"What is Reality?" is the forty-fifth episode of Batman: The Animated Series. It originally aired on November 24, 1992. It marked the return of The Riddler, who traps Commissioner Gordon in a virtual reality death trap.
On recent occasions, several Gotham City citizens have fallen victim to a mysterious computer hacker. What's more, a strange riddle is left at every scene. First, a late night jogger tries to make a withdrawal from an ATM, only to have his account wiped clean, to his anger. With it comes the message, "Where does a 500 pound gorilla sleep?". Later, the Stock Market electronic stock ticker is hijacked displaying the question, "What's worse than a millipede with flat feet?". Finally, the Department of Motor Vehicles is attacked, with its computers displaying the riddle, "How do you fit 5 elephants into a compact car?"
Under pressure from the press, Batman and Commissioner Gordon deduce that The Riddler is behind this, and also discover that Edward Nygma (The Riddler's true name) is erasing all of his personal records from existence (or as The Riddler puts it, "deleting Nygma"). Just then, Gordon gets a message that a crate with a question marks painted on it has been delivered to the Department and it's ticking.
Meanwhile, the Police Records Room is evacuated but the guards turn out to be the Riddler's men, and they're stealing the hard copies stored there of Edward Nygma's police file. Batman, Gordon and Robin go to investigate the crate and discover that it's a variation on the Chinese Box Puzzle. Robin claims he can open it as he had once solved the "Baxter’s box puzzle in 37 seconds" and off side mentions how he had a sledgehammer.All the same, Robin manages to find the secret way to open the crate and finds that it's a giant computer. Robin is assigned to investigate it while Batman returns to the Batcave.
Later, in the Bat-cave Batman and Alfred try to decipher the clues, and eventually realize that the clues aren't in the answers, but the questions themselves. More specifically, the numbers in the questions (500, 1000, 5). Batman then converts the numbers to Roman Numerals getting the letters D, M & V, indicating that the Department of Motor Vehicles is once again his target.
Batman arrives at the DMV to find the Riddler's men taking Nygma's driver's records, but isn't able to stop them. When Batman tries to pursue, the Riddler attacks with a robot controlled van filled with nitro glycerin. Batman manages to evade the van but the subsequent fire caused by the explosion takes up his time as he douses it out.
While this is happening, Robin is at police headquarters, examining the computer left there. He explores the mainframe and finds it's a excellently-constructed virtual reality simulator. He invites Gordon to try it and shows him the program that Gordon claims, "even feels real." Robin leaves Gordon to get a snack and immediately discovers that the door has been locked. Riddler then takes control of the program and "kidnaps" Gordon by trapping his mind in the virtual reality program. Robin breaks down the door and re-enters the room, only to find that the Commissioner is hooked up to the virtual reality system and isn't able to respond to outside stimuli. Robin reaches for the Commissioner's VR interface-headset, but receives an electrical shock rendering him unconscious.
Meanwhile, Batman puts out the fire and Riddler contacts him on a payphone; leaving him a riddle, "Ask me no questions, I'll tell you no tales." The phone then drops out four quarters and a penny. Deducing that a penny is made of copper and copper is another word for police and that the "no tales" meant "no tails on the quarters" thereby leaving him with only head quarters Batman realizes Riddler is directing him to Police Headquarters. Also, since four quarters and a penny makes one hundred one cents, or $1.01, Batman realizes he's meant to go to room 101.
When he gets there, he finds trapped Gordon inside the virtual world, strapped onto a rapidly spinning "swing carousel" type ride. The Riddler appears on the computer screen as Robin re-awakens. Robin is shocked to see this as he had previously searched every file on the computer. The Riddler explains that Robin only searched the software, and that if he had inspected the hardware too, he would have discovered a cordless modem. The Riddler explains that everything that happens in the program will seem so real to Gordon that his body will react as if it truly happened, meaning the Commissioner is in danger of cardiac arrest. Moreover, simply shutting off the program completely would be like "hitting a brick wall at 400 miles an hour." After giving Robin a microphone so that they can still talk to one another, Batman goes "inside" the machine to save Gordon.
Batman finds himself in an endless hall of doors, and Riddler tells him to find the door that "leads to a plane where kings and queens contend." Batman opens a door at random and finds three question marks that start firing exploding dots at him like bullets or cannonballs. Evading them, Batman opens a door marked "crazy intent" which also means "loco motive." The door releases a train that smashes the question marks and Batman moves on. Robin finally realizes that the riddle refers to a chessboard. Upon finding a door marked 4096 which is sixty-four squared (a pun on there being sixty-four squares on a chessboard), Batman enters.
Batman finds himself on a virtual chessboard surrounded by giant chess pieces. Riddler tells Batman that only Batman can put the king in check and that he has to "move according to the rules or it's the end of the day." The pieces attack Batman but as he runs, the floor tiles break beneath him. Realizing that Batman is the Dark Knight, Robin realizes Batman must move like a knight and put the white king in check. Moving incorrectly would mean the end of the day—nightfall, or more appropriately, knightfall. Batman does so creating nightfall and is knighted by the king.
Suddenly Batman finds himself riding on a Pegasus in a starry sky. Realizing that Pegasus is also the name of a constellation, Batman has Robin guide him to the proper constellation while the signs of Orion and Taurus attack him. Finally having made his way through the virtual landscape, Batman finds Gordon is inside a "Baxter's Puzzle Box". Robin is confident he can help Batman open it in less than the minute that they're given. However, Riddler cuts off the feed so Batman has to work on his own this time. Batman, remembering Robin's previous comment about the Baxter Box taking advantage of the world's "virtual reality" aspect, and morphs his hands into sledgehammers, trying to break the box apart.
However, the Riddler then enters the virtual landscape and stops Batman by putting the box back together. Batman retaliates by duplicating himself and continuing his work. Riddler duplicates himself to even greater numbers than Batman does. Batman reminds Riddler, that now with his consciousness ultimately spread across thirty-two bodies, he no longer has the concentration to keep his world together, and it begins to collapse.
Batman then gets Gordon out, and realizes that Riddler left a clue as to where he is. Riddler said, "If the planet were equitable, I'd still have my old job"; Which Robin figures out by saying "If the World's Fair, I'd still have my Ex-Position" -- World's Fair Exposition. Batman, Robin, and Gordon arrive at the closed Gotham World's Fair where they find Riddler, who unfortunately did not escape in time when the virtual landscape collapsed. As a result, he was trapped within the simulation, and there may be no way to get him out.
- The Riddler does eventually escape the virtual reality program, though it is not explained how, and gets arrested afterwards, as his next episode, Riddler's Reform, depicts him as being released on parole from Arkham Asylum.
- When Batman first enters the virtual reality, the first door he sees is labelled "??RIDDLE??", but afterwards, the door just says "RIDDLE???"
- The Baxter's Box is a clear homage to the Rubik's Cube.
- The chessboard stage of the virtual reality world was adapted into the second stage of the Riddler level in the SNES version of the The Adventures of Batman & Robin video game.
- The idea of the Riddler leaving behind a numeric pattern hidden in the questions of past riddles was later used in the 1995 film Batman Forever.
- Kevin Conroy - Bruce Wayne/Batman
- Bob Hastings - Commissioner Gordon
- Loren Lester - Robin
- Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. - Alfred
- Bever-Leigh Banfield - Clerk
- John Glover - The Riddler
- Hal Rayle - Broker
"No coaching from the peanut gallery!" The Riddler, after he learns that Robin is helping Batman, he destroys the radio link.
- Written by Marty Isenberg & Robert N. Skir
- Directed by Dick Sebast
- Music by Shirley Walker
|Previous episode:||Next episode:|
|Off Balance||The Laughing Fish|