Matt Reeves’ version of Riddler in The Batman seems like he'll be Gotham City’s version of the Zodiac killer. The Riddler will be portrayed by Paul Dano in the upcoming film and marks only the third time the character has been adapted for the big screen. Audiences got their first glimpse of this new Riddler in The Batman’s teaser trailer released during DC’s 2020 FanDome, which revealed that this interpretation of the character will be entirely different from every other Riddler in film and TV, such as those portrayed by Frank Gorshin and Jim Carrey. In fact, the only similarity Dano’s version seems to share is an affinity for riddles.
Based on the initial trailer, one can begin to get an idea of what this film has in store for Robert Pattinson’s Caped Crusader. Though the film will feature a plethora of Batman villains including Catwoman, Carmine Falcone, and Penguin, Riddler seems to be the primary antagonist of the film. The trailer also reveals a sinister-looking Riddler duct-taping a victim whom he brutally murders in order to leave a message for Batman. Riddler’s role as primary antagonist can be assumed based on the trailer’s focus on this murder, the riddles, and coded messages.
The elements presented in the teaser trailer portray Riddler as a sadistic killer looking to strike fear into the citizens of Gotham. These traits, when paired with his appearance, point to Riddler becoming Gotham’s very own Zodiac Killer, a notorious serial killer in the San Francisco Bay area during the 1970s who was never captured. Matt Reeves’ decision to base his version of the Riddler on this notorious killer is inspired, as it utilizes the Riddler’s most interesting characteristics and pairs them with those of a real-life super villain who terrorized a city and brought the police to their knees.
Perhaps the most obvious similarity between Paul Dano’s Riddler and the Zodiac Killer is his physical appearance in the upcoming film. As seen in the trailer and presented again in The Batman’s new promo images, Dano’s Riddler wears a dark bag-like mask over his face with glasses and a jacket with what appears to be a circled question mark. This is remarkably similar to eyewitness descriptions of the Zodiac Killer, who allegedly wore glasses as well as a dark sack-looking bag over his head and a tunic featuring the Zodiac symbol. When compared side by side, it’s impossible not to recognize the striking parallels.
Secondly, the Riddler taunts the police with sadistic killings and various writings and this fits the Zodiac’s M.O. Yes, riddles and coded messages are to be expected when dealing with the Riddler, but the manner in which they are done in this film is darker than anything previously attributed to the character on film. The events in the film also seem to create a city-wide scare, something the Zodiac did with his brutal killings and messages to the police and media. Zodiac was also infamous for his unbreakable coded messages that supposedly would reveal his true identity. It seems Riddler will be taunting Batman in the exact same way Zodiac taunted the police and public.
Matt Reeves’ instinct to model Riddler on the Zodiac Killer is a genius one as Zodiac is a true-life tale of a villain able to stay one step ahead of the police without ever being caught. Consequently, the parallels between Riddler and Zodiac should create a perfect challenge for this new Batman and put his sleuthing skills to the test. This is especially exciting given that Batman’s detective skills have never been fully explored on the big screen. Making Riddler Gotham City’s Zodiac Killer carries through on Matt Reeves' promise that The Batman will be a noir-driven detective story.