This writer’s favorite of the DC Relaunch titles so far draws to a close as the Penguin’s penchant for pervasive punishments prevents peace.
Penguin: Pain and Prejudice #5 (of 5)
Writer: Gregg Hurwitz
Artist: Szymon Kudranski
Colorist: John Kalisz
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Assistant Editor: Katie Kubert
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Cover Price: $2.99
Previously in Penguin: Pain and Prejudice… Oswald Cobblepot, the Penguin, has suffered the death of his beloved mother and humiliation at the hands of the law, yet he has found solace in his affection for his now-fiancee the blind Cassandra, a lovely woman who can’t see his grotesque stature, and who he’s never let touch him for fear she’ll discover what he looks like.
A BRILLIANT NEW WRITER FOR THE BATMAN UNIVERSE
Before this title I’d never heard of Gregg Hurwitz—unsurprising, given that most of his bibliography up to this point is crime novels and several of the MAX titles from Marvel. In fact, given his proclivities towards the crime genre, it’s a bit shocking he hasn’t been asked to do a Batman title before this—and I’m really excited for him to take over writing duties on Batman: The Dark Knight #10. He really understands how to set up a compelling story, having somehow managed to make me care about the Penguin, a villain I’ve always been critical of.
Not only do I now care about the Penguin, but coming into this issue I was rooting for the nefarious Mr. Cobblepot, hoping that somehow he’d find a happy ending in which he manages to triumph over the Bat and the law, and then (ideally) give up his life of crime once and for all to retire with Cassandra. It isn’t often a writer manages to get me to root for the villain, even with the recent trend of portraying villains as the hero of their own story.
A PERFECTLY IMPERFECT WOMAN FOR THE PERFECTLY IMPERFECT MAN
The relationship between the Penguin and Cassandra bears special note. There are few women who could love a man such as the Penguin, but Hurwitz has created the perfect woman for him—a woman who is as self-conscious as Oswald himself. She has never seen how beautiful she looks from the perspective of someone with sight, and so has no concept of how Oswald sees her. She knows from how others interact with him that he’s a man of power, of importance within his world.
The emotional climax of the book comes when, in a moment of panic as Batman is drawing near, Penguin lets down his guard and Cassandra, stumbling into the safe room, has an opportunity to “see” the Penguin by touching his face. The Penguin’s fear that Cassandra will see him as he sees himself and reject him is too much for him, and he lashes out at her with a knife, killing the only woman (besides his mother) who ever loved him. The depth of this moment is incredible—the Penguin has no idea how someone without sight would view him, and has no concept that he could be considered handsome in her eyes. And of course, in the true fashion of a tragedy, Cassandra’s dying words were telling that Penguin that she had been right—he indeed was a handsome man.
GOTHAM CITY THE WAY IT HAS ALWAYS MEANT TO BE
Artist Szymon Kudranski’s portrayal of Gotham City may be the most beautifully twisted and dark Gotham ever drawn. It is truly a Gotham City in the Gothic style. The darkness of the shadows is so pervasive that it seems if a person were to step into shadow they would be forever lost to the darkness. The closeups of the Penguin’s face are enormously detailed and beautiful. The cover is absolutely gorgeous—I am actually planning on framing my copy of this issue and putting it on my wall. The hulking Bane-like robotic Batman looming over the Penguin is handled very well in the issue; Batman uses it to reinforce himself as he drops from a plane into a building, then sheds it for mobility.
This issue doesn’t have much in the way of dialogue—most of the action is shown visually, and with any other artist it wouldn’t have had near the power it does. Kudranski’s use of shadow creates a distinctly creepy and demonic Batman, which is exactly how the Dark Knight would seem from the perspective of a villain.
The panel layouts facilitate the tone of the story—when the Penguin is being chased the panels are densely packed and confined. During several of the action scenes there are deep red borders between the panels—a color which complements the dark tones of the story beautifully.
I’ve been following Kudranski’s work since a Batman story he did a few years back—it was in either a Batman Annual or a Halloween special of some sort; I’ve misplaced my copy (or it’s buried in one of my short boxes) so I don’t remember what issue it actually was, but ever since I’ve been keeping an eye out for his work. He’s going to be doing a backup story with Two-Face in Detective Comics, which is honestly the first time I’ve actually been excited for something that Tony Daniel is writing. Kudranski is one of the top talents at DC right now, and if they’re smart they’ll give him another full book soon instead of just a back-up story.
BOTTOM LINE: The Best Book of the Relaunch So Far
While DC has been putting out a number of excellent titles since their relaunch (Batwoman, Demon Knights, The Flash), Penguin: Pain and Prejudice has consistently been my favorite. Gregg Hurwitz and Szymon Kudranski have given us a truly powerful story told equally through words and art—the ultimate expression of what the comic book has to offer as a medium. Needless to say, this book gets a full five out of five stars from me, and I hope to see much more from both Hurwitz and Kudranski at DC.