The Riddler: Gotham’s green, gay (?) guy

          Confession: I don’t really like St. Patrick’s Day.  While I love to celebrate most all holidays, March 17’s relentless focus on drinking strikes me as terribly dull and unimaginative.  But I do love green, which inevitably reminds me of the Riddler, one of the most iconic villains in the Batman rogues gallery.

          The visual possibilities of a green clad mischief maker have proven irresistible to the producers of Batman’s many film and television adaptations.  Emmy winner Frank Gorshin got the ball rolling when he portrayed the Riddler on the 60s Batman show, with a skintight body suit and an unforgettable, diabolical laugh.  My dad used to tell me that laugh was what won him the Emmy, and he may have been right.  On a series filled with camp cut-ups, Gorshin’s amiably bonkers puzzler was a standout.  John Astin, better known as The Addams Family’s Gomez, played the character on two episodes, but no one could touch Gorshin’s inspired lunacy.

            Jim Carrey cited the actor as an inspiration for his flamboyant and brilliant turn as the Riddler in Joel Schumacher’s underrated Batman Forever.  The filmmakers exploited not only the actor’s talent but also the full potential of the Riddler’s all green color palate.  They started with his lavish costumes, ranging from a bowler hat and suit ensemble to a lycra body glove to a jacket illuminated with hundreds of bright flashing bulbs.  They then carried the motif through to sets and props like his nefarious “Box” device, whimsical “bat” bombs, and the swirling green lights of his flashy lair.  Interestingly, green was once considered “the favorite color of inverts” (homosexuals), which was why Oscar Wilde and his friends wore green carnations in their buttonholes.  It’s entirely appropriate, then, that the hue saturates virtually every frame of Batman Forever, a movie directed by an openly gay man and featuring the gayest interpretation of the Riddler to date.

            Batman: The Animated Series offered a far more restrained take on Riddler, opting for a suit over lycra and voiced by gay actor John Glover, better known to comics fans as Lionel Luther on Smallville.  (He also played identical gay twins in the acclaimed Love! Velour! Compassion! and the lovable corporate billionaire Daniel Clamp in Gremlins 2: The New Batch.)  The Riddler has featured in all of the animated Batman series since, and was voiced most recently by adorable Dave Franco on Young Justice.  However, he missed his chance to appear in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, though he was rumored for both The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises (Johnny Depp’s name was floated in connection with the part). 

            But Edward Nygma returned to the screen in a big way with his breakout role on Fox’s Gotham.  Cory Michael Smith instantly won fans over as the odd, increasingly psychotic character, who spent most of season one as a kooky background player .  By the finale, though, his escalating madness took center stage, and Smith has been a star attraction in the show’s dramatically improved sophomore year.  Of particular interest has been his weirdly touching, complex relationship with Robin Lord Taylor’s Penguin, and their scenes together have gotten increasingly homo-romantic.  While Nygma’s doomed devotion to Kristen Kringle drove much of his evolution, Eddie also has a bit of a queer vibe-- especially when paired with the undeniably gay-ish Oswald Cobblepot.  A recent scene had Eddie checking in on an imprisoned Oswald, who implored his friend to visit his late mother’s grave for him and even suggested her favorite flowers.  Altogether now: awww!

            It will be interesting to see if the Riddler appears in one of DC’s many in-the-works “Expanded Universe” films.  If so, the producers can only hope the interpretation is as inspired as some of the diverse appearances he’s made over the last fifty years.

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