Plot summary: With a life on the line, Batman tries to become the first person to win Edward Nygma’s unsolvable game.
Each Saturday and Sunday Matt Waters recaps an episode of the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!
Episode Title: ‘If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?’
Original Air Date: November 18th, 1992
Directed: Eric Radomski (1)
Written: David Wise (3)
First-time series director Eric Radomski’s surname is one of the words in Riddler’s crossword puzzle.
Daniel Mockridge will later make a cameo in Mask of the Phantasm, which I do plan to cover… eventually.
The series’ take on Riddler draws heavily from his 1948 debut comic book appearance.
Edward Nygma completes a crossword puzzle while navigating the maze-like cubicles of Competitron, a software company he is shocked to learn have fired him. Baffled, Nygma informs his former boss, Daniel Mockridge, that the company will fail without his unique intellect.
Mockridge dismisses this idea, claiming the company owes its success more to his business practices than Nygma’s product. He doubles down on his position, asking the titular question, “if you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?”
Two years later Mockridge hard-sells a business deal to Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox, but his sales patter is interrupted by a message ticking across a neighbouring skyscraper that riddles him why multimillion dollar deals break down in the wasteland. Spooked, he hurriedly excuses himself.
Intrigued, Bruce ponders the answer all the way to the Batcave, where Dick is playing the game Nygma designed: Riddle of the Minotaur. Batman at last realises Mockridge owns a nightclub called The Wasteland, tossing the Robin costume at Dick and dragging him off to investigate.
Mockridge ventures into his terribly named club, which either closes early or opens late given nobody is inside… except for Edward Nygma. Mockridge’s ears prick up at the notion of a new hit game, but he instead finds himself tied up by a ring puzzle.
Batman and Robin crash through the glass ceiling to confront Nygma, who at last steps out of the shadows to reveal his Riddler costume.
Impressed Batman has deduced his identity, Riddler sets a pair of henchmen on the heroes. The brief fight comes to an abrupt end as Nygma sabotages the lighting equipment to start a fire.
To make matters worse, he traps Robin inside a giant Chinese finger trap, challenging Batman to try and save both the Boy Wonder and Mockridge. Naturally, Bruce chooses his sidekick.
After some brief Bat-splaining of the E. Nygma pun, Batman notices the lights of some nearby buildings flashing in Morse code, translating to “when is the minotaur’s owner as high as an elephant’s eye?”. This is a reference to ‘Oh What A Beautiful Morning’, with the answer being corn. And another word for corn is maize, so we’re off to a maze at an abandoned amusement park. This show is for children.
Sure enough Riddler has given the attraction a makeover, challenging the Dynamic Duo to reach the centre by 4.30am or a giant mechanical minotaur will murder Mockridge. They of course have to surrender their gadgetry to ensure they use nothing but their brains.
Dick leads Bruce through the maze as best he can based on his memory of the game, but is shocked to learn that Nygma has added in a fire-breathing griffin and some neck-high buzzsaws. Robin drops the bombshell that nobody has EVER completed the game. Can you imagine such a product???
With eight minutes remaining, the pair come across a riddle written in Arabic. Bruce is able to translate to “which way to the eating place?” using his wrist-computer, which feels against the spirit of the ‘no gadgets’ rule. This clue refers to the Muslim custom of eating with the right hand, meaning they should go right instead of left.
Their next riddle features three keys, marked A, C and D. When D produces a pair of spinning blades, Robin deduces the answer is C, as it refers to musical keys, with D having two sharps, A having three and C having none. Get it? Sharp… Blade… Whatever.
Next is one we saw Dick get wrong earlier in the episode about the shortest point between two points on a globe. Batman deliberately gets it wrong so that he can climb aboard and sabotage ‘The Hand of Fate’, a giant golden hand that transports players elsewhere when they fail.
With the hand now serving as a remote-controlled hovercraft, Batman simply flies them to the middle of the maze, bypassing all the other puzzles. This again required the use of his wrist-computer, which Riddler complains about.
The final riddle is asked by the minotaur: “I have billions of eyes, yet I live in darkness. I have millions of ears, yet only four lobes. I have no muscle, yet I rule two hemispheres. What am I?” Batman instantly guesses the human brain, shutting the death trap down.
A sore loser, Nygma overrides the minotaur and sets it loose on them. Cornered, Batman again calls on the Hand of Fate to slam it through a wall. You the real MVP, giant golden hand. Nygma brushes his defeat off, revealing he is talking to them from a private plane that’s already clear of Gotham.
Bruce later comments on Riddler’s escape, with Daniel Mockridge living in constant fear despite making $10million from Bruce’s buyout. He asks “how much is a good night of sleep worth?”, calling this a riddle. Umm. No. That is not a riddle.
Batman explaining everything to Robin like he’s an idiot is one of the few ways to make me dislike the sound of Conroy’s voice. Loren Lester in turn does sound like a bit of a moron, as Robin’s primary function is to be as stumped as the average viewer and give Batman somebody to explain all the answers to (except for the best riddle, which Dick solves himself). Gary Frank’s Daniel Mockridge does a commendable job of making me want to punch a cartoon character, but isn’t in it much.
So given most of the characters are actively grating in this one, it has to be John Glover. Nygma is typically portrayed as a weasely, bitter little man with a superiority complex and a high voice. It’s the direction Frank Gorshin, Jim Carrey and Cory Michael Smith all chose to take him in, albeit with some differences in mania.
Glover’s work instead gives the character a calmer, more dangerous edge, reimagining him as a calculating intellectual who infringes less on Joker’s insane showman territory. The fact that the majority of the riddles aren’t delivered by Nygma himself helps to not taint the performance, and instead we’re left with a character that seems poised for bigger things.
David Wise also wrote ‘The Clock King’, which makes an awful lot of sense given they have similar premises: intelligent, neurodivergent men fall victim to corporate misfortune and take their revenge several years later having transformed themselves into supervillains clad in suits and bowler hats that test Batman’s wits with a series of puzzles.
Things differ a little from there, but both episodes have lame endings and are missing a certain something. While I think Riddler is better written than Clock King, the latter’s episode is better than this one. The main reason is that so much of the story hinges around a series of riddles, which the writers admitted to struggling with, and the majority of which a child would have absolutely no chance of solving. Some of them aren’t even riddles! You don’t want them to be so easy that Nygma and Bruce don’t come across as super-geniuses, but the answers shouldn’t feel like they’ve been conjured from thin air (for the most part).
To make matters worse, Batman ends up skirting the entire thing by taking control of a giant flying hand and skipping to the end. It’s not uncommon for our hero to frustrate Riddler by thinking outside the box rather than following his meticulous plots, but this is not that.
I don’t know if an actual video game adaptation of this episode was released, but the story is certainly better in theory than it is in practice. Plus some of the animation is a little stiff.
- The Laughing Fish
- Heart of Ice
- Robin’s Reckoning Part I
- Perchance to Dream
- Two-Face Part I
- Joker’s Favor
- Feat of Clay Part II
- Robin’s Reckoning Part II
- Beware the Gray Ghost
- Mad as a Hatter
- Heart of Steel Part II
- Appointment In Crime Alley
- Two-Face Part II
- Heart of Steel Part I
- On Leather Wings
- Pretty Poison
- Feat of Clay Part I
- It’s Never Too Late
- See No Evil
- The Clock King
- The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
- Eternal Youth
- The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
- The Cat and the Claw Part I
- Christmas with the Joker
- Fear of Victory
- Be a Clown
- Night of the Ninja
- The Cat and the Claw Part II
- Nothing to Fear
- Prophecy of Doom
- If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
- Dreams In Darkness
- The Last Laugh
- Cat Scratch Fever
- The Under-Dwellers
- The Forgotten
- I’ve Got Batman in My Basement
The Riddler (John Glover) (first appearance)
It’s been troubling me how long we’ve gone without Riddler making an appearance, as by modern standards he was one the most glaring omissions. I’m glad they patterned his look more after Frank Gorshin’s second costume in Batman ’66 rather than the classic unitard that Jim Carrey ended up sporting three years after this episode.
Honestly this Riddler take is about the only thing the episode has going for it. It’s a fantastic re-design that is well written and performed, and he has the rare distinction of evading capture. For as much as I wish the riddles themselves were better, this is as close to a definitive version of the character as exists, without a doubt informing his presentation in the Arkham video games, right down to projections of his face onto his giant puzzle houses.
Nygma undoubtedly has room to grow, but it’s a relatively strong debut.
- The Joker
- Mr. Freeze
- Mad Hatter
- Poison Ivy
- The Riddler
- Clock King
- HARDAC (and Ronda Duane)
- Killer Croc
- Rupert Thorne
- Lloyd Ventrix
- Josiah Wormwood
- Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
- Tony Zucco
- Harley Quinn
- Hugo Strange
- Red Claw
- Arnold Stromwell
- Mad Bomber
- Nostromos (and Lucas!)
- Kyodai Ken
- Professor Milo
- Sewer King
- Boss Biggis
Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie and delved a tiny bit into the animated series.
Speaking of my podcasts, There Will Be Movies continues on Monday with Widows.
Kevin & Jerome’s Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul podcast, Reel Bad, drops new episodes the first Tuesday of each month.
Speaking of Jerome (twice), he continues to bring you his 100 favourite movies of all time, posting between 3 and 4 per week.