THIS WEEK: Tom King, Rafael de Latorre, and team deliver The Penguin #1, a look at the current state of the DC Universe’s top crime boss. Plus, we check in yet again as Knight Terrors continues towards its end.

Note: the review below contains spoilers. If you want a quick, spoiler-free buy/pass recommendation on the comics in question, check out the bottom of the article for our final verdict.

The Penguin #1The Penguin #1

Writer: Tom King
Artist: Rafael De Latorre
Colorist: Marcelo Maiolo
Letterer: Clayton Cowles

The Penguin has been in an interesting place in DC’s in-continuity shared universe comics. He’s dead (kind of), or at least many people in the wider DCU think he’s dead. He’s definitely lost his criminal empire and left Gotham for Metropolis. And in his place have risen a pair of his (many) children, younger bastard Copperpots who have some bird-related touches but don’t go full-on penguin the way The Penguin has always been portrayed. We were reminded of all this earlier in the month with The Penguin #0, which reprinted a relevant story straight from the pages of the main Batman run.

With all that established, this new series kicks-off with a very intriguing framing device — The Penguin and Batman are stuck together in a sinking, broken Bat-boat, severely injured and going down. There are only moments left until they both die, and they are barely able to move. We then cut back to the events that led us there, and off this series goes. It’s a very effective opener, one that gives us just enough to know the stakes without feeling too sudden or confused. 

It also speaks to what feels like the central thesis of this book — The Penguin is formidable and not to be underestimated. The more specific conceit here is that after The Penguin “died” and fled to Metropolis, he is being pushed back toward the Gotham underworld by the U.S. intelligence community. The way the specific story is told is through a series of first person monologues, spread across different characters. It’s an interesting structure, one that gives the characters involved more interiority than you often see in comics especially the superhero variety.

Readers who enjoy Tom King’s writing will absolutely love this issue. The writer takes on and succeeds with the voices of a wide variety of characters, making them all feel well-realized and interesting. There are touches of humor, nice variety, and excellent prose throughout. And more often than not, the captions supplement and enhance the visuals, rarely telling us things we already know. It’s also fun to see King bring back a character from Batman: Killing Time, in a nice bit of continuity with that Batman villain-starring title.

And the artwork is also strong in The Penguin #1. The Penguin is inherently a weird-looking little dude. Rafael de Latorre and Marcelo Maiolo have the difficult job of making him look serious and formidable throughout. At times, The Penguin has to be threatening, or unassuming, or — ahem — even a sexual being. And it’s a credit to the artists there that none of the scenes tip into inadvertent humor or absurdity.

All in all, it adds up to a really strong comic. If I have a word of warning, it’s that there’s a lot to keep straight in this book. It is, after all, a combination of continuity-heavy superhero storytelling, crime comics, and espionage comics — all of which ask a lot from the reader to keep up. But if you’re game, there’s so much to like about this gritty and intriguing first issue.

Verdict: BUY

The Round-Up

  • DC’s ongoing summer event Knight Terrors is getting pretty close to its end. Before it can get there, though, this week saw the event land its two best tie-ins so far. The first was Knight Terrors – Detective Comics #2, which concludes my personal favorite tie-in storyline. All of these tie-ins are essentially the same conceptually, showing us the nightmares that DC’s heroes are trapped within. It’s all in the telling, but this two-issue feature about Jim Gordan is to my mind the most interesting of the bunch. Some of these feel like we’re just waiting for the heroes to wake up, but Gordon’s fears and nightmares are so interesting, that it’s almost beside the point. This is just a great, stand-alone character-driven story about a classic DC character. The creative team here is Dan Watters, Riccardo Federici, Mike Perkins, Stefano Raffale, Brad Anderson, Lee Loughridge, and Steve Wands.
  • The other really excellent Knight Terrors tie-in this week was Knight Terrors – Harley Quinn #2, which sees artist Hayden Sherman and colorist Triona Farrell deliver a truly stunning 30-plus pages of comics artwork. It’s a multiversal concept that sees the story bounce through many different familiar DC worlds and concepts, and the art team varies the visuals to match throughout. I love it when superhero comics do this sort of thing. It’s a fun way for artists to show off and evoke other classic stories from within the long histories of these shared universes. Sherman is an artist who just keeps getting better and better and better. It feels like only a matter of time before they end up headlining something major in comics. This one was written by Tini Howard and lettered by Steve Wands. 
  • Finally, Dark Knights of Steel #12 marks the end of that maxi-series…sort of. There’s no way this very successful concept ends here (writer Tom Taylor essentially said as much last month at San Diego Comic-Con). There’s just too many characters left standing and in-flux for this story to be done yet. I anticipate years of new series in this DC-meets-fantasy world, much like other Taylor-penned projects, Injustice and DCeased, before it. This issue also featured artwork by Yasmine Putri (who delivered tremendous work throughout this entire run), colors by Arif Prianto, and letters by Wes Abbott. This one was a lot of fun, and hey, why not do more? Batman and Superman with kingdoms and magic and swords — simple but effective stuff.

Miss any of our earlier reviews? Check out our full archive!