Tag Archives: the riddler

Batman: The Animated Series – “Riddler’s Reform”

riddlers reform cardEpisode Number:  79

Original Air Date:  September 24, 1994

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Randy Rogel

First Appearance(s):  None

 

We’re coming to the end of Batman: The Animated Series so just about every episode from here on out will feature a final appearance of a specific rogue. In today’s case, there’s even more finality than there will be for others. The Riddler (John Glover) is considered a notoriously difficult character to write. His “super power” is he’s really, really, smart and also quite clever. It’s not easy to just come up with riddles or puzzles to fill an episode worthy of The Riddler. As a result, his appearances have been few despite his popularity as a villain largely owing to the 1960s series and the performance of the late Frank Gorshin. Nonetheless, three starring episodes isn’t too bad, but the real sense of finality comes from this essentially being it for The Riddler. Most of the villains featured in this show will return in The New Batman Adventures with new schemes, new motivations, and new costumes. The Riddler will return, and with a new costume too, but he won’t receive an episode to call his own as he’s basically reduced to a cameo and brief, supporting, role.

Give that this episode is, more or less, his encore hopefully it’s a good one. It has an interesting premise right in the title as The Riddler looks to establish a life for himself outside of crime. We’ve seen both Catwoman and The Penguin attempt the same and eventually slip-up and fall back into their old villainous ways. Is there any reason to think The Riddler will be any different? Probably not. Last we saw him he was antagonizing Commissioner Gordon and Batman with a virtual reality device. At the episode’s conclusion he became trapped inside the VR world with Batman offering an ominous commentary on the situation that would lead the audience to believe he may be trapped there forever. If you were hoping to find out what happened, well you’ll be disappointed. Similar to how The Joker appeared to die in “The Laughing Fish” only to resurface later as fine as can be, we don’t know how Riddler got here. Maybe Batman was just wrong and they unplugged the console and he was fine. Or maybe he found his own way out. Your guess is as good as mine.

baxter and riddler

Riddler and his new buddy Baxter who owns a toy company.

This one opens at a nondescript warehouse. Before we get to the action, we get a shot of some newspapers being unloaded featuring a cover story about the release of The Riddler from Arkham. We’re then taken to the warehouse where some typical looking goon-types are carrying a large red box emblazoned with a purple question mark. They’re taking directions from The Riddler on where to place it. After setting it down, they get paid a visit by Batman and Robin who come swooping in to kick ass and ask questions later – literally. Riddler takes a seat on the box and seems amused by their presence. He’s evasive when Batman asks him what’s inside the box and when it looks like he’s about to get punchy they’re interrupted by a nicely dressed old man.

His name is Charles Baxter (Peter Mark Richman) and his name is either a direct call-back to the Baxter Box puzzle from an earlier Riddler appearance or a coincidence. He’s not a puzzle-creator, as we’ll learn, so if it’s a reference it would seem it’s merely for fun. Baxter demands to know what’s going on, and after Robin fills him in on who The Riddler is, he tells him he’s well aware. The Riddler is his new business partner. He purchased the rights to the character’s likeness and intends to use him to market Nygma’s toys. The box then springs open unveiling a toy display kiosk and Riddler even tosses one to Robin referring to him as a kid, which you know he takes well. Baxter orders them to leave, and the two head into the building leaving Batman and Robin to tuck their tails between their legs.

At Wayne Manor, Dick is having a tough time with the puzzle Riddler gave him while Bruce is reading the paper. The television is on in the background and a story about The Penguin is running before leading to another story about a robbery. Some ancient relics were stolen, and this gets Bruce’s attention. When Riddler explained to them the night before his desire to be on the straight and narrow he made references to ancient history and Batman thinks he was referring to the items stolen. A commercial featuring The Riddler then comes on hawking the new toys. He ends the commercial by displaying a number on a chalkboard and then flips it around to reveal a map. It’s a part of some contest, but Bruce isn’t buying it. He pulls out a map and uses the number as a coordinate which leads him to the First National Bank.

riddlers ladies

Riddler enjoying the perks of being a celebrity.

Batman and Robin stake-out the bank that night, but nothing is doing. Robin begins to wonder if maybe he is reformed, but Batman remembers Riddler flipping the chalkboard over in the commercial, thus flipping the number. He looks at the number which he wrote down on a scrap of paper and turns it around. Before it read “31753701” but when reversed it looks like “10 LESLIE” which Batman determines is an address. They head there to find a large building with a jewelry store in it and sure enough there are crooks inside. They infiltrate the store and take on the bad dudes, but when a large cabinet falls over on Robin the crooks escape. Robin urges Batman to go on without him as his ankle or knee appears injured thus ending his contribution to the episode.

boing

The woman who really seems to get Nygma’s attention.

In a nearby high-rise, Riddler is getting ready for a party. He shows off a nifty little two-way radio that will be going to market soon and begins schmoozing with Baxter and the party-goers. Baxter is having a dreadful time with Nygma’s toy puzzle, but Nygma demonstrates it’s easy if you’re a genius. This earns him lots of laughter and even the attention of a fetching brunette in a blue dress (Patricia Alice Albrecht). When Riddler first lays eyes on her a cartoonish “boing” sound like a spring is heard. Yeah, the universal sound for a boner in a comedy setting. Riddler just popped a boner. Another female joins her and he’s very much enjoying their attention until a butler comes by to inform him he has a phone call. Riddler takes it in another room, but not before admiring himself in mirror. No one is on the line, but Batman is in the room. He mocks him a bit for his vanity, but Riddler quickly gains the upper hand in their conversation. He also activates his two-way radio, which one of them women had asked him to demonstrate. Since she’s holding the other one, all of the party-goers then overhear Batman threatening The Riddler. He doesn’t mind though, and opens the wall with a switch to introduce his guests to the one and only Batman. Batman, to his credit, doesn’t seem flustered by the display and tells Riddler he’ll get him eventually before taking his leave.

riddler batman

Look who crashed the party.

While Batman’s confidence remains intact, Riddler’s is not. He’s now convinced that Batman will indeed catch him. He has no desire to return to Arkham, so there’s really only one solution:  he must kill Batman.

riddler depressed

Sad Riddler is losing confidence in himself.

In order to set a trap, Riddler relies on yet another commercial to get Batman’s attention. This time the clues lead Batman to the Gotham Toy Fair. Batman heads for the local convention center and finds a rather large Riddler Box. The sides fall away, nearly crushing Batman, to reveal an equally large television inside. Riddler comes onto it, and he tells Batman farewell. It would seem the games are over, and rather than present Batman with a riddle, metal shades are dropped over all of the exits while Riddler reveals a bomb is about to go off that will kill Batman. Batman frantically searches for a way out, but the bomb detonates as Riddler said it would.

inflatable riddler

At some point Riddler had inflatable versions of himself made that could fire guns. Neat.

Back at his penthouse, Edward Nygma is burning his Riddler outfit. With Batman out-of-the-way, he has no need for it. No one to play with, and he vows now is the time to really reform his act. He doesn’t get to enjoy the satisfaction of victory for very long as Batman appears inside the room with him. Nygma is shocked to see Batman and absolutely perplexed at the thought of him escaping. He wants to know so bad that he’s willing to cut a deal. In exchange for the knowledge of how Batman escaped he’ll tell him where all of the stolen goods are hidden. Batman agrees, and Nygma explains his crime. Batman then produces Nygma’s own two-way radio and speaks into it “You get everything?” Commissioner Gordon is then heard on the other end confirming that he did. As Nygma is taken away he’s screaming at Batman to tell him how he escaped his trap, but Batman just smiles.

riddlers inmates

A couple of quick cameos of two famous rogues.

At Wayne Manor the next morning, Bruce and Dick are seated at the table and Dick asks just how he did escape. Bruce explains he couldn’t, but there was a safe on display and he climbed into it. It was strong enough to protect him from the explosion, though Bruce doesn’t say how he got out of it. Maybe it had a safety release on the inside. Dick says he never would have thought of that, and Bruce suggests The Riddler would not have either. We then cut to Arkham where several familiar faces are shown in their cells covering their ears as Nygma can be heard screaming from his own cell demanding to know how Batman escaped. It’s not going to be fun being locked-up with him for the foreseeable future.

raging nygma

Poor Eddie. It’s unlikely Batman will ever take pity on him enough to tell him how he escaped his death trap.

“Riddler’s Reform” is a fun little episode for The Riddler. It’s not particularly clever, but it’s interesting to see how Riddler’s mind operates. He literally can’t help himself when it comes to Batman and is compelled to commit crimes and leave behind clues just to see if Batman is smart enough to figure them out. There’s some situational humor, and seeing Batman with egg on his face to start things is an interesting look for our hero. It’s rare that he’s wrong. Of course, he wasn’t wrong in his hunch that Nygma was up to no good, it just took him a little while to prove it. The erection joke was a surprise, and it’s a greater surprise that it made it into the episode. It’s a low brow joke so it’s not really funny on its own, but amusing given the setting. The ending is perhaps a bit embellished I would think a man of Nygma’s intellect would figure out how Batman did it as he seems like the type who would have a near photographic memory. Maybe I’m giving him too much credit thought.

This is yet another episode animated by Dong Yang Animation Co., LTD. and it looks rather good. There’s some rainy sequences that look great and also some fun, shadowy shots of Batman. Riddler is animated in an amusing fashion as well as he’s quite expressive in costume when receiving female attention and I am just plain fond of his costume in this series. It’s too bad this is the last we’ll see of it as he’ll have a more classic look next we see him with a green unitard.

This is a good episode for Riddler to go out on. It was, after all, the rubber match or tie-breaker for these two. In Riddler’s first appearance he escaped capture while Batman emerged victorious in the second. With Batman foiling him here, and basically driving him even more insane, he earns a convincing win over the cerebral villain. I wish we got another starring episode out of the character, but I’m happy the writers never did a bad Riddler episode for the sake of doing another.

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Batman: The Animated Series – “Trial”

btas trialEpisode Number:  68

Original Air Date:  May 16, 1994

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini and Bruce Timm

First Appearance(s):  None

“Trial” could be described as one of our first big payoff episodes for the series as it draws heavily on the events of season one. After spending considerable time developing Batman’s rogues’ gallery, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm decided to play around with them like a kid diving into a toy box for this episode as many of Batman’s foes are brought back for an ensemble episode. It also refers back to “Shadow of the Bat” and Gotham’s new district attorney, Janet Van Dorn (Stephanie Zimbalist, replacing Lynette Mettey, and also the daugher of Alfred voice actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), who was first introduced there as a hard-nosed and rigid authority figure. Here her personality is essentially doubled-down on as we find out she has a strong dislike for Batman and Gordon’s reliance on the vigilante in combating the crime infecting Gotham. Her dislike of Batman is a bit more practical than that of Detective Bullock’s as Batman’s clearly breaking the law, or at least bending it, with his vigilante antics and it makes her job considerably more difficult. And since she is at odds with Batman, it only makes sense to lean into that conflict as the backbone for this episode.

janet trial

Goth DA Janet Van Dorn assumes the spotlight for her second appearance. She also has been slightly redesigned to appear more youthful.

“Trial” opens in a court setting. Pamela Isely (Diane Pershing), better known as Poison Ivy, is facing incarceration beyond just treatment at Arkham Asylum and Van Dorn is arguing for life in prison. Ivy is able to avoid jail-time due to her capture being at the hands of Batman, who naturally isn’t present to even testify against her. The judge sends her back to Arkham, not an outcome Ivy probably wanted but it’s still better than prison. When the media approaches Van Dorn following the verdict, she uses the camera time to blast Batman calling him a disgrace and placing the blame for the presence of criminally insane rogues in the city on him. She’s also not afraid to let Commissioner Gordon know how she feels, but as always, he’s willing to stand-up for Batman viewing him as their best weapon in the fight against crime. Batman even drops in on their little meeting, presenting a gang leader as a present (who is wearing a skull shirt that seems to resemble a certain Marvel character’s logo). When Van Dorn challenges him to take off the mask and put on a uniform, Batman says nothing and departs. She takes a batarang from the perp as a parting gift, I guess?

At Arkham, a somewhat somber looking Poison Ivy is returned to her room. Her pal Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) tries to cheer her up, but she has little success. She mentions something big is about to go down though that will likely lift her spirits. We then see some zombie-like orderlies and doctors milling about and The Mad Hatter bursts into the picture to reveal he’s used his mind control cards to subdue them as chaos breaks out.

captured batman

Van Dorn and Batman find themselves tied together by the real foes of Gotham.

A fatigued Van Dorn is shown arriving at a restaurant for dinner. Her date this evening is none other than Bruce Wayne. If Bruce is romantically interested in Van Dorn or just looking to get inside the head of someone who could either be friend or foe to Batman is not shown. Given his dedication to his Batman persona, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it was the latter. A waiter (clearly voiced by Mark Hamill, which is an unintentional piece of foreshadowing) comes to the table to tell Van Dorn she has a phone call. She never returns, and soon Batman is summoned by Gordon to find out the DA has been kidnapped. A ransom note was left behind containing a riddle. Batman deciphers it and heads for the court-house where he’s jumped by Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn.

Janet Van Dorn finds herself locked-up in Arkham. As she demands to speak with someone, she’s greeted by the former district attorney, Two-Face (Richard Moll). They’re having a little trial and need Van Dorn to act as a defense attorney with Two-Face the acting DA. Her client? None other than Batman. And to make things more interesting, Van Dorn’s fate is to be tied to that of her client. As Killer Croc (Aron Kincaid) dumps Batman in the cell with her, she complains about their situation and suggests Batman is where he belongs. Batman has no interest in debating his existence with Van Dorn.

trial jury

Batman’s jury hardly seems fair and impartial.

The two are lead into the court room, where a bunch of raving inmates jeer the presence of Batman and Gotham’s DA. Harley Quinn is there to taunt Batman revealing she stole his belt. The Ventriloquist (George Dzundza) with a newly reconstructed Scarface (also Dzundza) are acting as the bailiff and the jury is rather stacked against Batman as it contains:  Poison Ivy, Harley, Mad Hatter (Roddy McDowall), Killer Croc, Scarecrow, and The Riddler (Scarecrow and Riddler are not voiced in this episode). The judge? Well, it has to be The Joker (Mark Hamill) who is looking resplendent in a black robe and wig.

After Dent makes a rather brief and to the point opening statement, the trial gets underway. The Mad Hatter is the first witness who blames Batman for creating him. Van Dorn is able to expose his sick side rather easily, recalling the events of his debut and his obsessive pursuit of a woman who spurned his advances. Harley is the next, and Van Dorn is quick to point out she’s improperly influencing the judge who is laying his head in her lap (they apparently made up). Van Dorn gets no where with that complaint, but during her questioning of Quinn she actually reveals her origin for the first time as a doctor at Arkham perverted by The Joker. She also reveals that Joker ratted her out during his last capture, which enrages Harley and forces Croc to carry her out kicking and screaming.

harleys tampering

Harely and Joker are shown to have a still combustible relationship, but Harley just can’t seem to dump the clown.

Poison Ivy is next up, and her past with trying to murder Harvey Dent is once again brought up. Van Dorn accuses Ivy of having more love for plants than humans, and when Ivy denies that, Van Dorn begins taunting her by plucking the petals off a flower. This sets her off, and Ivy attacks Van Dorn and the two have to be separated. Van Dorn then composes herself for her closing remarks, claiming she now sees that it wasn’t Batman who created these villains, but the villains are the ones who created Batman. Her argument is apparently persuasive, and the jury actually finds Batman innocent. Joker is quick to point out that this is a court composed of the violent and depraved, and as such, they’ll still sentence Batman to the same fate that would have befallen him had he been guilty. Quoting Porky Pig’s “That’s all folks,” Joker strikes the bench with a rubber chicken and the two are dragged away.

van dorn and judge joker

The straight-laced Van Dorn is forced to contend with the crazies of Arkham, something she proves she’s capable of.

The rogues drag Batman to an execution chamber where the electric chair awaits him. Joker enters dressed as a preacher now as Batman is taken out of his strait jacket and placed in the chair. It’s at this point Van Dorn remembers the batarang in her jacket from earlier, and she takes out the only light in the room with it. This gives Batman the only opening he needs as he slips out of his confines and returns to the shadows where he is oh so comfortable being.

The tables have now turned, and Batman lets them know they’re now locked-up in there with him (perhaps a nod to Watchmen?) as he starts picking them off. When he grabs Croc, Joker reaches for Scarface’s miniature, but functional, tommy gun and opens fire. When Scarface warns Joker that he’ll hit Croc, he responds with “What’s your point?”

batman electric chair

This seems like a bad situation for Batman to find himself in, but as usual, he’ll make the best of it.

Batman grabs Van Dorn and the two attempt to escape, but are met by a scythe-wielding Scarecrow on the stairs. Batman is able to parry his strikes, which result in Scarface losing his head, and dispatches of the villains closing in on them. They escape to the rooftop where The Joker awaits. Joker ropes Batman and tugs him off the building with the rope affixed to an abutment that allows Joker to swing from the other end. He tries to take Batman out with a giant mallet, but as always, Batman is able to escape and take him out in the process. By now, the police (who have been tracking Batman’s location this whole time) arrive to clean up the mess. In a brief sequence to close things out, Van Dorn admits to Batman she sees a need for him in Gotham, but adds she’ll still work to create a Gotham that no longer needs Batman. He responds with a smile and a simple “Me too.”

“Trial” is a fun examination of how Batman and his adversaries are connected. Van Dorn’s argument that the cartoonish villains of their world are created by Batman is a common one, while the episode makes the case that it’s the other way around. The reality is that the two are forever intertwined. A criminal act created Batman, but Batman has certainly had a hand in creating some of the villains he combats (Van Dorn even references Joker’s creation which follows that of Batman ’89). It’s a fun little debate, and getting a bunch of villains together in one place is also equally fun and basically the impetus for Batman:  The Movie. I like seeing how the villains also play off each other, though Croc is back to being a dim-witted piece of comic relief who just wants to throw a rock at Batman. Having Harley’s origins touched upon is a nice little nugget and something that will be explored down the road. I could certainly nitpick how easy it was for Mad Hatter to gain access to his special cards or how Van Dorn is a great shot on her first try wielding a batarang, but this episode is pretty packed as-is (supposedly, this plot was considered as the first movie, but was scrapped in favor of Mask of the Phantasm) and had it spent any additional time on such details it would likely not have worked out as well. The script is also delightful, making this perhaps the most quotable episode of the series. The only gaffe, plot-wise, is the presence of Killer Croc in Arkham when it was established in “Sideshow” he’s not insane, just a bad guy.

preacher joker

Preacher Joker is one of the fun little touches in this episode.

Dong Yang Animation does a nice job with this episode having to animate so many unique characters at once. They even went through the trouble of portraying the villains in jumpsuits initially, rather than taking the easy way out and just having them in costume from the start. Bruce Wayne also gets a new look as he’s ditched his old brown suit for a sharp-looking gray one that seems to be his new default look. The drab backgrounds of Arkham are juxtaposed against the colorful costumes everyone sports and it creates a nice look. I also really enjoyed Joker’s various attires and the toy collector in me wouldn’t mind an action figure of Judge Joker and Preacher Joker. Van Dorn also received a subtle make-over from her prior appearance. She wears a blue suit now and appears a bit more youthful than before. There are a couple little production gaffes, like a character’s mouth moving when it shouldn’t and Riddler just disappearing, but nothing glaring enough to take away from the overall presentation.

“Trial” is a good second season episode that really takes advantage of the lore and backstories established in season one, and even elsewhere. It’s the type of episode I like to see in a show’s second season, and for a show like Batman that typically focuses on stand-alone stories, I always get a little rush of excitement when past events are mentioned.


Batman: The Animated Series – “What Is Reality?”

What_is_RealityEpisode Number:  48

Original Air Date:  November 24, 1992

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Marty Isenberg, Robert N. Skir

First Appearance(s):  None

After having escaped both Batman and the Gotham PD, The Riddler (John Glover) is back to erase his criminal history and likely get some measure of revenge against Batman and Robin for ruining his prior plans. It’s a rare example of the show having a direct follow-up to a prior episode as villains are often captured and released from Arkham or jail offscreen. It’s not often we have a villain escape and then make reference to their fugitive state, but that’s what we have here in what is only the second appearance of the quite popular Riddler character.

The episode opens with a jogger running through the Gotham night. He decides to withdraw some money from an ATM only to find it’s spitting out riddles instead of cash. Not only that, it shows his balance as zero which enrages the man. The scene jumps to Gotham’s version of Wall Street where investors are being taunted by the scroll not by failing prices, but by riddles. We then see the Gotham Department of Motor Vehicles suffer a similar fate as Dick and Alfred wait in line to dispute a ticket of some sort. All of this brings us to Gotham PD where Batman and Gordon are discussing the obvious – this is the work of Edward Nygma, aka The Riddler. He’s been on the run ever since the events of “If You’re So Smart Why Aren’t You Rich?” and has so far managed to illude capture. Gordon then notices that all online records of Nygma’s very existence are being deleted at an alarming pace to make it appear like he does not, and has never, exist. Before Batman can ask about the hard copies of his records, they’re informed that a package has arrived at headquarters and it’s ticking.

riddlers console

The shipping on that must have cost a fortune.

Gordon is apparently comfortable with letting Batman and Robin handle this potential explosive device as the two are seen examining the rather large package. Robin notes that the blocky structure is a puzzle and boasts that he was able to complete a Baxter’s Box puzzle in record time, so this should be no problem. A Baxter’s Box, as best as I can tell, is this world’s version of a Rubik’s Cube. I guess even referencing that famous toy could fall into a copyright area? Robin is able to get the box to open and inside they find a large console complete with a monitor, two seats, a massive keyboard, and a pair of headsets. Not knowing what to immediately make of it, Batman leaves Robin to check it out. Meanwhile, some cops have stolen the hard copies of Nygma’s records and are shown delivering them to Nygma himself who is watching all of this via a monitor in an undisclosed location.

Batman looks to the various riddles that Nygma left behind via the ATM, stock market, and DMV. They’re simple riddles, so Alfred and he deduce they should focus on the numbers contained in the riddles, which when translated to roman numerals, leads Batman to the DMV. There he finds some goons accessing the hard copy records there, likely searching for Nygma’s files. Batman engages them which leads to the action spilling outside where a Riddler Van tries to run down the caped crusader. When Batman winds up on the hood of the vehicle, he finds it’s being driven by a robot with a camera for a head. Nygma is able to taunt him as well, and points out the vast amounts of explosives in the back of the van. Batman is able to avoid a rather explosive demise, but not without detonating the van making quite the mess. Riddler is able to leave him another clue though, because that’s what he does, about where to turn his attention to next.

batman chess

Riddler’s virtual world.

At Gotham PD, Robin has discovered that the console delivered there is actually a virtual reality machine. He demonstrates how it works to Gordon before taking off for a snack leaving Gordon plugged into the machine. Once gone, Riddler appears in the virtual world and is able to trap Gordon. When Robin returns, he receives an electrical shock from Gordon’s headset when he tries to remove it. Batman soon arrives as Riddler’s most recent riddle directed him to Gotham PD headquarters. Robin gives him the rundown and Batman is left with no alternative but to enter the VR machine and rescue Gordon. Riddler has placed Gordon in a high velocity device within the world similar to what astronauts use to train for the force of space travel. Riddler claims Gordon’s heart can’t last in the machine indefinitely injecting a time component into the situation. Robin warns Batman that he’s basically entering a world controlled entirely by The Riddler which prompts Batman to insert an ear piece into one ear so he can maintain a link with Robin while inside the game. Robin is also able to watch what is going on via the rather large monitor Riddler included.

batman dark knight

If you’re going to call yourself the Dark Knight then you should look the part.

Once in the world, the episode’s perspective shifts to that. It’s mostly a world depicted in shades of red not unlike a Virtual Boy, but with some black and white as well. Riddler pushes Batman along via clues which leads him to a chessboard. Batman is forced to literally adopt his Dark Knight persona to sneak past which just leads to a constellation based puzzle for him to solve, with Robin’s help (he’s big on astronomy apparently). Eventually, Batman finds himself face to face with The Riddler and a giant version of a Baxter’s Cube. Not wanting to waste more time in figuring out the puzzle, Batman realizes he has some control over himself in this virtual world and imagines he has mallets instead of hands. He bashes the cube, which just prompts the Riddler to attack. He splits himself into multiple Riddlers, and Batman responds by doing the same. As they engage in a competition of who can create more versions of themself, Batman points out how hard it must be for Riddler to maintain control over his virtual world when splitting his focus amongst the many duplicates he’s made. Just pointing this out causes the world to collapse, and the Baxter’s Cube breaks away revealing Gordon.

many riddlers

Well this presents a problem.

Batman and Gordon are able to escape the virtual world. Once outside, The Riddler returns to the monitor to taunt them and leave them one final clue about where he could be. Just after doing so, he lets out a horrible scream indicating he’s in some trouble. His clue was enough for Batman to figure out his location, and when Batman, Robin, and Gordon find the Riddler he’s still connected to his game unable to remove himself much in the same manner as Gordon previously. Batman remarks getting him out of there may be a riddle no one can solve (spoiler: this isn’t the last we’ll see of The Riddler!) as the credits roll.

“What is Reality?” is a decent follow-up the The Riddler’s debut. It doubles-down on Riddler’s fascination with video games and virtual worlds, which is an interesting take on the character, and one that feels very of the times. I mentioned previously how I liked that this episode directly deals with the fallout of the previous one, even though it isn’t a two-parter. The writers seemed to not want to really bother with riddles this time around though, opting to deliberately have The Riddler use simple riddles but with a bit of a convoluted message hidden in each one. I’m not particularly good at riddles so I feel a little uncomfortable for criticizing the episode for going easy on them, but maybe they should have hired somebody who could craft a good riddle? As a result, The Riddler seems rather stupid as his efforts are not even remotely challenging for Batman to figure out. Batman also easily bringing an end to the VR world is rather underwhelming, but maybe they wrote themselves into a corner since they gave Riddler complete control over the world. The ending is kind of chilling though. After almost rooting for The Riddler in his debut he’s a bit more of a conventional villain here, but his actions never make us desire a fate like that for him.

riddler trapped

Riddler’s in a rather sorry state at the episode’s conclusion, but he’ll bounce back.

This episode marks the final contribution from Akom Productions. They were let go after the some-what disastrous “Joker’s Wild” episode. Perhaps because of this they did an especially careful job with this episode. It looks fine and I have no complaints about the animation. There are some very minor errors, but most episodes contain one or two. It’s not a hugely ambitious episode, though some fun things were done with the virtual world. I’m glad only a few minutes are spent there though as that red palette gets kind of irritating to look at.

This isn’t the last we’ll see of The Riddler, which I can’t imagine comes as a surprise to anyone. It is the last we’ll see of him for a while though and his last appearance of season one. Unfortunately, his next appearance doesn’t mirror this one by dealing with the fallout. He’ll just be his normal self leaving us to wonder how he extricated himself from the VR world. I guess for them not to tell us means it wasn’t a very interesting story. I bet they just unplugged the thing, that seems to be the solution for most electronic mishaps.


Batman: The Animated Series – “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?”

If_You're_So_Smart,_Why_Aren't_You_RichEpisode Number:  40

Original Air Date:  November 18, 1992

Directed by:  Eric Radomski

Written by:  David Wise

First Appearances(s):  The Riddler

 

It only took 40 episodes, but we’ve finally made it to the debut of what I would consider the last of Batman’s most famous adversaries:  The Riddler. Thanks to his inclusion in the 60’s television series as well as Batman:  The Movie, The Riddler (John Glover) was a very well known villain and was so well known that it was basically considered a given that he would be the featured villain in the sequel to Batman Returns. And it turns out he was! That version of The Riddler, played by Jim Carrey, ended up being very similar in character to the one from the 60’s most famously portrayed by Frank Gorshin right down to the green spandex. For Batman:  The Animated Series, a more cerebral version of the character was chosen. Clad in a green and gray suit with bowler hat, he’s not very much like what we had seen before in popular media. He still is all about riddles though and the essence of the character is preserved. He’s also given an interesting motivation, and he’s yet another villain who was wronged in the past, but flouts the law in order to rectify what happened bringing him into conflict with the one and only Batman.

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Enter The Riddler.

Edward Nygma is a computer game designer who’s latest creation, The Riddle of the Minotaur, has become exceedingly popular. He works for Competitron, a company owned by Daniel Mockridge (Gary Frank), and unfortunately for Nygma all of his work has come under a work for hire agreement. He enters his office one day to find that he actually has no office. Mockridge is there gleefully waiting for him to let him know he’s being terminated. Nygma, irate at this treatment, points out how much money he’s made the company while Mockridge dangles his contract in front of him essentially boasting that he’s completely right, but there’s nothing he can do about it. Because he’s essentially a contractor, he receives no royalties for the game (or if he does, they’re not large) and no creative control. As a parting shot, Mockridge throws the episode’s title right in his face, “If you’re so smart, then why aren’t you rich?”

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Mockridge being taunted as he makes his pitch to Wayne and Fox.

The episode jumps forward two years and Mockridge is pitching Competitron to Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox. Mockridge is looking to sell and cash-out of his growing business while Bruce is interested in moving the company to Gotham to create more jobs. As Mockridge is making his pitch, a word crawl on a building across the street (like one you would see outside a stock exchange) taunts him with a riddle and makes a reference to the big deal he’s trying to negotiate. Mockridge is unnerved, though Wayne and Fox aren’t aware of the message since it’s behind them, and are rather confused when the pitch is cut short. After Mockridge leaves, Wayne notices the riddle and begins reading it aloud while the shot transitions to the Batcave for Batman to finish the riddle. It’s a neat little trick as it points out how voice actor Kevin Conroy portrays Wayne and Batman just slightly differently.

Dick is also in the Batcave and he just so happens to be playing The Riddle of the Minotaur on the Batcave’s computer (which Alfred reveals cost 50 million dollars) which features sound effects lifted straight out of Super Mario Bros. Since Bruce Wayne had to pour over documents relating to the sale of Competitron to Wayne Enterprises, he knows about the creator of the game, Edward Nygma. The riddle also made reference to The Wasteland, which is both a region in the game and a night club owned by Mockridge. Batman decides that’s the most logical place to check-out and declares that Mockridge is in danger.

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There’s something “off” with how Riddler’s expressions are animated. It’s animation more befitting Tiny Toons or Animaniacs.

It turns out, Batman was correct. Mockridge arrives at his club’s office and finds Nygma seated at his desk. He’s now The Riddler and he taunts Mockridge with a ring puzzle. He also has help in the form of two very large goons. Batman and Robin soon arrive, dramatically crashing through a stained glass skylight, but they find no one. The Riddler soon appears to let them know they’re too late, and Mockridge is bound within the ring puzzle The Riddler had been playing with. They have a scuffle with the hired muscle, who put up a pretty good fight. Robin is rather proud of himself when he literally kicks one of them in the rear. The Riddler eventually traps Robin in an over-sized finger trap as a fire breaks out, forcing Batman to either save Robin or pursue The Riddler, who flees with Mockridge. Batman obviously decides to save his ward, allowing Riddler to escape.

As the dynamic duo speed away in the Batmobile, Robin notices all of the lights in the city are flickering on and off. Batman, affixing some sort of mini computer to his glove which looks kind of cool, recognizes that the lights are flickering in a pattern indicating Morse Code. The code contains a riddle, because what else would it, who’s solution leads them to a maze in a closed amusement park. During the prior confrontation, Batman revealed that he knows The Riddler’s identity, so The Riddler determined that he needs to take out Batman to protect his secret. By luring Batman and Robin to his maze he hopes to do just that while also taking care of Mockridge.

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The Riddler welcoming Batman and Robin to his maze.

The maze is a literal recreation of the one from Nygma’s game. Robin, having played it quite a bit, is familiar with it and Batman is gradually brought up to speed as they go along. Nygma has made this version of the maze much more lethal than the video game counterpart, and Batman and Robin have their hands full. The Riddler is able to taunt them from various video screens throughout the maze and he lets them know they only have a few minutes to make it to the center and save Mockridge, who is gagged and bound beneath the blade of the Minotaur. The problem is, no one has ever solved the riddle of the Minotaur and made it through the maze, meaning Batman and Robin will have to be the first if they want to save Mockridge and apprehend The Riddler.

Batman is willing to play along only so much, but when they make a wrong move The Hand of Fate is sprung on them. We saw the video game version earlier in the episode as The Hand of Fate is a game mechanic that punishes wrong answers by bringing the player back to the maze’s start. In the real world, it’s a literal flying hand that Batman and Robin are able to avoid. When it becomes apparent that they have no chance at making it to the center of the maze in time, Batman intentionally makes a wrong move to draw the hand to him. Using a piece of shrapnel from an earlier trap (The Riddler made them leave their utility belts outside the maze in order to gain entry), Batman is able to hack The Hand of Fate, and together with his little glove computer, is able to pilot the hand to the maze’s center. It’s cheating, but effective. There they have to answer one final riddle in order to prevent the Minotaur from killing Mockridge, and it’s actually a pretty simple riddle. Not content to make it so easy, The Riddler springs the Minotaur on them as one final obstacle that Batman is more than capable of dealing with, in his own way.

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A confrontation with the Minotaur awaits at the center of the maze.

With Mockridge saved, the only thing left is to catch The Riddler. Unfortunately for them, he’s no where to be found. He’s been speaking to them from aboard an airplane and he’s now long gone. In the episode’s epilogue, we find out the deal was completed and Mockridge came away with a cool ten million. Dick is kind of disappointed as they’re well aware that Mockridge is a creep who took advantage of Nygma’s genius, but Bruce points out that all the money in the world can’t buy a good night’s sleep as we’re shown a very paranoid Mockridge locking his doors at night and keeping a gun by his bed as he shivers in fear.

This episode very much reminded me of Mr. Freeze’s debut, “Heart of Ice.” The only difference is that Freeze’s adversary was a criminal himself, while Mockridge is just your typical corporate sleezeball taking advantage of a system that’s rigged in his favor at the expense of someone much poorer than he. Mockridge hasn’t broken any laws, but he’s obviously a morally bankrupt individual. It’s not that surprising to see a show who’s origins stem from a comic book incorporate such a villain into an episode as Mockridge’s tactics are similar to the ones comic publishers used to box out the artists and creators that made the comics successful. It would be many years later that we would find out a similar travesty occurred with Batman as Bill Finger never received credit for his contributions to the character during his lifetime. Finger, appropriately enough, was also the creator of The Riddler.

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Mockridge “enjoying” his money.

As a result of Mockridge being such a lame person, we’re in essence rooting for Nygma during this episode. In reality, he probably could have filed a lawsuit against Mockridge and Competitron and possibly could have won. For all we know he did during the two year time-jump and maybe lost. He chose to take things into his own hands though and turn to crime to exact revenge against the man and company that wronged him. How he was able to finance that ridiculous maze is not explained and I suppose we’re supposed to just ignore it so the episode can work. Even though we’re supposed to disagree with The Riddler’s methods, I have to assume we were supposed to take some satisfaction in his escape at the episode’s conclusion.

This episode is one of two animated by Blue Pencil, S.I., and it’s not a particularly strong episode. A lot of new backgrounds had to be utilized so there was some cost there, but the animation is inconsistent and there are numerous visual errors. The Riddler’s mask at one point changes from pink to gray and a key re-appears on a wall when it shouldn’t be there, among other little flaws. That stuff was common in a lot of kid’s cartoons of the era, though not so much in this one, so it stands out more. The Riddler himself is also some-what toon-like in his movements and mannerisms with his face stretching and contorting into odd shapes as he speaks. It looks out of place, and there’s some odd shots of Batman as well. The Minotaur at the episode’s conclusion, who is supposed to be a robot, also moves like this making it seem like he’s more flesh-like than steel. Blue Pencil only worked on one other episode, which we’ll get to in about a month from now, and I wonder if it’s because the quality wasn’t up to par.

The Riddler is not a villain we’ll be hearing from very much. It’s kind of a shame because John Glover’s take on the character is quite good and I much prefer it to the Gorshin and Carrey portrayal. I do wonder if he was avoided because it’s pretty hard to come up with clever riddles to dot his episodes with. The ones in this episode are kind of weak, but not embarrassingly so or anything. I can definitely see it being a very intimidating task to write a Riddler episode. I always liked The Riddler though and I kind of wish we saw him in the Nolan trilogy as I think he would have made his Riddler similar to this one. We had to wait awhile for him to show up in this series, but it would seem he was mostly worth the wait.