“Bullies” by Frank Tieri and Christian Duce is a pretty satisfying Penguin story for those who loved Gregg Hurwitz’s portrayal of the character back in Penguin: Pain & Prejudice.

It doesn’t try and tie itself into the larger Forever Evil epic at all, in fact Gotham feels even more normal (or as normal as Gotham can be) in this issue than it did in last week’s Riddler #1. The moon has not been pushed to eclipse the sun as it was at the end of Forever Evil #1, citizens aren’t forming gangs and fighting over scraps of food like they were in Ventriloquist #1, and Penguin is not yet the mayor of Gotham as he was in today’s Scarecrow #1. However, this comic does make it clear that the Batman is missing and presumed dead so… Well, figuring out the order of events is proving to be kind of a headache so I suggest that you just read each comic on its own merits as a stand-alone one-shot. Otherwise it’s just going to get frustrating.

As a short-story centered around the Penguin, Batman #23.3 is a success. Tieri does a terrific job of showcasing all of Penguin’s attributes including his supporting cast (Fishnet and Lark both make an appearance), his home (I loved the opening pages that showed the inner-workings of the Iceberg Casino), the very thing that makes him a threat (trick umbrellas and his knack for unrelenting revenge that tears down countless lives) and even his prior New 52 mis-adventures (John Layman’s “Emperor Penguin” storyline) are summarized to make this a pretty thorough rundown of all things Cobblepot.

The artwork by Christian Duce and colorist Andrew Dalhouse is all quite good. Penguin’s wiry hair didn’t look quite right to me at first, but once we saw the Penguin remove his hat I thought he looked absolutely spot-on. There’s a great amount of detail put into the eyes and there’s one shot in which Penguin is giving a toast that might be my favorite picture of the Penguin I’ve seen so far in the New 52. However, the monocle seems to have switched sides in this issue when it was shown to be worn on Penguin’s left eye in the character’s recent Detective Comics appearance.

Spoiler
I thought that the reveal of the frame-up was executed really well. I liked how dark the coloring was and how some panels only had the characters in silhouette. Then that horrifying page-turn was really icing on the cake.

The only real detriment to the issue that I can see is that while it does everything right it also doesn’t offer anything terribly new. There aren’t any surprises here. If you’ve read Penguin: Pain & Prejudice then you know exactly the sort of thing that you’re in for with this one as Penguin ruins a few lives and demonstrates his tight grip on the city.

Spoiler
Although I will say that the moment where the governor blows his brains out was quite the shock.
There’s not enough to really push this issue over the top, but it’s still pretty solid. I imagine the disconnect between this and the other villains month books will also be a negative for many readers.

Recommended If…

  • You don’t want a Forever Evil story or an Oswald origin story, just a good Penguin story
  • You like Penguin: Pain & Prejudice
  • You’re up for something dark and bloody
  • You dig the concept of the Iceberg Casino

Overall

Of all the Batman villain books I’ve read this month, Penguin #1 feels the least like it takes place in a Gotham on the verge of a great Arkham War. It doesn’t really feel affected by Forever Evil at all and it could have easily taken place outside of this event entirely. Penguin #1 stands not as an origin story (we saw enough of that in Pain & Prejudice) or a Forever Evil tie-in, but as just a pretty good Penguin one-shot. And that’s okay.

SCORE: 7.5/10