Fans of Batman’s most vindictive villain shouldn’t skip out on this one. Penguin: Pain & Prejudice collects not one, but two of the best Penguin stories in recent memory and it’s available at a very fair price.
I reviewed this five issue series when it came out in individual installments and it reads even better collected here. Gregg Hurwitz does a great job of getting the reader to empathize with the villain we all love to hate. In recent years, Oswald has been relegated to being a fat tub who sits in an office until Batman shows up to beat him for information, never really doing anything of his own. So it’s good to see the character have so much more to do here.
It’s a dark, gritty, and psychological tale that takes you all the way back to Penguin’s childhood and the abuses that turned him into the monster you see today. You’ll understand how and why Penguin sees the Batman as the one final bully he will never overcome and you’ll feel a great swell of pity for him as he finds himself incapable of trusting a potential love interest. The art by Szymon Kudranski and John Kalisz is absolutely perfect for the material. The world you see is a cold one and the overwhelming darkness reflects the way the light has gone out of Oswald’s life.
The book does a fine job of capturing the look and feel of Gotham and the spirit of Penguin, but it also tries to act as an origin story and that’s where it first begins to slip. It fails to address some very key moments in the character’s history, moments that play a vital role in this very story. We see that Penguin is a brilliant tinkerer but never get any insight into how exactly he became such a brilliant engineer. Building robots ain’t easy! There’s a rather large chunk of his life that’s missing, one that would have been very interesting to see explored. The question I most want to see answered is how did Penguin rise to power in Gotham’s underworld? His troubled childhood is examined in great detail, but then we skip ahead a few decades and see him as the crime lord of the worst city in the world. How did he get there? Instead of addressing any of this the story takes a weird turn from dark character study to Batman Returns rip-off and suddenly Penguin is out to kill Gotham’s children in the most overly elaborate way possible.
Essentially, Penguin: Pain & Prejudice is a Penguin story that starts off great but by the end is merely okay. However, this book doesn’t only collect Penguin: Pain & Prejudice, it also features Batman: Joker’s Asylum tale He Who Laughs Last by Jason Aaron and Jason Pearson. These stories are remarkably similar. Both examine the villain’s childhood days and showcase a Penguin who goes above and beyond the call of vengeance to rip another person’s life to the tiniest of shreds. It’s also another love story in which Penguin becomes overly controlling and finds himself unable to trust. However, the girl he falls for in this book is far less perfect and as a result more believable than the blind girl who never asked questions in Pain & Prejudice. Jason Aaron and Gregg Hurwitz have an almost identical vision of the Penguin and the stories feel like they were made to be printed together all along. And honestly, how many penguin books do you have on your shelf?
If you want to read my more detailed opinions on each of the five chapters of Penguin: Pain & Prejudice, click here.
You’ll see a few early sketches and cover designs by Szymon Kudranski and of course there’s the added issue Batman: Joker’s Asylum: He Who Laughs Last. That added issue really gives you more bang for your buck as it is a great one-and-done tale.
These five issues would’ve set you back well over $15 bucks had you bought them in monthlies and this book collects all five plus the Joker’s Asylum story for the same price or, if you like to buy your books on the web, only $10.19 at Amazon. So it’s a pretty good deal.
Everybody needs a good Penguin story on their comic book shelf and this book collects two. Penguin: Pain & Prejudice could’ve been a classic had it delved deeper into Penguin’s rise to power, but even though it comes short of greatness it’s still an enjoyable read at an affordable price.