In the pages of Batman: Zero Year, DC is revealing the New 52 version of Batman's origin — while also introducing the young, not-yet-costumed Edward Nygma, the man who will become The Riddler.
In September, readers get to see how this revamped Riddler works in the present day of the New 52, as Ray Fawkes and Batman scribe Scott Snyder co-write Batman #23.2: The Riddler for DC's Villains Month. The issue, which features art by Jeremy Haun, will expand on the very few, brief appearances The Riddler has made since the DC Universe was rebooted two years ago, giving him a whole issue to carry out a diabolical plan against the employees of Wayne Industries.
The issue ties into Forever Evil, as the Crime Syndicate of America puts into motion its plans to rule the DCU. Among their first orders of business is to free the villains locked in Arkham Asylum, including The Riddler.
Fawkes is already heavily involved in the current Trinity War, which introduces the Crime Syndicate's plan, because he's the author on Trinity of Sin: Pandora and Constantine, which both tied into the event, as well as being the regular writer (pre- and post-Trinity War) of Justice League Dark.
Now the writer is helping to define the Riddler's character in the present-day DCU. What will Riddler do when the heroes are "dead" at the beginning of Forever Evil? We talked to Fawkes to find out more about Batman #23.2: The Riddler.
Newsarama: Ray, now that we've seen the Zero Year version of The Riddler, how would you describe the character overall? He feels a little more diabolical and even colder and than most of the past versions of The Riddler, particularly in this week's Batman issue.
Ray Fawkes: The Riddler is a genius with one terrible flaw: he thinks that his brand of genius is the only kind there is – and the only kind that could ever be worthwhile. So when he encounters people who can't compete in his area of expertise, he thinks of them as contemptible obstacles and wastes of oxygen. The version of him that Scott and I are putting forward seems colder, yeah, and that has a lot to do with how he dehumanizes people who don't operate on his wavelength.
Nrama: He also comes across as eerily self-confident. What drives that part of him?
Fawkes: Well, he believes he's the smartest man in the world. Right or wrong, it does put a little pep in his strut.
Nrama: At what point does the spotlight issue in September take place? Is it before, during, or after the timeframe we've seen so far in Zero Year?
Fawkes: It's in the present. Years have passed since The Riddler earned his terrible reputation in the events of Zero Year, and he did a bit of a stint in Arkham Asylum between then and now. We get to see the Riddler getting a little nostalgic in his issue here, and doing some of the terrible things the world expects of him. But why? What's he hoping to accomplish? You'll see.
Nrama: Can you give us the general premise for the issue? What drives the story?
Fawkes: Freshly escaped from Arkham Asylum, the Riddler decides to "play a game" with Wayne Industries and its employees. There Will Be Blood, as they say.
Nrama: So this isn't an origin story?
Fawkes: That territory is pretty much covered in [Batman: ] Zero Year, so we wanted an opportunity to tell a different story: what the Riddler would be like if Batman wasn't around to stop him. What would he do with his time? How would he express himself? Would he be satisfied with the result?
Nrama: We've been told that someone wearing the Bat-cowl is still around during Forever Evil. So does Batman or Bruce Wayne play a role in the comic? Or any other Gotham characters?
Fawkes: Batman is conspicuously absent in this story — but in his absence, he plays a role. Readers will have to check it out to see what I mean by that. Otherwise, the only Gotham City faces we'll see are the employees of Wayne Industries and the ordinary citizens on the street.
Nrama: What's the biggest challenge of writing this character? Is it coming up with his riddles?
Fawkes: It's always tough to write characters who are supposed to be very intelligent, because you have to sell their intelligence, if you get what I mean. They can't make dumb mistakes, and they have to be complicated in their thinking. Readers need to feel like it's a challenge to outthink him, to guess where he's going with his plans.
That said, writing the riddles is time-consuming as hell. But fun! I'm a bit of a formalist, so I like the challenge.
Nrama: Most villains try to outsmart the heroes, but the whole "riddle" thing makes him this villain unique. Why do you think he works so well as a villain for Batman in particular? And how would you describe the way they interact?
Fawkes: Every great villain is a foil for a great hero, and Batman is the world's greatest detective. The Riddler is like Moriarty to Batman's Sherlock — setting a diabolical challenge to his mind — and forcing Batman to work his intellect as hard as his muscles.
Their interactions are no doubt fueled by frustration on both sides: Batman thinks of the Riddler as a maddening irritation, and the Riddler thinks of Batman as a perfect sparring partner who never wants to play.
Nrama: How was it working with Scott Snyder on this issue? And how did you guys kind of divide the writing tasks?
Fawkes: It was great! Scott and I had frequent late night discussions that inevitably spiraled into the depths of the Riddler's character, the symbolic meaning of the Batman, and eventually into wide-ranging talks about Gotham city, the environment of Arkham, and more. Lots of laughs all around! Once we knocked these ideas around for a while, we figured out a plot for the story, talked out the Riddler's behavior, and then I went off and wrote the script. We did edits together, and that was that.
Nrama: Did you do any research into past versions of The Riddler for this? Any favorite past Riddler stories? And did they influence your take?
Fawkes: Well, yeah, if reading all the stories I could get my hands on counts as research... and watching the shows. I think my favorite Riddler story is actually the "Riddler's Reform" episode of Batman: The Animated Series.
Nrama: What has Jeremy Haun brought to the project? What's his Riddler like?
Fawkes: His Riddler is all class, concealing a tightly wound spring. Perfect. I love the work Jeremy did — the story looks fantastic, and has just the right balance of menace, whimsy, and melancholy. I can't wait for fans to see it so they can lavish well-deserved praise on Jeremy.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell fans about Batman #23.2: The Riddler?
Fawkes: Buy it for the Riddler, stay for the riddles!