Penguin: Pain and Prejudice #1
Whether you love him or just think he’s a joke, the Penguin is easily the second most recognized Batman villain. I’ve never been particularly fond of the character myself because at the end of the day, he’s just a crime boss with a gimmick; a particularly lame gimmick at that. This is why I was a little surprised to see the appearance of a new 5 issue limited series featuring the Penguin.
It’s nice to see DC publishing some new limited series for characters who were markedly absent from the relaunch; they also released a 6 issue series this week featuring Huntress. Given the hype surrounding the relaunch I think this represents a nice opportunity to introduce new readers to some of these iconic characters. That being said, I wouldn’t have chosen the Penguin as one of these characters but regardless of my personal attitude towards him, this book does some things really well and I think it’s worth talking about.
First and foremost, this book gives us something that a lot of books in the relaunch completely ignored: an origin story. The Penguin’s origins have been slightly rebooted with some interesting changes, but his background has been kept more or less intact. Essentially, the Penguin is born to an upper class family; he’s marked with a beak shaped nose which makes him disliked by his father and brothers. As he matures, his peers all tease him over his appearance and overall awkwardness, which causes him to become a withdrawn loner obsessed with birds.
We see a lot of Penguin’s childhood in this book, quite possibly too much, but it really cements our understanding of the character. The Penguin as a child is really a frustrated and lonely boy who’s only real friend is his mother.
When we see the Penguin as an adult, they really do a fantastic job painting him as the most detestable kind of villain. We see him as a man obsessed with appearances; he maintains a respectable business in the form of his nightclub, The Iceberg Lounge, while operating a vast number of criminal enterprises in secret. While the Penguin doesn’t commit a single crime himself in this book, we see his orders result in multiple homicides and at least one high profile jewel heist. We see the Penguin as he should be: not as a gimmicky cartoon or carnival freak, but as an untouchable criminal mastermind.
While we do see Penguin’s vicious and calculating nature, the scenes of his childhood remind us that the root of his behavior really comes from the fact that he’s incredibly insecure. A good example is when he flat out murders someone’s entire family because the man almost called him a fat ass after bumping into him.
Another very human element of the Penguin that the writer has decided to expand upon is his relationship with his mother; she seems to be the only person in the world that he genuinely cares about other than himself. In a very odd change of character, we see the Penguin lovingly take care of his elderly mother; he bathes her, helps her get dressed and even arranges for his gang to steal priceless jewelery just so she can have it. What makes this even more tragic is the fact that his mother is probably suffering from dementia because she doesn’t seem fully aware of her surroundings.
Admittedly, this is a side of the Penguin that hasn’t really been explored like this; it definitely adds a layer of humanity to him. While I still hates his guts, I can understand why he acts the way he does. In this way we get an interesting portrait of the Penguin as a flawed human being as opposed to an over the top supervillain.
At its core, this book is a very morose and introspective character study and the artwork contributes to this quite a bit; it’s dark and very stylish. If you’re expecting a lot of supervillainy and matching wits with Batman, you might be disappointed. Batman does appear in this book, but it’s yet to be seen if this contact will be adverserial in nature. Overall, it’s a good read and if you ever thought the Penguin was one of Batman’s lamest villains, this book might just make you reconsider.