Adaptational Analysis: Episode 5 – The Potential of the Penguin

The Penguin is one of Batman’s greatest villains, and the upcoming miniseries has the chance to prove it.

Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot has been a mainstay of Batman’s Rogues Gallery since his debut in 1941. Originally a master thief who carried himself with gentlemanly flamboyance, the Penguin became a lord of organized crime during the 1990s, opening up the Iceberg Lounge and masquerading as a legitimate businessman.

Matt Reeves’ 2020 film The Batman follows this depiction, and 2022’s The Penguin miniseries can incorporate both the modern take as well as aspects of the original comic book version.

The Penguin made his debut in Detective Comics #58, December 1941, making him one of Batman’s first noteworthy supervillains. A cunning criminal whose absurd appearance led most people to underestimate him, the Penguin took control of small gangs by planning their crimes, then murdering their leaders.

Over the years, he proved one of the smartest criminals in Batman’s rogues gallery, once chastising the Bat that they could have been partners, “But alas, I’m afraid you’d never appreciate the beauty of a successful robbery!” (Finger, 1941).

Through his use of trick umbrellas and mastery of strategy, he frequently escaped the Dark Knight’s grasp, when even the infamous Joker usually faced arrest or a mysterious death at the end of his early appearances.

In the 1990s, however, a brutal vigilante called Azrael assumed the mantle of the bat. In this modern age, many felt that a character with the Penguin’s absurd appearance seemed ill-suited to leading heists in-person. After kidnapping Sarah Essen, Commissioner Gordon’s wife, Cobblepot faced a furious berating from Gordon for still seeking Batman’s attention after all these years.

Once Batman saved Essen, however, and claimed “There’s nothing the Penguin can throw at me that I haven’t encountered before,” the Penguin realized that Gordon might have a point, that there are better ways to commit crime than putting oneself in direct danger (David, 1994).

The Iceberg Lounge became the Penguin’s headquarters as Gotham’s most powerful crime lord, a legitimate business from which he could command his illicit deeds. While Colin Farrell played the Penguin in Matt Reeves’ 2022 film The Batman as a mafia lieutenant in charge of this shady nightclub, the trailer for his central miniseries The Penguin shows he has larger ambitions.

The question is, will the show do justice to Oswald Cobblepot’s comic book depiction? Trick umbrellas have been suspected assassination weapons throughout history, but classic weaponry aside, The Penguin show has a chance to embrace the more flamboyant, gentlemanly nature of the character while keeping him in the role of a crime lord.

Much like the source material, Farrell’s Cobblepot seems to seek respect from those he perceives to be high society, given his volatile reaction to the claim that he was always “just a gimp in an empty suit” (Reeves, 2022).

Time will tell how far he takes this envious ambition, but the miniseries has the chance to explore all the intricacies of this criminal’s mind like few other adaptations have.

Works Cited

Cronin, B. (2022, March 7). When did the Penguin first become a mob boss?. CBR.

David, P. (writer), Russell, P., Gilbert M. (pencillers and inkers), & Kindzierski, L. (colorist). 1994. “Cracks” Showcase ‘94 #7. DC Comics.

Dixon, C. (writer), Nolan, G. (penciller), Hanna, S. (inker), & Roy, A. (colorist). 1995. “Odds Against!” Detective Comics #683. DC Comics.

Finger, B. (writer), Kane, B. (penciller), Robinson, J., & Roussos, G. (inkers). 1941. “One of the Most Perfect Frame-Ups” Detective Comics #58. DC Comics.

Laskow, S. (2017, January 24). All hail the umbrella gun, the ridiculous weapon of 20th-century spies. Atlas Obscura.

Warner Bros. Pictures. (2022). The Batman [Film]. United States.

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