Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Riddler's Brilliant Crime Fighting Strategy

Gotham City Sirens #10 by Paul Dini and Andres Guinaldo, DC Comics (2010)

Say what you will about the Riddler's constantly wavering loyalties and his psychological obsession with puzzles. The man still proves himself, time and time again, to be a brilliant strategist.

Whereas once he was one of Batman's greatest foes in the long list of rogues, the Riddler is now one of Gotham's more successful (and legitimate) private investigators. This means that whenever Batman is working a pretty rough case, the Riddler usually wiggles himself into it. It's a wonderful plot source, as this tends to drive a wedge into Batman's own detecting process. Is this a permanent change? Hard to say. However, it has been going on for quite some time and the only signs we have of the Riddler's return to villainy are minor.

It looks like he's in it for the long haul. But we have to ask ourselves the following question: how exactly does the Riddler stay successful?

We need a little bit of background first.

You see, Gotham City law enforcement is organized in a strange way. We actually went over this a little bit in our post on signalling and Batman's crime-fighting strategy, and also here in our post on the effect of superheroes on local law enforcement. Basically, we have a city that is a breeding ground for crime. And not ordinary crime. We're talking about a supervillain haven. Gotham City is polluted not only with ordinary muggers, burglars, robbers, murderers, rapists, mobsters, drug dealers, and thieves, but also with the nutjobs you've come to know and love.

This is why we have law enforcement. Unfortunately, the Gotham City Police Department (GCPD) is simply ill-equipped to deal with all of these problems. They could barely handle the widespread criminal activity and systemic corruption before the appearance of any supervillains. Now they are completely overwhelmed and this is all coupled with the fact that the Gotham City budget keeps shorting the department. Less equipment. Less manpower.

This means that the GCPD has to prioritize. Obviously, catching The Joker before he sets off a bomb in Gotham Square is more important than patrolling the narrows to prevent ordinary muggings or drug deals. Yet, even with all police resources focused on supervillain threats, we still don't see results. The crime rate stays up, supervillains are still on the loose, and people are murdered every day.

The police are, simply put, not intelligent enough or equipped enough to handle destruction on such a grand scale.

Batman, of course, has the brains and resources to handle these supergeniuses. After all, he is one himself. And he is almost always the one who rounds up these villains and brings them back to Arkham. The police force--especially Commisioner James Gordon--can help, but it strikes me that this help is usually no more than offering minor clues.

If we were to adhere to the principles of comparative advantage here, then it would be clear that the GCPD should then let Batman handle the supervillains by himself (or with his cohort of Bat-friends), while the force exclusively focus on smaller crimes. However, this does not happen. In fact, the police keep going after the big guys alongside Batman. Inevitably, they get frustrated when he steps in on their game. It makes them look like they are incapable of performing their jobs and so department funding gets pulled all the more.

All of this is explored in Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker's wonderful Gotham Central.

Indeed, this is a strange system. One would think if the police department was being constantly overshadowed by Batman and overlooked by city hall, then this would provide more of an incentive to make low-level, easy arrests and build up stats. At the same time, the police department cannot officially support a vigilante doing its high-end work and I suppose it cannot project the appearance that it is weak on supervillainy either.

Where does the Riddler fit in? Well, apparently his success lies in the fact that he mostly takes on smaller cases. The same ones that are beneath Batman's pay grade and the same ones that the police ignore as they attempt to reign in Mr. Freeze.

It's actually a pretty brilliant strategy. It allows the Riddler to simultaneously earn a "fat check" while establishing his reputation in the community as a legitimate problem-solver. Of course, he doesn't want to be stuck with the reputation of being a guy who takes on easy cases. So every so often, he throws in a hard one, wherein he steps on Batman's own detection process. In effect, the Riddler is edging out the GCPD from law enforcement completely (although he claims that his strategy helps him establish credibility--I just don't see it).

Good for the cops? Absolutely not. Good for society? Who knows. Good for the Riddler? Absolutely.

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