BATMAN: The War of Jokes and Riddles by Tom King and Mikel Janin shows that the disdain some creators have for good-guy superheroes (they’re hokey! They’re not cool! They’re like totally unrealistic) also applies to villains. If you’re less than a Hannibal Lecter-class serial killer, you’re not realistic. You’re not interesting. You suck. Just as “badass” heroes are supposedly cooler than the straight arrows, badass villains and psychos are supposedly more compelling than guys who just rob banks.
The premise of this arc (which continues the downward slide of King’s Batman from I Am Gotham to I Am Suicide) is that early in Batman’s careers, the Riddler and the Joker both found themselves frustrated. To the world’s greatest detective riddles are easy meat; to the Crime Clown, Batman ruins every punchline. The Riddler suggests that even though their approaches are antagonistic (because, you know, nobody who tells riddles ever tells jokes), they should join forces. When Joker tries killing him in response, it triggers a violent crime war that threatens to destroy Gotham (which makes roughly the five hundredth time someone’s written a Gotham apocalypse since Batman: The Dark Knight Returns).
There have been several attempts to make the Riddler more insane, more dangerous, more badass in recent years; here, King just reimagines him as a psycho killer, as murderous as the Joker, though still spouting riddles (so at least he’s not as generic as the New 52 Mad Hatter). There’s really no point to the change than the unstated rule each era of Batman has to get darker and grimmer and grittier than the last. It doesn’t help that King’s Joker isn’t even trying to be funny, he’s just murderous and monstrous (I know that boat has sailed, but I still hate it).
I was particularly annoyed by one moment in which the Riddler defeats a dozen heavily armed GCPD cops simply by reciting the names of their kids. Terrified by the implied threat, they gun him down and report he was killed “trying to escape” — oh, wait, that’s what would logically happen (as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, the Joker would probably have been shot years ago). In this story, they simply cringe and let him pass. It’s supposed to show what a badass psycho the Riddler is (and later he pushes Bats over the edge by killing a kid to gain tactical advantage over the Joker), but it’s a cheat.
Much as I love the platonic ideal of Batman, I may have to give up and stick with the older stuff for a while.
#SFWApro. cover by Janin, all rights to image remain with current holder.