When Matt Reeves’s The Penguin hits Max next year (let’s hope, considering all of the scheduling chaos in Hollywood right now), I’ll be tuning in just like anyone else who enjoyed last year’s The Batman. But as stunning as Colin Farrell’s transformation into Oswald Cobblepot is in The Batman, and as much as I’m looking forward to him reprising the role, I can’t help but wish Reeves was adapting what is not only the best story I’ve read about the villain, but one of the best DC comics I’ve read, period. That’s the 2011-12 five issue miniseries Penguin: Pain and Prejudice.
The best story about DC Comics’s Penguin is the 2011-12 miniseries Penguin: Pain and Prejudice.
Most of Batman’s rogues’ gallery looks like a dark and bloody caricature of a group therapy session, with villains not interested in world conquest or money, but in simply being carried along by the whims of their psychoses. The Penguin has often seemed like an anomaly among those bad guys, like a mob boss with a gimmick. If, like me, you thought of Oswald Cobblepot that way, Pain and Prejudice will cure you of that notion.
Written by thriller novelist Gregg Hurwitz with art by Szymon Kudranski, Penguin: Pain and Prejudice gives us a version of the titular villain more chilling and sympathetic than anything we’ve seen before, including a backstory that reveals just how twisted Cobblepot is.
In Pain and Prejudice, Penguin action’s are sometimes reminiscent of Kasier Soze of The Usual Suspects.
Unlike the large, physically imposing Cobblepot of The Batman, the miniseries gives us a Penguin much closer physically to his earliest appearances: squat, chubby, with a long, misshapen nose. But rather than the loud, constantly braying and honking version the late Burgess Meredith played in the 1966 Batman TV series, this Cobblepot is possessed of a quiet strength that is unleashed as a calm terror once you earn his wrath.
In Pain and Prejudice, Penguin action’s are sometimes reminiscent of Kasier Soze of The Usual Suspects. In the first issue we watch as he explains to a man how the criminal has set a series of events in motion that will destroy the lives of everyone he cares about, and he does it all because earlier the man called Oswald “fat.” In the scene, Kudranski demonstrates how horrifying the simple act of changing the position of a villain’s eyes from one panel to the next can be.
Later in the series, we watch as Cobblepot exposes another man to such life-smashing torture for the crime of chewing gum while transporting Cobblepot’s mother’s corpse.
That’s the true magic of Pain and Prejudice–through it, we finally get to see Batman through Penguin’s eyes.
This Cobblepot isn’t driven by a desire for money or power, except in terms of how those things help him retaliate against those who remind him of his dead, abusive father. Through flashbacks we learn how Penguin’s unique nose caused him no end of insult in his youth, from both other children and his father. His only solace was an excessively affectionate mother, for whom Oswald developed an unhealthy obsession.
Penguin meets the lovely Cassandra, a blind woman who falls for the criminal in a way he never realized possible. But just as his father always ruined things between him and his mother, Cobblepot sees his romance with Cassandra threatened by the machinations of Batman.
That’s the true magic of Pain and Prejudice–through it, we finally get to see Batman through Penguin’s eyes. To Cobblepot, the caped crusader is no do-gooder trying to foil his schemes, but just another bully trying to take away what little happiness he’s scraped together. He is the ghost of Oswald’s father, making sure to haunt every corner of his life.
There’s also a wonderful Penguin miniseries being released now–written by Tom King with art by Rafael de Latorre–but even more than that I’d suggest any Batman fans, or comics fans in general, to get themselves a collected edition of Penguin: Pain and Prejudice as soon as they can.