Penguin it to win it

The Batman’s HBO Max spinoff could redeem its most maligned character

Oswald Cobblepot is coming to HBO Max.

The Batman is spreading its wings.

Matt Reeves’ gritty reboot of DC’s most enduring franchise will star Robert Pattinson as a Bruce Wayne just starting out as the Caped Crusader in a Gotham City soon to be marauded by his most dangerous enemies.

Though that film isn’t hitting theaters until next year, a crime procedural focused on Commissioner Gordon and the Gotham Police has already been announced for HBO Max. And now there’s a second spinoff in the mix: a Penguin-based spinoff, starring Colin Farrell, has been greenlit at HBO Max.

DC is doubling down on this iteration of Batman, establishing its own cinematic universe. But what misadventures could The Penguin get up to in a show that will presumably not feature Pattinson’s Batman? Here’s the best idea the comics have to offer.

The Penguin reckons with his identity in Gotham Underground #9, published in 2008.DC Comics

The main issue for any spinoff focusing on a villain is obvious: how do you create a villain fans can legitimately root for? Whether we’re talking about the Joker or Cruella de Vil, a strong backstory has to be in place (if indeed the goal is to explain and justify said villain’s actions).

For Oswald Cobblepot, that heartstrings-tugging backstory didn’t really arrive until Gotham Underground #9, in which his backstory is explained and traced through previous generations of Cobblepots. Being born into a dynasty of great military leaders and social symbols, Oswald was short, stocky, and relentlessly bullied. Ultimately, he embraced the hate that filled him with and became the criminal overlord we know and love.

In Gotham Underground, Oswald Cobblepot ran a sort of “Underground Railroad” for criminals and, over the course of the series, assembled a team of knockoff Batman villains based on more well-known characters. The series ended with him handing over the keys to his famous Iceberg Lounge to the Riddler, at which point he’s attacked and almost killed.

Thankfully, Batman himself comes to the Penguin’s aid, saving his life under one condition: from now on, he must act as an informant on criminal activity in Gotham. And thus, this Penguin became a mole.

Batman and Penguin cooperate in Gotham Underground #9.DC Comics

This comic arc is perfect for a Cobblepot-centric TV adaptation. First, the tone of this comic is unlike the usual colorful Batman style. Instead, it feels more like a noir, as The Batman is said to be itself.

The criminal underbelly of Gotham Underground exists as evidence the criminals of Gotham are more than just adversaries for Batman to defeat. Each of these low-lives have their own interpersonal issues and engage in frequent gang wars; this series could be the perfect way to explore that darkest side of Gotham.

Secondly, only one thing can make a character more sympathetic than a tragic backstory, and that’s a redemption arc. With Oswald Cobblepot becoming an informant for Batman, one could sense a path to making him a sympathetic character while keeping his criminal overlord image intact. This angle could introduce a juicy internal conflict for the Penguin as he reckons with exactly where his loyalties lie.

Considering that The Batman is about the start of Bruce Wayne’s career, and that his Penguin series is described as a “Scarface-like” origin story, there could be some timeline shifting needed to make this happen. But if there’s any comic series that could serve as inspiration for the Penguin’s HBO Max spin-off, it should be this one.

The Batman premieres in theaters March 4, 2022.

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