If you were a fan of The Batman, you want to read Riddler: Year One #1. It’s written by Riddler actor Paul Dano, who has plenty of writing chops, and artist Stevan Subic was handpicked by him for this project, so we’re in good hands. Dano and artist Stevan Subic explore the life of Edward Nashton and his transformation into a supervillain. It sounds like a great idea, but it is difficult to pull off, given high expectations and readers already establishing what they think they know about the character.
Entering Riddler: Year One #1 with the highest of expectations, Dano and Subic blew me away. This story is, first and foremost, visually stunning, with a style that’s entirely different than the usual superhero fare. Subic draws and colors the pages, taking on an up close and personal feel. We’re inches from Edward’s face at the start, or extremely close up on his hands working. The art is claustrophobic and uncomfortably close to its objects.
The feeling you get from the visual choices are not unlike what Edward goes through, as he’s isolated, awkward with others, and lacks confidence. There are also nightmare visages as Edward’s thoughts turn dark and twisted. This man is not well. There are so many great panels and pages here I could spend the entire review on it.
Color choices create an antiseptic feel in Edward’s office, with colors splashing across city buildings in purple and pink as if to show Edward’s thoughts are wilder and crazed when not at work. This man is very ordinary and has an ordinary job, but you can see his thoughts and how he sees the world are what kickstart a journey into even darker thoughts and manipulation of others.
This first issue delivers in some big ways, connecting the dots from the movie. That’s surprising, as other tie-in comics like this tend to hold back entirely so it doesn’t bleed into the source material. The diner, for instance, is a location visited in this issue. There’s also the first time Edward sees Batman up close, and it’s very well done. Batman is like a force that swoops in and deeply affects Edward. Dano even gives Batman a bit of dialogue which in many ways recontextualizes Riddler.
Recontextualizing and developing Riddler is ultimately a big reason why this book works. It’s not held back by any means, as Dano explores Edward as a man who is misunderstood and needs help. The problem is, in an unwelcoming place like Gotham, a person like Edward doesn’t get better but gets worse. Dano and Subic get inside this character very well while also keeping him a bit creepy and at a distance. One effective way of doing this is using his glasses, as his eyes tend not to shine, creating a mask-like effect. After the first issue, you’ll already be thinking about the film in a new way, from the dialogue by Riddler to what Gotham was like prior to the film.
As someone who went in unsure and maybe even skeptical, Riddler: Year One #1 blew me away. It’s not only a well-crafted and drawn comic, but a piece of art as it explores Riddler’s unique and unsettling psychology as a human being. This comic stands alone as compelling because of that, while also building upon what we know from The Batman film. Complex, compelling, and deeply absorbing, Riddler: Year One #1 is a must-read for cinephiles and comic book fans.
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