The Penguin is released from Arkham after the death of his wife (more on that, in a minute) and, after the funeral, Bane sends him on a mission to murder Alfred — ostensibly because Bruce Wayne thwarted the latter’s attempt to frame Mr Freeze. Of course, the truth is a little more complex than that…
It’s not every day that a writer choreographs a fight scene around an obscure metaphysical poem, but since Tom King has made a habit of (very successfully) weaving poetry into the world of The Bat, we shouldn’t really be surprised. This poem was extraordinarily well-chosen for the scene and I am seriously geeking out about it because its inclusion in this issue means that I can do two of my favorite things at the same time: analyse comics and metaphysical poetry. Well. I have to use that PhD for something.
Let’s get started.
The issue opens with The Penguin being told some terrible news: Penny is dead. This reveals the central mystery of the issue: who is Penny? Now, The Penguin briefly had a secretary named Penny, but she didn’t last long, so this is probably not the individual referenced here. Fortunately, there are other clues.
First, we discover that she was ‘little’, ‘underestimated’ and ‘misunderstood’. During the funeral scene, we are shown the headstones that Cobblepot purchased — one for his own eventual use, and another for her current residence.
Look at those titles. Look at those dates. Penny was his wife. Penny was murdered. Penny was twenty years old. Now, the age difference is absolutely jarring (the idea of a 48-year-old being married to a young girl is disturbing — no wonder her family didn’t approve) but the choice of poem indicates that the situation is even more twisted than one might originally consider.
Those lines reference one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known poems, ‘The Phoenix and the Turtle’. The ‘turtle’ referred to here is 17th century slang for the turtledove, not the reptile. The rest of the poem is delivered over three perfectly-executed pages. This is a poem which, beyond talking about a wide variety of highly-symbolic birds, can be read as an allegory of ideal love — a love so powerful that it transcends both logic and material fact.
Now. Which ‘material fact’ is a man like The Penguin more likely to attempt to transcend? Marrying a teenage girl, or a penguin?
Here’s another hint, courtesy of our good friend Google: Emperor penguins live 20 years in the wild.
Another thing that Tom King is exceptionally good at is lacing a joke with real, bitter emotion. Remember the slow, tragic reveal of the history of Kite Man. Hell yeah. The pain that The Penguin feels is real and deeply serious. If his love turns out not to be directed at a human, well, that punchline wouldn’t lessen the impact. It would add a layer of meaning to it.
In any case, I am more than a little excited to get to play detective myself and get to the bottom of the mystery.
This is a remarkably clever, multilayered narrative which balances a measure of heart with an abundance of punching.
Batman #58 The Metaphysical Marriage
Writing - 8.5/108.5/10
Storyline - 8.5/108.5/10
Art - 8/108/10
Color - 8/108/10
Cover Art - 7.5/107.5/10
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