that he always knows what he'll does next and what you will, too. C'mon, people; is it really that hard for an average person to grasp the difference between a psychotic, chaotic, killer clown and an intellectual bully and control-freak?
Another common criticism based in an inability to look past previous media portrayals is that the Riddler is not a sufficiently serious villain.
"The next Batman movie should focus on one major villain from Batman’s rogues gallery – someone like Mr Freeze, Penguin, etc. (Riddler’s probably a little too goofy to carry a movie)." Oliver Wills, Like Kryptonite to Stupid.
"He’s a goofy character with a goofy gimmick, no matter how “dark and edgy” you make him. I’m of the opinion that the Riddler, ike the Penguin, is one of those characters who we only know about today and consider to be one of Batman’s Biggest Bad Guys because of the Adam West TV show." Phillip Mottaz Town