Batman: The Animated Series: “Riddler’s Reform”
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Batman: The Animated Series: “Riddler’s Reform”

Riddler’s Reform (season 2, episode 14; originally aired September 24, 1994)

Riddler’s last appearance on Batman: The Animated Series is also his best, as Edward Nygma tries to give up a life of crime and fails miserably. This season has worked in a lot of redemption stories, and it’s one of the most reliable plots to go to for returning villains. Edward Nygma isn’t a primal creature like Catwoman and Killer Croc—it’s his brain that prevents him from becoming a functioning member of society. When Nygma is released from Arkham Asylum for good behavior, he tries to go legitimate by selling his persona and puzzle technology to the Wacko Toy Corporation for a multi-million dollar contract. Despite his wealth, though, Riddler can’t resist the thrill of the chase, and he continues to try to finally stump Batman, an obsession that has become the driving force in Nygma’s life.

Of all the rogues, why is it so easy for Riddler to fluctuate between good and bad? Paul Dini (who co-wrote this episode’s story with Alan Burnett and Randy Rogel) would continue to play with the idea of a reformed Riddler in his Detective Comics run, and it’s an angle for the character that works surprisingly well. Unlike the majority of Batman’s villains, Nygma doesn’t seem to have the same kind of general hatred for all mankind and desire to see others suffer. He just wants to be the smartest person in the room, and he would be if it weren’t for Batman.

I loved Riddler episodes as a kid because I loved solving puzzles with Batman, and this episode brilliantly takes note of its young audience in its structure. Riddler begins with subtle dialogue clues at the party, but by the end of the episode he’s become a lot more obvious in his delivery. As kids become more invested in the story, the clues become easier to find, further pulling them in. Riddler may as well hold up a giant flashing sign when he says, “Go back to where it all began… with toys.” My favorite puzzle is the map, because it’s so thoroughly set up and executed. There are so many parts of that clue that need to be worked through to get to the real answer, and it’s nice to see Batman make a mistake on his first try.

John Glover is up there with Mark Hamill and Arleen Sorkin when it comes to committing to a character voice, and his Riddler is both utterly charming and terrifyingly insane. Nygma has fantastic facial expressions, and the animation reflects the wide range of emotion Glover captures in his voice. He gets a lot of telling scenes, but none reveal more about Nygma’s twisted psyche than this one, showing a scared, vulnerable Riddler:

Riddler: He’s right, y’know? Batman. He is going to catch me, sooner of later.

Thug: Gee, boss, you’re scaring me. You’re talking kind of crazy.

Riddler: Don’t you ever call me that! I fooled the police, the doctor, the parole board, all of them. There’s only one person who’s ever been able to challenge me. Batman! He’s the only one worthy of the game.

If Batman’s not directly responsible for the creation of his villains, he’s certainly responsible for their continuing mental deterioration. When he puts his enemies behind bars, they’re given a target on which to focus their rage, and Batman becomes an obsession that drives the rogues to further crimes. The conclusion of this episode puts Nygma back in Arkham, but he’s just getting further and further away from rehabilitation.

The final clue leads Batman to the International Toy Fair, which means giant props! It’s always fun to see how the writers can incorporate one of the goofiest elements of Batman history, but they find a way to make it work. Riddler locks Batman inside with a bomb, and after the explosion, Nygma finally throws his Riddler accessories on a fire and says goodbye to his criminal life. That is, until Batman shows up, having escaped the inescapable deathtrap. Batman gets Riddler to confess to his crimes, and while Nygma’s not happy to go back to Arkham, he’s can’t live with not knowing how Batman survived the explosion (he hid in a safe). The episode ends with Riddler giving voice to his fundamental flaw as he exits the series, screaming, “I have to know! I HAVE TO KNOW!”

Stray observations:

  • Batman Beatdown: After crashing through the window of the jewelry store that Riddler’s henchmen are robbing, Batman chases the thugs until one hilariously runs into a closed door. Batman knows how to use his surroundings for awesome slapstick.
  • Beautiful title card by Eric Mahady, referencing John Romita Sr.’s classic image (from Amazing Spider-Man #50) of Peter Parker walking away from his discarded costume.
  • Batman sliding down a window-cleaner wire is awesome.
  • Robin goes back to being useless this week.
  • “Here’s a little something for the kid.”
  • “Oh, Mr. Riddler, can you tell me what these do?” Is that supposed to be a testicles joke or is it just the writers’ way of introducing the two-way radio balls?
  • “You’re adorable.” Hyuk-yuk!

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