Gotham will be wrapping up its third season this June, and as this dark look at the city pre-Batman continues, fans are starting to see the characters develop into their comic counterparts. Poison Ivy has developed from a strange young street urchin (Clare Foley) to a vampy seductress (Maggie Geha) with a plant obsession. Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) rose from a scrawny lackey to the criminal king of Gotham… and fell, again. Some characters even seem to be developing into totally different comic villains, like Barbara Kean (Erin Richards). Originally assumed to be on the fast track to becoming Barbara Gordon, Kean now looks a lot more like Harley Quinn.
The character who has gone through one of the most marked changes this season, however, is Ed Nygma (Cory Michael Smith). In the most recent episode of the show, ‘How The Riddler Got His Name’, his transformation was complete, and Ed even donned the trademark green suit. But how does his Gotham story compare to the comics?
Edward Nashton’s Not-So-Secret Origins
Although Edward Nigma is also an alias of the Riddler, his childhood name was Edward Nashton. Born into a broken home, Edward was raised by his abusive father, whose violence may have been part of Ed’s growing obsession with telling the truth and proving himself superior. In school, Edward’s teacher set the class a test – to see who would be the fastest to solve a puzzle. Although she meant it as a fun contest with a prize, he became obsessed with winning. The young Edward snuck into the school at night, practising the puzzle until he could solve it in seconds. Obviously, he won the contest, and the prize of a book of riddles. His classmates were unimpressed, however, and bullied him, and his father thought he was a cheat and beat him.
As an adult, Edward continued to be obsessed with riddles, and with the need to be intellectually superior to others. He hated being working class, and hated being looked down on by others. Edward first put his love of tricks to use as a carnival worker, setting up carnival ‘games’ that he rigged to always win. This wasn’t ever enough, however, and he turned to a life of crime, partly for the money, but also to gain notoriety for his complicated plots. He set himself up against the Batman, hoping to prove that he was able to outsmart Gotham’s superhero, although he failed time and time again, he considered the Bat to be a worthy adversary for this intelligence.
The Edward Nygma in Gotham, meanwhile, has a very different origin story. The character first appears as the riddle-loving forensic scientist for the GCPD. Although he loves to pose riddles for his colleagues, he is a quiet, unassuming man, who is almost cripplingly shy. Despite this, he is incredibly intelligent, and helps the GCPD immensely.
His development from law-abiding citizen to criminal began when he fell for a girl: Kristen Kringle (Chelsea Spack). The record-keeper at the GCPD, Kringle was also an intelligent and somewhat reserved young woman. When Kringle’s boyfriend became violent toward her, Nygma lost his mind, and ended up killing the officer that she was dating, covering it up and telling her that he must have simply left her. Despite her earlier reticence, the two began dating. Despite their happiness, Nygma’s murder was driving him slowly insane, and he ended up killing Kristen during an argument.
At this point, Nygma gave in to his dark side completely, committing more crimes before he is taken to Arkham Asylum. In Season 3, he is released from Arkham and begins to work for the Penguin, meeting another woman who looks exactly like Kristen. He strikes up another relationship, embracing his darker side and still finding happiness, until the jealous Penguin has his girlfriend killed. Once again, the loss of his love drives Nygma over the edge, and he devises a plan to destroy Penguin, before setting out on a riddle-filled crime spree and naming himself ‘The Riddler’.
While these two stories may seem wildly different, some things remain the same. In both series and comic, the Riddler is brilliantly intelligent, and faces bullying for his brain and his fascination with riddles. In Gotham, Ed is bullied at work, rather than at school, but the basic dynamic between a pre-Riddler Ed and the world remains the same.
Ed’s backstory is also fleshed out more in the show, primarily because it specifically intends to build a new version of the classic Batman villains, while the comics focus on Batman and provide only limited backstory on his enemies. The introduction of his romantic life and his descent into madness is new, although this leads him to the same place in the end: a criminal obsession with riddles and superiority.
Like most of the characters in the show, Riddler’s age is also altered, making him significantly older than Bruce Wayne, and his costume is brought up to date. The deep green suit is far more appropriate to the tone of the show than a question-mark covered green spandex suit, although his question-mark cane could definitely still make an appearance in future. There’s still a way for Nygma to go in the series, too – so we may see even more comic references in future.
Gotham airs Mondays at 8pm on FOX.