“Batman #23.3: Penguin” starts out in a promising manner, which is understandable. After all, John Layman and Jason Fabok’s storyline in “Detective Comics” earlier this year went a great way towards rehabilitating the character into an interesting figure once more. But in “Batman” #23.3, Frank Tieri and Christian Duce’s comic burns out about halfway through, quickly descending into something far less interesting.
At first, the story is on the right track. The Penguin should be more than a joke of a character that’s just beaten up to shake out information, and Tieri’s story follows that idea. We see him take on people who are swindling his Iceberg Casino, and while the resolution to that story is a little lacking in finesse, it’s plausible enough that you buy it and are willing to see where it leads.
Unfortunately, where it leads is where it all falls apart. There’s no subtlety, nothing that makes you think, “Hey, I didn’t see that coming.” It’s just a blatant series of, “and then the Penguin does something really horrible” moments, with an almost one-upmanship level of awful with each new scene. Eventually, you start to wait for that twist, that moment where everything shifts into something more interesting — but it never appears. Tieri’s story shows so much promise early on, but in the end, it’s just crass and overstays its welcome. Considering how clever Layman’s Penguin story was (and it’s so recent that it’s even referenced here), saying this is a disappointment is an understatement.
I did like Duce’s art, though, which is in the same vein as Fabok’s, but with faces that are a little more pinched and a little less open. He draws a great Penguin, whose grin should give you a shiver or two as he’s petting a bird in his office. While everyone’s wrinkles seem to be growing exponentially as the comic progresses, on the whole I like the facial expressions, and Duce’s work with Andrew Dalhouse on the colors meshing with the art for the scene set in the darkened room looks great. The play of shadows and a limited color palette brings a great film noir look to that page, and I feel like Duce works well with silhouettes in a way that what you can’t see works just as well with what you can.
It’s a shame “Batman” #23.3 crashes so badly, because the first half of the comic made me think, “This is working out quite well.” In many ways, it’s almost more disappointing than having the entire book at a lower level, because when the fall happens, it’s from a greater height. Sorry, Penguin.