You know the way a review of this sort of book goes, we’ve got a collection of reprints that’ll prove gratifying for long-time fans and educational for Batman newbies. (The index of villain appearances might even be useful for any Bat academics reading.) The variety of art and writing styles aptly demonstrates how American comics have evolved over the last centuries, and gosh, I really like this sort of thing, so of course I’m going to tell you to go read Batman: featuring Two Face and The Riddler.
The foreword is particularly interesting, being written by Mark Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker and frequently voices the Joker in cartoons, soon before the release of one of the nineties Batman films that’s seen as a campy embarrassment today. Nowadays mainstream Batman is more influenced by Nolan’s noirish realism than the exuberant silliness of the Adam West show. I personally consider both styles valid, although given that I haven’t seen Batman’s most recent film I could be completely wrong about the currently accepted Batman aesthetic.
As for the villains themselves, I found the Riddler oddly sympathetic. His story is that ever since he cheated at a puzzle during school, he’s dedicated his life to trolling people with riddles. He can’t stop himself, it’s a compulsion. Somebody should really give the guy an acceptable outlet for his puzzle-posing predilection, may I suggest being the snob who writes those infuriating Mensa activity books or setting up elaborate Easter egg hunts as a training exercise for the Gotham Police department. Knowing him, they’d probably be laced with explosives or something, but it’s for scenarios like this we have the phrase ‘baby steps’. My favorite Riddler moment was that time he painted a crossword on the billboard, a crossword that the reader could attempt to solve while the Dynamic Duo puzzled up their way its side. That was brilliant evocation of the sort of thing you can only do in comics, and it’s a trick I’d happily steal were I writing in the medium. I’ll happily admit that the Riddler’s conundrums are ridiculous, their answers even more so, but the way I see it Batman’s ability to navigate the villain’s labyrinthine logic is just one of the reasons he’s the World’s Greatest Detective, and besides, you can’t expect much lucidity from a man dressed like a green question mark.
The internally dualistic Two Face was a less interesting character, although he too had a narrative moment I’d adapt if I were making my own Batman film. During a raid on a cinema, Two Face has one of his goons project a clip of him demanding money from the audience before Batman swings from the rafters and kicks him in the face. Imagine yourself in that audience, think of the effect that experience would have on your underwear. Absolutely brilliant.
If you like Batman, you’ll like this book.