Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Penguin's First Caper

When Dectective Comics #58 (cover dated December 1941) was published, Batman had only been active in Gotham City for about two years. His established Rogue's Gallery was still growing.

So this issue is an important one, as it marks the first appearance of Oswald Cobblepot, alias the Penguin.

Actually, though, we don't read the name Oswald Cobblepot in this issue. For much of the story, the Penguin is posing as an art dealer named Mr. Boniface. It's not clear if this was originally his name or if it was itself an alias. The Cobblepot name was later introduced in the Batman newspaper strip.

The story is written by Bill Finger, with art by Bob Kane. The Penguin, as already mentioned, is posing as a erudite art dealer, but he's really the one responsible for stealing some valuable paintings. His use of umbrellas for tools of crime is here right from the start. He uses an umbrella to smuggle some stolen paintings out of a gallery and later is seen firing everything from bullets to gas out of it.  That's one heck of an umbrella.

He's soon taken over the rackets in Gotham City. So now he's set up to steal valuable art, but at the same time make himself appear to be an innocent victim of his own crime wave.

But if you are going to be a successful criminal in Gotham City, you need to get rid of Batman. Penguin's plan involves knocking Batman out and leaving him at the scene of a robbery in what appears to be suspicious circumstances.

The Gotham cops take Batman in, though are apparently polite enough not to take his mask off. But, while still enroute to police headquarters, Penguin stages a "rescue."

So Batman is now a prisoner of the bad guys AND wanted by the cops. Fortunately, the Penguin is apparently also too polite to unmask the Dark Knight. Batman, though tied up, taps out a distress signal using a radio hidden in his heel, bringing Robin to the rescue. I love that part and its a scene that helps show us where Batman's reputation for always being absurdly prepared for any circumstance original comes from.

Batman soon demonstrates his innocence by exposing Penguin as a criminal. In future stories, Penguin isn't always noted for his skill in a fist fight, but he manages to actually out-wrestle Batman long enough to make a getaway. This leads directly into the Penguin's second story, which appeared in the next issue of Detective. Penguin's scheme in that one is particularly clever, so I may review it soon.

The Penguin, because of his fun visual design and his erudite speech, quickly became a frequent return villain and eventually led to one of the greatest bits of casting in the history of film and television when Burgess Meredith played him in the 1966 Batman TV series. And it all began in this untitled story from 1941.

Next week, we'll return to the Lost Valley for another visit with Turok.

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