Part 1 was a breathtaking look into Penguin’s past as an abused child and his present as a brutal mob boss, part 2 went even deeper into Penguin’s psyche and how he grew more cunning and vindictive with age and it was equally as good, and then there was part 3 which I wrote off as being a good issue in what was shaping up to be one of the best Penguin stories, but with some faults. It introduced a weak 1-dimensional female character and it repeated almost identical moments of revenge with the exact same look and emotional charge that were shown in part 1. That’s fine, I thought. Those elements may have seemed poor at the time, but could have been elaborated on in the next chapter thus making part 3 all the richer. But I was wrong. Part 3 was a sign that the book was on a downward trajectory. Ever since the end of part 1 I was in love with this book, but the same problem always loomed. After every chapter I repeatedly asked “How can this 5-part Penguin character study come to a satisfying conclusion?”
We’re more than halfway through this story, which means it’s time to for some rising action as we build toward a climax. But what sort of climax could be rewarding here? “Pain & Prejudice” has been a dark, moody, tale that’s been slow, but appropriately so. It’s had more childhood flashbacks than real plot progression so what happens now? What happens when reach pay-off time and our main character is such a bastard who has had no real goal other than to find love and be feared? Would anyone like an ending where Oswald gets married and he never faces consequences for his crimes? There will be spoilers ahead, folks. So if you just wanted to know if I liked this book—I didn’t.
The Beginning of the End: Review of Chapter 4
The story starts off different from all the rest. It begins with Batman, the character who has lurked in the shadows throughout “Pain & Prejudice” but now takes center stage as he brings about Penguin’s doom. And Batman is looking for a fight. Sadly, that’s where the issues first problem arises: Kudranski’s action. His photo realistic style has been amazing thus far. He’s able to give every character a unique, memorable face showing a range of emotions and that’s been perfect for this deeply psychological piece. But when it comes time for Batman to…I guess kick a knife out of a bad guy’s hand and into his collar or smash a shotgun into another man’s nose, the result is horribly awkward and 2-dimensional. Of course, the rest of the book looks fine. All of the quiet moments remain heavily shadowed, expressive and atmospheric, but when the action starts the images look unnatural and confusing. Still, the sentiment of the scene came across and it started off the book with a bang. I was jarred by the poor action, but I was nonetheless excited about what was to come. And what came next was quite a surprise.
Penguin getting arrested and humiliated in front of Cassandra, a plot development I didn’t expect to see until part 5 and it left me pleasantly surprised. I figured this would be how the book ends! I didn’t know what was coming next! Where else could it go? Where else, but familiar territory? Penguin was bailed out by his lawyers…and then “Penguin: Pain & Prejudice” became an almost random, illogical mess that rehashed ideas from Tim Burton’s “Batman Returns”. It was everything I didn’t want to happen…and more.
Although “Pain & Prejudice” spent a lot of time focusing on Oswald’s hatreds it did NOT explain how this frequently picked on, angry little boy grew to be one of the most feared men in Gotham’s underworld. THAT is something that should have been touched on, but whatever, that’s fine. It hasn’t detracted from my enjoyment of the story so far. But then there’s another thing: remember how Oswald made those wind-up toys for his mother back when he was a child? He was a naturally gifted boy. And then he made a penguin robot thing which was pretty extraordinary and a bit…out there. But it didn’t factor that much into the tale at the time and I let it slide. But now…now we see Penguin building what is basically a rocket ship that controls birds and he does it, apparently, overnight with nothing but a blow torch and a bunch of scrap.
How the hell? It’s been a pretty grounded, realistic take on Gotham so far, right? Being naturally gifted and tinkering around is one thing, building a rocket ship that controls everything avian, however, is a whole new level of engineering that requires some level of higher education, no?
But let’s leave that there for now. That’s what Hurwitz did, after all. Let’s focus on that one dimensional character, Cassandra, the really nice, hot, blind girl who hasn’t even touched Oswald’s face, but unquestionably accepts every expensive gift he gives her and has been living with him in his mansion even though they’ve only been “dating” for a few weeks, and just accepted his marriage proposal. Where is her family? Mother? Father? Siblings? Did she have a job? Why is she so trusting? Why hasn’t she asked Penguin where he gets his money? Why, after getting the engagement ring stripped from her finger by police and hearing Oswald get arrested at the beginning of this issue hasn’t she asked “What was that all about?” If she has and it happened outside the scenes we’ve seen on the page, what did Oswald say to make her stay and why THEN did she still believe him? Is she stupid? She certainly seems stupid and materialistic at this point.
Speaking of stupidity, when Penguin was being held in an interrogation room, where was Cassandra? She was wearing a stolen ring so surely the police would have questioned her as well. Wouldn’t the cops mention how Penguin is a notorious crime lord with a penchant for umbrella weaponry and that she should tell them everything she knows about him? We saw that Batman was in the police station at the time, so why didn’t’ he use that moment to approach Cassandra rather than doing the most unsubtle maneuver possible: pulling her out of her seat during an opera while she’s sitting right next to Penguin! Did Batman really think he was going to have time to convince her that Penguin was evil during the 2 minutes it took Penguin’s henchmen to track them down?
Anyway, back to the Rocketship…
Penguin finished building the giant bird-controlling rocket and set up an 8-monitor command center with radio controls already. So that’s done. Now it’s time for revenge for humiliating him, but not just on the cops, but on all of Gotham. See, during the interrogation scene Penguin went on about how nobody’s ever mad at the “victims” of his crimes. They’re never mad at the heiress who uses slave labor, the pop star who snubs her fans, or the banker who has sent numerous individuals into debt—crimes his twisted mind equates to being just as heinous as the murders he commits—because they are normal looking and he is a portly, beaked individual. So to strike back at the “normal” people he’s going to crush their children in the most overly elaborate, bird-themed way possible: flying the rocket to a school where it will call thousands of birds to peck away at the little brats.
What happened to this story? How did it balloon so suddenly? How did Penguin go from stealing jewelry for the women he loves and intimidating the people who came in his nightclub to building a rocket of bird induced child murder over the course of one issue? Going after the children? That’s straight out of “Batman Returns” for Pete’s sake! Come to think of it, the ultimate scheme of that film involved penguin themed rockets as well, only he took it a bit further.
Once again, the art fails the scene. I don’t know what is going on and I am not sure what Batman does to bring the rocket down. It looks like he grabbed it and punched it and maybe it flew off into space! The kids are okay, so that’s all that matters.
We cut back to the Iceberg Lounge where the same tired “Joker does weird fetish things in the background” gag is repeated again, just like it was in the other issues. Penguin is chatting with his men when two of them drop to the sound of “SMK” which…I don’t know what makes a “SMK” sound. Was it a batarang? A dart? Did Penguin have someone else shoot them? I think Batman is in the room with them, but wasn’t he just at the school? How long after that action scene does all of this take place? I think, in the 2nd panel Batman is standing to the left of Penguin… If that’s the case, then they are indeed in the same room and Penguin threatens Batman that he can’t do anything to him because Batman can’t prove Penguin was responsible. No evidence = no arrest. Penguin then opens a door and walks into a giant factory filled with robots and bird-control rockets…. But if Batman was in the same room then why didn’t he just follow Penguin? Why didn’t he kick the door down and see the factory full of evidence? I don’t know. I don’t even know if Batman was in the same room. And would it really be that hard to get a warrant to search Penguin’s club/factory? How did this factory get built so quickly?
This book was a mess and a major disappointment. “Penguin: Pain & Prejudice” was one of the books I looked forward to each month. Hell, I look forward to it the most at the beginning of every month. It was right up there with “Animal Man” and “Swamp Thing”! It was dark, gritty, realistic, psychological, one of the best Penguin stories ever, etc. etc. but after Hurwtiz cranked out 2 solid issues detailing Penguin’s childhood it seems like he lost all direction. He had no clue where to take the story from there and so now we have rockets, robots, and idiotic characters stumbling about aimlessly to fill up a 5 part mini-series. I feel like I should give it a really, really low score like a 2, but that’s the disappointed expectations talking. Still, I am pretty upset with this installment…