Villains don’t usually have enough charisma to carry off a regular series, but a miniseries such as “Penguin: Pain & Prejudice” is a great vehicle to put the shadow-dwellers in the spotlight and let readers see what makes them tick. That’s just what Gregg Hurwitz does here. Five issues long, filled with details of Oswald Cobblepott’s life, this series has been a great read all the way through. Hurwitz has played to the strengths of the Penguin as an organized crime boss and frequent foe of Batman. He’s also shown us the tender side, reminding readers that deep down, even fiendish foes started out with the same basic need to be loved.
How does that get balanced by evil, or better yet, how does it get displaced? Can it ever be reclaimed?
Hurwitz pays it all off in this issue. There’s a wink and nod to longtime fans of Batman and the Penguin as he was portrayed by Burgess Meredith in the form of a single panel and understated word balloon that reads, “Wah wah wah.” Hurwitz also manages to make the Penguin a near-sympathetic character. Except just as we’re about to open up with our sympathy, Hurwitz reminds us, with no ambiguity, that Penguin is a villain.
The art, by Szymon Kudranski, is mesmerizing. The story could be easily broken down into straightforward grids and simple page layouts, but as the issue carries on and things get chaotic in Penguin’s life, the layouts, camera angles and composition gets more and more unorthodox. Kudranski stuffs all of the panels with detail, whether in the tread of Batman’s boot or the wrinkles of Penguin’s face. John Kalisz’s colors complement the story nicely, emphasizing the emotion of each scene. Penguin’s rage is awash in red. As Penguin flees the pursuing Batman, the scene slides into uneasy yellows and pale oranges. Kudranski and Kalisz mesh agreeably in this issue, as they have the whole series.
Penguin isn’t the most glamorous or most widely known of Batman’s Rogues, but those are the types of characters that have the most story to tell yet. This series has been all about mining that character, showing the good, the bad and the ups and downs. Hurwitz avoids painting Batman as the villain in this tale. That would have been the easy way out. This story instead uses Batman as a supporting character, advancing and twisting Penguin’s own narrative. Hurwitz makes Penguin a character many readers can find a way to relate to, bordering on sympathetic, but never quite getting there. As villainous stories go, this is one to remember. With Hurwitz joining the Batman writers stable in a larger capacity soon, I’m eager to see what other villains he can brush up this nicely.