Review: Batman: One Bad Day: Penguin hardcover (DC Comics)


Yes! After Batman: One Bad Day: Two-Face seemed to lose the thread of these books, Batman: One Bad Day: Penguin is a return to form, an even clearer roadmap than the superlative Riddler perhaps for how the One Bad Day stories should work. John Ridley and Giuseppe Camuncoli tell a fine crime tale that’s maybe even too lenient on the Penguin, but succeeds in revealing villainy and humanity in equal measure.

[Review contains spoilers]

One Bad Day: Penguin starts at the end of the beginning, Oswald Cobblepot’s empire in ruins, as he scrapes to buy a gun with a single bullet. The “Umbrella Man” threat is perfectly nebulous; Ridley understands here the point is not whom the Penguin is fighting (at least not yet), but rather that the struggle reveals the base elements of the character.

Penguin is another, like Two-Face, for whom I think a Killing Joke-esque origin story is difficult, given already well established beginnings, at least in broad strokes. Parentage and such may be murky, but we’re well versed in young Oswald gets bullied by his peers, and Ridley elides that even if he doesn’t avoid it outright. I never felt I was traversing ground I’d trod with Penguin before, and particularly not trodding lesser ground.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Really what’s salient in Penguin is not so much Oswald’s origins at all (while Penguin is having a bad day, we’re still pretty far from “one bad day” as it relates to the context of Killing Joke), but the suggestion of how Penguin works behind Batman’s back to keep Gotham crime at acceptable levels. This was the convincing conceit of Tom King and Mitch Gerads' Batman: One Bad Day: Riddler as well, that Riddler there and Penguin here are capable of much greater evil than Batman realizes, but hamstring themselves for the benefit of the status quo. This does seem “One Bad Day” material, the truth of Batman’s villains that he never understands.

Throughout, Ridley’s Penguin is a rather amicable figure, going from old colleague to old colleague begging assistance, often leaving charity in his wake. He leaves some bodies, too, but Penguin is clearly the lesser evil as compared to Umbrella Man, even when he returns Umbrella Man’s savage beating in kind. If there’s one way in which Penguin doesn’t live up to the “One Bad Day” moniker, enjoyable as it might be, it’s in not making Penguin seem like such a bad guy (throat-biting notwithstanding).

It’s a choice — and by this third volume, it seems an intentional one — to set the One Bad Day books in current continuity instead of making them more timeless. Killing Joke isn’t exactly continuity-free itself, but the broad strokes of Batman and Commissioner Gordon, absent a lot of what came after, is fairly generic. In Riddler and Two-Face, we had mention of Damian and appearances by the Batgirls respectively; here, Commissioner Montoya is in charge, not coincidentally a character who factors strongly in Ridley’s work. The plot of Penguin overall seems incompatible with current DC continuity, but I’ll be curious to see if we ever find any of the involved writers referencing their specials elsewhere.

Giuseppe Camuncoli is an artist who’s been on DC books longer than I recalled, but I most recently enjoyed his work on the conclusion to James Tynion’s Joker. It is workaday in a way that’s praiseworthy, detailed without being cluttered, and I thought the artist got sizing especially right; you see Penguin as physically smaller than Batman and others, even as he holds his own.

Batman: One Bad Day: Penguin is a romp, it moves along well, it makes you root for Penguin as a Gotham crime boss. If anything, I thought John Ridley didn't track well the dispensation of the bullets that are so integral to the beginning, but no matter; this is not as good as Riddler, but surely better than Two-Face.

[Includes original and variant covers, black and white art section]

Rating 2.5

Comments ( 2 )

  1. I’m glad for the occasion to reread this one, because I’m a little higher on it than I was the first time around. I don’t know that it says anything /new/ about the Penguin, but it distills him in a way that the One Bad Day series ought to do.

    The Umbrella Man did rather remind me of Emperor Penguin, and I wonder whatever became of him… probably the same thing that happens to every upstart who thinks they can dethrone the Penguin. It’ll be fun to read this alongside Tom King’s Penguin, which seems to be taking a similar (if slower) tack to rebuilding an empire.

    1. I was pleased to see in putting together the DC May 2024 solicitations rundown that Chip Zdarsky's Penguin story, in backups to Batman Vol. 1: Failsafe, continues into King's run. It was going to be awful awkward for King's series to ignore those developments, so I'm glad to see that it's not.


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