A new era for DC’s Dark Knight Detective has begun, with Chip Zdarsky and Jorge Jimenez taking the reins on the main Batman ongoing comic book series with July 5's Batman #125. The creative team has not wasted any time in shaking up the status quo for the Caped Crusader as one of his oldest foes, the Penguin, apparently and abruptly dies. And though one might assume Oswald Cobblepot’s untimely demise would come as something of a relief for Batman, the Penguin’s death has brought its own set of deadly consequences for the Dark Knight in its immediate aftermath.
Here is an examination of the life and times of the Penguin, how one of Batman’s most persistent enemies has died, how this death could simply be a feint to an even more sinister plot, and how Penguin has recently played a major role in Gotham City beyond his semi-legitimate handling of the popular Iceberg Lounge.
The Last Days of Oswald Cobblepot
Joined by colorist Tomeu Morey and letterer Clayton Cowles, Zdarsky and Jimenez’s Batman run starts with the Dynamic Duo investigating a string of murders targeting the most affluent residents of Gotham. After foiling an attempt by a disguised Clayface to kill the attendees at a high society gala, albeit with Robin gravely wounded in the process, Batman discovers that the Penguin is responsible for the recent killing spree.
The Dark Knight tracks down Cobblepot to his deathbed, with the supervillain in the last stages of a terminal case of mercury poisoning, presumably contracted from his toxic choice in fashion. Despite being one of the city’s richer individuals himself, Cobblepot still felt that the upper castes of society still looked down on him and repositioned himself as a man of the people in his final days, posting videos denouncing his wealthy victims as he orchestrated the series of murders.
Even on his own deathbed, the Penguin still has one last bid at revenge as Batman confronts him. Secretly summoning the authorities to arrive at the hospital where he is dying, Cobblepot doses himself with a fatal amount of cyanide just as his nurses return to his room. Witnessing a shocked Batman menacingly hovering over the Penguin as the supervillain breathes his last, the nurses and police assume the Dark Knight finished off his familiar foe, effectively making Batman public enemy number one across Gotham once again while Batman still feels personally adrift in the wake of this and recent changes to his life.
Is the Penguin presenting a fowl misdirection?
Of course, the idea of a villain as long-lasting as the Penguin being permanently killed off is not a matter that should be taken lightly or at face value. The Penguin has been squaring off against Batman and Robin as far back as 1941’s Detective Comics #58 (by Bill Finger and Bob Kane), and has played a role in many different multimedia adaptations of the Batman mythos in the ensuing decades. And Cobblepot certainly has his own history in faking his death to throw off his enemies and steer clear from prying eyes.
Similar to the circumstances leading up to his death in Batman #125, the Penguin hijacked Gotham’s television airwaves in 1982’s The Brave and the Bold #191 by Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, and Jim Aparo. During this rogue broadcast, the Penguin is shown being murdered live by a man appearing to be the Joker. The actual Joker goes on an impromptu team-up with Batman to prove his innocence, with the unlikely pair learning that the Penguin faked his death to draw attention to the Clown Prince of Crime while he plotted to kidnap a visiting Catholic Cardinal and hold him for ransom.
In 1990’s Detective Comics #610 (by Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle), the Penguin was assumed by the public to have died after apparently suffering from a heart attack while imprisoned. Cobblepot’s death was eventually revealed to be hypnotically induced to allow him a secret release from prison, with his henchmen reviving him after exhuming his body before Batman discovered what his feathered foe was up to and foiled the Penguin’s latest scheme.
Other deaths outside of main DC Universe continuity have been more permanent, from a vampiric Batman killing the Penguin in 1998’s Batman: Crimson Mist (by Doug Moench and Kelley Jones), by draining the villain’s blood. 2012’s Batman: Earth One (by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank) has Alfred Pennyworth gun down the Penguin to save Bruce Wayne’s life when Cobblepot holds the immobilized Bruce at gunpoint. One of the more notable Penguin deaths takes place in the 1992 film Batman Returns, with Cobblepot falling into his own toxic sludge, emerging from the poisoned waters only to die shortly thereafter.
Penguin... dead or alive?
While the authorities and local news media proclaims the Penguin dead and Batman responsible, this could all just be an elaborate trick for the villain to put the Dark Knight on the defensive while Cobblepot returns to the shadows. Batman #125 plays with different time periods and it is unclear what becomes of Cobblepot’s body following being publicly pronounced dead as Zdarsky and Jimenez’s story jumps forward in time. The Penguin is just as likely to have paid off the nurses to declare him dead before going into hiding to carry out his vendetta against Gotham’s rich and powerful.
For the Penguin to perish so early and abruptly at the start of the new run seems a bit too neat for the conniving villain, especially one that has a history of faking their own death in the comics before. Zdarsky and Jimenez are only just getting started and while killing off the Penguin is certainly a bold statement to set the stakes, Oswald Cobblepot’s history makes the move a suspicious one for the character.
From illicit weapons dealer and patron of Gotham’s most fearsome figures to a lethal supervillain himself, the Penguin has always approached his conflict with Batman with a bit more cunning and subterfuge than many of his contemporaries. And while Clayface may have provided the initial wave of deception, the Penguin isn’t likely to go down without another ace in the hole in an attempt to outsmart the Caped Crusader this time. The pressure is on Batman for the Penguin’s death, with the authorities on the hunt and, with the Dark Knight’s attention elsewhere, he may not have had the opportunity to do the due diligence to ensure the feathered fiend was dead in the first place.
To read the launch of Batman’s latest adventures, Batman #125, written by Chip Zdarsky, illustrated by Jorge Jimenez, colored by Tomeu Morey, and lettered by Clayton Cowles, is on sale now. The fallout from the Penguin’s death continues in Batman #126, on sale August 2 from DC Comics.
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