How The Batman Gives Us A More Reactive Version Of The Dark Knight, Thanks To The Riddler

The following article contains spoilers for "The Batman." 

Paul Dano gave a powerful performance as Edward Nashton, aka The Riddler, in "The Batman." The character was re-imagined as a creepily modern (and realistic) villain who recruits followers online, keeping his identity secret. Nashton started off as a destitute orphan before taking out people he perceives as being rich and corrupt, all the while sending messages to Batman (Robert Pattinson), an individual Nashton thinks will be very pleased with his machinations.

Batman, as a character, is typically defined by his opponents and vice versa. Like The Joker (Heath Ledger) in "The Dark Knight" says to Christian Bale's Caped Crusader, "I don't wanna kill you, what would I do without you? Go back to rippin' off mob dealers? No, no, you complete me." The Riddler in "The Batman" is no different. Edward Nashton has a sense of hero worship for Batman and is heartbroken when his idol isn't impressed by his big plan to destroy Gotham. He's proud of his little game and the clues he's left. It may not have impressed our dark hero, but it certainly makes him sit up and take notice. Another thing it does is bring out his detective side, something we often see in the comics.

In a Stream Wars video featuring behind-the-scenes interviews with "The Batman" cast and crew, director Matt Reeves, Dano, Pattinson, and Jeffrey Wright (who plays James Gordon) talked about the relationship between The Riddler and Batman and how it brings out the latter's crime-solving side.

'I wanted to see a Batman that was challenged by these crimes'

Batman, the character, debuted in Detective Comics #27 in 1939 (The Riddler followed in issue #140), which was later shortened to DC Comics. He's spent a lot of time in his published history solving crimes, including in comic book stories like "Year One" (which was used as part of the inspiration for "The Batman"), "Hush" (in which Batman manages to identify Hush just from his posture), and "Gotham by Gaslight" (where a 19th-century version of Batman works to solve murders seemingly committed by Jack the Ripper). As Jeffrey Wright says in the video, "The Riddler lends itself to allowing us to back to the origins of the Batman, which is DC. It's Detective Comics."

In "The Batman," Bruce Wayne and James Gordon look through the notes left for Batman by The Riddler. It leads them into a world of corruption, Bruce's family history, and a dark online personality recruiting terrorists to shift the status quo. Batman has no choice but to follow The Riddler's lead, giving the serial killer exactly what he wants. As Paul Dano notes in the video, "Seeing the Batman was probably one of those transcendent moments in [the Riddler's] life. Without the Batman, you would never have the Riddler."

Robert Pattinson agrees with him in the video, adding:

"The Riddler is more similar to him than Bruce would like to really admit. It's extremely troubling. The only difference in a lot of ways is that the Riddler follows through, and his justice is fatal. [...] The Riddler seems to know secrets about Batman and Bruce that even Bruce didn't know. So it's a very reactive version of Batman that I don't think we usually get. This is by far the most major adversary he's come across."

'I felt this idea of putting on masks and hiding your identity from people, that the power would come from that'

In "The Batman," The Riddler leaves Bruce/Bats no other option than to react. In the end, they're not too dissimilar, like Robert Pattinson noted. They both work with assumed identities, and they're both running from their pasts yet are very much shaped by them; Nashton by growing up poor and observing the corrupt behavior of Gotham's upper-class through his job as a forensic accountant, and Bruce by the death of his parents. As Matt Reeves points out in the video, "I felt this idea of putting on masks and hiding your identity from people, that the power would come from that."

In a way, Batman has to be reactive, as Pattinson pointed out. Ultimately, as "The Batman" eventually reveals, Batman and The Riddler are coming from a similar place, and Batman's work as a vigilante is part of the reason and inspiration for some of The Riddler's killings. When I watched the film, I immediately thought of the attempted assassination of former President Ronald Reagan and how it was a supposed attempt to impress actor Jodie Foster. When you make bold moves like dressing up as a flying rodent and fighting crime at night, you're inevitably going to interest and inspire others ... though they may not share your ethical code.

"The Batman" is currently streaming on HBO Max (a platform that will soon be renamed Max).