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Year of the Villain is in full swing, and DC’s been dissecting, examining, and challenging its best baddies all the way to the top of the sales charts. It only makes sense that one of the fiends to get the YOTV treatment would be Batman nemesis The Riddler, and this week, his time in the spotlight starts from writer Mark Russell, artist Scott Godlewski, and colorist Marissa Louise. But how does The Riddler: Year of the Villain handle a Silver-Age, potentially whiffable character like Edward Nygma? Read on to find out.
The Bad, The Bad, and The Ugly Truth
This comic asks one central question throughout, namely; why does the Riddler keep doing his thing? It takes a LOT of effort to stick to his shtick, and so far, Edward has very little to show for it. Opposite Eddie throughout this issue is King Tut, a D-list Batman villain probably most famous for his appearances in the 1966 Adam West Batman. The two characters commiserate about Batman, and the effort it takes to be “themed” supervillains. Most relevantly, how Apex Lex Luthor isn’t offering them the help to him the other baddies. Their conversations lead Eddie to a somewhat despairing conclusion: maybe being the Riddler has been a waste of his life.
In a desperate attempt to catch Batman once and for all, Riddler and King Tut join forces and set a trap, though Riddler is admittedly half-assing it. But what Eddie doesn’t know is that Apex Lex does have something for him, it just doesn’t look like his other villainous handouts. Their encounter will force Eddie to relive his past, soul search his present, and, if this storyline sticks, change his future forever.
A Man Without a Plan Makes for a Great Plot
Writer Mark Russell casts The Riddler neatly in a story about an existential crisis. Pairing him with an even more ridiculous character in King Tut was a great touch to bring out the struggles Eddie is going through. In one memorable scene, Riddler asks himself if he’s just as ridiculous as the Egyptian-themed baddie. “Am I like that?” he ponders, “Are we all? Just going through life, Never suspecting how pathetic we are until we see ourselves in the reflection of those we pity?”
Despite that previous line, this comic makes excellent use of humor. Fans of silver-age spoofing comic comedies like Superior Foes of Spider-Man will surely get a kick out of the way this comic is written. However, if you like the more serious, egomaniacal confidence of the Riddler in Tom King or Scott Snyder’s run of Batman, you might be wary of this interpretation of Eddie. It’s not that this comic doesn’t take itself seriously, just that Eddie is starting not to. Honestly, though, that’s where this comic finds its strength. We’ve seen Riddler be goofy, psychotic, vile, and funny before. But in this self-evaluation of his life, he’s just plain relatable.
The Riddler: Year of the Villain is an emotional, character-driven story just as much as it is a trip to Gotham City, and that doesn’t work without Scott Godlewski’s exceptional art. Long stretches of this comic are just conversations Riddler has, but the Godlewski’s mastery of small, important pieces of body language bring dimension to the people in the book. A lesser artist would have relied on the dialogue to do the character work, but Godlewski makes these people his own by how he directs them.
Don’t expect anything revolutionary with the looks of these characters (we’re pretty much working with the Riddler from War of Jokes and Riddles), but this story doesn’t call for reinvention. In fact, it doesn’t work if there is any. Still, we get some fun flashbacks to the evolution of the Riddler’s persona, so anyone who likes “homemade” comic book outfits will enjoy what Godlewski does with that.
Speaking of flashbacks, this story does a great job flipping back and forth between present, past, and hypothetical future, none of which would be possible without colorist Marissa Louise. Her distinct clarifications between time period helps the reader jump around through time while keeping the narrative flow going. Without her vision for different eras of Gotham, the comic’s non-linear plot could have been muddled.
But Will It Last?
If there’s any problem reader could have with this solid, introspective look into a fan-favorite villain, it’s the same problem they’d have with any major comic book event. That is; will these actions last? The Riddler: YOTV seems to think the answer to that is “no.” Some of the bigger choices in the book are made without a ton of premeditation, lacking the buildup that it would take to truly change Eddie into the character he is by the end of this book.
Then again, we’ve been surprised before. If DC does stick with the story in this book, if they let its consequences build and explore The Riddler’s reasoning for doing what he does, then this book is the start of a new era for Edward Nygma. You’ll have to read it to find out exactly how, but don’t miss it if you care about the character. This could be the beginning of a new chapter in the story of The Riddler.
Even if you don’t care for Year of the Villain, or if this book is the beginning of a new Riddler, or anything that’s going on in DC at the moment, you should still pick up this book. It’s a quiet, honest examination of how even a dream job can become a tedious nightmare, and that’s a fear that too many of us can relate to. The Riddler: Year of the Villain is out today, September 11th, at your local comic book store, so don’t miss it when you come across a copy.
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