Matt Reeves’ The Batman introduced audiences to another take on the Dark Knight, a more inexperienced version of Bruce Wayne – played by Robert Pattinson – who discovers the importance of finding the light in his eternally dark quest. Paul Dano opposed him in the film, bringing to life a particularly dark take on the Riddler. A quietly twisted murderer with a motivation surprisingly similar to Batman himself, the film set up a radically unique version of the character with a dark and unsettling worldview.
Now Dano digs deeper into the character and the events that defined him as the Riddler with the limited series, Riddler: first yearwhich will debut on October 15. During a virtual roundtable with members of the press, including CBR, Paul Dano discussed approaching a character’s story with the medium of comics, the delicate nature of focusing a comic about the Riddler as the protagonist, and how the limited series quietly serves as a witty prequel to The Batman.
The story is called Riddler: first year, giving it gravity by referencing one of the most critically acclaimed Batman stories of all time. The actor revealed he was initially nervous about the accolade. “Batman: Year One is my favorite comic. I believe in Matt Reeve’s script, it’s’The Batman,‘ and underneath it says ‘Second year story.’ He always thought [The Batman] was sort of Batman’s second year [career], which he talked about while doing press. Did I feel pressure? Yes and no. No, because it’s one of the great comics, not only Batman comics. So what are you doing? It just seemed right to me in the context of The Batman. I like the title. Apparently, there have been other “Year Ones”. I don’t think I know them either.”
Dano revealed that artist Stevan Subic – who is making his DC debut with Riddler: first year — was not his first impulse for the art of the book. Dano explained that when he first took on the project, “DC sent me a lot of artists to watch. I saw something from Subic, and I was like, ‘This is interesting.’ . But [I didn’t think it was right for this. I kept looking through some other people. I came back and was like, ‘Does that guy have any more samples?’ Sure enough, there was an image of Batman of his that I loved. I felt like it was exactly what Edward would want to put on his wall.”
“I was also excited that [Subic] hadn’t done a comic here in the United States. Finding someone who wanted to collaborate and work together, I felt there was emotional strength in their work. I just felt like he had a voice. He turned out to be a great collaborator. We work very closely together. I don’t know how other writers and artists do it. But I would say that we have a kind of intense and good relationship. I’m really proud of him and I love his work. I’m glad he can share it.”
Dano’s performance as Riddler in The Batman was an intense and almost reserved version of the character, especially compared to previous incarnations of the villain in other mediums. Delving deeper into his psyche with the medium of comics allowed Dano to explore his inner workings in ways that even the film can’t fully portray. “So that idea was always a comic book. It was never like it was going to be a movie or a TV show? I think it’s because the medium offers an interesting way to work with a monologue I wouldn’t want to see a movie that’s two hours of voiceover, and I think Edward’s thoughts and his inner monologue, there’s a kind of Dostoevsky that will pick up as the comic goes Telling something that feels so personal but also archetypal was exciting, and it just always felt right I love comics for the kind of elemental essence of the images.
After playing the character and also writing it, Dano admitted that “as an actor, I have to find a way in. I think I’ve always been interested in what’s natural and what’s I think a certain element of this character and this story had to be nurtured because it’s about Gotham, which is a sick and corrupt city. The Batman, [Director Matt Reeves] and me, the first conversation we had about the role was the two sides of the trauma. So I always thought of it as an emotional horror story about trauma. Even though it starts with sympathy, what’s interesting now as a writer is that I had to break out of subjectivity a bit and get a bit more of a bird’s eye view. To kind of make a trail for the audience, the unsympathetic part of it, which I think is starting to emerge more and more, but I knew I was going to start the comic in his head, like the first page.”
This internal exploration was the driving force behind his version of Riddler, a man who begins the series as an ordinary citizen with a dark edge but is already clearly on the path that will turn him into one of Batman’s most dangerous enemies. . “I knew I needed him to want to survive. I could be wrong. It couldn’t all be natural – that he was just born a psycho and just born that way. It had to be, how does nature meet- she education? I think the games and riddles and puzzles were probably the only positive feedback he ever received in his entire life. Hopefully it ends up being a cautionary tale.
“The Batman ends with hope. And that, unfortunately, we kind of know where it’s kind of going. I thought it would be interesting to explore how the trauma pushed this person forward and over the edge and to explore the subjective point of view in the middle of being in their head or with their thoughts. I was actually really interested in how the story grew – I cultivated a lot of backstory to play the part. But this comic has to be its own thing and stand on its own two legs, and it can’t just serve the movie.”
“I think he has to give the reader his own thing. So to let him evolve and let him grow in this story, to snag more of the emotional work that I had done in the backstory, it was actually really interesting… I “I don’t know if I have to admit it, but the puzzles are not easy to write. This is by far one of the most difficult aspects. For me, the first key is that positive affirmation he might get by solving a riddle, puzzle, or game is literally the only thing. That’s what motivates him. It’s the only thing that can take him away from his thoughts. So I feel like that point of view is the first step you see in number one. the second half of the series, I think something unlocks.”
“I do a lot of backstory work to get to the front page, just a few that bring that life with me. ‘in a way as an actor. It’s been a big learning curve in a really good way. The happiest thing is when I’m challenged and when I’m learning. So I think this aspect has grown as comics find ways to tell the story through action, through image, not just through internal monologue, even though that’s an important part here for me.”
One of the comic’s most compelling threads that connects it to film is Edward’s online presence. In The Batman, Riddler uses the Internet as a weapon and a tool to recruit subscribers. During the events of the prequel comic, Edward is just another face in an endless sea of avatars online. Dano spoke about the importance of thinking about the changing real-world digital environment.
“I think that [is the] story of our recent times and is going to be told in different ways and on many different facets of our lives. I think technology has gotten ahead of us, and its impact on our society is still understood. It doesn’t even have to be radicalization. But I think there is a permanent shift in geography. I think [Edward’s] a guy who wants to help. I think he’s just at the tipping point, and he’s struggled, and he’s angry. He has a very negative image of him.”
“If the movie The Batman is a journey of vengeance towards hope, Riddler: first year may be the opposite. It’s an interesting and twisted journey. It’s actually like it’s coming up in its power, but for the reader, it’s coming down. This is one of the great challenges because he is the main character, therefore the protagonist. It’s the Riddler. So I think the trick of the comics is that you throw it in that position and then it spins. It is hope. When he’s weakest is when he’s closest, and when he’s strongest is when he’s scariest, sickest and sickest.”
Riddler: Year One #1 goes on sale October 25.