DCAU #36: If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich?

IN THIS ONE... Game designer Edward Nygma becomes the Riddler and tries to exact revenge on his unscrupulous boss.

CREDITS: Written by David Wise; directed by Eric Radomski.

REVIEW: It's surprising that the Riddler wasn't used before this, but given the story we get, maybe it shouldn't be. It's very hard to write a good Riddler story that won't come off as Batman '66-type series of clues and deductions, which can be tedious and repetitive for an audience. And while I'm happy to see Robin return, he just contributes to this retro-dynamic. The computer game Nygma created suffers from the same illness. It needs to be so awesome, they're building a theme park around it, and the company's CEO, Daniel Mockridge will make millions selling it to Wayne Enterprises (nice for the jobs, social warrior Bruce Wayne, but shame on you for dismissing the fact Mockridge gloats about stealing creator rights), but it's pretty lame. In fact, it's got some very ropey game mechanics - Riddle of the Minotaur is completely broken, IMO.

So what we have is the introduction of one of Batman's greatest villains, but it falls flat because it's either about superheroes talking through riddles, or a series of random challenges in the Riddler's maze. I think the problem with riddles in general (whether in word or test form) is that either they're too easy and the audience wonders why the heroes haven't figured it out yet, or the answers the heroes come up with require in-universe knowledge inaccessible to the audience, or else are great big leaps you won't be able to believe. And If You're So Smart falls into all these traps. Even when it comes to the characters, the thread is frayed. I like that once the Riddler has what he wants, he nevertheless is so intrigued by the possibility that Batman is his intellectual equal, he starts to expand his plans, but I don't think the sequence in which Mockridge runs around his mansion with a gun, afraid the Riddler might come back is altogether earned.

A new animation studio is used, Blue Pencil, and they'll only be doing two episodes. That's perhaps a good thing considering that characters are frequently off-model, especially when not wearing masks. The action is just okay. The mood - which isn't really their fault - is a bit odd and seems too shadowy and sinister for the Riddler's personality and schemes. Visually, I had great hopes for this episode when I saw the opening tableau of office cubicles looking like a maze, but these were sadly dashed.

IN THE COMICS: The Riddler made his first appearance in Detective Comics #140 (1948), though his several origins in the comics are never this one, which reads more like that of the Toy-Man (disgruntled game-maker turns bad), though Batman Forever's is more in this mold.

SOUNDS LIKE: The Riddler is voiced by John Glover who in live action is best known as Luthor Sr. on Smallville. Family's Gary Frank plays Daniel Mockridge.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - They haven't found something good to do with the Riddler in his opening story, and lackluster animation certainly doesn't help this retro-tale that, effects aside, seems pulled from an unearthed time capsule marked "1966".


Toby'c said...

This was the first Batman TAS episode I ever saw (on VHS with Riddler's Reform), though I had already heard Kevin Conroy in the World's Finest movie (I got both videos the same day, at Northland Shopping Centre, Melbourne - Boxing Day, 2001, as I recall.) As such, it has some nostalgia value for me, but yeah, it has problems. Not the least of which is the whole "shortest distance between two points on a globe" riddle - just because one route would require a lot of tunneling doesn't mean it wouldn't be shorter.

Incidentally, John Glover had one other DC-related role - Jason Woodrue in Batman and Robin.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

The Riddler is my favorite Batman villain (a love of puzzles contributes to this, definitely, but I think Frank Gorshin is the primary reason), so the scarcity of his episodes in this series was a disappointment. But considering the puzzle-filled, riddle-a-minute deathtraps his episodes are filled with, I assume they rather had to save up ideas for a lot longer until they had enough material for a Riddler episode than they did with, say, Harley Quinn. :-)

Personally, I liked this one a lot more than you did; I thought it had good visuals and good action. It's no 'Heart of Ice,' but still much stronger, for me- a Medium, if not a Medium-High.


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