The Riddler: When is a Door

In today's review of the Batman (Classic TV Series) Riddler figure, yo said that Frank Gorshin had a better understanding of the character than most comic writers do. Naturally, there are a few exceptions to that statement. Paul Dini, for instance. And currently Scott Snyder is doing a great job with Riddler in the "Year Zero" storyline.

But in 1989, DC released Secret Origins Special, featuring three tales about the early days of various Bat-villains. You had Alan Grant (and Sam Kieth!) doing the Penguin and Mark Verheiden writing about Two-Face, but the star of the show was Neil Gaiman, writing what may be the best Riddler story ever told.

The art, though credited to just "BEM," is by Bernie Mireault, a guy whose art influenced Mike Mignola. Nice how the first page is styled like a door, with hinges on one side and a lock on the other.

Notice how the giant caterpillar on page 2 forms a massive question mark. And the barrel of the gun on page 3 ends up in exactly the same spot on the page. In the original book, those pages were printed back-to-back, so the circles lined up perfectly. You'll notice that circles are a bit of a theme in the layout as we continue.

If this is the greatest Riddler story ever told, then the last six panels on page 5 are the greatest sequence. "Was I away when they changed the rules?" This comic isn't just about the Riddler, it's about Batman (as a property, not as a character). It's about comics. It's about entertainment in general.

As a side note, this comic was the first time Riddler wore a suit in the comics, rather than just the spandex costume. Now the suit is more accepted as the "regular" outfit, and the spandex looks weird.

If your local comicshop doesn't have a copy of Secret Origins Special #1, it's been reprinted a few times. The first was in Batman: Featuring Two-Face and the Riddler, a tpb collection released to cash in on the popularity(?) of Batman Forever; more recently, it was used to pad out the collected edition of Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?. Both those editions have better coloring and printing than these little scans, so if you liked this story, you can own a nice copy very easily.

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2 Responses to The Riddler: When is a Door

  1. Chong Li says:

    I respectfully disagree - this story was fun and pretty well-constructed (c'mon, it's Neil Gaiman), but it's not anywhere near the greatest Riddler story ever. Heck, I have to wonder if it's a Riddler story at all - his sole role in this story is basically to act as a mouthpiece for the author, and comment on the state of comics in 1989. Had they swapped him out for the Penguin, or any villain invented by the 60's show, I really don't think there would've been much of a difference.

    Basically, this Riddler acts pretty much nothing like any Riddler written before, or since. What little focus Gaiman gives to him as a character (instead of a mouthpiece) has him giving nonsensical, dead-end "riddles" that should be coming out of the Joker's or the Mad Hatter's mouth. It's an excellent Batman story (ironic, since Batman doesn't actually appear), but I wouldn't really consider it a Riddler story.

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