The Matt Signal – Episode 79: Riddler’s Reform

Plot summary: The Riddler signs a deal with a toy company and becomes a legitimate celebrity, but Batman is convinced Nygma is still up to his old tricks.

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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!

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Notes

Episode Title: ‘Riddler’s Reform’

Original Air Date: September 24th, 1994

Directed: Dan Riba (8)

Written: Alan Burnett (7), Paul Dini (19) (story) and Randy Rogel (8)

Some versions of the title card did not contain an apostrophe. Garbage-tier.

Riddler’s commercial can be heard in the background of the upcoming episode ‘Make ‘em Laugh’

There is no real explanation as to how Riddler was freed from his catatonic state from ‘What is Reality?’

Recap

Edward Nygma is released from prison early for good behaviour, but Batman is having none of it, bringing Robin to help harass him and a pair of cohorts transporting a mysterious box.

Only it turns out it’s a legitimate delivery to Wacko Toys, who have licensed his name and likeness for new products, as corroborated by their CEO, Craig Baxter. Batman has never been this owned.

Bruce sulks the next day, until he hears a news report about the theft of priceless artefacts and becomes convinced Nygma’s remarks from the night before were a clue. Running with the idea, he takes a series of numbers in a TV ad for the new Riddler products and turns them into map coordinates leading to Gotham First National Bank.

But when the Dynamic Duo find nothing untoward at the location Bruce realises that in the commercial Riddler flipped the chalkboard containing the number upside down to show the other side, and when doing the same to the number itself (31753701) it reads: 10 LESLIE.

Sure enough, Batman & Robin arrive just in time to stop Riddler’s men from robbing a jewellery store on 10 Leslie Street. The goons manage to get away though, after Dick’s leg gets caught under a heavy case.

Batman crashes Baxter’s private party, where Riddler is a hit with some sultry ladies. The two geniuses trade barbs, but Nygma gets the better of the exchange by broadcasting Batman’s comments to the rest of the guests, humiliating him.

A mopey Nygma confirms to his henchmen that he did in fact trick the police, doctors and parole board to secure his early release, but fears Batman will inevitably catch him and send him back to Arkham.

Thus Riddler embeds another clue in a commercial, luring Bats to the Gotham Toy Fair after hours, where a series of whimsical but deadly traps await… all distractions from an enormous bomb that explodes in magnificent fashion!

Nygma is thus stunned to see Batman alive and well, and demands to know how Bruce escaped, offering to confess how he pulled off a string of robberies in exchange. Batman records the entire interaction, just as Nygma did to him at the party, which is more than enough for Jim Gordon to send him back to jail.

Bruce later delights in telling Dick that he survived the explosion by hiding inside a safe. The episode ends with Riddler in Arkham deliriously screaming over and over that he HAS to know.

Best Performance

Once again John Glover proves himself to be the definitive Riddler, pulling off the smug know-it-all in spectacular fashion, bolstered by a plot that maximised that trait. But more than that, for the first time we see more sides of Nygma, from becoming flustered by flirtatious females, to hyping himself up in the mirror, to his melancholy acceptance Batman is going to thwart him eventually, and finally his tormented ravings in Akrham.

Glover has won this category twice on his strength in the default setting, but laps his past performances by absolutely nailing these higher gears. Bravo.

Kevin Conroy is also in fine form, frustrated by his inability to foil Nygma, and then absolutely revelling in the eventual victory.

Ranking

Finally, a Riddler episode worthy of their version of the character! This was a delight from start to finish and it’s just a shame it took three tries to get here. First and foremost it’s a spotlight on a top-tier member of the Rogues Gallery and what makes them tick, and it goes without saying that it utterly excels in that regard, but I’ll discuss that in the next section.

It’s also just a great window into Bruce’s own psyche, as he’s completely unable to accept that one of the villains has turned over a new leaf… but it turns out he’s absolutely right. That stubborn pessimism in the face of a naively optimistic mission statement is a delicious dichotomy. He’s also ALWAYS right. Batman is a ridiculous character, but in the best possible way, and this episode perfectly encapsulates that.

Above all, I’m just glad the riddles are finally not only Actually Good, but deployed in a wholly effective manner. ‘If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?’ featured puzzles that barely made sense, or demanded a person knew how to speak Arabic. ‘What is Reality?’ did a little better, but was structured poorly. Here we have the platonic ideal of a Riddler episode. I have no notes.

  1. The Laughing Fish
  2. Mask of the Phantasm
  3. Almost Got ‘im
  4. Heart of Ice
  5. Harlequinade
  6. The Trial
  7. Riddler’s Reform
  8. Shadow of the Bat Part I
  9. I Am the Night
  10. Robin’s Reckoning Part I
  11. Baby-Doll
  12. The Man Who Killed Batman
  13. Perchance to Dream
  14. Two-Face Part I
  15. Bane
  16. A Bullet For Bullock
  17. Joker’s Favor
  18. Read My Lips
  19. Feat of Clay Part II
  20. Catwalk
  21. The Demon’s Quest Part II
  22. Harley and Ivy
  23. Robin’s Reckoning Part II
  24. House & Garden
  25. Beware the Gray Ghost
  26. Mad as a Hatter
  27. Heart of Steel Part II
  28. Appointment In Crime Alley
  29. Two-Face Part II
  30. Pretty Poison
  31. Shadow of the Bat Part II
  32. Feat of Clay Part I
  33. His Silicon Soul
  34. Off Balance
  35. Vendetta
  36. Birds of a Feather
  37. Heart of Steel Part I
  38. On Leather Wings
  39. See No Evil
  40. The Clock King
  41. It’s Never Too Late
  42. Joker’s Wild
  43. Eternal Youth
  44. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  45. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  46. Zatanna
  47. Day of the Samurai
  48. Avatar
  49. The Demon’s Quest Part I
  50. The Mechanic
  51. The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
  52. Terror in the Sky
  53. P.O.V.
  54. Christmas with the Joker
  55. Fear of Victory
  56. Be a Clown
  57. The Worry Men
  58. What is Reality?
  59. Fire From Olympus
  60. Night of the Ninja
  61. Mudslide
  62. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  63. The Lion and the Unicorn
  64. Nothing to Fear
  65. Prophecy of Doom
  66. Tyger, Tyger
  67. Blind as a Bat
  68. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
  69. Dreams In Darkness
  70. The Last Laugh
  71. Cat Scratch Fever
  72. Moon of the Wolf
  73. Paging the Crime Doctor
  74. Time Out of Joint
  75. Sideshow
  76. The Under-Dwellers
  77. The Forgotten
  78. Showdown
  79. The Terrible Trio
  80. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

The Riddler (John Glover) (third appearance)

Welcome back to the top ten, Eddie. I’ve always enjoyed their take on the character, from the design to Glover’s voice work, but felt that he’s had his legs kicked out from under him with substandard showcase episodes. Not only is he at last adequately supported, he’s expanded upon.

A recurring Nygma trait is that he takes extreme offence to being labelled as insane, given his nearly unrivalled intelligence… and yet his obsession with besting Batman can become so extreme that he inadvertently proves his accusers right. It’s a shame this episode came after ‘The Trial’, because the prosecution would have had a strong argument for Riddler as a victim of Batman.

We also see the hints at the mind behind the mind, with his suave showmanship melting away when attractive women hit on him, leaving him tongue tied and having to give himself a little pep talk in the mirror. It’s cute, and humanises him. We also see that behind closed doors he’s genuinely haunted by Batman’s dogged pursuit, and knows deep down he can’t beat him. Aww.

  1. The Joker
  2. Poison Ivy
  3. Harley Quinn
  4. Mr. Freeze
  5. Two-Face
  6. The Ventriloquist
  7. Catwoman
  8. The Riddler
  9. The Phantasm
  10. Baby-Doll
  11. Bane
  12. Mad Hatter
  13. Penguin
  14. HARDAC (and Randa Duane)
  15. Clayface
  16. Ra’s al Ghul
  17. Lloyd Ventrix
  18. Killer Croc
  19. Count Vertigo
  20. Clock King
  21. Rupert Thorne
  22. Nivens
  23. Josiah Wormwood
  24. Scarecrow
  25. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  26. Talia al Ghul
  27. Sid the Squid
  28. Queen Thoth Khepera
  29. Maxie Zeus
  30. Jimmy ‘Jazzman’ Peake
  31. Tony Zucco
  32. Man-Bat
  33. Hugo Strange
  34. Red Claw
  35. Arnold Stromwell
  36. Mad Bomber
  37. Tygrus
  38. Rhino, Mugsy and Ratso
  39. Kyodai Ken
  40. Gil Mason
  41. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  42. Cameron Kaiser
  43. Dr. Dorian (and Garth)
  44. Mad Dog
  45. Ubu
  46. Professor Milo
  47. Romulus
  48. Arkady Duvall
  49. Sewer King
  50. Boss Biggis
  51. Montague Kane
  52. The Terrible Trio

Plugs

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.

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Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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