For the past decade or so, the Penguin’s role in various Batman comics has remained constant: Batman (or a sidekick) roughs up the Penguin when something bad happens, the Penguin proclaims innocence (and gives a piece of information), and Batman swings off while the Penguin mutters things about the stupid flying rodent. It’s become an unfortunate shorthand for giving a piece of information to Batman, and in the process it’s diminished the Penguin from a character into a plot device.
With “Penguin: Pain and Prejudice,” Gregg Hurwitz and Szymon Kudranski are successfully turning the Penguin back into an actual character. This issue flashes back to the Penguin’s childhood, when little Oswald Cobblepot was picked on and demeaned by his entire family, save for his mother. And so, even as his relationship with his mother improves, the rest of the family begins to suffer.
It’s a pretty standard plot, to be fair, but Hurwitz makes this comic attention-grabbing. There are no shock tactics, no strange surprises, just a solid script that gets inside the Penguin’s head in both the past and present and tries to untangle the mess that he’s become. Watching little Oswald present his creations to his mother shows a side that we aren’t that familiar with for the character, and I love the idea of Penguin-as-inventor, not just a crime lord. It’s a reminder that he’s more than a thug, he’s clever in his own right and it’s what’s kept him going even as all of his peers have gone down in flames over the years.
It doesn’t hurt of course, that Kudranski’s art is gorgeous, drawn in a style that brings to mind a lot of artist Barron Storey’s proteges (Dave McKean, Bill Sienkiewicz, Kent Williams). Every page is carefully created as its own special work of art, from scorched lace borders, to the almost dreamy haze over the cold winter flashbacks. Kudranski can draw a crisper, more realized style too, with as much attention taken to render an earlobe or a pair of glasses as with the eyes and hair. It’s a startlingly beautiful finished product, and it’s made me add Kudranski to the list of artists for whom I’ll be keeping an eye out.
“Penguin: Pain and Prejudice” might go down a road that a lot of other works of fiction have, but Hurwitz and Kudranski make it an entertaining road. It’s nice to see someone using the Penguin as a character again, not just an information service that you punch to have it spit out an answer. Batman fans should definitely take a look at this mini-series.