Batman One Bad Day: The Penguin #1 – John Ridley, Writer; Giuseppe Camuncoli, Layouts; Cam Smith, Finishes; Arif Prianto, Colorist
Ray – 9.5/10
Ray: The “One Bad Day” line of books has been rather ambiguous in its mission statement, and it only gets more so with this latest—and to my eye, best—installment. Tom King’s Riddler story was a direct pastiche of The Killing Joke, creating a Riddler who was more sadistic than ever. Mariko Tamaki’s Two-Face tale was more of an escalating story of horror and tragedy playing on the personal link between Two-Face and Batman. But this is something completely different, as John Ridley’s Penguin story starts with the character at the very bottom—a homeless, broken man buying his way back into Gotham by purchasing a second-hand gun and one bullet to begin his war to reclaim his empire.
Penguin was the king of Gotham’s crime scene—until it was all taken from him by his former henchman, Umbrella Man. The new king of the Iceberg Lounge is worse than he ever was, taking Gotham’s crime scene into the open instead of Penguin’s methodical approach. Batman finds himself facing a never-ending barrage of crime and carnage, and Penguin one by one approaches his former henchmen to try to put together an army. The key players include Lili Kwan, a pint-sized martial arts master with an unusual feature that made her a fitting partner to Penguin, and Elliott, a young nepotism hire for another criminal who Penguin sees potential in. Together, you actually start rooting for this odd team of criminal underdogs.
Penguin is a tricky villain, because his characterization ranges from harmless kook to master sadist to cold-blooded mastermind depending on who writes him. Somehow, Ridley manages to seamlessly combine all three, with the character coming off as a complex underdog who does horrible things—and yet may be a key piece of Gotham’s ecosystem. His brief confrontations with Batman remind me a lot of the way Lex Luthor is written at his best, and the final face-off with Umbrella Man is one of the most intense scenes I’ve read in a while. Ridley’s DC work has been a bit of a mixed bag, but this is one of the best things he’s written in years. It’s a hard-boiled Gotham crime thriller that shows just how compelling one of Batman’s most underrated villains can be.
To find reviews of all the DC issues, visit DC This Week.
GeekDad received this comic for review purposes.