How brilliant is the art by Szymon Kudranski and colorist John Kalisz? Every panel in this series is a triumph. I don’t think that any currently running bat-title has bad art, overall everybody is doing a respectable job, but no creative team is using shadow and a limited color pallet to make something as dark and moody as Penguin: Pain & Prejudice. Penguin’s world is dark and cold and when we see him being the bastard we love to hate, the muted blue, grey, and green hues reflect that. When he is thinking back to his mother or falling in love with someone new, light literally comes back into his life and the panels become vibrant and alive. And when Oswald is enraged both he and us, the readers, see red.
I have given both issues #1 and #2 a 10/10. I can’t recommend them highly enough. And although I’m giving this issue a lower score and feel that it has faltered slightly here and there I beg you to pick up this series. Don’t just wait in hopes of a TPB months from now. Get in on the discussion as this tale unfolds.
My criticisms about the writing are few, but I feel that both could have been fixed by simply removing once scene altogether. In issue #1 we had an amazing scene in which we saw how brutal Penguin could be when he completely disassembled a man’s life piece by piece until there was nothing left. That same sort of scene was executed here and although it was still bad ass, it lacked the same weight and shock value since we had seen that sort of thing before. I did however, like the scene that was paralleled to this moment, which I won’t give away here.
Had the life-destroying scene been taken out it would free up more time for the love story that’s bound to become a central element of the next couple issues and is certainly destined to end in tragedy. Penguin loves her because she’s beautiful and good and, of course, she can’t see how ugly he is. But Cassandra’s character isn’t expanded enough. She simply feels like a plot device used to ensure a future conflict. She’s never heard of Oswald Cobblepot, so she doesn’t know he’s a gangster. She unbelievably trusting as she goes back to Oswald’s home for lunch. Oswald won’t let her touch his face and believes him when he says that he’s too handsome and doesn’t want her to fall for him because of his looks. So instead, he showers her with lavish presents in an effort to get her to fall for him that way. We never learn what she does for a living, if she has any family or friends (surely they would’ve heard of The Penguin, Oswald Cobblepot). She has no real personality of her own other than being pretty, nice, blind, and unflinchingly trusting. Naturally, we’re supposed to like her unquestionably. But it’s just too easy. I’m going to give a quick spoiler here, so skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to read it. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS – It’s definitely part of Oswald’s character to fall so hard and propose after only a few weeks of courtship, that’s great and I loved it a lot, but for a grown woman like Cassandra to say “yes” so quickly makes her seem more materialistic than innocent. But there is one bit that gives me hope. When Oswald slips the ring on her finger she exclaims “What is it? Nine carats?” which leads to a heartbreaking shot of Penguin’s face as she explains that when she touches something she can see it. That reaction and foreshadowing of what could be a rather horrified response to Penguin’s physique in the future almost made me overlook it, but maybe her instantly getting excited over the ring’s value is a sign that Cassandra really IS in this for the money and it won’t be Batman that rains on their parade (which would be the most predictable), but Penguin’s discovery that Cassandra is using him that brings these star-crossed lovers to the end of their relationship. What do you think? Am I reading too much into it? I just get tired of the cliché that just because someone is blind that they are also pure of heart. I just really want there to be more to Cassandra’s character than just the “perfect woman” for Oswald. END SPOILERS
We also get to see a lot more Batman in this issue and he is the scariest we’ve seen him in a while and it’s all conveyed without the Dark Knight ever saying a word! One shot of Batman standing outside Penguin’s window is particularly creepy. Batman, in Penguin: Pain & Prejudice is an unstoppable force that is always hunting Penguin. And as we see Penguin try to put his life together and find love, the comic cuts to Batman. Batman, the retribution for the evils committed in Penguin’s past inevitably catching up with him.
Issue #3 may be the weakest entry in the Pain & Prejudice mini-series, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t stunning, it just means that it’s following two straight 10/10 comics! And the overall story stretching across this 5 part mini-series might just be the richest Batman story out there right now. I highly suggest everyone add this series to their pull list and I sincerely hope DC keeps this creative team around for future bat-related projects.