picture this: the year is 2020. the world is months deep into a pandemic that has fundamentally shaken every walk of life and turned people's lives inside out and sideways. the promise of vaccination is on the horizon, but the issue still looms over people, and it will for years to come.

of course, the most important part of this mental picture we're painting is that someone is making a new Batman movie, and with it, a new flavor of Mountain Dew.

as i will always make abundantly clear on this website, i have a lot of... let's call it 'love' for weird limited edition food. as someone with a dabbling interest in cooking, the idea is absurd in its own unique way. i mean, technically all food is 'limited edition' depending on how you look at it, but that's getting a little too deep. what i am talking about is a very particular facet of our capitalist hellscape - the media tie-in food. the special flavor that only exists for a fleeting window in time, to carry the brand values of a new release right into your mouth.

i wish i could say i'm not gonna sit here and tell you that maybe the most perfect food of your life only existed for 2 months as a movie tie-in. i wish i could say that! but look deep inside yourself. can you prove it's not true? can you look into the fullness of your own mind and soul and guarantee to yourself that this has never happened? maybe you've lost a favorite already and can just faintly recall how it tasted. perhaps you're on the outside, looking in, knowing that you too could have tried the flavor, but were denied one way or another. limited edition food is a reminder to all of us that all things shall pass.

A 12-pack of Halo 3 Game Fuel

but what of the flavors with nobody to champion them? the Halo 3 Game Fuels and the Shrek EZ Squirt Blastin' Green Ketchups of this world have maintained a captive hold over our minds and tongues for ages, but what if i were to tell you that the COVID-19 pandemic had robbed us all of this shared cultural experience? forget about playing Animal Crossing or making sourdough or whatever it is normal people did during lockdown - i am here today to show you the 2020 you could have had. much like Batman himself, i must become the world's greatest detective to unearth a mystery and bring the truth into the harsh light of day.

our first lead takes us into the belly of the beast - the broad online community of Mountain Dew drinkers. as much as i detest attaching one's identity to any product so deeply (it makes me a little squeamish even having to say Mountain Dew so many times for this article - makes me feel like a poser) these people have chosen their hill to die on and they're not just dying on it, they're constructing full mausoleums here. if you know where to look, you'll find full curated collections of Dew in dizzying amounts. archives of cans and bottles dating back not just in years, but in decades. and, upsettingly and quite frequently, yes, people who will taste this forbidden nectar, long expired and left to the mercy of whatever chemical preservatives fill the ichor.

A screenshot of the now-defunct 'Dew Gotham City' promotional site

many a self-made Dew curator will remember Batman's first brush with the brand - a 2012 promotional flavor for the release of The Dark Knight Rises, known as Dark Berry. a deep, rich, absolutely guaranteed to be artifical blue soda with a 'mixed berry' flavor profile. as with any respectable food tie-in of the time, the cans/bottles contained codes that could be redeemed on a now-defunct themed website to unlock some kind of bonus content tied to the film. unfortunately, a cursory search doesn't turn up much of what this bonus content actually was. was it behind-the-scenes footage? or were these videos perhaps set in-universe? did Bane deliver a manifesto while chugging back an ice-cold Dew?

as a side note: as much as i absolutely detest putting a commercial within this article, i simply cannot overlook this particular commercial for the Dew Gotham City campaign. with its time-reversed action choreography, clearly it serves as a stepping stone towards Christopher Nolan's 2020 film, Tenet, best seen on Game Boy Advance Video. just promise me you won't be tempted to go buy a Mountain Dew if you click on that video. it's the only way i can sleep at night.

back to our current decade - how can the Mountain Dew community help us pinpoint any leads on our mystery soda? well, the answer is leaks. like any good collector community, the Dew fandom is tapped into not just the current market, but what to expect next. through arcane methods (that i think mostly just involved guessing whatever URL PepsiCo stores their marketing slides on?) these people have been able to pinpoint what soda they'll be drinking months in advance. it's like the lowest stakes corporate espionage i've ever seen, and i'm here for it.

according to the dedicated minds of the Mountain Dew Wiki, an internal promotional reel for new 2021 products leaked out on October 8th, 2020, laying out what flavors would be coming in the next year. many of these flavors arrived without incident, even in the midst of the pandemic - but it is here we find our crucial missing piece.

A promotional banner featuring three bottles of Riddler's Brew

there it is. Riddler's Brew. once again, the worlds of Batman and high-fructose corn syrup would find themselves at a crossroads. outwardly, the drink resembles 2012's Dark Berry, but by its very nature, we are left out of the loop on what the flavor within might be. Dark Berry was a sort of neutral ground, ideologically - it was not necessarily for or against Batman. it was simply the embodiment of Gotham's own darkness, or perhaps the metatextual tone of the Nolan trilogy. Riddler's Brew was different. this was a soda designed by one of the caped crusader's foes. this was special juice, by and for the Riddler. an evil soda.

i fully intend to review The Batman for HYPERFIXT at some point, and the character of the Riddler will be very central to that review, to where i think that film's strengths and weaknesses lie. it's hard to delve too deeply into analyzing Riddler's Brew without treading that ground, but i can at least pinpoint one thing - the Riddler is absolutely the type of person who would drink 10-year old Batman soda. he would absolutely mix it into a concotion and call it "Riddler's Brew". this is not an argument i'm willing to lose.

i would say that outside of trying to find where this Mountain Dew fits into Riddler's plan to bring harsh justice to the corrupt elite of Gotham City, there are two main axes upon which we can analyze Riddler's Brew. the first, and most obvious, is on flavor - what does Riddler's Brew taste like? it certainly resembles Dark Berry, and it is well known amongst any respectable Dewhead that Mountain Dew flavors are stored in some kind of lab and numbered like SCPs, so it's not impossible that it's a re-release or offshoot of the 2012 formula. but what flavors truly embody the Riddler and his brand of quizzical villainy? there's a long tradition of 'mystery'-flavored sweets, but a lot of these exist as a means to reduce food waste by running continuous flavor batches that blend together into a homogenous assortment of sweeteners. PepsiCo has dabbled in mystery sodas before, through their halloween 'VooDew' line, but these all have definitive answers.

the unfortunate truth of the matter is that we just can't know for sure what Riddler's Brew tastes like. there was a time when it existed, certainly - as a handshake between PepsiCo, Warner Bros. DC, and any other relevant party who's involved in the making of Riddler-themed sodas. it was never made material though. through intense investigative journalism (e-mailing Pepsi once), a fervent enjoyer of Dew confirmed for all of us that the deal had disintegrated. the pandemic pushed the debut of The Batman into 2022, and someone in the chain of command simply didn't see fit to sign all the same deals again for the new release window.

it is through the lens of this loss that i introduce you to the second angle we can try to decipher Riddler's Brew from - what can Riddler's Brew tell us about the production of The Batman? tying together a multi-media advertising campaign is a long-standing tradition when it comes to finding juicy morsels of behind-the-scenes info, whether it's a rejected character design ending up on some third-rate merch, a rough draft script cross-referenced for marketing copy, or that one Dreamworks movie that had a whole-ass coloring book come out and then just fell off the face of the earth.

A close-up on a bottle of Riddler's Brew

comparing the design on the bottle to the design seen in the film, we can clearly see these are two very different Riddlers. the Riddler of the movie, in all his "what if a Batman villain was like a real serial killer? sooo scary"-ness, wears a combat mask/garbage bag. the design seen on Riddler's Brew definitely treads similar ground, but keeps things much campier, with bright green spectacles and the cheapest hoodie you've ever seen.

unfortunately, even this trail is a dead end. there's no way i would have realized this on my own, but sometimes, the world's greatest detective needs a trusty sidekick. comments on various posts from the original leak point out that the design featured on the bottle is placeholder art - strip away the hood and mask, and you're left with the first Google Images result for fellow Batman villain, Hugo Strange.

A side-by-side of the 'early Riddler design' and Hugo Strange

look deep, deep into his encrusted .jpg lenses. you can still see the telltale reflections of Batman deep within, somewhere under the twenty layers of artifacting. there is no early Riddler art on display here - only a collage of existing art to create a sort of decoy Riddler. it is unclear to me if this is an internal creation from DC, handed out to licensees in lieu of concept art, or if PepsiCo took matters into their own hands to make sure that people knew that this is, indeed, Riddler's very own brew.

so, is this how our mystery ends? a trail gone cold? in the most literal sense, yes. Riddler's Brew is a mirage. it is a window into a world that not only could have been, but almost was. for as many things as this pandemic has derailed, The Batman was, even if only for a brief 45 days, truly 'only in theaters', as the bottle promises. perhaps, just like how the Riddler's crimes reflect on Gotham, we may use his special soda to reflect on our own world.

for starters, it is a glimpse into the fragility of corporate relations. these massive companies continue to consume more and more of their fields, but they are not invincible, immovable forces of nature. throw anything more than a few months off schedule, and the cogs of industry become misaligned. perhaps all it would have taken to make Riddler's Brew real was a quick phone call to adjust the window of the licensing deal. perhaps it would have taken months of board meetings on both ends to approve such a decision. either of these scenarios paints a different, but all too real picture of the mind-numbing banality that holds any promotional stunt together.

my second, and more positive takeaway, is a commendation of those who continue to make films like The Batman come to life, under our current situation. as easy as it is to forget behind a deluge of disconnected names, nowadays often used simply to make audiences wait for a final joke or tease, the credits on a movie like this show that any blockbuster, regardless of how you feel about it, is the result of hundreds of human beings, experts in all kinds of fields, coming together to make something happen. do you understand how easy it is to not make something happen, especially now? if they couldn't even get a Riddler soda out on shelves, then godspeed to everyone actually involved in the art of making a film.

...but even now, as i write this, there's still hope out there.

August 2021, just two short months after the originally scheduled release date of The Batman - Mountain Dew releases a new flavor, exclusive to Applebee's. a deep, rich, mysterious blue. the flavor is known as Dark Berry Bash. i reckon they'll never tell us if this is recycled Riddler juice. i certainly can't speak to how it tastes, because that would require me to step foot inside an Applebee's. as with any good mystery, sometimes a single answer splinters into a multitude of questions.

Some kind of employee training flyer for selling Dark Berry Bash

as i write this, there is still an active official "rata alada" site, running something of an ARG to reveal little easter eggs and deleted scenes from The Batman. one day, it will certainly fall into disrepair, just like with any movie tie-in. all things shall pass. but for now, i can only hope that the riddles and puzzles will lead one lucky winner to the world's only cache of Riddler's Brew, and that once again, all of us will be able to go inside Gotham City and rule the streets with Dew.

again, i implore you, please do not go buy Mountain Dew. this is not reverse psychology, i am saying get out while you can, before you care about this dumb limited flavor bullshit like i do. do not make Mountain Dew your lifestyle and don't drink soda that's been sitting around for 10 years.