Review: The Riddler: Year One #5

“Blinded By The Light”
Writer: Paul Dano
Artist: Stevan Subic
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
Review by Steven Lee Sharpe

The Riddler: Year One #5 is not your average comic. In fact, for large parts of the issue, it challenges the definition of a comic book completely, because it reads like a journal, albeit one written by a homicidal maniac. In this penultimate issue of the series, Edward Nashton finally formulates his plot to become The Riddler.

A Prelude to the Change

In this series, writer Paul Dano has been building a puzzle to make up a picture of Edward Nashton, the version of The Riddler he played in director Matt Reeves’s movie The Batman (2022). Primarily, this prelude to the film shows us how a man working at an accountancy firm unraveled a hidden tapestry of crime and corruption within big business and the running of Gotham City, and how this discovery turned him into a vengeful terrorist.

However, given the small amount of time Nashton got on-screen, it’s also a chance to put him under the microscope. Aren’t we always fascinated to find out what makes the bad guys tick? In Nashton’s case, the story’s been a tragic one, of a man struggling with mental demons who tries to do the right thing when he uncovers illegal activities. If we were finding our sympathies balance out for a man who eventually becomes a villain, the previous issue of this series dramatically tipped the scales, with a heart-wrenching flashback to his childhood where he was abandoned as a baby. At best, Nashton didn’t receive the attention he needed to manage his demons and channel his unique mind. At worst, the mistreatment he received greatly contributed to creating the monster he eventually became.

As for the plot of The Riddler: Year One #3, Nashton had established that drug money was being moved through a defunct company formerly owned by Sal Maroni where it was being channeled as donations to the Gotham City Renewal program, set up by Thomas Wayne before his death. The program had been buying up properties under the promise of helping the underprivileged but it was merely a scheme to protect the interests of the criminally wealthy. After even failing to get help from the police, the issue ended with the increasingly fragile Nashton repeating the words “I know what I must become.”

A Metamorphosis in Words Rather Than Pictures

Up until now, artist Stevan Subic has done the work of showing Nashton’s fractured mind, while the writing gave a more balanced portrait of a man struggling with issues. Four pages into this issue, the comic takes the appearance of Edward Nashton’s journal. On what looks like pages of financial auditing form templates, we get to read Nashton’s thoughts written in scratchy, messy handwriting. His mind has lost all perspective now, unable to contain his delusional internal logic as he takes an initially righteous cause and turns it into a terrorist crusade.

The irony, of course, is that he’s been inspired by Batman’s journey. He identifies the same methods he needs to adopt as Bruce Wayne had done to become the Dark Knight, such as striking fear into criminals’ hearts, and the physical exercises needed to make him stronger. Also, the importance of anonymity. He sketches ideas for a mask, and question marks that have peppered the previous issues now start to fill the page, leading him subconsciously to his new nom-de-guerre.

While it may sound like Subic has it easy on this issue, that couldn’t be further from the truth. He’s done an excellent job of maintaining a visual energy to convey the manic energy of Nashton’s mind. Each page of the journal is littered with either “photographs” that Nashton’s taken, maps, newspaper clippings, or unsettling doodles.

The opening and closing pages of the comic are a reminder of how effective Subic is at visual storytelling too. He has turned The Riddler: Year One into a horror comic, even though the demons are imaginary. There’s an extraordinary page showing Nashton kneeling at the feet of Batman who is depicted in a bright white light, like an angel.

Conclusion

What is a comic? Is it a story told through a series of sequential images, or is it enough just to contain pictures and words?  Taken as a single issue The Riddler: Year One #5 may disappoint someone looking for the former category. While it’s exciting to see recognizable elements from the movie now appearing in the comic, the plot’s quite slender and the narrative voice rambles, quite deliberately and necessarily. Ultimately though, this is part of a series so it can be taken as a more experimental approach to telling this particular chapter of the story.

As a collected graphic novel, it will benefit from following the emotive previous chapter set at the orphanage. Considering that this is Dano’s first attempt at writing a comic series, the relationship he’s struck up with Subic shows great maturity and a willingness to be brave.

The horror in this series has come from inhabiting Edward Nashton’s disturbed mind and this issue represents heightened first-person storytelling. It’s frustratingly effective. As Edward himself writes at one point:

I’m so happy I could cry. I’m so angry I could scream.”

 

Images Courtesy of DC Entertainment


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