The Penguin – Batman Returns
With Tim Burton at the helm Gotham City became darker and stranger, especially in this follow up, which was about as welcome amongst Warner Bros execs as a falafel at a rodeo. They just wanted something you could slap on the side of a Happy Meal. Burton brought them a fish-eating grotesque who’d rather drown children than feed them.
It was thought DC’s monocled waddler of crime Oswald Cobblepot – aka The Penguin – would be too one dimensional a character for Burton to sink his Gothic teeth into. After all, the abiding image in peoples’ minds was dapper cigarette chomper Burgess Meredith in the Sixties TV show. Yet the tortured auteur signed up Danny DeVito, who presented Cobblepot as the abandoned son of society darlings. Flushed down the sewers as a baby, he’d nurtured a grudge bigger than Jack Nicholson’s royalty fee, and grown up wild amongst bomb-laden birds and crazy ass clowns.
DeVito’s Penguin managed to be radically different, both in terms of characterization and look. And what a look that turned out to be. Roaming the tunnels beneath the city in his underwear, this Cobblepot was rank, slimy and more than a little perverse. With black gunge oozing from his mouth and webbed flippers for hands, it was going to take a lot more than a top hat and a cravat to refine this particular monster. The unique result was generally well-received, with only the studio marketing department’s howls countering the praise.
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