SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for Batman #58 by Tom King, Mikel Janín, Jordie Bellaire and Clayton Cowles, on sale now.
The Penguin had yet to play a major role in the current run of Batman, but Tom King and Mikel Janín address the classic villain's absence starting with Batman #58.
Like King's previous arcs, though, it's not a mere standalone storyline, and in fact the relevance to previous developments becomes immediately apparent. As the issue progresses, one new development regarding Penguin and Batman surfaces, however. The storyline postulates an interesting and threatening possibility: Oswald Cobblepot may have learned Batman's secret identity.
The Penguin's Working for Who?!
Cobblepot's first mention of Bruce Wayne comes in reference to the billionaire's influence on the jury serving in the recent trial of Mr. Freeze, with Penguin citing a "friend" who was unhappy with Bruce's manipulation of the verdict. Readers will recall that Bruce essentiallydamned his own legacyas the Dark Knight in order to prevent the jury from declaring Freeze guilty of murder after his capture by an emotionally bruised Batman.
That "friend" appears to be none other than Bane, who has been engaging in some behind-the-scenes manipulations himself. Those manipulations largely involve several of Batman's villains, now revealed to also include Cobblepot, in Bane's attempt to once again break The Bat. Not physically this time, but instead emotionally, and Bane's machinations with The Penguin aren't directly aimed at Batman this time, but instead at Bruce.
Unlike the other Bat-villains, though, Cobblepot isn't a willing participant in Bane's game. At the uber-villain's coercing, he directs his minions to take out not Bruce, but instead his closest confidant: Alfred. The move, according to Penguin, is "to earn back our lives," in reference to his own autonomy, and that of his staff. The effort as calculated by Bane aligns with his ongoing attempts to hurt Batman, but it's not immediately clear if Cobblepot realizes this. If he does, he makes no mention of it to his goons, and logically has no need or reason to.
The Penguin Has a Theory
The Penguin then decides to undertake some sneaky machinations of his own. Batman gets a lead on a murder that's oddly similar to those Freeze had nearly been falsely convicted on. Commissioner Gordon informs Batman that there was one dissimilarity, though – a single feather found at the crime scene. The planted clue gives the World's Greatest Detective a lead that takes him directly to The Penguin.
At the same time, The Penguin's goons target Alfred while Bruce is "coincidentally" absent from Wayne Manor. The confluence of events is the first indication that Cobblepot knows more than he's letting on about Bruce. The scenario doesn't just point to the notion that Penguin knows Bruce is Batman – it also indicates that he might need his help.
Cobblepot's minion has Alfred in his sights, and it's only through Penguin's own last-minute intervention to abort the assassination that saves his life. In another not-so-coincidental move, Penguin waits to radio the would-be shooter until Batman arrives. The timing of that call shows that Cobblepot wanted Batman to know that he had him at a distinct disadvantage – but chose not to capitalize on it.
The Penguin Also Has a Motive
While Alfred could be construed as simply an innocent caught up in a blackmailing scenario, the idea that he was chosen as the potential victim is a strong indicator that Cobblepot knows the truth about Batman's identity. Penguin might have deduced this himself, and luring Batman away would be a logical way to test his suspicions. Had Batman not tracked Cobblepot down, then Alfred's killing could have been carried out, and Penguin would be free from Bane's coercion. But since he did, Cobblepot not only confirmed that Bruce is Batman, but potentially found himself an ally against Bane in the process.
Alternatively, since Bane already knows who Batman is, he could have simply just told Oswald. In light of Penguin's own discovery, though, this seems less likely. Bane, as a master strategist, surely saw the potential in Cobblepot luring Batman to his side if he gave him the knowledge allowing Penguin and Batman to make Bane their common enemy.
As the issue closes, Cobblepot tells Batman that they have much to discuss. It's likely that the pair's talk will not only center around his knowledge of Batman's identity, but also his attempt to enlist Batman against Bane. And, such a discussion would serve another purpose as well: To inform Batman of Bane's coordinated efforts against him, an initiative that Batman so far remains unaware of.
The Bat and The Bird have their important talk in Batman #59, on sale November 21.