Batman’s gallery of rogues is filled with crazies set apart by their particular vices. Though they might not have any particular superpowers to speak of, they’re all defined by their willingness to find that line in between genius and insanity and cross way over it into madness.
The Joker and the Riddler have both had their turns in this month’s Villains Month spectacular, and Batman #23.3 features criminal kingpin Oswald Cobblepot, or as he’s more familiarly known — the Penguin.
In the New 52, Cobblepot has gone legit, at least by the looks of it. Overseeing his very own casino, Oswald accepts the fact some of his clientele will hit it big and walk away with their pockets loaded. What Cobblepot can’t accept is being cheated out of his money, even if it’s a fraction of what others can win.
Proving he’s not above handling problems on his own, Cobblepot confronts, then kills a group of cheaters singlehandedly. He goes one further by having the families of the men killed and the bodies dumped in front of the Gotham police station.
When Governor Carter Winston comes to clean up the mess and change the landscape by renovating the city, Oswald hatches — kek! — a plan to keep his childhood friend under talon.
The writing by Frank Tieri is solid though the story seems a little half-baked. Tieri manages to bring to light some of Cobblepot’s personality flaws and tics, and doesn’t fly off the handle by making the Penguin into something he’s not. What the issue fails to do is make the Penguin more compelling, and the end result highlights the reasons why he’s actually one of Batman’s worst villains.
What distinguishes the Penguin from all of the other Bat villains is his acute case of Napoleon syndrome. Short, stubby, and — by all social definitions of beauty — unattractive, the Penguin is the one criminal in Batman’s upper tier of villains who doesn’t have a particular bone to pick with the Dark Knight except that he’s on the wrong side of the law, and thus, the wrong side of the Bat. Besides dressing pretty sharp and carrying an umbrella that doubles as a weapon, Cobblepot’s real claim to supervillain fame is his dream of owning Gotham City by any means necessary, a motivating factor that turned him from a bullied teen into a predator.
His obsession is his biggest character flaw, and it leads him to do truly awful things this issue as he’s wont to do. And for all that Tieri does in trying to create a worthy story for the character, he fails to make the Penguin fly.
Despite being one of the most popular characters in the Batman series, the Penguin is essentially a mob boss who’s angry at the world. He’s just like every other mob boss except he’s been given a name that’s actually sort of ridiculous because it makes fun of him. Seriously, does the name Penguin really strike fear into people? If the Falconi family could just get its act together and do real damage, then Oswald might have some real competition, but against the other more powerful and crazy Batman villains, the Penguin just can’t hang because his motivation and end goal is so cliche in today’s world of criminals.
Comparing him to Marvel’s Kingpin — a master of resources who gets things done and is more than a match for Spiderman and Daredevil — the Penguin comes up short in more ways than one, and his turn this issue doesn’t elevate his status. Killing and taking things a bit too far is the standard M.O. for all villains, and what the Penguin needed this issue is something more than causing reckless havoc which forces the state government to shine the spotlight on Gotham City. Dealing with cheaters should be standard fare for a criminal mastermind, but this issue shows how sloppy and amateurish the Penguin’s methods are.
If DC really wants to build up the Penguin, they should focus on his ability to gather manpower. Batman is an army of one, and Penguin’s ability to muster up votes, control government officials, and damage Gotham City from the inside by policy should be a perfect foil. The character’s strengths aren’t showcased this issue, and while the other characters in Batman’s stable of foes are allowed to shoot themselves in the foot at the end of the day because they’re bat-crazy, Oswald should be a shining example of how villains can claim some sort of victory.
Christian Duce’s artwork — pencils and inks — do well for the Penguin on a visual level. There’s lot of thick black lines that add menace, going along with the theme of Penguin’s heavy-handedness, and there are panels where the Penguin looks like a horrific bird. That still doesn’t take away from the fact that actual penguins don’t really push the envelope in terms of threatening anything but fish, but Duce’s efforts are worth noting. Andrew Dalhouse’s colors don’t take it too far in either direction, and they seem pretty standard for a comic book bearing the Batman badge on the cover.
Batman #23.2 overall is a disappointing book only because it doesn’t go over any boundaries or take it to another level with a storyline that begs for attention. In it, we see a day in the life of a villain who, under the microscope, isn’t really much more than a mob boss with better branding. The Penguin deserves something more — a story that shows how far his claws go into the city. He’s named after one of the most beloved birds on the planet — an unassuming animal that’s non-threatening. That sort of contrast, black and white, should be played up even more. The short and ugly Oswald Cobblepot, gentlemanly to those who don’t know him.
And to those who do — a misnomer who’s unmerciful acts warrant Batman’s full attention.
Batman #23.3 / The Penguin #1 (2011)
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Writer: Frank Tieri
Artist: Christian Duce
Colors: Andrew Dalhouse
Letters: Taylor Esposito
Previous Issue: Batman #23.2 Review