Lex Luthor is powered up and sharing his gifts with certain DCU villains and heroes to further his goals - but there's one notable villain left out: the Riddler.
And the Riddler knows it.
In this week's The Riddler: Year of the VIllain one-shot, Edward Nigma dwells on the perceived snub from Apex Lex and the possible reason for it like a riddle even he can't solve.
Working with artist Scott Godlewski and colorist Marissa Louise, Russell's The Riddler: Year of the Villain is a character study and a story on how the offer of ultimate power (or the lack of an offer) can change someone like Nygma. Russell spoke with Newsarama about the 20-page one-shot, his take on the Riddler, as well as broader ideas he has for the character beyond just this one one-shot.
Newsarama: Mark, what's your take on the Riddler? Size him up for us.
Mark Russell: I think that he's a tragic figure. When he was a kid, he got just a little bit of validation for winning a riddle contest and now he's built his whole life around chasing that feeling. He's a testament to the dangers of emotional starvation and prolonged adolescence.
Nrama: "Year of the Villain" is about various heroes and villains being offered powers by Lex Luthor - but in seems for this one-shot, Riddler is the odd man out - and he knows it. What's on Edward Nygma's mind here at this point?
Russell: He's hurt. He feels that he's earned Lex Luthor's respect. He wants the same validation from Lex that he got from winning the riddle trophy when he was a kid, but he doesn't get it. But Lex snubs the Riddler precisely because he doesn't want to help the Riddler down his path to ruin. Lex sees this as tough love, or tough whatever emotion he experiences in love's place. This story is mostly about the aftermath of the snub and how the Riddler processes it. How it changes him.
Nrama: What specific power do you think the Riddler would want, if he had a choice but couldn't go all out like omnipotence or something out there?
Russell: I think The Riddler suffers from an inferiority complex. He needs people to see him as the smartest man in the room because he feels like that's the one thing that makes him worthy of respect. So I think the Riddler would probably opt for some kind of mind-control power, which paradoxically, would make the Riddler even more paranoid about whether anyone actually respected him.
If I could recommend a power for the Riddler, I might choose super-gardening or something. A hobby that would give him something to think about other than Batman or his standing among the other villains. Plus, I mean, who doesn't want garden fresh cherry tomatoes?
Nrama: The tagline for the cover to this asks "Who's Afraid of Apex Lex?". Is the Riddler afraid of Lex? Or the better question - should he be?
Russell: I don't think he's afraid of Lex so much as in awe of him. Lex is everything the Riddler has always wanted to be. Respected. Powerful. Universally recognized as a genius. If there were such a thing as a Nobel Prize for villainy, Lex Luthor would have won it. So I think what Riddler is really afraid of is not measuring up, whether in Lex's eyes or his own.
Nrama: I believe this is your first time working with artist Scott Godlewski. How do you feel about the work he's done on the issue What specific elements do you think he nailed best?
Russell: Scott did such an amazing job on this issue. I think the most critical element in drawing this comic, or really most comics, is capturing the humanity, the vulnerability of the characters, which he does extremely well. One big theme of this story is how the "gimmick villains" are sort of looked down on. Whether it's King Tut's sphinx-shaped house in the suburbs, or the Riddler's stint as a Fool-the-Guesser guy at the county fair, he captures these villains in their humanity brilliantly.
Nrama: I really enjoy the short cereal killer stories you've done in AHOY's Edgar Allan Poe's Snifter of Terror. Here you've got a full issue, but that's still less than a limited series or ongoing. How did you figure out what kind of story you could tell in this set page count?
Russell: Thanks! I really enjoy telling these longer one-shot stories. It allows me to spend less time in exposition and setting up things that will happen in later issues and just focus on telling a story. The more pages they give me in telling a one-shot, obviously, the more I can do with it. Introduce subplots, have an ensemble cast, create epic action scenes. These possibilities all get curtailed the fewer pages you have, so I like the god-like permission that doing a 30-page one-shot affords. It's enough to tell any kind of story I want.
Nrama: This is just a one-shot, but given the opportunity would you like to do more with the character - perhaps that gardening idea, or something else? Want to pitch DC editors publicly here? The floor is yours.
Russell: I would love to do a follow-up to this story sometime. Something about the Riddler's failed and successful experiments in re-inventing himself. What would he do if he took a "year abroad" break in being a villain.
Nrama: Last question, Mark - put yourself in the Riddler's shoes. All your colleagues have been given powers by Lex except you. What would Mark Russell do in that situation?
Russell: Well, usually when I'm not invited to a party, I just pretend that I didn't want to go anyway. But if I were in the Riddler's shoes, I think I would do something to mess with Lex's mind. Maybe destroy or steal something of Lex's and make it look like it was the work of someone with one of the powers he'd just given out. Or talk smack about him on social media. Although, I don't think passive-aggressive probably works at that level of villainy. You've probably got to be aggressive-aggressive.