Review by Trey Jackson
SYNOPSIS: Edward reaches out to the daughter of a mob victim who might have insight into their operation. Meanwhile, his boss at the accounting firm believes there’s a reason to be suspicious about Wayne Industries’ payments to Bruce Wayne.
And in his most daring move yet, Edward goes undercover at a company responsible for locking away highly sensitive documents. What he finds may lead to his most shocking revelation yet!
“I Know Now What I Must Become”
One of the keys to a good villain is that they think they’re the hero of the story. Characters rarely do things for no reason, and villains have a purpose behind their actions, however wrong or misguided they might be. In the third issue of Riddler: Year One, we see Edward’s heroic vision of himself made explicit. If it wasn’t clear enough in previous issues and in the movie, you’ll see in this story that he considers himself a worthy partner to The Batman. He thinks it’s their job to root out the corruption in Gotham. But even if you already knew that, there are some layers here that add nuance and tragedy to what we’ve seen already. In short, Paul Dano and Stevan Subic have taken a great villain and made him even better.
At the end of the previous issue, Edward witnessed the murder of Mr. Joon. Recall that Mr. Joon was suspected of stealing money from Falcone because Edward investigated the accounts. Horrifying as the murder was, Edward recorded it and this issue begins with him delivering it to the GCPD (and we get the first use of his Patrick Parker alias). But even though police now have video evidence of a mob murder, they don’t do anything. No police presence at the New Beginnings Animal Shelter front, and no protection for Mr. Joon’s daughter who is forced to take his place. So Edward reaches out to her directly. She won’t say much, only that she and many others are trapped in the money laundering scheme all over the city. Edward decides to keep investigating by gaining access to Wayne accounts at his employer. He hits another dead end when he discovers that those books aren’t digitized and are kept in a secure document storehouse. This would be another dead end except… someone anonymously offers to help him gain access. It isn’t revealed who, but Edward hopes that Batman has decided to take him seriously. And when a project at work reminds him that his firm represents the Renewal fund, it all clicks: the Renewal fund is what keeps everything going, at all levels of the city. In issue 2, Edward learned that dirty money was being sent to Renewal. But now he learns how much bigger the conspiracy is, that Renewal is being used to make bribery payments all over the city. This leads to his “epiphany” in his journal that you’ll remember Gordon reading in the movie, and his decision to finally reach out to Batman directly. Two more months until we find out what happens next!
So, to break it down:
The Story – most readers (those that saw the movie anyway) will know that Falcone is behind everything and that Renewal is a city-wide slush fund, so those reveals aren’t as shocking to us as they are to Edward. That comes with the territory in a prequel book, and if plot twists were the main feature here it would be a weakness. But the main feature here is Edward and how these reveals impact him, and in that respect, they work. Edward does make a bold step toward contacting Batman in this issue, and I’m interested to see how that plays out.
Characters – like I said, this is a character-driven story, and there’s really only one. Edward is who we start and end with, and almost every panel features either him, his perspective, or his thoughts and dialogue. In issue 2 I started keeping track of how much of his internal monologue we have compared to his spoken words. Again, the pages are full of his thoughts but conversations with others are rare. Withdrawing from others, either voluntarily or otherwise, is one of the most sinister aspects of depression and a variety of other mental illnesses, and it’s another way of showing us that his story is a tragedy. There is one conversation with a mystery character who somehow knows his name and where he lives. We saw this in the last issue, and I’m predicting that this won’t be a real person at all. And I’m betting when he realizes it, it’s a “no coming back” kind of moment. Finally, the issue culminates with his “I know now what I must become” manifesto that should sound familiar. It’s the theme and title of the issue, but another line in his entry stands out to me. He writes: “If you want people to understand, REALLY understand, you can’t just give them the answers. You have to CONFRONT them. TORTURE them with the horrifying question — just like they tortured me.” In the movie, this explains his penchant for death traps and elaborate murders; he’s punishing corrupt people, and that might be all you remember about it. But here, this entry comes after he’s been on the verge of a mental breakdown for as long as he can remember, one that’s been exacerbated by rejection letters and ignored cries for help. Remember he reached out to the Renewal fund for assistance and was repeatedly denied. The only thing that is helping him get better is getting further and further into exposing this conspiracy. His only breakdowns in this issue come when he’s hit a dead end in the case, but each time he pushes through. Solving the riddle is what’s keeping him sane, at least as sane as he can be. So he is motivated to punish evildoers, yes. But I can’t help thinking that it’s more than just wanting to punish them. Working the case is a coping mechanism for him, a way out of the torment. Maybe torturing others to reveal the truth to them is all he knows, and that’s all he has to offer. Maybe I’m wrong, but I’m eager to see where he’s headed.
Art – Good stuff again in this issue. Shadows and hints of blue remind us that Edward lives most of his life either in screens or darkness. The characters have an impressionistic quality to them, which is consistent with previous issues, and it looks to be a deliberate choice to remind us that we’re experiencing all this from Edward’s perspective, and he is increasingly detached from those around him (that, plus how much he talks to himself). Joon’s daughter is the only other character with visual detail that we spend any significant time with, and she’s one of the few he genuinely cares about. Meanwhile, the times Edward thinks (or maybe just hopes) he’s seen Batman he’s presented as not much more than a shadow. The online communication style is a great intro to the Rataalada segments we’ll see in the movie, and it was a treat to see Edward’s infamous journal entry as a splash page. We got some more visualizations of Edward’s mental breakdowns, but those are getting fewer and further between the more committed he is to this case. And there are some fantastic layout design choices in the last few pages as Edward tries to wrap his mind around what’s happening, including a pretty clever way to visualize his “breakthrough.” – Trey Jackson