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‘Batman – One Bad Day: The Riddler #1’ (review)

Written by Tom King
Art by Mitch Gerads
Published by DC Comics


Even a cursory following of the comics business and you would have heard DC shouting about Batman – One Bad Day. The latest prestige offering from the publisher, One Bad Day promises eight standalone graphic novels starring Batman’s deadliest foes, made by top writers and artists in DC’s stable.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t much care for this except for the Catwoman one (definitely interested in what G. Willow Wilson does with the character) and the first one in line: A no-holds-barred, brutal-ass Riddler story from the crew behind Mister Miracle?  Yes, please.

And this reading experience is, at turns, downright harrowing, though also oddly comes up short as if King had to find a way to end this thing after 64 pages when he’s used to telling a full story in 12 issues at this point. I’ll explain.

Edward Nygma shoots dead a random man on the street, kicking off a horrific series of events as Batman and Gordon try to get to the bottom of this new game.

Only thing is, they don’t know that Riddler is playing not just a new version of the same game of leave-a-clue, try-to-catch-me. He’s playing a new game entirely that takes him away from the gimmicks and capers and giant typewriters, the greeting cards with question marks.

Hence why the story is titled “Dreadful Reins,” because the story asks: What happens if The Riddler stops playing cutesy games, and goes full monster?

Gerads dresses Nygma in a gray, three-piece suit and matching bowler hat, with greasepaint smeared around his eyes, and looking exactly like Michael Stipe during R.E.M.’s Monster era. (There’s also a touch of Jim Rash, who voices The Riddler on the Harley Quinn animated series.)

It’s not as if other folks haven’t succeeded at making The Riddler menacing. This isn’t the Scott Snyder version of The Riddler that we got in Zero Year. (A character in this story even mentions the sideburns from that New 52 look.) And he’s not even Paul Dano’s QAnon-ed take on Riddler in The Batman.

Instead, this version might have fit well in the Snyderverse? “Dreadful Reins” places the reader 20-ish years into Batman’s career; a timeline in which you’d imagine things get grimmer and grimmer as villains escalate and fall deeper into their madness.

“Dreadful Reins” also feels like a dark companion to Neil Gaiman’s short story “When Is A Door,” published in a 1989 Secret Origins Special of Batman villains. In that story, Riddler hops around his lair with the Dick Sprang-era giant novelty props and essentially asks about the switch from Silver Age fun of comics to this new, dark era.

Rather than a second-rate crook in spandex or a hellish gamemaster, King and Gerads develop Riddler into a mastermind whose genius lies in collecting all the information and building a test in which he’s already cheating. (Which, fun enough, goes back to a few different origin stories in the character’s history). He’s uncovered everything and turns that information against people in this story.

In some ways, it’s chilling, such as when Riddler references The Killing Joke and Sarah Essen to Commissioner Gordon during an interrogation. Or a horror-show interaction with a guard and a lunch tray.

In other ways, it becomes downright cartoonish when Riddler names each officer’s children and instigates them into a shootout.

And that’s where the comic starts to unravel, as Riddler exerts an iron grip on the city and talks Batman into not touching him. Riddler essentially becomes a god, and as a reader, I spent the back half of this comic screaming, “Just kill him!”

Which is not what I want to do with a Batman story toying with the struggle of the Dark Knight maintaining his no-kill rule. In this case, it leads to a cheaper ending because we don’t see Batman struggle enough with his own dreadful reins. We lose the ambiguity of how Alan Moore ended The Killing Joke.

That infamous story, which DC keeps going back to, looms all over this One Bad Day project. The Joker’s entire plot, to drive Gordon and Batman insane via his attack on Barbara Gordon was premised on the idea that it only takes “one bad day” to send someone over the edge. And the main story is intercut with flashbacks of Joker’s own bad day that led to his creation.

Riddler gets his own as well, as we meet him during his teenage years. King, however, smartly elaborates on the “one bad day” concept by laying how how that bad day comes after years of abuses and horrors in young Nygma’s life.

Gerads draws those scenes with remarkable pathos that is all the more striking next to the present-day grimness. And in classic Gerads fashion, he makes these four-color characters come alive with lived-in texture, grit and color palettes.

King and Gerads will never make something bad. It’s always worthwhile, even if this time they didn’t quite land the plane.

Grade: B



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