Thursday, November 28, 2013

Ranting and Rambling: Riddler, Raiments, and Redesigns

Comic book costumes are funny things, aren’t they?
Some characters, like Jean Grey, Beast, Wasp, Starfire, and Martian Manhunter periodically get new costumes ranging from slight variants to all-out redesigns. There is no objective “iconic” costume for these characters, and everyone has their favorites.

Some characters, however, have costumes that are so iconic, redesigning them is (mostly) out of the question, like Superman, Green Lantern, Magneto, the Flash, etc. Redesigns do happen, but only to the degree of removing red briefs, or other minor alterations.

The Riddler, however, has two iconic costumes to choose from. And yet, people keep trying to redesign his look. It ain’t broke, so why are people always trying to fix it? I’m going to go on a magical journey to figure out what the dealio is. Join me, won’t you?

(Journey may or may not actually be magical.)

The Riddler debuted in the 40’s, and his costume certainly looked the part. Question marks on green spandex, a little purple, nothing too fancy.

You may not have known this, but Riddler only had two appearances before they started working on the Adam West Batman series. Those in charge took a liking to the character, and this led to the Riddler becoming not only a main villain of the series, but the villain in the very first episode. This led to the character’s increased popularity in the comics, and the rest is history.

Oh, 60's. Never change.
But the 60’s series is also responsible for another part of the Riddler’s popularity besides Frank Gorshin’s famous performance. Gorshin (who hated the Riddler spandex) took it upon himself to design an alternate costume for himself to switch to.

"Don't make me come over there."
And the rest is history. So, the Riddler now has not one, but two iconic costumes. The comics tend to switch between the two depending on the “type” of Riddler they need. If Riddler needs to be an insane maniac, they tend to dress him in the spandex. If they need the brilliant chessmaster Riddler, they’ll usually give him the suit. Sometimes, though, they blend the two together.

So, really, Riddler had three costume options for the character.
Now, when comic book characters are adapted into other media, there’s three options for how they adapt the costumes, as Spider-Man will politely demonstrate.

Option 1:  Make it as similar as possible to the source material.

Option 2:  Make it a “more realistic” version of the source material.

Option 3:  Go for an all-out redesign (this includes civilian clothes).

And Riddler is no exception.
Batman: the Animated Series gave us a #1 design of the suit, before giving us a redesign of the spandex.

From this... half-Gorshin, half-Carrey, all-bald.
Alex Ross’s Justice opted to give Riddler a #3, but one that people don't actually hate. That is, when they remember that version of the Riddler. Somehow, his body shoots out question marks. No, really.

The graphic novel Joker gave us a Riddler that seems to be as “different” as you can make the character without people complaining.

Batman Forever gave us all three, for better and for worse.

Pretty good.
Not bad.
Let’s look at the design from The Batman.

Not only does this outfit change the Riddler’s look, but the emo influence also changes his very personality. No one dressed like that is going to take much joy in anything he’s doing.

Perhaps that’s it? The only way to change the character’s personality is to change his costume? By disassociating the character visually by giving him a new costume, you are then free to reinvent his personality however you see fit? That would make sense; I think that’s as much of a “reason” for this tendency that we can find. But again, do people want a different Riddler? A darker Riddler? I don’t think so. Personally, I think an “edgier” Riddler betrays the character at his core. Say what you will about the New 52, but DC figured out quickly that people don’t want this

People want this.

To summarize, why to people keep wanting to redesign the Riddler’s clothes? Because they want to redefine the Riddler’s personality. Now, I’d like to share something with you to really show you what I mean. The design process for the Riddler for Arkham City. There's some fascinating concept art for the character that goes in a ton of different directions.

They experimented with Clockwork Orange-inspired designs, grittier looks, darker looks... and what did they end up going with? This.

I have never seen so much time, talent, and effort put in to accomplish so little. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing the artist, design, or effort, or anything. This is a great Riddler look. But the design that took so long to come up with was just a revamp of the comic look.

What does this tell us? Well, they say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It seems to me that Riddler’s costume ain’t broke, so they should stop trying to fix it. But I know they won’t stop trying, as long as there's a market for "revamped" or "reimagined" characters.

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