Sunday, May 22, 2005

Riddle Me This . . .

Although much has been and will be written about Frank Gorshin's skills as a song-and-dance man, comedian, impressionist, and actor, to those of my generation he will always be best known as the first TV version of a comic-book villain who conveyed the idea that being a superhero's costumed punching bag might actually be fun. Reportedly, before the '60's Batman TV show, the Riddler was pretty much a washout as a comic-book character: He appeared in two stories in 1948, then did not appear again until 1965. Yet Gorshin's high-pitched giggle and sense of mania made such a lasting impression on the public that the Prince of Puzzles became a staple of Batman's Rogue's Gallery, and has appeared in just about every media incarnation of the Caped Crusader since. Indeed, yesterday the latest Saturday Morning animated Batman show debuted a long-haired, Euro-trash-like version of the Emerald-Clad Interrogator. The Riddler, as a fun villain, does not really fit into the current grim-and-gritty worldview of the Batman comics; and several attempts have been made to re-define his image, including the stylish Jim Lee version in the Hush storyline last year and a recent bout with plastic surgery. And the less said about Jim Carrey's pink-haired version, the better. But just as I can't think of the Penguin without Burgess Merideth's gravelly quacking popping into my mind, the Riddler will forever be associated for me with Gorshin's helium laugh and off-beat cadence.

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