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The Improbable Truth

June 19, 2010

Tony Daniel’s brief Riddler story comes to its premature conclusion in Batman #699.  Boy, should he have had more time for this.  Anyway, the Riddler’s in the hospital, having been poisoned by fake Joker venom.  Batman heads to Arkham Asylum and pretends to want to bust Firefly out to get him to talk about Blackspell.  Out of fear, Firefly tells him about a special setup that he, Ridder, Blackspell, and a few others had for siphoning off money from lots of the big crime kingpins of Gotham City.  Blackspell came up with the idea, Riddler provided the sweet talking and lies, and Firefly was the muscle.  Later, when things fell apart, Firefly came to take out Blackspell as a loose end.  But he escaped, and now he’s after Firefly and all the other people he used to work with.  Batman discovers that there was a second victim in Blackspell’s home, finding a gloved handprint masked by bleach.  Commissioner Gordon leaves a guard at Riddler’s door, and when the building Batman found the Riddler in is burnt down, he investigates the flammable materials that made it happen.  Someone pays off the cop guarding the Riddler, and the Riddler is missing.  The note indicates that it was the Riddler himself who escaped.  Batman finds Blackspell beating up the Riddler, and Batman reveals that it was the Riddler dressed up as Blackspell who he was chasing before.  Some potion spills on Blackspell, and he turns into a giant tree monster.  Batman uses some hooks and chains to restrain Blackspell, and the rain starts to revert him back to normal.  The Riddler goes free, and Blackspell, now a tree-man, gets put in Arkham, right next to Firefly.  We later find out that Riddler probably stole some of Blackspell’s money, and he wonders if Riddler’s whole reformation was just a ruse.  Then, he finds a picture of his own dead body, just like the other pictures.

So, it’s rather unfortunate that Daniel didn’t have more time before Batman #700 to tell this story.  He obviously had big plans to bring the Riddler back as a villain in full force.  Instead, we get this kind of confusing tale about a cabal of scum stealing money and Riddler pretending to be Blackspell while the real one is still running around.  Now, I’m confused as to what the real Blackspell did and didn’t do.  My best guess is that the weakness of this story comes from having to be crammed into just two short issues.  I am interested in seeing Riddler as a villain again, even though I liked him reformed.  Blackspell was a rather uninteresting, generic magic villain, in the end, and he’s probably only going to pop up again in the future as a tool of Poison Ivy’s or something.  Not a big deal.  Guillem March’s art was nice and pretty, and fortunately, there was, yet again, only one woman in the whole issue.  So not very much opportunity for cheesecake.  In the end, this is a sadly forgettable story.  Grant Morrison seems to be coming back to Batman after this, so I’m not sure if Daniel will even get to follow up this story and give the Riddler a true return.  Then again, Peter Milligan is doing one issue after Morrison, so maybe Daniel will be on as full-time artist and writer again afterwards.  I don’t know.  In fact, with all these upcoming tie-ins to the Return of Bruce Wayne, I’m not sure where this book is even headed.  Guess we’ll just have to see.

Plot: 7.3      Art: 8.8      Dialogue: 8.5      Overall: 7.6

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