Sacked from his software job at Competitron, Edward Nygma (John Glover) rebrands himself as The Riddler, a supervillain whose revenge scheme is predicated on the solution of elaborate puzzles and brain-teasers. Robin recognizes some of Riddler’s traps from the computer game Nygma invented, but he’ll have to take Batman into the center of the labyrinth to solve the riddle of the minotaur.
Forty episodes in, we say hello to one of Batman’s greatest adversaries (introduced in Detective Comics #140, circa October 1948). And why has it taken so long? The Joker’s been on six times, while we’ve already seen others more than once. The writers have long maintained that Riddler’s a tough cat to write because of the intensely cerebral nature of his character, so it’s a real loss for the show that Riddler only gets three episodes dedicated to his mad genius (four, if we’re counting his appearance in “Knight Time,” an episode of Superman: The Animated Series with a Riddler subplot). Compounding the pain of Riddler reduction, “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?” is handily (no pun intended) one of the best episodes of Batman: The Animated Series.
I keep returning to the chestnut that the best episodes of BtAS involve the villain in a plotline that is uniquely theirs, and “So Smart” does just that. Riddler’s plot isn’t even a criminal conspiracy in the traditional sense, as it involves getting his revenge on a corporate executive by proving how much smarter he is before attempting to kill him. Indeed, his only reason to tangle with Batman and Robin is because they dare to defy him, and so Riddler must devise a maze to outwit them, as well. (See also “The Clock King,” where writer David Wise portrayed the eponymous villain as similarly maddened by being resisted.) This episode is less about Riddler needing to acquire money; his only goal is conquest of the mind, for his own personal satisfaction rather than any profit.
If there’s a complaint about the episode, it’s that Batman takes a strange backseat to Robin, whose experience with Nygma’s computer game allows him to pierce through the mystery of the minotaur’s maze. The riddles in this episode are expertly crafted, but it’s a little surprising that the world’s greatest detective can’t piece them together without a major assist from his Boy Wonder. It’s inconsistent, though, since Batman does display a fair amount of cerebral acumen with some of the riddles. One almost wonders how this episode would have played without Robin altogether. And while Batman’s ultimate solution to the riddle of the maze is a bit of a cheat, Riddler’s response is to cheat better and sooner, which is such a fantastic moment to display Riddler’s brains – I can’t imagine the episode’s conclusion working with any other villain, because of the great amount of forethought required to put this plan into action. Riddler is a master chess player in this episode, and “So Smart” does a first-rate job of introducing him into Batman’s world and making him a credible danger to our hero.
After a few rocky episodes, visually speaking this episode is a real treat. The animation is on point, and Riddler’s character design is stellar. Several scenes involve lush painted imagery, and the sequences set in the maze are delightfully claustrophobic, slick and well-done. The voice acting hits the spot too, right down to the robotic minotaur voiced by Brock Peters (he of Lucius Fox fame on BtAS and of NPR’s Star Wars adaptation, if the bull sounds a bit Vader-esque). John Glover is a fantastic choice for The Riddler, his distinguished haughtiness a far cry from the gleeful cackles of John Astin and Frank Gorshin. Glover is a default Riddler voice now, even in spite of Wally Wingert’s digitally stuttering Riddler in the Arkham games. And Kevin Conroy, who’s had no shortage of opportunities to shine as Batman, has a particularly memorable moment when he toggles between Bruce Wayne and Batman mid-sentence without losing stride.
“If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?” is a banner episode for Batman: The Animated Series, introducing one of its hero’s greatest adversaries in a polished episode that shows what BtAS can do at its best. If you’re so smart, though, writers, why didn’t we get more Riddler episodes like this? Why didn’t we get more Riddler episodes, period? Why is a raven like a writing desk? (Sidebar: the tie-in comics – The Batman Adventures, and later The Batman & Robin Adventures and Batman: Gotham Adventures – had some standout Riddler issues, worth tracking down.)
Writer: David Wise
Director: Eric Radomski
Villains: The Riddler (John Glover)
Next episode: “Joker’s Wild,” in which the Clown Prince of Crime presses his luck.
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