In the spirit of Goodnight Batcave and Superman and the Miserable, Rotten, No Fun, Really Bad Day comes Don’t Let the Penguin Drive the Batmobile!, a brand new, 100% unauthorized parody from MAD Magazine. Continuing what has now become an annual tradition, this year the subject of parody is Mo Willem’s 2003 children’s book Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
The source material is a delightful little story that breaks the fourth wall into pieces, as the story’s bus driver pleads with the reader to… well, not let a pigeon drive the bus.
It makes sense, really. Even if he could reach the pedals, where could he possibly keep his driver’s license? Absurd.
The story in Don’t Let the Penguin Drive the Batmobile! is in the same vein, as Batman must leave the Batmobile unattended so he can go fight crime. He has one request of us, and I’ll bet you can guess what that is.
Written by Jacob Lambert, the book is breezy and funny, with Penguin’s attempts to drive the Batmobile foiled at every turn. “I won’t use it ‘to unleash chaos upon Gotham City,'” he promises us, and he’s even content to just sit in the driver’s seat. The car doesn’t even need to move, he just needs a place to sit down.
His bargaining and desperation get more and more ridiculous as the story goes on, and even his fellow rogues take the time to throw him under the bu… large automotive transport.
Tom Richmond’s pencils perfectly evoke Mo Willem’s style, paying loving tribute to his series of Pigeon books while also drawing some pretty respectable Batman characters.
They’re exaggerated, no doubt about it, yet it totally works with the story. The Penguin in particular has a great design, from his classic top hat and tails to his squat figure and large, pointed nose. I particularly love his little penguin companion, who reacts sympathetically with every one of Oswald’s actions and mood swings. The little guy steals the show, becoming disgruntled, exhausted, and aggravated in tandem with Cobblepot. Richmond’s clean lines pop against the monochrome backgrounds, and the expressions and outbursts of the Penguin give the story a sense of visual energy. There are points where dialogue isn’t even needed, like the final page stinger, as Oswald’s reaction tells a story in itself. Richmond’s tribute style may be simple, but it’s highly effective.
It’s hard to review a parody, because it’s not so much what it’s about but how successful it is in lampooning its source. MAD have made the wise choice of having these parodies be loving nods to established books, rather than poking fun at the material. They’re like “Weird Al” songs that way, in that they take an existing framework and use it to tell a story about something else. Yankovic doesn’t (usually) poke fun at the artists he’s parodying, instead taking a song about a Sharona and turning it into a song about balogna. Likewise, MAD have set aside their normally cutting and unforgiving satire to just tell funny stories about normally serious characters in silly situations. For that, these books work all the better.
The book retails on Amazon at $10.52 for a physical copy (for Prime members), and $9.99 for a Kindle copy. A tad steep, to be sure, though it is about standard for a children’s book. And thankfully, unlike the previous two books which were inexplicably labeled as 12+, this is appropriately listed as “All Ages,” so it’s great fun for kids and adults alike.
Overall: This is a fun, funny little book that’s great for readers young and old. It succeeds as a loving tribute to Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, and succeeds even more as funny story on its own. With some sharp writing and crisp, lively visuals, Don’t Let the Penguin Drive the Batmobile! is a fast, entertaining read.