When DC announced the Penguin: Pain and Prejudice miniseries, I was a little disappointed. I don't have anything against Penguin, but he's less compelling than some of Bruce's other rogues, and these Batman villain spotlight series are frequently mediocre. Since the Batman continuity is largely remaining the same, I didn't feel as though there were grand, new stories to tell with the character, and I wish they'd given a mini to a lesser known Gothamite instead. While I wouldn't describe Pain and Prejudice #1 as "grand and new", it certainly reminded that writing books off before I read them has a way of biting me in the butt. This was a very good start, a nice little surprise, and the best use of Penguin I've seen in a good long time.
I'm not that familiar with Gregg Hurwitz's work, but this comic has convinced me to check it out. His well constructed prose reminds me a lot of Scott Snyder, and in spite of all the narration, the issue never feels overly wordy. I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting- maybe some kind of a heist story- but what I got was a powerful character study that would have been potent even as a standalone issue. I actually had to check to make sure that this was only a 32 page comic. It feels longer without every feeling dull, and while miniseries frequently feel like cash grabs, this comic really gave me my $2.99's worth.
Hurwitz's Penguin ranges from pathetic and pitiable to calculating and monstrous in a single issue. There's a scene here that I think will be pulled out by many fans when they try to explain why the Penguin is awesome, along with some brutal moments that show how accustomed he is to Gotham's nastiness. While Hurwitz doesn't stray far from what's done before with the character, there are a few aspects he explores in ways I haven't seen before. I'm really excited to see how he builds on some of this stuff in the issues to come. Many comic book villains are either flat out crazy, or obsessed with getting some kind of revenge, but this Penguin is neither. He's just a bitter, isolated person who is comfortable with being feared, and who cares little for most of the world beyond that.
Szymon Kudranski's art really sells how terrifying the Penguin can be. When drawing Oswald as a child, he's drawn with all the sweetness and innocence you would expect, but still makes him look quite creepy. There are some wordless panels here that were quite powerful, and I'm glad that Hurwitz trusted in Kudranski's talent. The use of shadows throughout the book is impressive, and this is only elevated by John Kalisz's dark and moody colors. Body language and facial expressions are strong without, and I especially like how you got a clear sense of the way Penguin walks. He doesn't move like other people, and that's important for readers to see.
The book's final page is a pretty by the numbers ending for a comic like this, but because of the way Hurwitz has set up the character, it's very effective. What happens when the Penguin goes up against someone he can't control through fear? Given what we were shown, I can't fathom what the character will do next, and it's really a credit to Hurwitz that he's made this such a mystery. Plot is secondary to character work in this issue, but there's still plenty for me to think over, and there's more than enough here to keep me coming back for more.
As long as readers are vaguely familiar with the concept of the Penguin, following this one should be no trouble. We don't get a long, complicated look at Oswald's history, but enough glimpses of his past are provided for readers to see how he got where he is today. Right now, this comic seems like it could've been published with or without the relaunch, and those frustrated by the changing continuity shouldn't have any issues. I'm really looking forward to seeing where Hurwitz takes this, and I really hope to see him give this treatment to other Batman rogues in the future. Someone like Killer Croc could be completely revitalized by a comic like this. Penguin wasn't really in need of a revamp, but thanks to this series, I definitely think readers will hold him in higher esteem.
I recommend this one to Batfans, fans of Scott Snyder, and anyone who'd like to see some great single issue character work. This was a great surprise, and it really sets the bar high for miniseries to come. So much new stuff has been coming out, and I realize that many readers can't afford to add another title to their pull list. I suggest either waiting for this to be released as a trade, or buying it up once it takes its digital price drop. This was some quality comic book storytelling, and I'd hate to see this series get lost in the shuffle.