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Paul Dano’s ‘DIY’ Riddler from The Batman hopes to give the villain a clearer identity

A tweet soliciting opinions on The Riddler’s look in Matt Reeves’ upcoming The Batman has sent Twitter into a frenzy.

Comparisons have varied from Melania Trump to “Hypebeat Zodiac” to “white rapper from England” to the experience of ordering an incorrectly sized jacket and wearing it out of a sense of obligation. While some claim the look is boring, it certainly has got people talking.

While The Riddler became a fan favorite on Fox’s 2014 series Gotham, Paul Dano’s iteration in The Batman will be the first time the villain has been at the center of Batman movie in over 25 years. Jim Carrey gave Edward Nygma a larger-than-life evil wackiness in Batman Forever, a take in tune with Frank Gorshin’s scene-stealing performance in Adam West show from the 1960s.

Gorshin and Carrey’s performances were deviations themselves, changing the character that Dick Sprang and Bill Finger debuted in Detective Comics #140 in 1948. That character was obsessed with riddles and puzzles as a child, winning a puzzle-solving competition in school and eventually conning rubes at carnivals. When he grows bored with everyday puzzles, young Edward starts dropping clues to Batman and Robin about his many crimes.

Frank Gorshin as The Riddler in 1966’s Batman
Image: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Jim Carrey’s Gorshin-inspired look in Batman Forever

Jim Carrey’s Gorshin-inspired look in Batman Forever
Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

But as Lee Daniels notes in Batman: The Complete History, after two successful Riddler arcs in the 1940s, Nygma laid “dormant until 1965 — only then would he begin to gain recognition as on of Gotham City’s malefactors.” That reappearance in the comics would be adapted into “Hi Diddle Riddle,” the first episode of Batman airing in 1966.

Between Gorshin and Carrey, there was another memorable Riddler voiced by John Glover in DC’s animated properties of the ‘90s. Batman: The Animated Series imagined a Gotham City with police dirigibles and art deco vehicles, and Nygma’s classic debut in “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?” fit perfectly with the show’s noir impulses. Re-imagined as a computer programmer betrayed by his employer after his game Riddle of the Minotaur becomes a smash hit, Glover’s Nygma oozes arrogance and smarm that fit perfectly with his bowler and purple gloves.

John Glover’s Riddler in Batman: The Animated Series

John Glover’s Riddler in Batman: The Animated Series
Image: Warner Bros. Animation

While Glovers’ Riddler worked, the show only used him sparingly. In the now-collector’s item book Batman Animated, Paul Dini said Riddler had “the honor” of being the most difficult villain to write for because his character was more interested in finding compelling cerebral challenges than riches or violence, and his appearance necessitated creating several compelling riddles.

After his run in the ’90s, Nygma took another decades-long hiatus. Batman franchise director Christopher Nolan had exactly one sentence for the character, promising in the run up to The Dark Knight Rises that the villain “won’t be the Riddler.” The 2004 animated series The Batman’s version of Riddler, voiced by Robert Englund of Freddy Krueger fame, offered a radical break for the character, giving a goth look with long black hair based on Marilyn Manson.

The Riddler in 2004’s animated series “The Batman”

Image: Warner Bros. Animation

For Paul Dano, who has to occupy the Hypebeast Zodiac look, there are some advantages coming into a character that has seen as many reboots as The Riddler. Having been reimagined several times both on screen and in the comics. there’s more of a clean slate to start over.

Dano told Empire that the Zodiac Killer, the never-captured serial killer based out of Northern California in the 1960s whose case was reignited in the public imagination after David Fincher’s 2007 film Zodiac, several years as a meme, and a 2020 breakthrough, was a “grounding force” for the character. (The grungy take also made for a somewhat realistic ARG in the lead up to the movie.)

Frank Gorshin and Jim Carrey’s outfits were garish and imposing, based loosely on the concept that a crime boss of the 1960s would be dressed to nines, like the Kray Brothers. But Dano’s costume, which he told Empire was “very intense,” seems to resemble a world where instead of threats coming from massive underworld organizations, they come from individuals.

“I think the potential DIY element … was actually scarier to me than the more sophisticated or composed designs we might have played with. I found working with the costume to be very powerful. When you put on something like that, there’s a way to let it speak to you, and tell your body something. There’s a way to let it have a life of its own,” Dano told Empire.

Clearly, the outfit has already taken a life of its own on Twitter.



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