With Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League expected to land in the near future, there is no better time to look back on developer Rocksteady’s beloved Batman: Arkham series. And what better way to reflect on the series than by talking to the voice behind one of the Caped Crusader’s most iconic villains who appeared throughout the main series? Well, my question is – do you like riddles?
We are delighted to have had the opportunity to speak with Wally Wingert, the voice behind The Riddler in the Batman: Arkham series. He spoke on his memories of working on the games, his renowned character, what differentiated The Riddler from other Batman foes, and more.
The Riddler appears across all of the main Arkham games, setting meticulous traps as he challenges Batman for the title of World’s Greatest Detective. What has always set him apart from other villains is his demeanour, and how he goes about his ‘attack.’ “While villains like the Joker and Two-Face are fraught with evil intent, they are sorely lacking in quality showmanship and precise presentation. The Riddler somehow finds the time to construct a maniacal array of traps and twists to confound Batman,” Wingert explains. “It’s all a wicked gameshow to Eddie, with the head of Batman as the ultimate prize.”
It is fitting for a video game that The Riddler’s plans and schemes are packed full of challenges and puzzles that pose a threat to Batman or those he cares about. “The Riddler’s character is a natural for the world of games, since everything is riddles and games to him,” Wingert comments.
As mentioned, the Batman: Arkham series is remembered fondly by fans, often replayed many times over. This is highlighted by Wingert, who notes that “people love revisiting that world many times over and having a virtually new experience each time they play.” On what the series did so well, the enigmatic voice says “it’s simple… plain ol’ good storytelling; the oldest, most solid utility of great entertainment.” He goes on to note that the series brought “well-constructed and developed characters, and a slate of amazing actors to bring those characters to life. Add to this the interactive component of video games (as opposed to the singular storyline of a movie), and this gives the player a completely new and different experience each time they enter the Arkham world.” Definitely points we can all get behind!
As Wingert mentioned, the well-developed characters and talented voice actors bringing them to life add a heightened sense of immersion when playing the series. Wingert brought charm to the role, conveying The Riddler’s sarcasm, narcissism, and hubris superbly; it definitely seemed like a role to have fun with! I asked the voice actor what his fondest memory of working on the Arkham series was, to which he said: “Crafting the character initially with the help of Voice Director Collette Sunderman was pure joy. Laying the blueprint for this never-before-seen take on this classic Batman villain was the stuff every actor lives for.”
Wingert explained further: “Collette had a great instinct for when Eddie should diverge from his frivolous carrying-on, and abruptly delve into a dark space in a split-second left turn. It gave the character a wonderful multi-dimensional texture so the player would realize, ‘Man, this guy’s totally nuts.'” It’s safe to say that Eddie becomes increasingly unhinged as Batman gains the upper hand in solving the riddles and challenges placed throughout the games.
We touched on earlier that Eddie’s meticulousness when laying traps for Batman sets him apart from most other villains and obstacles the Dark Knight encounters. Of this, Wingert said, “The Riddler knows Batman’s soft spot is compassion for others, something Eddie doesn’t possess. The Riddler is not above exploiting this “weakness” in Batman by bringing others into peril. So while other conflicts simply require Batman’s deductive abilities, his encounters with the Riddler can sometimes involve the safety of another person.” This is something that made The Riddler such a fascinating villain in the series. One such highlight was in Batman: Arkham Knight, where Eddie kidnaps Catwoman, forcing Batman to solve deadly puzzles and attempt to safely free her. This personal and softer side to Batman is something few other villains exploit in the same way.
The Riddler is given a complex and darker backstory in the Batman: Arkham games, adding another layer to this fascinating villain. I asked Wingert what he thought this brought to Eddie’s character. “While I enjoyed Frank Gorshin’s portrayal of The Riddler immensely, and I feel his performance put The Riddler on the map for all future incarnations, the Arkham universe explored Eddie’s descent into his Riddler insanity that we didn’t get in the TV show,” he explained.
“The world of television and movies don’t often have the time to devote to backstories of this nature, so the audience members have to fill in the blanks themselves. But the backstories of the Arkham villains were brilliantly constructed and presented by the game creators in this format. Hearing the initial Riddler tapes in the first game set up the premise in the minds of the players that, ‘Wow…this guy isn’t messing around.'” The tapes were excellent at setting up the personalities and levels of threat of the villains and, as Wingert said, fleshing out backstories, immersing the players in the world of the Arkham games.
Portraying such a unique villain must be a blast. Wingert enlightened us on his favourite part about playing The Riddler, citing fan reactions. “When people come up to me and say, “I hated you…but I loved you!” then I know I did my job. That and the realization, as a lifelong Batman fan, that I’m now part of the lore. It’s a wonderful feeling!” In fact, when he found out he got the role, Wingert described it as “Joy. Jubilation. Ecstasy. More joy. More jubilation. Screams. More ecstasy. Disbelief. A call to mom and dad.”
Batman villains have generally cemented their spots as some of the most recognisable rogues in pop culture. The Batman: Arkham series perfected bringing these characters from comic books to the screen, in a medium which directly involves the audience. When discussing his other work, Wingert said “I’ve been blessed enough to have been able to play a lot of characters with wonderful character arcs. Hank Pym in “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” being the prime example of this.” He continues: “…most of the other characters I’ve played are fairly even-keeled overall. But Eddie can turn on a dime and go from fun and frolic, to pain and death in a split second. I loved the insanity and unpredictability of it all. That and I got to learn many new vocabulary words from the incredible writing!” Personally, I always loved how The Riddler’s personality shifted when he realised Batman might beat him at his own game: you really grasped a sense of the true insanity and mania of the character.
Finally, I had to ask Wingert which Batman character he felt he’d be, to which he responded “I’d love to be False Face from the old Batman TV series.” He explained, “I love the idea of being a villainous Master of Disguise.”
The Batman: Arkham games continue to live on in Batman fans’ hearts, and it is exciting to see what direction Rocksteady will take Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League in. Regardless of where the series goes, we’d like to say another big thank you to the wonderful Wally Wingert for revisiting where Batman: Arkham has been with us.