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Can anyone solve the puzzle of Paul Dano’s Riddler in The Batman?


The Riddler has always been a Batman supervillain with a penchant for thorny posers. And yet usually the question marks are set by the caped crusader’s mischievous nemesis himself, as spiky traps for Gotham’s dark knight to fall into. In the case of Matt Reeves’ forthcoming The Batman, it looks as if they might zero in more precisely on the identity of Edward Nygma himself.

Leaked artwork for the forthcoming reboot has sparked a flurry of speculation as to who exactly Paul Dano will be portraying in Reeves’ film. Certainly, this vision of a clumsily masked figure is a long way from the one most comic-book fans will be used to, so much so that those who hark back to Jim Carrey’s manic, grinning idiot in Joel Schumacher’s execrable Batman Forever, or Frank Gorshin’s slick trickster in the 50s TV show, might wonder if they are looking at a different character altogether.

Maybe they’re right. It’s been pointed out on Twitter that the new Riddler resembles popular images of the Zodiac Killer, the never-identified serial murderer who terrorised northern California in the 60s and early 70s. There’s also more than a passing resemblance to other masked Batman villains such as Hush and the Birthday Boy. The former has worked closely with Nygma in the comics, while the Zodiac Killer shares with the Riddler a love of writing devious and provocative letters to his wannabe captors.

The mystery deepens when we consider that a version of the supervillain as serial killer also exists in the comics, albeit in an alternate DC universe. Geoff Johns’ Batman: Earth One saw the Riddler reimagined as a sadistic murderer who tortures his victims with riddles that he falsely claims will save them if they answer correctly.

So what’s going on here? The simplest answer is that Reeves has wisely pinpointed the traditional Riddler as far too much of a cheeky klutz to ever truly present Batman with any major threat in what promises to be the most grown-up big screen take on Gotham since Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. The lightweight nature of the Riddler is a problem fans of the comics have often pointed out. Consequently, the supervillain’s menace and guile have been slowly upgraded in most iterations since DC’s New 52 reboot in 2011 – this will be the first movie since then to feature the supervillain, so the approach makes sense.

It’s also notable that IMDb lists Dano as portraying Edward Nashton, not Edward Nygma, giving the new Batman team considerable wiggle room when it comes to its depiction of the trickster. Nashton is traditionally the Riddler’s birth name, the one he used before deciding to become a supervillain. But what if Nashton never picked up the famous green question-mark costume and was ultimately pulled in a different, perhaps more psychopathic, direction?

There are other reasons why it would be little surprise if Reeves is cooking up Riddler 2.0. We’ve already seen that The Batman will star a Penguin (Colin Farrell) who bears little resemblance to the Oswald Cobblepot of, say, Batman Returns. Moreover, Reeves is battling to establish this new vision of Gotham against a backdrop of Batman overload – there have been nine big-screen efforts starring the caped crusader since Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989, 10 if you count Ben Affleck’s brief cameo in Suicide Squad. And the reboot will also have to contend with the fact that Batfleck is still out there somehow in Andy Muschiett’s forthcoming The Flash, which will delve into various alternate universes in which a number of different dark knights are set to appear. (Yes, they’re bringing back Michael Keaton, too).

Bearing in mind all the other Batmans we’ve seen in TV shows and animated feature films over the past decade or so, Reeves needs to both make his version of the caped crusader stand out from the crowd and ensure tired old treatments of Batman’s traditional rogues’ gallery are given a refresh for the post-Covid world. Given he’s doing somewhat of the opposite with Robert Pattinson’s Batman himself, by restoring our hero to world’s greatest detective mode, thereby ridding him of the knuckle-headed, gun-toting baggage introduced by Zack Snyder in the awful Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, most fans would probably say he’s entitled to mess with the supporting cast as much as he likes.





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