Tuesday, November 4, 2014


Strangely, this is an accurate reproduction of Bob Kane's gravestone.
You would imagine that Batman would be ecstatic to discover that one of his rogues gallery had gone legit, enthusiastically embraced an alternate income source than that of theatrical crime and even found a way to spread a little joy and laughter in an often troubled world. What actually happens, instead, is that he becomes furious that he’s been robbed of one of his favorite punching bags and just literally shoves the guy around on the street for absolutely no reason until the reformed rogue is left with no choice except to dress like an underperforming hockey mascot and murder a buncha dudes.

Now this Comic-Con party is REALLY starting!
This is pretty much what happens in “Pee-Wee, the Talking Penguin” (Batman vol.1 no.51, Feb-Mar 1949) when the Penguin, of all characters, not only cleans up his criminal career but becomes a big-shot in the world of novelty animal acts. If he’d been allowed to continue unobstructed, he probably would’ve only ended up being banned from Sullivan for throwing a flipper to the camera, anyway.

Oswald Cobblepot, best known to modern audiences for being the guy who’ll knife a dude for a tasty sandwich, enters 1949 as the manager of the sensational Pee-wee, an emperor penguin evidently gifted with the power of speech and the sartorial elegance to match a bowtie and top hat with not wearing any pants, just like me at my wedding.

The Dynamic Duo’s introduction to Pee-Wee comes by way of harassing the Penguin for doing absolutely nothing. I am by no means kidding when I relate the chain of events as being thus: Batman and Robin notice the Penguin walking down the street, acknowledge that he’s recently paroled but decide to rough him up anyway because he has the audacity to be heading towards a place where they sell ice, call him fat, and then threaten to beat up his friends. Batman even fuckin’ throws a soupbone at empty air, flustered to find the target of his rage to be a flightless bird.

I don't generally like to post whole pages from these comics, but I want you to experience Batman's
utterly uncalled-for harassment of the Penguin in the midst of doing absolutely nothing sinister whatsoever.
Don’t laugh, Batman considers waterfowl to be a legitimate threat, that’s why he, as a world-class athlete and martial artist, feels comfortable repeatedly beating the living shit out of a fat myopic dwarf with a two-pack-a-day habit. No, but seriously, the Penguin is a genuine threat to Batman’s well-being, or so Batman keeps writing on the police reports to justify his use of an otherwise illegal chokehold.

Batman: Preemptively banned from the
Hollywood Magic Castle.
Anyway, the formerly criminal Cobblepot starts a brand-new career as the manager of Pee-Wee’s wild celebrity, and he cleans up t’boot. Unfortunately, former criminal underlings show up and demand payoff for a previous job, and rather than just murdering them and feeding their remains to his pet penguin, the criminal Penguin dresses up in some sort of furry fetishist gear and robs banks. Hey, imagine if he could have trusted Batman enough to go to him with his problem? I’m just saying the “terrifying criminals” shtick is an inelegant solution, man.

Ultimately, Batman gets the Penguin to trial, at which point the world’s greatest detective switches tactics and commits himself to proving that Pee-Wee could not, actually, talk, but rather was the receiving end of a sophisticated ventriloquist act. Well … yeah? What’s next, is Batman going to hound Edgar Bergen until he gives up Charlie McCarthy? Jeff Dunham better watch his ass.

Somehow, proving that Pee-Wee wasn’t actually capable of speech sends the Penguin back to jail, although there is literally no reason for that and in fact it in no way proved anything involving even the Penguin’s presence near the robberies. It must make Batman feel good, though, and clears his schedule to belittle and threaten other parolees when the nights get lonely.

Controversially for a comic of the time, these are those two gay penguins you read about.


Tom said...

I was going crazy trying to remember where I read this story before, but then I realized I hadn't--I was actually remembering "Love Bird" from Batman Annual #11, where Batsy is actually EVEN MORE OF AN ASSHOLE. Cobblepot is released despite Batman showing up at his parole hearing to talk shit about him, then goes off to woo similarly bird-obsessed socialite "Dovina," who makes him promise to "waddle the straight and narrow."

At no point has Batman given up on the idea that the Penguin is still a crook, though, and after some routine mook-bashing he learns that lots of Cobblepots old henchmen have been gathering together at--uh oh--an umbrella factory. Batman and Robin crash the joint, assuming that all the umbrellas are of the helicopter/flamethrower variety, only to find that it's a legit operation except for the fact that the Penguin was using his old ex-con buddies as labor (allowing them to get out of the racket), which Oswald tearfully admits violated the terms of his parole. Batman semi-reluctantly books him, and the Oswald/Dovina relationship goes back to being pen pals.

So basically, Batman not only ruined the Penguin's best chance at redemption, he also destroyed his potential marriage AND he shut down a local business that was expressly intended to provide employment to ex-cons who had no other legitimate source of employment.

fuuuuuck youuuuuuuu Batman

It's a really great story (Robin is particularly funny as a voice of reason that Batman completely ignores) that usually gets overshadowed by the Alan Moore story "Mortal Clay" it shares the issue with. But it's got Norm Breyfogle and Max Allan Collins!

Permanus said...


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