Lego Presents: A Brief History of Riddler’s Family Life.
Just something I threw together to make up for the fact that I’m still procrastinating on my “Brief History of Mr. Zsasz” post. Feel free to use as RP material, whatever.
So. The Riddler. While he had a surprisingly in-depth backstory in his Golden Age debut, which has since then been retold and updated quite a few times, explorations of his family life tend to be far rarer. But it has been brought up by several writers, and like pretty much everyone in Gotham, general consensus seems to be that Eddie had a pretty sucky childhood.
(Disclaimer: I don’t claim to have found every discussion of Riddler’s family life, but I think this arrangement provides pretty in-depth look at the (d)evolution of said family life’s portrayal. Heck, these aren’t even the only moments in their respective stories to talk about Riddler’s family life - I’ve only picked one moment out of each that I think best exemplifies each writer’s take.)
(Disclaimer the second: I haven’t included anything from the DCnU due to my reluctance to start reading whatever the hell Snyder’s been doing with Eddie for this past year. If someone requests it, though, I’ll think about putting it in.)
Fig. 1: As far as I can tell, “Dark Knight, Dark City” (Batman #452-454) was the first comic that ever discussed Eddie’s parents. This little bit from Jim Gordon about Eddie hating his mother is all we get, but mightier oaks have grown from smaller seeds. Or something. (Writer: Peter Milligan; Artists: Kieron Dwyer and Dennis Janke.)
Fig. 2: The Riddle Factory tried to be a follow-up to Neil Gaiman’s “When is A Door” in many ways, including offering an explanation for why this take on Eddie so often tells nonsensical, Mad Hatter-esque riddles. This Eddie had a trickster-like father who refused to give his son any easy answers - apparently, it was all an attempt at stealth-mentoring his son’s intellect - and all things considered, his family life is/was probably the most functional one in this lineup. Also, this father let eleven-year-old Eddie keep a pet snake (which Eddie fed peanut butter), so there’s that. (Writer: Matt Wagner; Artist: Dave Taylor.)
Fig. 3: Things took a turn for the darker with “Questions Multiply the Mystery” (Detective Comics Annual #8), which you’ve probably all heard me praise as the one and only Riddler origin a dozen times now. In this version of events, both of Eddie’s parents were apathetic and neglectful (if not physically abusive) to him, and Eddie’s sad little monologue here encapsulates what his home life was like in the bad ol’ days. Seeing their ignorance (and lack of curiosity) about the world was part of what drove Eddie to become the Riddler. (Writer: Chuck Dixon; Artist: Kieron Dwyer.)
Fig. 4: “Riddle Me That” (Legends of the Dark Knight #185-189) was a very… ambitious attempt to reinvent the Riddler in the post-Hush Returns status quo. I personally don’t care for most of it (especially since its writer had previously written an entire story devoted to telling us why the “old” Riddler sucked), but as far as I can tell, this is the story that cemented Eddie’s father as physically abusing Eddie because he couldn’t stand the fact that his son was smarter than he was. That piece of backstory still floats around on a lot of Riddler profiles I see, so I guess it was this forgettable story’s proudest legacy. Also, we get to see Eddie
cosplay Alan Moore walk around as a hobo. (Writer: Shane McCarthy; Artists: Tommy Castillo and Rodney Ramos.)
Fig. 5: In any case, Justice seems to have picked up on the above backstory and ran with it, but not without adding a twist of its own. This retelling (from what Batman’s cobbled together, anyways) hints that his father’s abuse is what drives Eddie to tell his riddles as a very warped form of honesty. Make of that what you will. (Writers: Alex Ross and Jim Krueger; Artist: Alex Ross.)
Fig. 6: How do you know when you’ve really made an impact (or just got really, really lucky) with your reinterpretation of a character’s backstory? When gets filtered into a mainstream TV series, of course! Now, The Batman isn’t exactly held to be any kind of authority by most segments of the Bat-fandom, but it’s still rather impressive that Eddie’s “shitty home life” angle managed to make it into a Saturday morning cartoon. Here, Eddie’s dad is never depicted as outright abusive, but since he casually smashes up one of Eddie’s puzzles in an attempt to force Eddie to play sports, he’s not exactly Father of the Year material. The episode in question, “Riddler’s Revenge”, is regarded as one of the highlights of the series, penned by a writer with a heap of DCAU credentials on his resume - including “Never Fear”, “The Late Mr. Kent”, and “A Better World”. (Writer: Stan Berkowitz; Artist: I’m gonna assume they’re still working off Jeff Matsuda’s designs.)