Batman #171, "The Remarkable Ruse of the Riddler"
Batman #171, "The Remarkable Ruse of the Riddler"
- written by Gardner Fox
- illustrated by Joe Giella and Sheldon Moldoff
- edited by Julius Schwartz
Today is a day many prisoners await at Gotham State Penitentiary, the day when they are paroled and released back into society. For the majority of former convicts, this is a chance to turn their lives around and make amends for the errors of their pasts, but for others, it is an opportunity to resume their life of crime without making the mistakes of the past. Today's parolee, unfortunately, has chosen the latter... In the warden's office, prisoner Edward Nigma receives his money and is sent off to start a new life, but before he leaves he asks the warden a perplexing riddle, "Why do the cons in this prison call it the "Fiddler's Hotel"? Nigma refuses to give the answer to his target, but vows that if he is unlucky enough to return to prison, he'll give up the answer. The warden fears that this indicates his new release is intent on going back to his criminal escapades, and how right his prediction will soon prove.
As he leaves the prison, Nigma has only one thing on his mind - Batman. He has prepared long and hard for a rematch with the Dark Knight Detective who put him away, and can't wait to launch his plan. To gain insight on what has gone on in the world during his incarceration, Nigma buys a newspaper and is quite upset by the front- page story. Batman is engaged in a brutal struggle against a criminal gang called the Mole Hill Mob, a group of criminals who arrive and leave the scenes of their robberies through manholes, then evade police through a labyrinth of subterranean tunnels and secret passages they created. Nigma is quite upset, he wants all of Batman's attention so he can begin his game, so he decides to put the Mole Hill Mob out of commission.
The next day, as Batman and Robin arrive at police headquarters, Nigma pulls up in his convertible and introduces himself. The Dynamic Duo don't recognize their old foe out of uniform, so he jostles their memories with a simple riddle; "What occurs once in a minute, twice in a moment, but never in a thousand years?" They now know that he is the Riddler, and Batman suspects this conundrum is a clue to his next crime. Nigma defends himself by declaring he's a reformed man, that he no longer needs to rob, and to prove he's gone straight, he offers to help his old rival catch the Mole Hill Mob. Though suspicious, Batman agrees to accept his assistance, and tells him to meet at Gotham Square at 8:00 that night. Nigma agrees, but asks if he can wear his old uniform. Batman doesn't see any harm, so he allows it. As the Prince of Puzzlers drives off, Robin ponders the answer to his riddle, and Batman provides him with it, "the letter M". Batman then comments that he feels they're being confronted with an even trickier puzzle.
At 8:00 that evening, the Dynamic Duo arrive at the square and meet the Riddler, clad in his question-marked jumpsuit. The Riddler informs his associates that while in prison, he learned where the Mole Hill Mob was hiding out. Propping open a manhole cover, he leads the Caped Crusaders into the Gotham sewer system. Still wary, Batman fears a trap, but reasons that he and Robin should be able to escape whatever is thrown their way. After traveling through the labyrinthine sewer systems, the trio arrives at a former tool-house for work crews, where the Mole Hill Mob is hiding out. Shocked to see Batman, the gang leader activates a series of traps they set up in case they were ever discovered. Batman and Robin are attacked by electronically-guided manhole covers, stinging cables attached to the walls, and a giant cable drum that could crush them flat! The Riddler proclaims that he didn't have anything to do with the trap, and Robin believes him, saying that he only promised to lead them to the Mob, it's their job to capture them. The Boy Wonder is able to deactivate the traps by kicking the cable drum into the control panel, shutting down the cables and manhole covers. With the traps stopped, the Caped Crusaders are able to easily subdue the Mole Hill Mobsters with the Riddler cheering on the sidelines, waiting for their battle to end so he can begin his game with Batman. Once all the thugs are incapacitated, Nigma asks his former rivals if they believe he's now a reformed man. They do, but are still suspicious...
Two days later, Batman and Robin are attending the annual Police Athletic League Picnic in Gotham Park, but Batman is rather preoccupied, still convinced that the Riddler is planning something, and waiting for a clue to cue them in. They receive their hint in a picnic basket, finding a note with a riddle written on it; "Here's an easy one for you, Robin and Batman --- What is the longest word in the world?" Nigma has made his move, the answer will inform them of the crime he'll pull. Robin quickly determines the answer; " `Smiles' is the longest word, because there's a `mile' between the first and last letter." Pondering its meaning, Batman deduces that the answer points to millionaire "Smiles" Dawson, who currently has his yacht docked at the marina. The Masked Manhunters board the Batmobile and speed off to the docks, where they find the Riddler rushing away from Dawson's ship with the nautical millionaire shouting for him to come back. Taking this evidence as proof he's returned to a life of robbery, they hop out of the car and rush after their foe, but Nigma is prepared for them. Getting into his convertible, he activates a button on the dashboard that retracts the roof --- and sends a barrage of three-dimensional put-together puzzles and bent-wire puzzles straight at Batman and Robin! The put-together puzzles explode into their separate pieces and the wires tangle them up, preventing them from a quick pursuit. They quickly free themselves and get back in the Batmobile, where they catch up with the Riddler's car and force him to pull over.
When Robin accuses the Riddler of theft, he protests and demands an apology, but there's quite a bit of evidence against him; he has in the glove compartment one of Dawson's greatest treasures, the Black Pearl of the Pacific. Nigma claims that he purchased it from Dawson, and they return to the yacht for validation. Surprisingly, Dawson did sell the pearl to the Riddler for $30,000, money he inherited from his late uncle Edward. When asked about the riddle at the picnic and the puzzles he attacked them with, he claims that he left them the riddle in their picnic basket as a way of saying hello, and the puzzles on the roof of his car he'd simply forgotten about. He apologizes for the inconvenience and leaves the Dynamic Duo with a gift-wrapped box before driving away. After the Riddler leaves, Batman asks Dawson why he called for the ex-con to come back, to which he replies that Nigma asked him a riddle and left without giving him the answer; "There were three men in a boat with four cigarettes but no matches. How did they manage to smoke their cigarettes?" Batman provides the answer to this easy conundrum; "They tossed a cigarette overboard and made the boat a `cigarette lighter.'" After their conversation, Robin opens the package to find a sheet of paper... with nothing written on it.
Suspecting that the note contains a message written with some invisible ink, Batman takes it to the Portable Crime-Lab in the Batmobile, where they try to find a solution that reveals the hidden message. It takes a while, but they eventually find the proper mixture and are able to read the message; "Why is an orange like a bell?" Batman knows the answer to this as well, "Both must be peeled (pealed)." He suspects this clue leads to the Peale Art Gallery, which houses many valuable works. They get in the Batmobile once more and rush off to the gallery as the sun sets and evening comes. When they arrive, Batman peers in the window of the main office where he sees the Riddler pointing a gun at the museum director, Roger Peale, who is holding an ivory cross studded with rubies. Now Batman has caught Nigma in the act of armed robbery, and can arrest him. He bursts in just as the Riddler is leaving Peale's office with the cross, and the Prince of Puzzlers shouts that his would-be captor is making a mistake. He throws a suit of armor in Batman's way, but is tackled, still professing his innocence. Could Batman have erred again?
Sadly, yes, Batman is again mistaken, for as he announces that he's taking the Riddler in for theft, Mr. Peale comes to his defense. There was no hold-up; what Batman mistook for the Riddler pointing a gun at Peale was actually a novelty lighter. And the cross, known as the Cross of the North, was originally the property of Nigma's uncle which he allowed the gallery to display, and it is legally his since he inherited it in his uncle's will. The Riddler claims his second treasure and heads off, chiding Batman for failing to catch the meaning in his earlier "cigarette lighter" riddle. Batman is curious that he's leaving without giving them another riddle, to which the Riddler responds that they already have the riddle--- they just need to figure it out. After he's gone, Nigma gloats that even though Batman has the clues that point to his real crime, he'll never be able to solve it in time to stop him.
Night has fallen, and the Dynamic Duo leaves the art gallery trying to determine what the riddle clue their tormentor left them could be. Batman reasons that it may have something to do with their encounters, and Robin quickly guesses that it has to do with the objects they thought the Riddler had stolen, more specifically, their colors. The black pearl and ivory and ruby cross serve as a rebus, and he believes it has to do with one of the oldest riddles in existence, "What's black and white and red (read) all over?" The answer, of course, is a newspaper, which leads the Boy Wonder to believe that the clues point to the Gotham Times 100th Anniversary Party, which will be attended by many celebrities and wealthy guests. Batman is wary, however; it seems too easy, there must be another angle. But what is it?
Later that night, at the Ox Club, a wild-west themed night club, the Riddler and his gang make their move. While his armed thugs round up the guests in another room, he enters the manager's office to make away with the club's money. With quick wits he easily breaks the safe's combination and prepares to collect his illegal prize, but is shocked when two men enter the office --- Batman and Robin! Nigma is shocked, they uncovered the secret meaning behind his riddle. He steps up, places his hand over his chest and announces that he's surrendering. But when Batman attempts to apprehend him, he gets noting but a painful shock; the Riddler's uniform is electrified. Things get worse when the Riddler's gang come in to help their boss. The Caped Crusaders make short work of the goons, then return to the riddling ringmaster, who hasn't moved an inch during the whole scuffle. Realizing that touching his uniform is useless, Batman decides to knock him out by hitting his face. A swift punch, and the criminal falls to the floor... then shifts back to an upright position! Robin joins in the fray, but the punches have no effect; he's totally immune to their blows. With aching fists, Robin announces that he knows how to stop his defenses and rushes out of the room. The Riddler gloats that by the time Batman's young partner has returned, he'll be able to escape.
Batman takes this to mean that the Riddler can move from his spot whenever he pleases, and wonders what could control that ability. Then it hits him; when they came in to stop his robbery, the Riddler touched the dot on the large question mark in the center of his uniform, that was what controlled the electric current and enabled him to stay upright. He presses the button to deactivate the suit's defense, then lays Nigma out flat. Robin rushes back in and is pleased to see that his bluff worked --- by leaving, he'd cause their foe to slip up and reveal how to stop his defense. As they lift up their catch to escort him to jail, he congratulates them on solving the riddle correctly. Robin announces that Batman realized the rebus puzzle created by the two items didn't refer to their colors, but rather their shapes: the spherical pearl represented the letter "O", and the cross, when inverted, made an "X", which, when put together, creates the word "OX", and leads straight to the Ox Club. Batman tells their capture that even if the riddle had indicated a newspaper robbery, the Riddler still would have failed, since he earlier alerted Commissioner Gordon and the police to surround the building and capture him if he attempted a robbery. After waiting so long to resume their game, Nigma has once again been defeated by the Dark Knight Detective.
Once the Riddler and his gang have been returned to prison, Robin still has one question on his mind; how was he able to withstand their punches during the fight in the club? Batman informs him that since his face couldn't be protected by the electrified suit, he anesthetized it so he wouldn't feel any pain or experience a shock, thereby keeping him from being knocked out. Finally, back at prison, Nigma is confronted by the warden to provide an answer to the riddle he gave days ago, why the prisoners call the prison the "Fiddler's Hotel." Nigma, still angry over his defeat, groans and reveals the solution, "It's such a vile inn."
- This is the first Silver Age appearance of the Riddler, and his first appearance since Detective Comics #142 in 1948. Elements from this comic was later used as the basis for the pilot episode of the 1960s Batman TV series. In that episode, the Riddler leads Batman to the Peale gallery where he fakes a robbery, but when his innocence is proven by the gallery director, he delivers the Caped Crusader with a lawsuit for false arrest that would force him to reveal his identity in court, thus ending his crime-fighting career. The Mole Hill Mob also appears in the show, but they are working for the Riddler rather than acting as an independent gang. Aside from his attempted lawsuit of Batman, he engages in other criminal activities not found in the comic: he kidnaps Robin and replaces him with a duplicate from his gang to infiltrate the Batcave, and he attempts to steal a valuable jewel-encrusted statue from a pavilion at an international fair.
- Though not mentioned until his next appearance in Batman #179, the Riddler apparently suffers from a psychological compulsion to provide law enforcement with a riddle or puzzle clue to alert them to his next crime. If he does not do so, he cannot go through with his crime. It is this mental quirk that has him assigned to Arkham Asylum in later issues. Though personally, I doubt that this is a proper qualification for confinement in a mental institution.
- Evidence of Nigma's compulsion can be seen in this issue. Even though he is now quite wealthy due to the money he inherited from his uncle (also named Edward), he still can't give up a life of crime because he doesn't want to stop engaging Batman in their mental duels. However, this may mostly be motivated by his ego, his desire to prove that he has a greater mind than the world's finest detective.