DC Animated Universe

"What is Reality?" is the forty-fifth episode of Batman: The Animated Series. It originally aired on November 24, 1992. It marks the return of The Riddler, who traps Commissioner Gordon in a virtual reality computer game.


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. 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?"

Batman and Commissioner Gordon deduce that Edward Nygma, alias The Riddler, is behind all this. They discover that Nygma is erasing all of his personal records from existence. Just then, Gordon gets a message that a crate with 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. They take the files to Nygma and he shreds them.

Riddler's computer

Batman and Robin discover Riddler's newest gimmick.

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" easily, albeit with 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 Batcave, Batman and Alfred try to decipher the clues and eventually realize that the clues aren't in the answers, but the riddles 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 the Riddler's target.

Batman arrives at the DMV to find 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 nitroglycerin. Batman manages to evade the van, but the subsequent fire caused by the explosion takes up his time as he douses it out.

Riddler captures Gordon

Riddler captures Commissioner Gordon.

Meanwhile, Robin is at police headquarters, examining the computer left there. He explores the mainframe and finds it's a virtual reality simulator. He invites Gordon to try it and shows him the program. 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 Gordon is hooked up to the virtual reality system and isn't able to respond to outside stimuli. Robin reaches for his VR interface-headset, but receives an electrical shock, rendering him unconscious.

Elsewhere, 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. It all makes sense when you add it up" The phone then drops out four quarters and a penny. Batman deduces that a penny is made of copper (which is another word for "policeman") and that the "no tales" meant "no tails on the quarters" (thereby leaving him with only "headquarters"), thus realizing that Riddler is directing him to Police Headquarters. Also, since four quarters and a penny make one hundred one cents, 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. 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. Riddler explains that Robin only searched the software and that if he had inspected the hardware, he would have discovered a cordless modem. 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 that Gordon is in danger of cardiac arrest within 15 minutes. Simply unplugging the system would be just as fatal. 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 one 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. Evading them, Batman opens a door marked "crazy intent" which also means "locomotive." 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, referring to the sixty-four squares (thirty-two blacks and thirty-two whites) on a chessboard -, Batman enters.

Batman finds himself on a virtual chessboard surrounded by giant chess pieces. Riddler tells Batman that only he 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 tells Batman that he must move like a knight and put the white king in check. Moving incorrectly would mean the end of the day, or more appropriately, knightfall. Batman does so by creating nightfall and is knighted by the king.

Suddenly Batman finds himself riding on a Pegasus in the starry sky. Realizing that Pegasus is also the name of a constellation, he 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 ends up in a town called "Riddlerville". Riddler shows him a "Baxter's Puzzle Box" with Gordon trapped inside. 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. Remembering Robin's previous comment about the Baxter Box, Batman takes advantage of the world's "virtual reality" aspect and morphs his hands into sledgehammers, trying to break the box apart.

However, Riddler then enters the virtual landscape and stops Batman by putting the box back together. Batman retaliates by duplicating himself and continues to dismantle the box. Riddler duplicates himself to even greater numbers than Batman does. He 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.

Trapped in virtual reality

Riddler finds himself trapped in his own virtual reality program.

Batman then gets Gordon out and realizes that Riddler left a clue as to where he is as the virtual reality shuts down around Riddler's virtual reality counterpart. They figure out that he's at the 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. When Robin asks him if Riddler is trapped within the simulation. Batman quotes "Could be, and how to get him out may be a riddle no one can solve".


Background information[]

Home video releases[]

Production inconsistencies[]

  • When Batman first enters the virtual reality, the first door he sees is labeled "??RIDDLE??", but afterward, the door says "RIDDLE???"
  • When Robin says, "I searched through every file", the inside of his cape changes from yellow to gray.
  • When the Riddler's men are evacuating the Police Records Room, the door says "Authorized Personel Only," misspelling the second word.
  • When the Riddler's robot-controlled van soars towards the Police Records building with Batman on its engine hood, he punches the windshield and cracks the glass, but in the next frontal take, the glass is intact for a single instant before Batman punches it again.
  • Robin isn't colored when Batman says, "I've got other leads to follow".


  • Bruce Timm did not like the virtual reality concept for this episode. "Virtual reality is too science fictiony for our show," he said. "While it may be conceivable that it will work in four or five years, Batman transforming himself into a black knight and flying around on a chessboard is unfathomable to me. Strangely enough, it's one of AKOM's better [episodes]. They pulled off all special effects very well."[1]
  • The Baxter's Box is a clear homage to the Rubik's Cube.
  • Several surrealist paintings are referenced in this episode. Before Riddler springs his trap the VR world resembles M. C. Escher at Wikipedia's Relativity (M. C. Escher)andRelativity at Wikipedia with stairs going in multiple directions. When Batman enters the room called "Crazy Intent", a steam locomotive emerges from a living room fireplace like Time Transfixed at Wikipedia by René Magritte at Wikipedia.
  • The chessboard stage of the virtual reality world was adapted into the second stage of the Riddler level in the Super Nintendo game The Adventures of Batman & Robin.
  • The Riddler does almost exactly the same thing he did in his first appearance by trapping someone in a specialized game where Batman must solve numerous puzzles to save the captive.
  • The idea of the Riddler leaving behind a numeric pattern hidden in the questions of past riddles was later used in the feature film Batman Forever.
  • Only a few months after this episode aired, the "Knightfall" play on words was used as the name for the Mainstream Comics storyline that featured Bane breaking Batman's back and a temporary substitute taking up the mantle.
  • Alfred gives the answers to Riddler's three questions in a specific order:
    • Q: Where does a 500 lbs. gorilla sleep? A: Anywhere it wants.
    • Q: What's worse than a millipede with flat feet? A: A giraffe with a sore throat.
    • Q: How do you get five elephants in a compact car? A: Two in the front, two in the back, and one in the trunk.


Actor Role
Kevin Conroy Bruce Wayne/Batman
Bob Hastings Commissioner Gordon
Loren Lester Dick Grayson/Robin
Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. Alfred
Bever-Leigh Banfield Clerk
John Glover The Riddler
Hal Rayle Broker


Riddler: Careful, vigilante, you know what they say, "Curiosity killed the Bat".

Batman: Can you solve it?
Robin: Are you kidding? You're looking at the guy who solved the Baxter's Box puzzle in 37 seconds! Course, this time I don't have a sledge hammer...

Robin: A pixel is worth a thousand words.

Robin: He can't be online! I searched through every file.
Riddler: You searched the software. Had you bothered to examine the hardware you would have discovered a cordless modem line.

Riddler: A pity you can't earn extra lives in this game.

Riddler: Quite an experience being riddled with questions, isn't it, Batman?

Batman: You may control this world, Nygma, but I still control myself!
Riddler: The name is "Riddler"! Edward Nygma doesn't exist anymore! You may recall that he was once fired by an ungrateful employer! That was a private matter and was meant to remain one!
Batman: Attempted homicide is never a "private matter", Nygma!
Riddler: No, but it would have been if you hadn't interfered and turned Edward Nygma into a fugitive! So I deleted Nygma. Just as I'm about to delete you, Batman.

Batman: Tell me, Riddler, how can you split your focus in thirty-two directions and sustain the concentration it takes to keep your world together? You can't!
(Riddlerville starts to collapse)

Batman: "If the planet were equitable, I'd still have my old job".
Robin: Of course. If the "World's Fair," I'd still have my "Ex-position". Oh, give me a break.

Batman: Looks like he didn't escape his virtual reality in time.
Robin: You mean he's been trapped inside his own program?
Batman: Could be and how to get him out may be a riddle no one can solve.


  1. "Episode Guide" - Cinefantastique Vol. 24 #6/Vol. 25 #1 (February 1994)