Ever since 2016, Tom King has been unable to let go of one certain Dark Knight detective. After writing 85 issues of the main Batman title, he concluded that run’s narrative with the ambitious failure of Batman/Catwoman, working with frequent collaborator Clay Mann. Beginning this year was King’s six-issue miniseries Batman: Killing Time (with artist David Marquez), King is now reuniting with another frequent artist Mitch Gerads on One Bad Day, where he puts a new spin on one of the most iconic villains Batman has fought for the decades.
As the first of the One Bad Day one-shots – in which various creators put their own stamp on each of the greatest rogues gallery in all of comics – King and Gerads have chosen the Riddler, who has killed a man in broad daylight for seemingly no reason. However, Batman suspects that there is a reason, and whilst he investigates, he delves into a greater psyche into what makes his nemesis tick.
The title “One Bad Day” refers to Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke, which was about the Joker’s origin as presented via flashback, while simultaneously depicting his attempt to drive Jim Gordon insane, proving that anyone can lose themselves during “one bad day”. An Alan Moore fan himself, King acknowledges the events of The Killing Joke in his own narrative as the Riddler recounts a conversation with the Joker about how the latter crippled Barbara while being interrogated by Commissioner Gordon.
Although King has explored the character in previous occasions, the Riddler has seen somewhat of a resurgence of interest this year, thanks mostly to his cinematic depiction in Matt Reeves’ The Batman. Whilst we are expecting the six-issue limited series set in that film’s continuity, Riddler: Year One, written by Paul Dano himself, King is more interested in showing a different side to the known villain. In the flashbacks, we see Edward Nygma as a schoolboy who feels challenged by the riddles of a teacher, whilst being abused by his headmaster of a father, just for being “the son of a whore”.
Like Batman, many of his villains were struck by tragedy and how they cope through it is a drive of unhealthy obsession; in the case of the Riddler, he wants to prove his superiority through intelligence, even if it results in murder. Be prepared: this is a grim read that starts on a man being murdered, leaving a grief-stricken wife questioning the point of it all. The answer is that it’s all just one long, dark game.
Over 60 pages long, the story is less action-driven and heavy on dialogue; a lot of pages are filled with conversations between characters that you don’t even see, reacting to the ongoing narrative. Whilst some readers would wish for this stuff to be trimmed, it’s a good thing that Mitch Gerads sustains a visual impact throughout the issue. Using a lot of the techniques seen in The Sheriff of Babylon and Mister Miracle, such as all-black panels that use the world of a gunshot, Gerads also uses tight paneling to showcase the intense close-ups of certain characters, even if Batman is presented almost entirely in silhouette. With his realistically-drawn characters and murky surroundings, Gotham is one of an uneasy atmosphere, as Gerads uses an eerily green that covers the majority of the book, presenting the lasting impact of its villain’s actions.
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