The opening scene of The Batman is absolutely jarring, especially in retrospect. Because the expectation is, of course, that we begin The Batman with, well, Batman. And at first, we don’t … right? That is the question as the scene plays on. Because it’s unclear whose eyes we are following and why. That distressing uncertainty continues while we watch a tiny sword-wielding ninja turn playfully upon his parents.
We know this isn’t Bruce Wayne. Conversely it feels like, just for a moment, that it could be. Therefore with presumably Batman / Bruce Wayne watching this family, there’s so many layers to process and puzzle that the impending serial killer’s strike is even more sinister once it occurs.
Here’s the thing. An opening scene is the most vital of any film. It sets the tone, sets up the story, and gives you a place to get to know your protagonist. The Batman’s opening deliberately intertwines our hero and villain instead of setting us comfortably upon Batman’s shoulders.
Why? Anyone who has seen The Batman knows that The Riddler believes he and the vigilante who calls himself Vengeance are similar, nearly the same person even. But even Edward Nashton can’t see everything. Below, we’re breaking down all the parallels between The Batman and The Riddler in the 2022 DC Comics film. Plus, we explore the deeper meanings behind these connections and how they impact both characters.
Narration and Field of Vision
As mentioned previously, we start the film with The Riddler. Through his goggles, the villain spies on a wealthy Gotham family in their penthouse. He studies his victim. Then he kills the mayor, and we move on to a new point of view. Batman narrates as he explores his city, hunting down his latest … criminal. Because Batman is a good guy, so we don’t see his targets as victims. The Riddler’s previous appearance gives us pause, though.
The opening is not the last time we’ll view the movie through The Riddler’s scope, either. A first person POV camera stalks his other victims outside The Penguin’s nightclub. And you know who else watches people leave the Iceberg Lounge and spies on them in their home? Batman. Batman’s camera enhanced contact lenses are purposefully paralleled with The Riddler’s goggles. Using his recording tech, Batman watches Selina Kyle / Catwoman. He explores the same crime scenes where The Riddler commits his violent acts, seeing them through intellectually understanding — though not emotionally sympathetic — eyes.
Costumes and Masks
Alright, this parallel is pretty obvious. Both men are using army surplus type DIY costumes. Edward Nashton and Bruce Wayne both hate their civilian personas, shirking their duties as “normal” people to instead bolster their costumed counterparts. The Riddler even remarks on this with an already iconic quote: “My mask allowed me to be myself completely, no shame.”
The Riddler believes Batman will be on his side for many reasons. It’s not the typical “We’re the same” conversational trope in Arkham, but rather a feeling of kinship. While ultimately scorned, there’s again a ton of parallels in the film that purposefully clue us into how and why certified Batman fanboy Edward Nashton feels this way.
The mask conversation is just the most noticeable because it’s written as a main theme in the film. For both The Riddler and the Batman, masks are a pathway to being their true selves. They are free from social constraints, societal expectations, and the pressures that regular men face. They both find power and purpose in identities they have crafted for themselves without any influence or impetus besides their own.
The Riddler doesn’t know Batman is an orphan, but we do. Nashton even grew up under the care of the Wayne Foundation before mobsters and corrupt city officials siphoned the funding. Thus The Riddler and the Batman are each other’s foils. Both boys experienced similar tragedies in their lives — losing their parents. However, Bruce was born into privilege and had the means to make himself a hero. Edward Nashton, impoverished and traumatized without any access to mental health care, turns to darker things for comfort. And both men find their parallel paths to be healing.
Journaling is an important habit for a detective. Batman catalogs his observations, feelings, and thoughts about his cases and vigilantism. Most of his narration in The Batman is actually him reading from his own journal. Lined paper and black ink — that’s all that hides Batman’s secrets.
Later in The Batman, GCPD seizes The Riddler’s apartment. Among many other items, they find stacks of journals detailing Edward Nashton’s descent into madness. Additionally, all of Nashton’s plans for Gotham’s reckoning are laid out alongside his feelings concerning his station, success, et cetera. Within the scene Batman even seems a little disturbed by this similarity he shares with the serial killer.
“To the Batman.” We see this line constantly. The Riddler leaves his cards for Batman, hoping he will catch up just a little too late. It’s thrilling for him. And despite the horrors attached to these riddles, Batman seems to enjoy solving the cyphers and secret messages. He’s smug about it, too. Everyone else except Batman is incapable of figuring these things out. How lucky they have this brilliant detective on their side, then!
Of course, The Riddler wants this. The riddles are essentially love letters. In The Riddler’s mind, Batman is is partner. They want and need the same things. They think the same way, and they’re both too smart for this mundane world. Therefore The Riddler is courting Batman and helping him stay out of danger during the grand finale. Gotham will go underwater, but The Riddler and the Batman will stand together unscathed. Fortunately, Batman doesn’t want any part in this.
Maps and Clues
White spray paint coats The Riddler’s crime scenes. Big and bright white, the color usually represents innocence and purity. However, The Riddler has twisted it into a sinister hue — a warning (like Batman’s white spotlight, but we’ll get to that later). The most important aspect of the spray painted clues is how Batman later utilizes this technique to make his own diagram.
Shirtless in Wayne Manor, Bruce paints his floor with all the facts. Hoping to find a pattern, he stands in a circle of words and phrases used by his enemy. There’s also a lingering shot on Bruce as he moves a table to make room for this art project. We see the same action later in The Riddler’s apartment when Batman moves a massive table to uncover a white spray painted map of Gotham City.
So was Batman just trying to get into the mind of his enemy? Perhaps. But it’s a little more interesting to consider that both men’s analytical brains used the same methods to organize their thoughts.
“Fear is a tool.”
These are Batman’s words. A nocturnal animal, Batman uses fear tactics, hides in the shadows, and generally inspires fear in Gotham’s criminals. The skylight with his Batsignal is a warning to all. Be on your best behavior, or the Batman will get you.
Now, let’s consider The Riddler’s murder weapon. It’s a carpet tucker. Or, a tool. And this tool inspires fear in Gotham’s corrupt politicians. So Batman and The Riddler exact their vengeance in the same way. Whereas The Riddler’s tool is literal, though, Batman’s is the metaphorical concept.
There’s a reason Selina Kyle tells Batman, “I thought you’d be on his side.” And why The Joker mocks Batman with the observation that Batman agrees The Riddler’s victims deserved it. Batman can’t escape the very clear connections between him and The Riddler. Director Matt Reeves additionally doesn’t shy away from these parallels, using them to enhance the unsettling tone. As the audience, we must ask ourselves what damage Batman does. How healthy are his motivations? His methods? When he inspires a villain’s devotion that leads to such destruction, we have to wonder if he’s still the hero.
Did you pick up on any other parallels between the Batman and The Riddler in the new Batman movie? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!