Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for The Batman.
Now that The Batman is finally here, we’re all filled with the joy and fear that Gotham instills. Directed by Matt Reeves, this iteration of the classic Batman tale is a film noir detective flick meets gruesome serial killer saga. The main villain is reminiscent of perhaps the most prolific and mysterious serial killer ever — the Zodiac Killer.
The Riddler terrorizes Gotham in The Batman by brutally murdering the city’s most corrupt officials, leaving cyptic letters labled “To the Batman.” In these letters, the Riddler uses ciphers to send a message, which some might recognize as a tool used by the Zodiac Killer. To this day, we still don’t know the real identity of the Zodiac Killer. Regardless, is the Riddler actually based on the Zodiac Killer, or is it just sheer coincidence?
Director Matt Reeves shared that the Riddler is somewhat based on the Zodiac Killer in ‘The Batman.’
Of course, the Riddler is based mainly on his comic book counterpart. However, we’ve seen the Batman villains numerous times — the Riddler has been played by Jim Carrey in Batman Forever and Cory Michael Smith in Gotham. Now, Paul Dano brings a new take to the role in Matt’s The Batman, and it’s absolutely chilling. Matt wanted to go for a serial killer saga vibe in this iteration, so finding inspiration in a real life serial killer was a natural way to go.
“The premise of the movie is that the Riddler is kind of molded in an almost Zodiac Killer sort of mode,” Matt explained to Movie Maker, “and is killing very prominent figures in Gotham, and they are the pillars of society.”
So when we start to see the similarities between the Riddler, a classically humorous character in the comic books, and a notorious serial killer, we’re definitely not imagining things. The Riddler takes on a sadistic air that we’ve seen much more in villains like the Joker and Two-Face.
How did Matt get there? “I read this book, Mindhunter, which was profiling all of these serial killers,” Matt said to Total Film. “Of course, I revisited the Zodiac story, and I thought, ‘gosh, when you look at the Zodiac who was leaving all of these ciphers and puzzles and taunting the police and the newspapers … that sounds like the Riddler.' That idea came very early on and I knew it was important that he not just be a serial killer.”
The Riddler in ‘The Batman’ and the Zodiac Killer actually do share many similarities.
Not only has Matt said that there is some Zodiac inspiration behind the Riddler, but it’s evident in many of the Riddler’s actions throughout the film. Of course, the one major difference is that the Riddler eventually gets caught, and he’s revealed to be Edward Nashton. In reality, although the Zodiac Killer operated in the 1970s, their identity remains a secret, proving that Batman and Commissioner Gordon are better detectives than anyone in real-life.
Regardless, the biggest similarity between the Riddler and the Zodiac Killer is the fact that they use ciphers to communicate (and to mock). Back in the 1970s, the Zodiac Killer terrorized the Bay Area police by sending them letters with ciphers, many which have still never been figured out. The only one that was figured out was actually by a couple who just enjoyed solving riddles. When Bruce and Alfred figured out the first cipher in The Batman, it felt like a nod to those famous at-home detectives.
Not only that, but the Zodiac Killer also liked to send kitchy greeting cards. In The Batman, the Riddler leaves Batman a card that says, “from your secret friend.” This has to be a nod to a Halloween card sent by the Zodiac Killer that said, “from your secret pal.” Even the way they speak — the Zodiac Killer would often begin his letters or tapes with, “This the Zodiac speaking.” And in The Batman, the Riddler says, “This is the Riddler speaking.” Plus, they both hate cops, calling them “pigs.”
In addition, both speak about “the Day of Judgment” although in the case of the Riddler, he tries to turn himself into a god. But for the Zodiac, many of his communications alluded to an afterlife he called “paradice” and a day of judgment. And finally, the Riddler’s attack on Gil Colson outside the Iceberg Lounge mirrors one of the Zodiac’s attacks on cab driver Paul Stine. In both, the culprit waited in the back of the car before taking their victims.
Sure, there are many, many similarities between the Riddler and the Zodiac Killer, but who’s more terrifying? Paul’s portrayal of the Riddler is truly creepy and captivating all at once; he encompasses all the maniacal darkness of a fictional serial killer. But the Zodiac is still unknown … still out there … and that’s more terrifying than any actor’s portrayal.
The Batman is now playing in most movie theaters.