The Penguin Edit
“The Man of 1,000 Umbrellas”—the plunderingPenguin—belies the stereotype of the fearsomesupervillain. He is obese, smokes, dresses as ifhe's stepping out for a night at the opera,surrounds himself with birds, and wieldsbumbershoots as weapons. Despite his comicalappearance, the Penguin has remained one ofthe Batman's feistiest foes since his firstappearance in DC Comics' Detective Comics#58 (1941). Legend offers conflicting storiesbehind the creation of this waddling wrongdoer.Batman creator Bob Kane cited the cartoonpenguin icon for Kool cigarettes as the villain'sinspiration, while Batman's unsung champion,ghostwriter Bill Finger, remarked that he foundhis felonious muse in emperor penguins, thestately yet stout birds that resemble tuxedoedmen. Another contradicting report is the five-page tale “The True Story of Batman and Robin,”published in DC's Real Fact Comics #5 (1947),which suggests that Kane dreamt up thePenguin upon spying a portly “eccentric fellow”strolling with an unopened umbrella on ablisteringly sunny day. From whichever roost thePenguin hatched, his motivations are clear: tofeather his nest with ill-gotten gain, much to theconsternation of Gotham City's guardians,Batman and Robin. To achieve this goal, thePenguin employs an arsenal of trick umbrellasspecially outfitted for the cagey bird's menacingbrand of fowl play. When cornered in a heist bythe meddlesome Dynamic Duo, the Penguinmight brandish a pyro-parasol, forcing Batmanand Robin to dodge a jet of flame; a machine-gun umbrella, spraying a hail of gunfire at theheroes; or an acid-squirting bumbershoot for apotentially lethal big splash. The tip of thePenguin's umbrella is razor-sharp, and he's notaverse to using it when making a point. When allelse fails and escape is his only option, sometype of getaway umbrella is always at hisfingertips, from a spring-coiled “pogo-rella” to ajet-propelled rocketumbrella to a rotor-bladehelicopter-umbrella. The Penguin's parasolfixation harkens back to his childhood, when, asOswald Chesterfield Cobblepot, he was forced tocarry an umbrella at all times at the behest ofhis overprotective mother, who worried he mighttake ill from exposure to the elements. Podgyand beak-nosed, young Cobblepot was eggedon by classmates who mercilessly derided him,nicknaming him “Penguin.” The ostracizedOswald had no friends, save the feathered onesat his mother's bird shop. From this kinship hewas inspired to study ornithology in college, butafter the passing of his mother and the bankforeclosure of the family's shop, Cobblepotturned to crime. Motivated by the desire to profitfrom a society that had rejected him, hebecomes the Penguin, Gotham's most dapperand deadly thief. But not too deadly. Despite hisperilous umbrella arsenal, during comics' GoldenAge (1938–1954) the Penguin was essentially acomic foil to the Dynamic Duo. He wasBatman's most gentlemanly adversary, tippinghis hat to his caped foe, and he sometimesemployed henchmen to do his dirty work. ThePenguin toddled through several tales a year inthe pages of Batman, Detective, and World'sFinest Comics, in mirthful romps with titles like“Four Birds of a Feather” (Batman #11, 1942),“The Penguin's Nest” (Batman #36, 1946), and“The Umbrellas of Crime” (Detective #134, 1948),comfortably predictable crime capers featuringeither birds or umbrellas (or both). The cover toDetective #67 (1942), depicting “The Man WhoUses Birdlore for Banditry” escaping his Bat-foes by riding an ostrich, proved that Penguinstories were not to be taken seriously. By theend the Golden Age, Batman's colorful rogues'gallery was being supplanted by gangsters andalien invaders, and after “The Golden Eggs” inBatman #99 (1956), the Penguin migrated intolimbo. Bill Finger, along with artists SheldonMoldoff and Charles Paris, resurrected theflabby felon in Batman #155 (1963) in a storyappropriately titled “The Return of the Penguin.”Cobblepot, flustered by the scoffs of underworldincorrigibles who regarded him a has-been,emerged from retirement by taking to the skiesin his “Penguin's Roc,” a penguin-shapeddirigible. During the superhero boom of the mid-1960s, the Penguin became one of comics'most recognizable supervillains after BurgessMeredith's portrayal of the character in ABC'slive-action Batman series (1966–1968). Deckedout in black tails and a purple top hat,Meredith's fanciful birdlike sway captivatedviewers, as did his famous Penquin “quack.”That sound, as the actor once revealed in aninterview with journalist James H. Burns, wasthe result of Meredith's allergy to cigarettesmoke: “The smoke would get caught in mythroat. Since I didn't want to constantly ruintakes by coughing out loud—which the smokeforced me to do—I developed the Penguin's‘quack, quack' to cover it.” Meredith's Penguinappeared in more Batman episodes than anyother supervillain, and teamed with the Joker,Catwoman, and the Riddler in the motion-picturespin-off of the series, Batman (1966). Thanks tothis wave of popularity, the Penguin's paunchypuss was plastered onto a bonanza of Batman-related merchandising. He was one of manyBat-villains appearing on trading cards, plasticcoins, and board games, but unlike his fellowfiends he was the only Batman villainimmortalized as a plastic model kit, courtesy ofmodel-maker Aurora. A flock of Penguin reprintsfrom the 1950s was gathered in Batman vs. thePenguin (Signet Books, 1966), the fourth of sixquickie paperbacks capitalizing on the Batmancraze. The villain also fought Batman and Robinin “The Penguin's Fowl Play,” one of a series ofsixteen-page Batman mini-comic giveaways in1966 boxes of Kellogg's Pop Tarts. After thecancellation of the live-action Batman, the heroleapt into animation in CBS's TheBatman/Superman Hour (1968–1969) and TheAdventures of Batman and Robin (1969–1970),and the Penguin fluttered to his side, appearingin such episodes as “In Again Out AgainPenguin” and “Two Penguins Too Many.” ThePenguin found TV animation a popular perch: heappeared in short Batman cartoons runningduring the premier season (1970) of SesameStreet; teamed with the Joker to fight Batman,Robin, and the Scooby-Doo gang in The NewScooby-Doo Movies (1972–1974); and was arecurring adversary in The New Adventures ofBatman (1977–1978), in episodes that would berebroadcast for several more seasons undervarious Batman show incarnations. Also duringthe 1970s, the Penguin was heavilymerchandized as action figures (in a variety ofsizes) from the Mego Toy Corp., and on sew-onclothing patches, 7-11 Slurpee cups, and Pepsidrinking glasses available at fast-food outlets.He appeared in comic-book ads for HostessTwinkies, and in 1977— in perhaps the oddestincarnations ever conceived for supervillains—sang and danced with other DC heroes andvillains in the traveling stage show Bugs BunnyMeets the Super-Heroes and water-skied inSeaworld's Salute to the DC Super-Heroes. ThePenguin was not treated as well in his hostmedium of comics. In the early 1970s DCComics rejected the campiness of Batman'stelevision heyday and returned the hero to hismoody “creature of the night” roots, making thejovial Penguin an uncomfortable fit in this noir-ish world. He still surfaced for a token, nostalgicappearance from time to time throughout the1970s and 1980s, even returning to television in1985 as a villain on The Super Powers Team:Galactic Guardians, a tie-in to Kenner Toys'Super Powers action-figure line, which includeda Penguin figure. In “The Killing Peck” in SecretOrigins Special #1 (1989), the Penguin wasgiven a harsher edge, his brutality spawned byrepressed hatred for those who tormented himduring his youth. Three years later, director TimBurton's Batman Returns (1992) thrust thePenguin back into the media spotlight in ahorrifying interpretation portrayed by DannyDeVito. A sewer-dwelling freak of nature,DeVito's gruesome, sludge-slobbering Penguinreportedly frightened young filmgoers andenraged their mothers—much to the chagrin ofMcDonald's, which had licensed the villain forHappy Meals toys. The darker tone of BatmanReturns aside, the movie managed to borrowtwo bits from the live-action Batman series (thePenguin running for mayor and stealing theBatmobile), but nearly lost its footing with itsabsurd climax featuring thousands of penguinsarmed with missiles. The Burton Penguin wassoftened for the fall 1992 debut of the long-running Batman: The Animated Series, withPaul Williams voicing the debonair racketeer.The Penguin was back on the tube in a newanimated series, the WB's The Batman (2004–-present), with actor Tom Kenny in the role. Inthe 1999 multi-part story “No Man's Land,”serialized through DC's Batman family of titles,Gotham City was devastated by an earthquake,allowing the opportunistic Penguin to reapobscene profits by gouging citizens andcriminals alike on grossly overpricednecessities. In the 2000s the Penguin operatesa covert crime cartel under the auspices of hislegitimate business ventures, including theGotham hotspot the Iceberg Lounge. Batman,however, knows that the Penguin cannot betrusted and forever keeps the Man of 1,000Umbrellas under his watchful eye.