**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS**
Detective Comics #20 brings to an end the “Emperor Penguin” story arc that began in Detective Comics #13. This month’s issue, titled “King for a Day,” is the culmination of events that have been building up for the past 7 issues.
Previously, in Detective Comics:
Oswald Cobblepot, a.k.a. The Penguin, was taken to Arkham Asylum by the Joker as part of Joker’s master plan that takes place in “Death of the Family,” Batman #13-17. While Cobblepot is preoccupied with Joker, he leaves his second-in-command, Ignatius Ogilvy, in charge of his crime empire. Ogilvy uses the opportunity to seize control of all of Cobblepot’s empire, including his fortune, businesses, property, assets, and of course all the henchmen that come with a crime empire. Cobblepot is rightfully outraged by this and sets off on a mission to take back everything that once belonged to him, even his own house! However, this gets Penguin arrested and sent to court. In the meantime, Batman has been busy dealing with Poison Ivy, Clayface (in a heart-breaking story of his own), and a group, known as the League of Smiles, that worships the Joker. On top of those villains, Batman saved an entire apartment building after the residents were transformed into Man-Bat creatures by an unwitting Mr. Zsasz. This is all to say that Batman’s been too busy with seemingly separate incidents to notice the real man behind it all, Ignatius “Emperor Penguin” Ogilvy.
Meanwhile, in Detective Comics #20:
Detective Comics #20 begins with Ogilvy robbing a bank and directly challenging Batman to stop him. In a nice homage to Christopher Nolan’s epic Batman movie trilogy, Batman uses the Tumbler version of the Batmobile to crash into Cobblepot’s estate, which is occupied by Emperor Penguin Ogilvy. Batman realizes Ogilvy is the one behind Cobblepot’s downfall and other recent events as Ogilvy emerges from the house to confront The Bat. However, Ogilvy has changed. He’s much stronger, with a dark navy-blue skin tone and the pointed ears of a bat. The story then changes to show Cobblepot in court cleared of all charges and set free. Batman and Ogilvy fight each other, with Emperor Penguin landing some very hard hits against Batman.
Ogilvy reveals his intentions from previous issues– how he’s taken everything from Penguin, tested out the Man-Bat serum on the people of Gotham before ingesting some himself, using Poison Ivy to turn his skin into bark as a shield against Batman, robbed S.T.A.R. Labs to get Bane’s Venom serum to give himself super strength, and used henchmen like Mr. Combustible and Mosaic to create a vast wealth for himself, all so he could defeat Batman and take over Gotham City. Emperor Penguin beats Batman, strangles him with a chain, and hangs him from one of the trees in the yard. Emperor Penguin retreats into the house, calling Mayor Hady to demand control of Gotham.
The real Penguin returns in the nick of time to save Batman by using his infamous umbrella gun to shoot the chain around Batman’s neck. Batman storms into the house to take down Ogilvy. Using a variety of Bat-gadgets, including the pesticide previously seen used against Clayface, Batman is able to defeat the Emperor Penguin. The epilogue shows Cobblepot restoring the Martha Wayne name to a children’s center that he had previously renamed after his own mother, Miranda Cobblepot. An unknown assassin, seemingly with six arms, looks on from the rooftops. In the backup story, the reader gets a glimpse into life in Blackgate prison for Ogilvy as he recounts his origin story to a fellow inmate before murdering him.
This issue had a lot going for it. Jason Fabok’s art has been consistently solid during his time on the title, and Detective Comics #20 was no exception. There is a grim, mysterious feeling in his very detailed art that gives every panel depth and meaning. Fabok’s art puts a weight, a force, behind every punch and hit in his brutal fight scenes. The reader can almost hear the bricks and stone crumbling as the tumbler crashes into the Cobblepot estate. Fabok does emotion quite well, too. We can learn so much about Oswald Cobblepot just from the cocky, arrogant smirk Fabok illustrates. The reader can feel Ogilvy’s thirst for power and ruthlessness from his menacing stare. And this review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Batman’s determined, I-won’t-let-you-get-away-with-this, grimace. It’s classic Batman. Fabok without a doubt knows how to draw Gotham and all those who live there.
John Layman has been the writer for Detective Comics since #13 and I hope he stays for a good long while. The way he used the various villains during this story arc have been very entertaining. From Clayface’s tragic love story with Poison Ivy, to Penguin’s run-in with Joker and law enforcement, the appearance of the League of Smiles, and the encounters with Mr. Zsasz, there has not been a shortage of enemies for Batman. Detective Comics #20 showed the reader that all the characters had a role to play and served a purpose for Ogilvy’s long-term plan. Layman did a great job at putting the “detective” in “Detective Comics” by showing the reader Batman’s thought process and method of deduction for solving crimes. We’ve seen how Batman puts all the pieces together to figure out what’s going on. The reader also got to see several neat gadgets and technologies Batman uses to solve crimes. Story-wise, I really enjoyed seeing Layman take a relatively minor character like Ignatius Ogilvy, develop and explore his persona and role in Gotham, and craft him into a fully-fledged villain for Batman (and Penguin, too). More often than not a villain ends up one-dimensional and somewhat thin. This is not the case for Emperor Penguin. This reader cannot wait to see this villain make his inevitable return. The epilogue at the end, with Cobblepot talking to Bruce Wayne about the children’s center, was a nice touch. At first, it showed a nicer, more humanizing view of The Penguin. However, by the end of the epilogue the reader has seen Cobblepot’s true nature and what makes him one of Gotham’s greatest crime lords.
This isn’t to say that Detective Comics #20 is perfect. The issue has its flaws. For one, the use of the Tumbler seemed a bit random to this reader. When the tumbler first appears, on the second page, it was exciting! Wow, the Tumbler! I was really excited and curious to see the reason why Batman brought out his Batmobile-on-steroids.. But as the reader learns later in the issue, it’s mostly just “to make an impression” on Emperor Penguin when Batman arrives. Batman wants to scare Ogilvy. Okay, I guess that’s a good enough reason to drive a tank through Cobblepot’s front gate. And Cobblepot probably won’t mind, since Batman is helping him get his empire back, and he’s got the money to repair his gate. But once Batman barges through in the tumbler, he gets out and walks up to Ogilvy. He doesn’t incorporate the Tumbler into his attack strategy or fight at all. I was expecting more, But least his entrance looked badass!
My only other complaint, and it is a relatively small one, is how Poison Ivy was able to transform part of Emperor Penguin’s body into tree bark. Ogilvy wants to become a hybrid monster so he can have the power to take down anyone who gets in his way, and that’s understandable. The Man-Bat serum combined with Bane’s Venom was brutal combination. In the issue, Batman thinks to himself, “His skin, underneath a fine fur, is some sort of armor… or bark.” I did not know that Poison Ivy had the ability to turn skin into tree bark. Is this some concoction, or part of her natural abilities? In any case, it was a very handy advantage for Ogilvy.
The Verdict- 4/5
Overall, Detective Comics #20 was a great finale to the Emperor Penguin story arc started by John Layman in Detective Comics #13. There were some fun twists and turns along the way to keep the reader wondering what will happen next. The art was equally impressive, and Jason Fabok has become one of my favorite Batman artists because of his work here. This is the Batman and Gotham that I like to see. I hope this creative team stays on this title for as long as they would like. I can’t wait to see what the next issue brings!