The Penguin #4
Oswald Cobblepot's plan to return to Gotham City is about to be executed, but he's going to need one last, key piece...and only a beautiful face from his past can provide it. Enter the femme fatale, Lisa St. Claire.
Slow and steady wins the race. If The Penguin has a motto, that might be it. Every issue is deliberate with the creative team delivering a near perfect experience. In a surprise story reversal, The Penguin #4 finally drops the “near” from that description.
Oswald continues building up his power base in The Penguin #4, this time traveling to Las Vegas to meet with–and kill–his ex-wife Lisa. The Forces of July are in support positions. Nevertheless, Oswald is worried as their dinner meeting approaches. And his trepidation isn’t without good reason. Oswald’s power play goes disastrously wrong. It might be that Lisa is the more powerful of the two after all–something, it turns out, that Oswald actually expected.
The pendulum swings back so hard between The Penguin #3 and The Penguin #4 that the reader is likely to get whiplash. After building Oswald up into almost a force of nature in the previous issue, King brings him back down to Earth hard, not just in making him the weaker character asking for help from Lisa, but in knowing he would have to be. The second part preserves Oswald’s dignity. King makes Oswald a less imposing figure in terms of overall strength but maintains his intelligence. Historically, this is the quality that’s always been emphasized in good Penguin stories. So despite the reversal here as compared to the previous two issues, King isn’t hurting Oswald where it counts as the series continues.
Lisa, on the other hand, is elevated. The Penguin #4 sets her up as a necessity for Oswald’s plan. It also separates her from Oswald’s other recruits. Unlike The Help and the Force of July, Oswald can’t force Lisa to join his cause. Both of these facts leave room for potential rivalry and betrayal between Lisa and Oswald. They might come to common cause here, but is it a detente that can last?
This kind of question is a staple in King’s writing. We’ve already seen it more than once in this series. King’s stories are often layered with open ended questions and possibilities. The result is a lot of misdirection that keeps the reader guessing. While plot twists are usually logical in hindsight, it is very difficult to anticipate where the story will go. That is very much the case in this series.
De Latorre’s attention to detail when it comes to Oswald, specifically the amount of lines and shading that he always employs on Oswald’s face, pays dividends in The Penguin #4. Oswald goes through a lot of complicated emotions in his dealings with Lisa. His conversation with Lisa in the final pages sees him transition through many from panel to panel. King doesn’t write dialogue that speaks to these emotional shifts directly. It’s up to De Latorre to give the dialogue true weight beyond its plot implications. The subtle shifts he makes on Oswald’s face communicate everything that King leaves unsaid.
Lisa’s depiction stands in stark contrast, though. She is presented much softer–a bare minimum of lines for contour but not much else. Certainly this is largely to emphasize the difference in general attractiveness and overall wear and tear between the two. But an additive side effect, whether intended or not, is that Lisa’s emotional shifts aren’t nearly as subtle. Changes between panels are more abrupt which makes some of Oswald’s comments, especially one about whether the two love each other, read harsher as a result.
Maiolo frequently makes background color choices to emphasize mood rather than a natural setting. He makes a choice in this issue that underscores both Oswald’s emotions about Lisa and their relative power dynamics. Lisa’s first appearance in The Penguin #4 is made in a magenta dress. The color matches the background of a limo scene early in the issue where The Help reflects on Oswald’s apparent fear in anticipation of his encounter with Lisa. The color repeats on the exterior of Lisa’s casino. It then makes its appearance on Lisa’s dress. It returns late in the pair’s dinner, replacing the natural background colors as The Help attacks Lisa only to be brutally rebuffed by Lisa’s bodyman Garrett. Maiolo goes back to it one last time as Oswald attempts to win Lisa’s favor at the end. The repeated use of Lisa’s dress color in critical moments emphasizes throughout the issue who is truly in charge.
Cowles does his typical good work in the issue. But by far his best choice is the color combination for the text and fill of Lisa’s thought captions. Cowles has largely color coordinated these captions with the clothing of the characters doing the thinking. The dominant color for the character is used as the caption box’s fill with a secondary color being used for the text. Cowles inverts that choice with Lisa, using the magenta for the text against a white fill. It’s possible this was a practical choice, made because the inverse can be harder to read. But in any event, the result is that the text for Lisa’s thoughts pops off the page, further emphasizing her relative power in the issue.
The Penguin remains fresh with every issue. Each one is deliberative. And it doesn’t come as the result of any one member of the creative team shining more than the others. This is a true group effort with every part of a given issue reinforcing its various dynamics. The Penguin #4 is a masterclass issue that every fan of the medium should read.
The Penguin #4: Perfection Wears Magenta
- Writing - 10/1010/10
- Storyline - 10/1010/10
- Art - 10/1010/10
- Color - 10/1010/10
- Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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