BY MATT TUCK
Colin Farrell is taking the Penguin from The Batman to HBO Max, but what potential characters could he bring with him?
We have known for months that the world of The Batman will be expanding into HBO Max territory. For a time, the working title reportedly was “Gotham PD,” prompting fans to assume the live-action drama would be a reinvented version of Gotham. Yesterday, WarnerMedia made it official that the mystery series will star the Penguin and will be portrayed by Farrell, who also plays Penguin in The Batman.
Now that the secret is out, things are starting to make more sense. In August, word spread that the Penguin would hardly be seen in the upcoming film. Farrell himself reportedly confirmed that he would only have about 10 minutes of screen time. That raised plenty of eyebrows, and for good reason. Why would WB hire an A-lister like Farrell to use him as essentially a background character? The only explanation at the time was that he would have a larger presence in a likely sequel, but the studio stayed quiet on the topic. Yesterday’s news helped flesh out that decision, and it appears a Penguin show on HBO Max was in the cards from the start.
There is so much intrigue with a gritty crime drama starring Oswald Cobblepot. Fans of modern Batman comics and Arkham City games know him as the crime lord who is anything but the comedy routine from the Golden and Silver Ages. Mainstream audiences mostly associate him with Burgess Meredith’s take from the 1960s Batman series and Danny DeVito from 1992’s Batman Returns. The show could redefine the character for popular culture in much the same way that Vincent D'Onofrio redefined Kingpin for Daredevil. Only in this incarnation, the Penguin gets to be the star of the show.
THE SUPPORTING CAST
Whether heroes, villains, or somewhere in between, good protagonists are only as good as their supporting casts. Chances are, Robert Pattinson will appear in cameos at best in order to keep the focus on Penguin. That opens the door for a range of characters that have yet to get the live-action spotlight. It could lead to these potential supporting stars getting a chance to shine on HBO Max.
THE COURT OF OWLS
The next installment of the Arkham City game series, Gotham Knights, will introduce the Court of Owls to the gaming world. Could that be a precursor for the larger DCEU, which HBO Max is quickly piecing together on a grand scale?
Even though the series will focus on a villain, Penguin will need an antagonist. The show could also dip further into the Gotham City lore and give flashbacks of the city through the centuries. What better way to accomplish both those tasks than by introducing the Court of Owls? It doesn’t hurt that the tone and mood of The Batman, at least according to the test screenings, sounds like it is Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight meets the cult horror movie, Seven.
When we put it all together, that would sound like the perfect recipe for the owls to hold court.
BATMAN #6 (2012)
When it comes to nabbing those Court of Owls keys, the waters can get murky. Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo teased the underground society from the beginning of their New 52 Batman run, and that gives them plenty of cameo appearances. There’s also the first appearance of William Cobb, the Court’s immortal assassin, Talon, who debuted in Batman #2. Readers didn’t get their first full look at the Court with their creepy owl masks until four issues later.
This is one of the more popular story arcs of the modern Batman comics, and it helped establish Snyder and Capullo as one of DC Comics’ premiere creative duos. Thanks to the attention on the Court from the upcoming video game and whispers of them debuting in a movie, prices for Batman #6 have escalated. The last time a 9.8 standard cover traded hands online, it was for a record-breaking $304 on September 2. Only two years ago, it averaged $58.
Then there is the Capullo sketch cover that has a 12-month fair market value of $458. The most recent sale saw a 9.8 earn $580 on September 9. Surprisingly, that is actually down from the record $600 from the previous sale in June.
THE VENTRILOQUIST AND SCARFACE
Like the Court of Owls, The Batman’s corner of the DCEU would seem fertile ground for a twisted, scary version of the mentally ill ventriloquist, Arnold Wesker, and his diabolical dummy, Scarface. With Matt Reeves’ take on Gotham City leaning towards horror, this could be one of the better villains a show like Penguin’s could portray. Even in Batman: the Animated Series, the Wesker-Scarface characters were unsettling and odd, and that was toned down for afternoon television. Imagine what could be done with the pair on HBO Max.
DETECTIVE COMICS #583
There have been three characters to carry the Ventriloquist title over the years, but there is no outdoing the original, Arnold Wesker. No matter which characters call themselves the Ventriloquist, this will remain the issue to own since this is where it all began. Earlier today, a raw copy in the very fine/near mint range sold for $50, whereas a 9.6 sold for $147 on September 9.
If the Penguin showrunners want a more modern version of the Ventriloquist and Scarface, they need look no further than Batgirl #20. This issue saw the debut of the third Ventriloquist, Shauna Belzer. Studios are casting more women for prominent roles in superhero movies and series, so it would be logical for Belzer to assume the mantle.
No one seems to look twice at this issue, and that could be to your benefit. There has not been a sale of any kind since July, and Batgirl #20 brought just $4 on that day. Only one graded copy has been bought online - a 9.4 that sold for $35 in January. Why not take a roll of the dice when prices are that low? You might can find a copy in the dollar bin of your local comic shop.
The Jason Fabok artwork alone is worth the price of admission. As it were, this issue has potential written all over it. With the Penguin getting his own gritty HBO Max drama, the showrunners are likely going to delve further into the character’s history than simply his dealings with Batman. The perfect antagonist to Oswald Cobblepot is at the ready: Emperor Penguin.
Formerly Penguin’s second in command, Ignatius Ogilvy became a crime lord in his own right. He gained superhuman strength and abilities after taking a concoction of different drugs, including the Man-Bat serum and Bane’s superpowered steroids. It also gave him an animalistic appearance. Eventually he would challenge his former mentor for control of the streets, which also made him a target of Batman. After Ogilvy’s initial power moves to unseat Penguin were unsuccessful, he would adopt a new persona in prison, Emperor Blackgate.
DETECTIVE COMICS #13 (2012)
These are flying under the radar, so much so that the last graded copy to sell was a sketch cover 9.8 that brought $35 in 2019. However, interest in this minor first appearance is growing. After raw copies generally sold for $5 or less this month, at least for the standard covers, the last transaction saw one jump to $10 earlier today. The last time a raw 1:25 Fabok sketch cover traded hands, it was for $11 in August. At those prices, it is worth the gamble just in case Ignatius becomes an HBO Max star.
A BIG FUTURE FOR THE PENGUIN
There is so much to love about the idea of a Penguin show starring Colin Farrell that will exist inside the world of The Batman. With all the positive feedback coming from the movie’s test screenings, it gives credibility to the proposed HBO Max show. It looks like the Penguin’s time has finally come.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.