B

Batman: Featuring Two-Face And The Riddler

featuring Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, Neil Gaiman, Alan Grant, Andrew Helfer and Mark Verheiden

(Art by Pat Broderick, Joe Giella, Dick Giordano, Sid Greene, Mike Hoffman, Bob Kane, Sam Keith, Bernie Mireault, Steve Mitchell, Kevin Nowlan, Charles Paris, Jerry Robinson, George Roussos, Howard Sherman, Dick Sprang, Frank Springer, Chris Sprouse and Matt Wagner)

Originally published in conjunction with the cinema release of Batman Forever (in which Two-Face and the Ridder are the main villains, in case you've not seen it), this book collects a range of stories featuring the titular villains ranging from their original appearances in the 1940s up to the darker stories of the 1980s.

Although they are very kitsch and crammed with awfully cheesy exposition dialogue, I was actually surprised to find myself enjoying the 1940s stories.  I think what made them so enjoyable was seeing the true origins of these two iconic villains and how they match up to legend that 70-odd years of comics has built for them.  I was, for instance, surprised to find that Two-Face predates the Riddler by a full seven years, debuting in 1941.  In that Two-Face story, brought to us by Batman's legendary co-creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane, we see that the villain was originally Harvey Kent (not Dent) and he failed to get reconstructive surgery because the only doctor who could have done it visited Europe and was interred in a Nazi concentration camp.

We then get a couple of Riddler stories from the 1960s, in which the villain struggles to overcome his psychological compulsion to give Batman clues to his crimes, before the anthology jumps ahead to 1989. 

It was in the 80s that Batman comics began to develop the dark tone that they're known for today and here we get a much darker look at the origins of not only the two main villains of this book, but also the Penguin.  These linked stories, written masterfully by Gaiman, Grant and Verheiden, explore the psychology of the villains by following a documentary film crew's attempts to film the otherwise unseen side of them.  I think my favourite story of the whole book was 'When Is A Door: The Secret Origin of The Riddler', written by Neil Gaiman.  Here The Riddler is a somewhat tragic figure, whom the filmmakers don't even recognise as a real supervillain and who is struggling to come to terms with the darker world he's living in.  Gaimain brilliantly gives us exposition of how a character in-universe is coping with the way in which Batman stories began delving to darker and more violent depths, with The Riddler getting a fantastic monologue in which he remembers the days when the supervillain life was fun ("No one ever hurt anybody.  Not really.") and laments the change in the world ("The Joker's killing people, for God's sake!  Did I miss something?").

Two-Face, whose 1941 appearance kicked off this book, rounds out the stories with one from 1990 in which we flashback to the days when he was D.A. Harvey Dent and we learn that his split-personality psychosis had begun to manifest far before the courtroom acid attack left him scarred.

Overall, this book is a great bit of exploration of the title villains, showing us how they developed over time both in-universe and out.  It is, in fact, far more entertaining than 'Batman Forever' was.  And it has an introduction written by Mark 'The Joker' Hamill too.

4 out of 5