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This page is about the character from the Tim Burton film. For other uses, see The Penguin (Disambiguation).

Main Article

"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.


Biography

Early Life

"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]
Penguin box

The box that the Penguin was kept in as a baby.

Oswald was born to the privileged Cobblepot family on December 23rd, 1950.[1] 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 in the snow blanketed neighborhood of Asbury Park. Oswald's parents, the wetnurse, and the doctor reacted in shock and horror at the monstrously deformed baby boy. In particular, Tucker after rushing to his wife's bedroom screamed in horror, while the wetnurse frantically fled the room and the doctor walked out with a barely controlled urge to vomit.

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. (It seems likely this occurred a few years later, as a toddler.) Ashamed and frightened, Tucker and Esther ventured out on Christmas Eve into the Gotham City Central Park, near the 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.[2] 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 Syndactyly on his hands and feet which made them resemble flippers, with a long beak-like nose. This deformity allowed him to swim and perform extremely well underwater while on display at the zoo and circus.

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The Penguin with his deadly trick umbrellas.

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

PenguinShreck

Penguin convincing Max to help him

"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), and also implied he had even more body parts of his in his possession besides the hand. 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.

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Penguin and Catwoman: a deadly alliance.

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

Iceprincess

The Penguin and the Red Triangle Gang kidnapping the Ice Princess and framing Batman.

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. 

Undaunted, Penguin returned to his campaign trailer and then put his plan to further frame Batman into play: Having hacked the Batmobile with a tracer, he then used a control device, modeled after a rocking machine, to activate the Batmobile remotely just as Batman entered the vehicle. He also had the comms channel open where he sadistically pretended to be a driving instructor before "remembering" that he lacks a drivers license. While gloating, he then admits to Batman in overconfidence that he tricked Gotham into electing him Mayor while letting his true contempt for the citizenry out, unaware that Batman proceeded to record everything he was saying. He then nearly ran an old lady over, although Batman barely managed to regain control of the Batmobile after locating and destroying the tracer before he could hit the elder, causing Penguin to scream in rage before Batman destroyed the comms channel.

Disastrous Campaign Speech

Penguin's Disasterous Speech

An astonished Penguin having his speech spoiled by Batman

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 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 (also pondering rhetorically in irritation just beforehand why people always bring eggs and tomatoes to a speech), 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. After one of his henchmen questioned him about the morality of killing sleeping children, the deformed madman promptly executed him and then kicked him into the wading pool of his penguin family while sarcastically replying that it was actually "a lot." 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 which included the use of a hypnotic musical umbrella to lure the children in, 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 another one of his umbrellas along the way, on his vehicle he activated its surprise amphibious capability, as a set of six 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.

Batman vs Penguin

The Penguin fighting Batman outside his lair.

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, this was the final straw for Penguin and he viciously swiped his umbrella at Batman. Penguin 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.

Death

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.

Bile

Penguin drawing his last breath.

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 once and for all, also uncontrollably spewing toxic green bile from his mouth and gargling while making his way to him. 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 his harmless musical umbrella, 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, succumbing to the poisoning and his injuries.

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The Penguin's Burial.

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.

Characterization

Physical Appearance

The Penguin is depicted with a heavyset yet diminutive appearance, which alongside his beaked nose and his flipper-like hands give him a resemblance to a penguin, hence his nickname. It's heavily implied his stunted appearance, nose, and hands had its roots in the deformities that he had been born with. He also had disheveled hair and sunken eyes, presumably from either the harsh conditions of being raised as a freak show member or his deformities by birth. He had sharp teeth, which he demonstrated when biting one of his campaign staff in retribution for a joke about his stunted appearance.

Personality

In stark contrast of his comic book counterpart who prides in being a gentleman, this version of Penguin is a tragic but mentally unstable, petty, vindictive, murderous, depraved, bitter, hate-driven, and somewhat animalistic sociopath who even developed signs of homicidal tendencies as a baby. He is also shown to have man child-like qualities such as flying into a terrible rage when things didn't go his way due to the lack of actual parental figures in his early life, given that those who raised him are his penguin pets and his handlers in Red Triangle Circus. He further showcases this by flying into a rage whenever he feels like taking his anger out on someone else and acting like his past entitles him to make everyone suffer as much as possible. He also showed some hedonistic tendencies, such as when he mentioned wanting to "fill [a female campaign worker's] void" when witnessing her making out with her co-worker, as well as his attempt at raping Catwoman when she refused his advances.

Through his schemes to get his revenge on the entire population of Gotham City for his sad upbringing, Penguin is shown to be intelligent enough to manipulate others to get what he wanted; he successfully conspired with Max Shreck to stage his act of heroism in saving a mayor's infant child from his own gang members and later, using his own feeling of loneliness to make his speeches about being abandoned by his parents more convincing in order to gain the citizens' sympathy. The only one who is not convinced by his ruse is Bruce Wayne aka. Batman, who correctly deduced that Penguin is actually up to no good, which was later confirmed through him ordering his gang to hack his Batmobile and staging the death of the city's celebrity Ice Princess to frame the Dark Knight.

After Batman exposed his true colors through botching his speech when he's about to become the city's new mayor, the humiliated Penguin ultimately snapped, and is forced to advance his original plans against the citizens of Gotham. To add an insult to his injury, Batman foiled his plans time and time again, and visibly devastated upon seeing that the Dark Knight has Alfred turn his army of missile-armed penguins (whom he treated as his family) against him. As depraved as he had become, Penguin is a tragic monster at the core, as he likely would have become a better person had he raised by genuinely loving parents despite his deformities. Therefore, he remains sympathetic despite his unforgivable crimes and how he took his past out on everyone around him.

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 his top hat, the variety of trick umbrellas and the use of a monocle, he was given a huge visual makeover: He is portrayed as someone living with Syndactyly on his hands and feet, with a free thumb and index finger, and the remaining three fingers were fused together, giving them the resemblence of flippers. This would help earn him the "Penguin" nickname from those he encountered. Bob Ringwood made black vinyl gloves to match the shape of his hands as opposed to the white five fingered silk ones worn by his comic counterpart. 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 white dickey with a black tie 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. Another new touch was his large yellow Duck, which had the triple functionality of being a boat, a car, and an elevator-like lift.
  • According to Danny DeVito, when he was cast, Burton had provided him a drawing that he had made of the character. It featured the Penguin sitting alone in the corner of a circus tent, he had fins for hands and was in a sad state. DeVito felt this was the perfect representation on how he would portray the character.
  • 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.

Trivia

  • The character debuted a year after DeVito played Herb Powell on The Simpsons. much 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 schedule of Winton's studio being fully booked.
  • In Tom Mankiewicz's script for WB's first movie, it featured the Penguin 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." His birth certificate says he born on the 23rd, the day before Christmas eve.
  • The Penguin is Bruce Wayne's polar opposite; he was born to privilege but discarded and denied his birthright - ending up murdering his own parents. Bruce seems to develop an odd kind of pity toward him when he discovers Cobblepot's lifelong pattern of murdering children while touring as freak show performer. And he comes to the darkest of conclusions regarding the fate of his parents while surveying him outside the Hall of Records.
  • His middle name in the comics Chesterfield was never used.
  • Unlike his comic book counterpart, apart from promotion renders, Penguin never smoked or carried a cigarette holder in his mouth. The only scene where he even came close to smoking was when Josh at his election party put a cigarette holder in his mouth, which he immediately spat out.
  • This was the first time in Batman media that the monocle was worn over his left eye, whilst in the comics and most related media, it was always worn over his right.
  • 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 seem to 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.
  • Although primarily based on the Penguin, his characterization seems to be blended with Killer Croc who lives with extreme deformity and was raised as a performing circus freak. Elements of the Joker are also evident, most notably having numerous goons with clown makeup in his gang. Director Tim Burton has often cited Killing Joke as his favorite piece of Batman work. The imagery in the second film is influenced by it much more strongly after liberating himself from the interference of Jon Peters. At the finale, Cobblepot narrowly failed to kill Batman in the climax resembled a similar situation at the ending of Killing Joke (in particular, Penguin managing to draw a weapon at a moment where Batman was at his most vulnerable, only to learn that he grabbed a harmless version by mistake, similar to how Joker attempted to shoot Batman as the latter drew near during his defeat, only to end up discovering upon trying to shoot him that it was a harmless flag gun due to having used up all his ammunition earlier. Both even swore just before recognizing their mistake.).
  • WB sent Bruce Timm to the set of Batman Returns to sketch DeVito, insisting that Batman: The Animated Series reflect the contemporary movie. DeVito's incarnation of the Penguin later became basis of The Batman incarnation as well.
  • 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.
  • Elements of Devito's characterization of the Penguin, namely his preferring to eat raw unprepared fish and to a lesser extent his more vulgar and hedonistic personality, were later implemented in the Arkhamverse version.

References

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