There’s really no question that when it comes to rogues galleries; there is no superhero whose cast of no-good scoundrels is as recognizable as Batman’s. Bad guys like the Penguin, Catwoman, Two-Face, and the Scarecrow are almost as well known as the dark knight himself. In the last decade, movies such as Batman Begins and Suicide Squad have also popularized characters like Ra’s al Ghul, Harley Quinn, and Bane. Amidst this assembly of colorful characters, there’s one ingenious trickster who is almost, almost as popular as the Joker himself: the Riddler.
Since his creation, the Riddler has been all over the place. Between Frank Gorshin’s cackling Riddler in the 1960s Batman series and the youthful pre-Riddler seen on Gotham, to the darker, more cerebral Riddler seen in today’s Arkham games, this green-suited gangster with his distinctive question mark cane has haunted Batman for decades, and he’s likely to be around for many years to come. But the Riddler is, by his very nature, a mysterious figure who raises a lot of questions — and leaves a trail of bread crumbs that even the most diehard readers can sometimes struggle to trace. So, in order to start unwrapping the puzzle box, here are 15 Things You Didn’t Know About the Riddler.
15. His Real Name Isn’t Actually Edward Nigma
The Riddler has more in common with the Joker than many other Batman foes. He’s driven by a gimmick, extremely clever, and shrouded in a mysterious past. Unlike the Joker, whose real name is still unknown to this day, we do have a name to identify the Riddler with — but contrary to popular belief, that name is not Edward Nigma.
For a person as intelligent and obsessed with puzzles as the Riddler, it’s really not such a surprise that since growing up, he’s chosen to identify himself with a name that shortens to E. Nigma. But even though Edward Nigma is the character’s name today, and even though quite a number of media adaptations (including Batman Forever) of the character have used it, the man who would one day be known as the Riddler was actually born as Edward Nashton, a curious boy who just happenned to be the son of an abusive working class father. Like many Batman antagonists, his problems begin at an early age.
14. He’s Always Been a Cheater — Even Back in Elementary School
Edward is a bright, intelligent, talkative kid with a lot of questions about the world and a fierce desire for knowledge. Unfortunately, he often finds himself beaten down by the hands of his father; this feeling of powerlessness, compared with his own general lack of physical prowess or strength, resulted in him leaning heavily on his intellectual ability, and feeling a deep compulsion to prove himself better than his peers through mental superiority, often by playing games in which he ends up being the victor.
This peaks when one day in elementary school, his teacher announces that a prize will be awarded to whichever student can assemble a puzzle in the fastest amount of time. Desperate for glory, popularity, and praise — and desperate not to lose — Edward goes so far as to actually break into the school that very night. He practices the puzzle over and over, until he’s able to solve it in under a minute, at which point he easily wins the contest. This victory, hollow but successful, grants Edward none of the popularity he wanted, instead gaining him the negative attention of bullies. However, his success nonetheless spurs on a lifelong fascination with puzzles, codes, and brainteasers.
13. He Has Some Pretty Severe Psychological Disorders
Edward’s obsession with riddles isn’t hard to understand. But his drive to become a gimmick-fueled supervillain is far more complex than it seems, and his compulsion to always leave clues, thereby fueling his own failures when Batman invariably solves the riddle, isn’t just self-defeating: it’s a psychological compulsion with fairly deep roots.
The Riddler is a high-IQ genius with a lot of psychological symptoms that plague him daily. He’s a narcissist, brilliant at examining the world but unable to look beyond the sphere of his own bubble when it comes to the needs of others. He’s histrionic, petty, deluded, and struggles to express himself in any normal way, constantly playing games with people instead of communicating with them openly. He’s also immensely OCD, and it shows in everything that he does: as a criminal, his entire modus operandi — leaving a riddle whenever he commits a crime — goes beyond being a mere gimmick, and reaches the level of mania. Edward has found, over the years, that he is unable to make any major or simple life decision without leaving riddles in his wake, unable to form relationships without manipulation: it’s not that he wants to leave a riddle anymore, it’s that he can’t help it. Games aren’t just games for the Riddler: they’re the only way he knows how to live.
12. He Had Cancer
While foes like Bane and Killer Croc are able to take on Batman in a fight, the Riddler is a villain who menaces Batman intellectually. Since he was young, Edward’s one solace in life has always been his brilliant mind, his ability to outwit almost anyone who threatens him. His brilliance is the key factor in his egomania. He’s not strong. Not athletic. He has no super powers. So out of all of the ailments, diseases, and infections that could possibly occur to Edward Nigma, perhaps the most unfortunate of all is exactly what happens to him: a malignant tumor in his brain.
This diagnosis of brain cancer could have easily ended the Riddler’s career, as well as his life, but Gotham’s most clever criminal wasn’t about to submit to any normal (or medically approved) treatment methods. Instead, he researches the Lazarus Pits, those restorative natural phenomenons that have kept Ra’s al Ghul alive for centuries. Edward covertly takes a dunk into one of Ra’s al Ghul’s pits, cures his cancer, and the immortal assassin leader never even realizes that the trespassing has occurred.
11. He Hosted His Own Game Show
It is almost predictable that, out of any villain out there, the Riddler would be the one who has hosted his own game show. The massive, technologically-advanced death traps that the Riddler puts his victims through are actually fairly similar to real life game shows like Wipeout and Minute to Win It, albeit far more lethal, and with a more intellectual focus.
When the Riddler actually does start up his own underground game show, though, it has more in common with gossipy paparazzi TV than Wipeout. Edward’s show, The Riddle Factory, is a show that dishes outs all of the dirtiest secrets regarding Gotham celebrities, often leading to these same celebrities turning up dead shortly afterward. As it turns out, this entire shebang ends up being a cover-up for the Riddler’s real scheme, which is to find the buried fortunes of an old Gotham City gangster named Scarface Scarelli.
10. He Figured Out that Batman was Bruce Wayne
Though The Riddle Factory was short-lived, the Riddler’s skill at unearthing the dirty little secrets of Gotham’s celebrities isn’t limited to just that one event. He has also deduced the secret identity of two of the city’s biggest stars… both of whom happen to be the same person.
This is a bigger achievement than it might seem. Sure, as the readers, we have known Batman’s true identity since the beginning. But if you’re a Gothamite, Bruce Wayne is basically your Paris Hilton, or your Kim Kardashian. He’s a rich kid playboy who never seems to take life seriously, and is always embroiled in one controversy or another. Definitely not the type to go out at night and beat up criminals.
The brilliant deduction of Batman’s true identity occurs to Edward shortly after his splash in the Lazarus Pit. The newfound clarity he experiences, after nearly losing himself to brain cancer, allows him to piece together the disparate pieces of evidence, and realize not only Bruce’s identity, but also that the second Robin was Jason Todd, who was murdered by the Joker. Riddler uses this new knowledge to torment the dark knight by hiring the shapeshifting villain Clayface to impersonate Jason.
9. He Reformed His Ways After a Brain Injury
His brief battle with brain cancer isn’t the last time that Edward’s mental abilities are nearly taken away from him. Later on, he endures a traumatic brain injury when he’s clubbed in the head with a mace, and he ends up spending the next year in a coma. This could’ve been the end of Edward Nigma, but when he finally awakens, he’s a new man: his manic personality traits are no longer present, his obsession with riddles is cured, he barely remembers his real name, and he no longer remembers Batman’s true identity at all.
Luckily for him, he also retains his genius intellect, and instead of returning to his old criminal lifestyle, he turns a new leaf as a private detective, aiding the GCPD and Batman in solving crimes. Though the dark knight is suspicious at first, as time goes on, Edward proves himself to be a valuable asset and occasional partner.
Unfortunately, after a long time on the right side of the law, the Riddler’s period of reformation is ended by another traumatic head injury, after which his more neurotic personality traits reemerge, and he once again becomes a criminal.
8. Yes, the Riddler and the Question Once Had a Verbal Showdown
Probably the most obvious duel of words ever was a battle between the Riddler, the criminal king of puzzles and brainteasers, against the Question, the faceless vigilante hero of Hub City. First invented by Steve Ditko, the quirky and Ayn Rand-influenced comic book artist who during his time at Marvel co-created Spider-Man and Dr. Strange with Stan Lee, the Question was originally designed to be a grounded superhero with Objectivist leanings. In the years since, he has been defined by a move towards Zen philosophies, but he’s never lost his background as a tough, hardboiled investigative reporter with deep intellectual ability.
The Riddler runs into the Question’s line of sight when he hijacks a bus, and begins asking all of the passengers his trademark riddles — injuring and/or killing anyone who gives an incorrect answer. The Question intervenes, and counters the Riddler’s M.O. by responding to the villain with philosophical questions. The emotionally vulnerable Riddler, with his intense OCD tendencies and his narcissistic need to be the smartest person in the room, quickly breaks down in distress and exasperation.
7. He Might Have a Daughter (Maybe)
As mysterious as the Riddler can be, we at least have an idea of who he is, and where he came from; the same cannot be said of the woman codenamed “Enigma,” who claims to be the Riddler’s daughter. First seen as a member of the Teen Titans, Enigma certainly seems to possess the same wit and enthusiasm for puzzles as her famous father, and employs a similar question mark-styled cane. However, her credibility is somewhat called into question by her friendship with Duela Dent AKA Harlequin, a less than stable woman who has at various times claimed to the daughter of the Joker, Two-Face, the Penguin, Catwoman, Scarecrow, Doomsday — and yes, the Riddler. To Enigma’s credit, unlike Duela, the Riddler himself has backed up her assertion and claimed parentage of her, though it’s unclear if he means this in any biological sense, or if it’s simply a manipulation on his part.
Either way, Enigma and the Riddler end up teaming up. This alliance is short-lived, as when Enigma makes a reference to Edward being “washed up,” the Riddler responds by (seemingly) murdering his daughter in cold blood.
6. If Not For the Adam West Batman Series, He Might Not be Around Today
Goofy as it may be, much of Batman’s popularity today still owes a debt of gratitude to the 1966 Batman series, the show that first took Batman’s comic book rogues gallery and introduced them to a wider audience. Though all of the villains were silly, they were also highly memorable, with a cast of rather amazing guest stars that included Burgess Meredith as the Penguin and Cesar Romero as the Joker. Out of all of these no-good scoundrels, however, there were none that came close to the greatness of Frank Gorshin’s depiction of the Riddler, a performance so defining that, even decades later, it served as the prime inspiration when Jim Carrey took over the role in Batman Forever.
But Frank Gorshin’s unforgettable turn as the Riddler did more for the Batman mythos than many realize. In fact, if it weren’t for Frank Gorshin, we might not even be talking about the Riddler today.
See, back in the 1960s, the Riddler was a C-list bad guy, uncared for and neglected, doomed to the abyss of forgotten foes. Though he first appeared back in 1948, the Riddler didn’t return until 1965, a nearly 20 year absence wherein, by the time he did return, no one remembered him. The Riddler’s unexpected popularity on TV took the character into the major leagues, turning him into one of the most popular Batman villains out there, an honor that he’s kept ever since.
5. Frank Gorshin Recorded a Riddler Song for his Album
Frank Gorshin played the Riddler throughout the show’s first season and in Batman: The Movie. Though John Astin took over the role in season two, Gorshin triumphantly returned in season 3, and even revived the role in 1979 when he appeared in Legends of the Superheroes. Watching these episodes, there’s no doubt that Gorshin had a lot of fun bringing the Riddler to life, framing the character with a distinctive personality that alternated between being cool and calculated one moment, and then zany and erratic the next. Years later, he would go on to do voice acting for the cartoon series The Batman, though instead of playing the Riddler, he instead portrayed Professor Hugo Strange.
Amusingly enough, Gorshin’s Batman fascination didn’t end there. In 1966, Gorshin recorded a pop single called “The Riddler,” composed by Mel Tormé, with the song “Never Let Her Go” on its B-side. Not surprisingly, it can be found online today.
While there have been many interpretations of this gleeful villain, and there will be many more in the future, there might never be another actor who loves the role quite as much as Frank Gorshin did.
4. Robin Williams Almost Played the Riddler in Batman Forever (and Michael Jackson Campaigned for the Role)
Love it or hate it, Jim Carrey’s take on the Riddler in 1995’s Batman Forever — playing Nigma as a zany cartoon character stalker — was an iconic performance that encapsulated that particularly rubber-faced time in Carrey’s career, long before he began taking less over-the-top roles. But if history had played just a little bit differently, the 90s might have had a very different Riddler. There was interest in bringing the character to the big screen all the way back in 1991, as a villain for Batman Returns, and when the decision was made to set him up as the primary antagonist of the third Batman movie, the script was written with the late Robin Williams in mind.
Robin Williams had an unfortunate back-and-forth history with the Batman franchise. Despite his passionate desire to play a Batman villain, any Batman villain, which he mentioned numerous times in interviews, he never actually got to do so… but almost did, twice. Back in 1989, WB wanted Jack Nicholson to play the Joker, but he turned it down. To get Nicholson, they approached Robin Williams, using the actor as leverage in their negotiations until they signed Nicholson. Years later, when Batman Forever went into development, Williams was in talks to play the Riddler, but the role was given to Jim Carrey instead. Though Williams could have done an amazing job as any Bat-villain, seeing him bring his unique quirks to the Riddler would’ve been a special treat.
However, Williams wasn’t the only big name who lobbied for the Riddler role. Michael Jackson also made a huge effort to get the part, but evidently, he wasn’t the sort of Riddler that the studio had in mind.
3. He was Voiced by Freddy Krueger
As villains, the Riddler and Freddy Krueger have a lot more in common than it might initially seem. Though Krueger is a child-killer turned supernatural dream monster, and Edward Nigma is just a really intelligent criminal, both characters possess a love of games, and an excess of imagination: neither of them are interested in simple, brutal kills, as both of them prefer to toy with their victims, constructing elaborate scenarios for them to attempt to escape from. Really, the only horror movie character that Riddler might have more in common with is Jigsaw from the Saw movies.
So then, it was actually rather inspired when the animated series The Batman cast Freddy himself, Robert Englund, as their voice for the Riddler. Englund’s voice work lent decidedly creepy new dimensions to the character, particularly in a cartoon that was usually somewhat more lighthearted than the iconic DCAU.
In The Batman, Edward Nigma is portrayed as a computer genius seeking revenge after the big demonstration of his life’s work goes awry because of sabotage. His costumed identity as the Riddler is directly inspired by Batman. Like prior Riddler depictions, this one shares the same obsession with puzzles. Even when it comes to finding out Batman’s identity, the Riddler won’t simply take off the caped crusader’s mask: he wants to find out by asking questions, and deducing it through a process of elimination. When his former partner tries to reveal Batman’s identity to him, point-blank, the Riddler flips out, as this would spoil his entire game.
2. He Has His Own Roller Coaster
It’s no small thing to have a roller coaster named and themed after you. Even moreso when that roller coaster happens to be the biggest — and tallest! — stand-up roller coaster in the world, setting new records in speed, number of inversions, height, and drop.
The Riddler’s Revenge, situated in Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California, is a green beast. It was first put up in 1998, in the 4.9 acre Movie Town section of the park, and today still stands today as the biggest investment that the park has ever made, costing $14 million. Riddler’s Revenge, which we can assume is in reference to the deadly loops, corkscrews, and inversions being perpetrated upon ticket-buying customers, is 4,370 long and stands 156 feet up in the air. While there are many roller coasters that have been inspired by fictional characters, The Riddler’s Revenge is worth mentioning, if only because it actually seems like it could’ve really been designed by the Riddler himself.
1. WB Wanted Riddler to Be the Main Villain in The Dark Knight Rises… and He Would’ve Been Played by Leonardo DiCaprio
Back in the days where The Dark Knight had first blown a hole in the stratosphere, years before the world would learn that its sequel was going to feature Bane and Catwoman, comic book fans were buzzing with the possibilities left by the final scenes of Christopher Nolan’s genre-defining film. With Ra’s al Ghul, the Scarecrow, the Joker, and Two-Face all used, many moviegoers thought the obvious next choice was the Riddler. As it turns out, the studio was of the same mind.
In the years since the release of The Dark Knight Rises, screenwriter David Goyer has revealed that after The Dark Knight broke records, WB assumed that Riddler was going to be the villain. The studio immediately went to him and Nolan proposing that they go ahead and cast Leonardo DiCaprio in the role. Given that Nolan and DiCaprio ended up working together to much success in 2008’s Inception, it’s actually not such a leap to imagine. As it turned out, Nolan decided not to use the Riddler, but if he had, there’s a good chance that Leo would’ve gotten the role.
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