- "You're just jealous because I'm a genuine freak and you have to wear a mask!"
- ―The Penguin to Batman[src]
The Penguin was the alias of Oswald Cobblepot, a deformed man who was abandoned in the Gotham Sewers as a baby. Raised with animals in a zoo, he traveled as a circus freak as he came of age. Cobblepot's horrible past turned him into a bitter and ruthless sociopath, though he displayed uncontrollable aggression from infancy.
As an adult he had an odd fascination with umbrellas, creating a wide collection with concealed weaponry and gadgets. Penguin became a notable crime boss, using his disgraced circus troupe as a barbaric gang. He later became one of Batman's greatest foes when he gained political status and funding from Max Shreck, a corrupt business mogul.
- "My name is not Oswald! It's Penguin! I am not a human being! I am an animal! Cold blooded!"
- ―The Penguin to the Red Triangle Gang[src]
Oswald was born to privileged Cobblepot family. His father, Tucker, was a prominent District Attorney and his mother, Esther, was active in the DAR. Esther gave birth to Oswald in the halls of Cobblepot Manor on a snowy December night. Oswald's parents and the doctor reacted in shock and horror at the monstrously deformed baby boy.
In the following days, Oswald displayed unusual strength, coordination, and aggression for a newborn. Because Oswald was uncontrollable, Tucker and Esther locked him in a iron box, where he showed his first sign of homicidal tendencies when he grabbed and attacked the family cat from behind the bars. Ashamed and frightened, Tucker and Esther ventured out on Christmas Eve into the Gotham City Central Park, near the Old Zoo. At a small bridge, they dumped Oswald's carriage in a drainage stream. Eventually, Oswald washed up onto the shore at Arctic World where he was discovered by a group of large Emperor Penguins.
Not much was known of Penguin's early life from then on, except that he basically ran off to join the Red Triangle Circus. His parents died at a relatively young age, under mysterious circumstances. What became of their mansion and fortune was unknown. Eventually, the circus returned to town for two weeks and featured newly added attractions to their freak-show: the Poodle Lady, the Fat Clown, and an Aquatic Bird Boy. The circus's two week stay was put to an end early because while guests were at the circus, their children went missing. One of the freak-show performers vanished before he could be questioned, and some said that it was the Aquatic Bird Boy. By that time, Oswald was nicknamed 'Penguin' by his fellow freaks due to being born with flipper-like hands and a beak-like nose.
The Penguin then retreated to the abandoned Old Zoo, in order to hide from the GCPD. That was where his nickname was put to use rather literally. He then went back to Arctic World. Penguin was able to track down fellow members of the Red Triangle Circus and swayed them to crime after they were disgraced and were out of work. After he occupied society's lowest level, Penguin became obsessed with spying on the upper class by sorting through their waste and learning their secrets. Penguin used a Duck Cart from a sky ride at the Old Zoo to get around the massive labyrinth of Gotham's sewers easily. Batman and the Joker brought a new level of lunacy to criminality of the city, and in the midst of their battle, the mob control of the city crumbled following the deaths of Carl Grissom, Vinnie Ricorso and Antoine Rotelli. After he was likely influenced by their recent deeds, Penguin began to fashion his own theatrical gadgets and frightening masks for his gang at the age of 30.
Revenge on Gotham City
- "Just relax, I'll take care of the squealing wretched pinhead puppets of Gotham. You gotta admit, I played this stinking city like a harp from Hell!"
- ―The Penguin to Batman[src]
Thirty-three years after his birth, Oswald set his sights on a multimillionaire named Max Shreck, who, after the fall of the Grissom Mob, had become the most powerful man in city, but by seemingly "legitimate" means. To arrange Shreck's kidnapping, Oswald had the Red Triangle Gang attack Gotham Plaza. Penguin observed the onslaught from the safety of a sewer grate, where he watched Max flee from his henchmen. Oswald then ran to another area where Max stood above one of the gang's secret sewer vent doors. Penguin caught Shreck, knocked him unconscious. and brought him to his lair. Oswald then told Shreck that had he desired to "reemerge" in society and went on a disingenuous spiel: Oswald claimed that he wanted to learn his name and find his parents. Although Max seemed to form a slight empathetic expression, he bluntly asked exactly why he should help him. Penguin then blackmailed Shreck with incriminating evidence of his more dubious activities, such as the toxic waste from his "clean" textile plant, documents that proved that Shreck had owned half the firetraps in Gotham (which Shreck had shredded, but with a little patience, the Penguin had carefully taped them back together), and his ex-partner, Fred Atkins' hand (Max told everyone that Fred was on paid vacation). That then prompted Shreck to agree in helping Penguin gain acceptance from the public.
The Kidnapping of the Mayor's Son
Shreck arranged for the Penguin to "rescue" Mayor Roscoe Jenkins' Son from an Acrobatic Thug. The plan worked, and Penguin became a hero to all, with the exception of a suspicious Bruce Wayne. After he found out his original birth name of Oswald Cobblepot (as well as the names of Gotham's first born sons), Penguin went to visit the cemetery where his biological parents were now buried and placed roses on their grave out of respect, telling Gotham's citizens that he forgave them for their abandonment (whether he truly did has never been revealed). Penguin then eventually won the citizens' approval and, after he was persuaded by Shreck to do so, intended to run for Mayor.
After he encountered Batman and Catwoman while he took a walk around his future constituency at night, Penguin was contacted by Catwoman the following day, who noted that she and Penguin shared a hatred for Batman. Although Penguin stated that he already planned to sabotage the Batmobile, Catwoman noted that Batman would have more power as a martyr, and that the only way to truly destroy him was to frame him and turn him into one of the criminals that he despised.
Relighting of the Tree Ceremony
When the subsequent plan was put into action, Batman was framed for kidnapping and murder of the Ice Princess and found himself trapped in the Batmobile under Penguin's remote control. However, Catwoman and Penguin's alliance fell apart when she rebuffed a sexual advance from him, and Penguin tried to kill her himself with the use of his umbrella-copter, which locked her in a choke hold far above the city. Unknown to Penguin, Catwoman eventually ripped free directly above a greenhouse, and, once again, narrowly escaped certain death.
Disastrous Campaign Speech
The Penguin's campaign to oust the Mayor was quickly destroyed when Bruce played selected comments that Penguin made that insulted the people of Gotham when he controlled the Batmobile at one of Penguin's speeches, the most prominent phrase: "You gotta to admit, I played this stinking city like a harp from hell!" The people of Gotham got angry and threw eggs and produce at Oswald. When Oswald looked back at Max, Max simply shrugged and abandoned him on stage. Penguin then reacted with rage, opened fire on the crowd with his machine gun umbrella, and the GCPD chased after him. Oswald made his way to Gotham Central Park and exchanged gunfire with the GCPD all the while. As fate would have it, Oswald came upon the same old bridge and stream that his parents had dumped him and dove in. After he used his arcane diving and swimming skill, Penguin swiftly escaped the GCPD's gunfire and found the Duck Car where he had left it in the sewer. Penguin then traveled back into the Old Zoo, and revealed his original plan: kidnap and kill the first born sons of Gotham's most prominent families in revenge (comparable to the Pharaoh killing the first-born Hebrew babies in the beginning of the Book of Exodus in the Bible) and drown them in the waters of his lair, which he poisoned with the toxic waste that was taken from Shreck's textile plant for the occasion. Penguin then sent his best henchman, Organ Grinder, to drive the Red Triangle Circus Train while the rest his troops fanned out across town, in order to place the children in animal cages.
Crashing the Maxquerade Ball
Penguin then stormed the Maxquerade Ball that was hosted by Shreck with a shout of: "You didn't invite me, so I crashed!" and tried to take Max's son, Chip Shreck. Shreck then successfully pleaded with Penguin to take him instead. Penguin held Shreck in a cage that overlooked the poisoned water, told him his plan, and remarked: "And you get to watch them sink... Into a deep puddle of your industrial by-products. Then you join them."
Batman attacked the Red Triangle Circus Gang members and put a stop to the kidnappings. Organ Grinder's Monkey returned to Penguin's lair shortly after and delivered a note from Batman. Upon reading it, Penguin then let out a primal scream of unbridled rage. Penguin then dispatched an army of Penguin Commandos to completely annihilate the inhabitants of downtown Gotham. Batman managed to jam the birds' control signals and turned them around, then homed in on the signal's origin through the sewers.
Destruction of the Old Zoo
After he realized that Batman was closing in on him, and, after he saw the rest of the Red Triangle Gang flee, Penguin rushed over to his duck boat. He grabbed one of his umbrellas along the way, on his vehicle he activated its surprise amphibious capability, as a set of dix off-road tires took the duck vehicle directly up a staircase. As he turned the corner of the Arctic World entrance, the colossal Batskiboat burst through the wall and destroyed his duck.
Penguin then quickly scuttled out and hid under the Batskiboat. Batman emerged and surveyed the wreckage, but Penguin managed to elude the Dark Knight briefly and attacked him from behind. After he choked Batman with his umbrella, Penguin unsheathed a blade from the tip. Batman then took out a remote control from his Utility Belt, revealing that the penguin army had now regathered at the zoo grounds. Furious and horrified at the same time, Penguin viciously swiped his umbrella at Batman. Cobblepot fell for Batman's simple tactics after he became enraged, breaking his blade against his duck wreckage after side stepping and guiding Penguin toward it. After Penguin gawked at his broken weapon he knocked the remote from Batman's hand, not noticing that he was now holding completely still, allowing him do so. Batman followed up by quickly taking the umbrella from Penguin, knocking him toward the remote with it.
Penguin picked up the remote with triumphant glee, pressing the blinking red button which caused the Penguin Commandos' missiles to fire. Then, the Batskiboat released a flock of bats which surrounded Penguin. While he tried to avoid them, Penguin fell backwards through the large window of his lair and into the poisoned water below. Batman was unable to save him, much like the Ice Princess. Meanwhile, the Penguin Commandos continued to fire their missiles, which destroyed most of the zoo surface.
Later, following the final confrontation between Catwoman, and Shreck, which culminated in Catwoman killing Shreck with an O-Mega Taser and a high-powered electric cable from Penguin's generator, the unmasked Batman desperately looked through the debris for Catwoman. In a vulnerable state, when he had just awoken from a daze, a mortally wounded Penguin emerged from the water and was eager to kill Batman. Penguin then lumbered toward his umbrella barrel and struggled to breathe. By the time that Bruce sensed Penguin's presence, it was too late and rose to face him.
Although he was seriously injured and horribly intoxicated by his fall into the poisoned water, Penguin drew an umbrella from his collection and only found that it was a harmless toy ("a Cute One"), and dropped it. After he complained of the heat (due to the air conditioner being out with the generator), Penguin mentioned to Batman that he "will murder him momentarily", just as soon as he "can get a cold drink of ice water", which ultimately turned out to be his last words. Penguin then collapsed on the concrete and died from the poisoning, as well as his injuries.
At that moment, six Emperor Penguins emerged from the shadows behind Penguin's body and solemnly dragged it back into the water. As a result, Penguin slowly sunk to his final resting place in a black cloud of his own drool.
Behind the Scenes
- Danny DeVito as Oswald Cobblepot / The Penguin: Abandoned at birth due to his hideous appearance by his aristocratic parents, he spends his life living in the sewers of Gotham City. He eventually rises and thickens a plot to take over Gotham as its new Mayor. However, his real intentions are to dispose of every first born son in Gotham City out of vengeance against his parents for abandoning him as a child. Director Tim Burton, inspired by Lon Chaney in London After Midnight, had re-imagined the character not as an eloquent gentleman of crime, but as a physically deformed lunatic with a childhood trauma. While that Penguin retained a number of trademarks, particularly the variety of trick umbrellas and the use of a monocle, he was given a huge visual makeover: His hands were flippers, with a thumb and index finger, and the remaining three fingers were fused together. Where the comic version varied between a full head of hair and varying degrees of thinning, that Penguin was bald, with his remaining length of hair long and stringy. Instead of a tuxedo, he wore a more Gothic, Victorian-style outfit, with a jabot as opposed to a bow tie. Other instances showed Penguin in black boots, a bib-like cloth around his neck, and something akin to a child's blanket sleeper, or the old long john-style underwear of the 1800's. Combined with his long dark coat, the full white front of the bodysuit gave Penguin an even more penguin-like appearance. One visual aspect that remained fairly intact in that re-imagining was the familiar top hat. Another new touch was his large yellow Duck Car, which had the triple functionality of being a boat, a car, and an elevator-like lift.
- Wesley Strick was primarily brought in to come up with a solution with "Penguin's lack of a master plan" and "normalize" the dialogue. Strick claimed that he was presented with "the usual boring ideas to do with warming the city, or freezing the city" (the latter ended up in Batman & Robin). Strick pitched an alternative approach, that was inspired by the Moses parallels of Waters' prologue, in which the infant Oswald Cobblepot was bundled in a basket and thrown in the river where he floated helplessly until he's saved (and subsequently raised) by Gotham's sewer denizens. He then came up with Penguin's "master plan" to kill the firstborn sons of Gotham. Both the studio and Burton were impressed with the idea, though Strick claimed that the toy manufacturers were worried.
- Universal's Stage 12 housed the Penguin's underground lair, an enormous tank that was filled with half-a-million gallons of water and a simulated ice floe island. In order to create Penguin's bird army, a combination of techniques were utilized including men in suits, computer-generated imagery, robotic creatures and real life penguins. Everyone involved was required to sign a document guaranteeing that they would not specifically hold interviews with news sources. About midway through filming, however, a few test shots of DeVito in costume found their way into an American entertainment magazine. Warner Brothers then hired a group of private investigators to track down the source, though the ploy ultimately failed.
- In the unmade fifth film titled Batman Unchained, the Penguin would have reappeared as a hallucination created by the Scarecrow's Fear Gas. He, along with other villains from the series, would have tormented Batman throughout the film.
- The character debuted a year after DeVito played Herb Powell on The Simpsons. Like the Penguin, Powell was a first-born son, was not raised by his biological parents and discovered he had a long lost relative, in this case a younger brother.
- Penguin's hands were sculpted by Greg Cannom due to the work schdule of Winton's studio being fully booked.
- In Tom Mankiewicz's script for WB's first movie, that featured the Penguin, he was described as "a tall, proper-looking, thin man". This concept was later used in versions seen in Gotham and Batman: The Telltale Series.
- Recent comic stories depict the Penguin as a July-born baby, though this version is clearly not a newborn on his "first Christmas."
- The Penguin is Bruce Wayne's polar opposite, he was born to privledge but discarded and denied his birthright - ending up murderig his own parents. Bruce seems to develop an odd kind of pity toward him when he discover's Cobblepot's lifelong pattern of murdering children while touring as freakshow performer. And he comes to the darkest of conclusions regaurding the fate of his parents while surveying him outside the Hall of Records.
- In Batman Begins, the opera that was attended by Bruce and his parents featured characters who were similar to Tim Burton's Penguin that tugged at the ropes.
- The Penguin is the only one of the main villains of Batman Returns not to discover Batman's identity, although he did see him unmasked but didn't recognize him. However, Catwoman faithfully kept the secret due her love to Batman yet Max Shreck took the secret to the grave when Catwoman killed him.
- Batman Returns (Novelization) chapter 12, page 67.