Make Paul Dano's Riddler In 'The Batman' Gotham City's QAnon, You Cowards
Riddle me this: what do we make of Paul Dano joining Robert Pattinson and Zoë Kravitz in Matt Reeves' neo-noir detective thriller The Batman?
Dano has signed up to play comic villain The Riddler, and while it might be hard to imagine the cherubic man who embodied sweet, fragile Brian Wilson concocting schemes and belting Gotham's law enforcers in the face, he could be the perfect choice for a Riddler who taps into the paranoiac state we're in right now.
It's unlikely this Riddler will bear any relation to the last Riddler we saw, at any rate. Jim Carrey played the character in Batman Forever with such jaw-dislocating zaniness that even Nicolas Cage would have described it as "a bit much". He didn't so much chew the scenery as chomp it to mulch, spew it back up, form the wet cud into the shape of a roast chicken, and serve it up under a cloche with a carefully chosen wine list.
No, because as entertaining as it would be to see a hard-boiled Bruce Wayne sighing deeply as The Riddler pranced around vamping about having a bed but not sleeping and having a mouth but not speaking, it's fair to assume that Dano's take on Edward Nygma will be slightly less day-glo. For a start, that name's a bit too honking for a Very Serious, Actually update of the noir detective genre. Humphrey Bogart wouldn't tail a suspect called E. Nygma. He'd just shoot him for being obviously guilty.
The Riddler is a villain for our times, though. There's already a figure who talks in allusion and metaphor, whipping up a ferociously devoted band of followers to wreak an outsized influence on American life: QAnon.
If you're unfamiliar with the conspiracy cult of QAnon, here's a quick primer. The lore according to its followers is that one brave security services insider, known only as Q, is blowing the whistle on evildoers in the 'deep state' and Democratic party via more than 3,500 posts on 4chan and the now-defunct 8chan. His 'revelations' center on the Clintons and their friends' tastes for coups d'état, Satan-worship, and drinking pints of children's blood. At the centre of it all, inevitably, is Donald Trump. According to Q he's the vanquishing hero, savior of not just the United States but all that's moral and holy.
But Q doesn't just lay their allegations out on the table. The anonymous tipster (in reality, it's extremely likely that QAnon is made up of any number of followers paying tribute with their own fabrications) has dropped crumbs and hints about nefarious goings-on and left them to be interpreted by a rabid collective of believers. They interpret the messages, each member trying to show how in-tune they are with QAnon by finding increasingly esoteric signals within garbled texts. The community remains active and dangerous. This August, the FBI classified it as a potential source of domestic terrorism. While Trump has retweeted QAnon accounts and even hosted one leading proponent of the conspiracy theory at the White House, there's growing disillusionment among followers that 'guilty' parties will be arrested, and some are considering taking matters into their own hands.
All of which is extremely unsettling. But it's also exactly the kind of thing that superheroes were made to do battle with. Especially character-driven neo-noir superheroes. The Riddler of The Batman could be a shadowy orchestrator of mass delusion and Dano, with his boyish features and slightly slippery manner, could embody the nebbish man behind the curtain perfectly.
Plus, I'm afraid to say that the concept of a villain who's a high-kicking moron wearing a leotard with question marks on it is so noxiously terrible that it's still in quarantine and remains unavailable to filmmakers for at least the next 50 years. It's for the best.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.