I've been quite the vocal fan of Gregg Hurwitz's Penguin: Pain and Prejudice, which has established Oswald Cobblepot as one of the most bone-chilling monsters in Batman's rogues gallery, while at the same time showing us exactly how he became what he is, and making us understand him all too well. The series concluded this week with the release of issue #5, and thankfully, it did not bite me in the ass like I feared it might when I prematurely named it the Best Miniseries of 2011.
The Penguin is now dark and vicious enough to target children for mass murder, but he's not drastically changed – he's still using swarms of mechanical penguins to deliver his death threats, he's still quacking like a duck, and he's still using umbrellas as weapons. It's just that now, none of that brings to mind an 'oh, look at this silly character, what fun' sensibility anymore. We've seen exactly why he views children, and the rest of humanity, for that matter, as targets – he was treated as nothing more than one for every brat's scorn and derision, especially his own brothers and his own father, for his entire life. From the first issue, we know he sees the world as an extremely cold one, and he's become just as cold in response.
In #5, we see just how consumed Oswald is by his own rage at the disrespect shown to him by Batman and the rest of the world the instant his absolute grip of fear on his own organization is upended in any way. Before, his mother was the sole beneficiary of his ruthless compassion – ruthless towards the people he'd rob from to give their treasures to her, that is – and he's transferred it to his blind lady love Cassandra now that his mother is gone. However, he lives in constant, abject fear of rejection should she ever actually touch him to discern what he looks like, and her love is not enough to quell his need for ugly vengeance.
If there's any problem I have with this series, it's just that Cassandra comes off as a bit too meek, naive and self-loathing, but I suppose that's what you'd have to be to ignore every warning sign and continue to pursue the love of Oswald Cobblepot. To be fair, he's presenting the best of himself to her, generosity and gentleness, but still, she feels like a walking victim waiting to happen – and in this issue, it finally happens. In a tragic way that speaks to just how pathetic Oswald has become, thanks to his need to pre-emptively hurt others before they can hurt him.
Despite the focus on Oswald, though, Hurwitz – as well as artist Szymon Kudranski and colorist John Kalisz – make every effort to make sure Batman comes off as unbelievably cool, too, as he's finally closing in on the Penguin to take him down for good. You see the effects of what he does during the infiltration, and you don't even have to see him doing them. The lighting is always dark and foreboding, and that's exactly where this story belongs – in the darkness. The dialog is spare in this last issue, as it's mostly action, but cool as it is, it's more of a necessity – an afterthought to the true story of the emotional hellhole that is Oswald Cobblepot.
This series is stunning, heartbreaking, maddening, and saddening. It's the kind of reintroduction into the New 52 that every Bat-villain deserved. Thankfully, at least one of them got it.
CRAVE ONLINE RATING: 9.3/10