Batman – One Bad Day: The Riddler
Tom King – Writer
Mitch Gerads – Artist
Clayton Cowles – Letterer
All it takes is one bad day. A push, a misplaced step, or any number of factors that can divert your path forever. One small event or a gigantic event of such significance it changes everything in your world. You never know when that day is going to come; you can’t really. The world is a random set of situations and circumstances that can change on a dime. It’s all a riddle until suddenly it all makes sense.
What if you have a stringent set of rules? You’ve lived your entire life one way, as those who oppose you have too. Day in and day out, you perform your role of the hero. Your villains play their part, the usual gimmick. Rinse and repeat night in and out. What if one of those rogues has that bad day? What if something changes those brilliant but neurotic killers that they stop playing by the rule book set out for them? What if they throw out Batman’s rule book because they have him outsmarted?
Batman – One Bad Day: The Riddler is that story. The first of a series of one-shots about Batman’s rogue’s gallery having their switch flipped to something else. Something without limits or anything to stand in their way. How does Batman push back against a killer who’s taken off the safety?
As a character, The Riddler didn’t work for me until The Batman, where they made him a brilliant serial killer. The riddles that begged for him to get caught never appealed to me. When you’re constantly told just how smart Batman is, why would I ever think that this nerd in the green question-marked tuxedo would ever get one over on the Dark Knight? It always felt like he was a villain with training wheels on, just something to slow him down long enough that Batman could always stop him. Batman – One Bad Day: The Riddler changes that. The 60-page one-shot isn’t the Riddler playing games anymore.
This is a book exploring that day where Riddler snaps. Where he finally proves that he may have the superior intellect to Batman because this time, it’s not a game of getting caught. It’s cold, it’s calculated, and it makes for a glorious story that will be pointed to as THE Riddler story from here out.
Tom King, Mitch Gerads, and Clayton Cowles are a trio that connects on another level. I will try to break down some of the strengths that I saw in the individual, but I want to say that Batman – One Bad Day: The Riddler is a work of a whole. DC has put together some all-star collaborative teams for this series, so having this be the start should get the rest of the one-shots added to your pull list as you close the final page, if not before.
Mitch Gerads does all of the art, including the coloring for this special. Gerads’ art is heavy with textures and a roughness that not many artists have. There is an aspect of darkness to his style that has every page and panel engraving itself into your mind. While many artists feature panels of pure black, there is something different about a Gerads empty black panel. It has a dark void of a soul within itself. Each panel seems to be done with meticulous care so that it says more than just “this is an empty panel”, but more so, it’s a reflection of what’s happening around it. Gerads himself said that he does them by hand on his tablet rather than auto-filling in the color. It brings a level of texture to the darkness that isn’t just a base color. In this issue, we get them on pages with typically one word over the black panel that harkens back to one of the most effective uses of empty space in comics, this trio’s “Darkseid is” in Mister Miracle.
How the grit and texture of Gerad’s style is used with a character like the Riddler shows the reader that this isn’t the flamboyantly dressed criminal we know. This isn’t a story about a vast set of fun riddles with bright contraptions and traps. This is an Edward Nigma who will kill in cold blood because it’s just a part of a grand scheme he is unfolding. Even when we see the color palette of green and purple, it’s a much more muted and rich version of something that typically pops. It’s interesting how Gerads serves as his own colorist so that his style is never broken in any way from his vision. I think with King and Gerads being such close friends, that connection bleeds into their work. There is an almost symbiosis in style and storytelling methods. Comics is a team sport and they’re home run hitters together.
For this review, I have tried my hardest to keep my professional voice intact for such a serious story. I do need to note here that Clayton Cowles fucking rules as a letterer. Above I mentioned Mister Miracle and his lettering on something as simple as two words. Cowles uses a similar font for the word “BLAM” in Batman – One Bad Day: The Riddler. The font is “Love Letter Typewriter” which is ironic when used for such sinister words like Darkseid and that of a shotgun. The bone-chilling white lettering sings over these black panels. While some people may glaze over these panels because they are simple, the execution with this team is flawless.
The Riddler himself has such a striking look to him with a long gaunt face. Long gone are the days of red hair and mutton chops in exchange for a cleanly shaven face and head. It draws attention to his eyes which are accentuated by some sort-of green makeup when we first see him. There is that saying that eyes are the gateway to the soul. I find this applies to the story where we are seeing beyond the gimmick of Riddler into his putrid insides. To a man who has snapped past the games and into full sociopath territory. The design of every character in this story is so fleshed out. There is a professor character who is almost the villain of Riddler’s story, but his design bleeds liberal arts professor meets Kurt Vonnegut Junior. The kind of professor who you can smell the American Spirit cigarette smell lingering from him just by looking at the page.
The story of the issue itself came almost as a shock to me. Not because I wasn’t expecting something dark, but because I didn’t expect to walk away with so many thoughts circulating in my head about The Riddler, James Gordon, and Batman himself. I do not want to get into detail because this is a spoiler-free review. But this may be one of King’s darker stories to date. There is a level of fleshing out the Riddler’s past that the book does that deals with the roles one is forced to play. We see a young man who is so confined to his box that something simple is nearly derailing his life because his mind dares not wander outside that box. It reads as an examination of the role he plays in most Batman stories; and even an examination of Batman’s own box that he dares not break. So many Batman stories deal with Batman’s line in the sand that he will never cross. What if that box was used to trap him? King’s scripting and story with this team is one of the best to date. It’s also easily accessible to anyone who doesn’t know a ton about the Riddler before this story because the foundation is relaid here spectacularly.
What if your bad day sets off another? What if your change, your metamorphosis, pushes someone else to the wall? Sometimes a change can back someone else into a corner. Does this change set in motion another set of changes for those around you? Or do you exist in a vacuum? Does your One Bad Day begin someone else’s? What if those bad days meet at a crossroads where one person must change to overcome another? It’s a question that will live in your head as you close this issue. What happens after the One Bad Day?