This Batman article contains spoilers.
Writer Chip Zdarsky and artist Jorge Jimenez kick off a new era of Dark Knight comics with today’s Batman #125. The issue is the first part of their “Failsafe” arc, which Zdarsky described in his newsletter as “Batman’s Doomsday. It’s non-stop action and puts Batman in a very different place by the end of it.” The keyword here is “Doomsday,” which should set off alarm bells inside the heads of Batfans who were around in the ’90s when a villain of the same name killed Superman. Is this new dynamic duo starting their run on Batman by taking Bruce Wayne completely off the board?
Well, someone does meet their untimely end in this issue but it isn’t the Dark Knight.
First, some context: one of Batman’s oldest rogues is murdering Gotham City’s wealthiest citizens, but this isn’t the usual get-rich-quick scheme. The Caped Crusader quickly learns that the Penguin is behind the killings and why.
“I’m killing anyone in Gotham who has inherited over five million dollars. Unless they give that money away to the people of this city,” the villain declares in a recorded message. “If you die, and your family inherits the money, I’ll kill the family. My name is Oswald Cobblepot and I will melt the silver spoons while they rest in your mouths.”
But wait, didn’t Penguin come from money, too? According to Cobblepot, he’s different: “I’m like you. I earned what I have. Scraped and crawled, hacked and slashed for my piece of the pie. I’m the American dream.”
Revisionist history aside, Penguin isn’t on some kind of ideological crusade to level the playing field. In the final pages of the issue, we learn the truth: the mobster is dying from mercury poisoning (because Zdarsky loves a punchline) and this is his last hoorah. He’s getting his revenge on the rest of Gotham’s wealthiest families, who he feels have looked down on him all of his life — and he’s saved the best for last.
When the Dark Knight shows up in his hospital room — after Tim Drake is almost killed during one of Penguin’s terrorist attack — Cobblepot springs the final trap. He swallows a cyanide pill, while buzzing a nurse into the room, effectively framing the Dark Knight for his murder. The nurse is shocked to see Batman at Penguin’s bedside as the villain dies.
The scene seems to mark the end of the line for Oswald, who’s a long-standing member of Batman’s rogues gallery, dating all the way back to 1941. He made his debut in the pages of Detective Comics #58 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and has appeared in two Batman movies, most famously in Batman Returns, where he was played by Danny DeVito, who clearly inspired Jimenez’s own design for the villain in the comic.
Of course, this being the world of comic books, there’s no way Penguin’s actually gone for good. It’s very likely that DC will resurrect him eventually, but what does Penguin’s death mean for Batman and Gotham City in the short term? The end of Batman #125 teases that grave consequences await the Caped Crusader now that the people of Gotham think he’s a murderer. As the final panel of the issue reveals, a “Failsafe” has been activated to make sure the Batman doesn’t kill again…
Batman #125 is out now.