I talk about the importance of second issues a lot and I’m going to repeat myself again. This is where a comic sells itself. A strong start is one thing but if that energy can be maintained for the second issue, I know it wasn’t a fluke and that I should keep reading. So how does The Penguin fare? Is this series a good idea after all? Let’s see!
I’m sorry to say, I was a little disappointed by this issue. Especially after how strong I felt the opening was, I’m finding this story is already breaking down and showing just why villains shouldn’t have their own titles.
The worst part is, my least favorite element of this issue is not something that could be fixed without rewriting the story and taking a completely different direction.
I’m not sure I can call him an antagonist, but the Help is at least at odds with Penguin throughout this issue and that’s almost exclusively what the story revolves around. To me, that is a mistake, especially given the execution here. I have not read Batman: Killing Time which is the story where the Help originates from and this issue takes for granted that I have. Until he is named at the end of the book, it isn’t clear who the character is. Of course, the cover promotes his return but his name is so nonspecific I didn’t realize it was referencing a person. Add to that, he has the visual appearance of an older man in a suit with no distinguishing features. The story is mostly told through the perspective of side characters, like the last issue, no one refers to him by name, and his relationship with Penguin is never made clear even in the end. Essentially, it made this issue nearly impossible to fully understand without already knowing the character. There wasn’t even an editor’s note telling me to go check out Killing Time to learn more!
Some things can be expected of a reader. For example, if you are writing a Batman comic, you can assume readers know who Batman’s most popular rogues are. There are also ways to make lesser-known concepts or characters more digestible to readers without holding their hand. There is no attempt at that here and again this character is so nondescript! Without a name, you’d never know who he was. If you look him up by name all you can find are a few sensationalist articles about him as a new villain in Killing Time. This is a character that appeared in one miniseries a year ago. You cannot expect everyone reading a Penguin comic to know about this guy. Ideally, there would be some modicum of exposition telling me who he is even if he was well known because this is the first time he has appeared in this series. But we don’t get any of this and in the end it seriously harms my enjoyment of this story.
Anyway, outside of that, this issue is mostly fine but it also drops all the supporting characters from last month and even the future snippets of Penguin and Batman drowning are nowhere to be found. So, there is even more of a sense that this issue isn’t effectively continuing the story that started last month. Penguin isn’t very likable in this issue and we also aren’t given any reason to sympathize with him like we were before. He has reverted to being a standard villain. I’m worried this is going to become another great example of why giving villains their own titles is a mistake. They don’t have well developed supporting casts usually and when we can’t sympathize with their motives or goals (as I couldn’t in this issue), who wants to read about them? It’s like reading only the pages in a Batman comic showing the villain scheming and skipping everything else. This doesn’t feel like a full story anymore. The last issue gave me hope that that wouldn’t be the case but here we are. Let’s hope things get back on track next month.
On the positive side, the art is still strong. Regardless of the validity of giving Penguin a series to begin with, De Latorre is a perfect choice to draw it. He brings a gritty feel to the story that is perfectly suited to comics about organized crime and the like. In particular, I love De Latorre’s use of blacks.
There is a clear intention in the placement and the contrast services the atmosphere of every scene well. The black is consistent enough to create that sense of grit throughout but it is applied to different extents to push the mood. In brighter scenes it pulls back but never so far that there is a lack of uniformity. Not only does this art feel professional but it emotes. So, wherever this comic goes story-wise, I know I can at least get behind the visual aspect.
- You’re a Batman: Killing Time fan
- Tom King is your favorite writer
- You relate to cut-and-dry villains
There is still enjoyment to be had with this issue and I wouldn’t call it bad, but it isn’t nearly as engaging as the first. The story assumes too much about the reader’s knowledge and even without that, Penguin as a character is significantly less likable or sympathetic, making staying engaged a hard sell. The art is still beautiful but that isn’t enough to keep me invested if the writing doesn’t get back to what worked in part one. This isn’t a good sign but I still hope that this comic justifies itself and proves this is just a bump in the road.
DISCLAIMER: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.