Batman #125 reintroduces artist Jorge Jiménez and colorist Tomeu Morey to the ongoing title and marks writer Chip Zdarsky’s takeover of the series. It also begins the ‘Failsafe’ arc, which immediately puts Bruce Wayne in a precarious position.
He murdered the Penguin.
Or at least Gotham City thinks so.
(opens in new tab)
How does comics’ most iconic crimefighter become a murderer? It’s all due to the machinations of one of his most iconic archvillains, who also happens to be the ‘victim.’
Oswald Cobblepot, AKA the Penguin, is a stand-out name in Batman’s rogues’ gallery. The character hails from wealth, which gives him something in common with Bruce Wayne, but he uses that wealth for evil rather than good.
At the start of the ‘Failsafe’ story arc, Penguin has put a hit out on every millionaire in Gotham, targeting anyone who’s inherited more than $5 million and held onto it, rather than giving it back to the people.
And in Batman #125, Penguin gets the perfect opportunity to take out all of the wealthy elites in Gotham at one time: the Flugelhelm Gala, a Gotham City high society affair. Bruce may have lost his fortune in the 2020 ‘Joker War’ storyline, but he still manages to secure an invitation to confront Penguin.
Unfortunately, that means Batman plays right into Oswald’s trap.
At the event itself, Penguin puts gas in the vents to take out everyone inside the ballroom. He also hires Clayface to bring down the building if anyone manages to escape. As Bruce threatens to blow Clayface up, Tim Drake, AKA Robin, is shot through the neck, and Bruce leaves with him immediately to seek medical attention.
Penguin also seeks medical attention – turn out, he’s dying of mercury poisoning, with the implication that he contracted the condition after eating too much raw tuna, which can be contaminated with mercury – and his nurse comments that he won’t make it through the night. His condition seems to have rapidly deteriorated from when he stood on the stage at the gala declaring his plans, and we soon see why.
When Batman appears at his bedside to confront him, Penguin pops a cyanide pill, seemingly killing himself – and also framing Batman, who attempts to remove the poison and is thus caught with his hands on the villain. This all seems to be part of Penguin’s master plan, and may have been from the jump.
(opens in new tab)
With witnesses both outside and inside the hospital, things don’t look good for the Caped Crusader, especially given his very public fight with Penguin at the gala. Given that Robin was also shot at the event, it wouldn’t be out of the question for Batman to seek revenge on the man responsible.
All things considered, it’s a brilliantly villainous plot. If Penguin is dying anyway and can’t kill Batman himself, he can destroy the vigilante by making him a wanted man and dismantling Gotham’s trust in him. Without his fortune, there isn’t much Bruce can do to protect himself legally, and as far as everyone is concerned, killing Penguin marks Batman ‘going bad.’
Of course, whether the Penguin is really dead remains to be seen. And even if he is, DC rarely allows iconic legacy characters to stay dead for long – but Alfred Pennyworth has been dead since Bane murdered him in 2019’s Batman #77. Perhaps Penguin’s ‘death’ will last a while, or perhaps we’ll soon learn his ‘death’ is just another part of his sinister machinations.
On that note, there’s another apparent problem in the wake of Penguin’s death, as established in the backup story from Zdarsky and artists Belen Ortega and Luis Gurrero. In the backup story, Selina Kyle is helped with tracking down each of Penguin’s 10 children – heretofore totally unknown in the DC Universe – to help deliver their inheritance.
For now, Batman is a wanted murderer, and the Dark Knight’s biggest problem may be his own plan to tackle the possibility he turned bad. But that’s another spoiler story…
Now that Zdarsky is writing on the main Batman title, now’s the perfect time to start keeping track of all the new Batman comics planned for release in 2022 and beyond.