Countdown Breakdown #40A column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: John Hays
The Penguin. Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot was been around in Batman comics since 1941, yet even today he doesn’t get the respect he deserves. It’s a shame because he really deserves to be placed underneath the Joker within the hierarchy of Batman’s rogues gallery. I always enjoyed Burgess Meredith’s take on the character, with all the squawking. Saturday Night Live once performed a skit where all the various comic characters were attending Superman’s funeral. Someone heard Penguin squawking away, and they said “this isn’t a laughing matter!” The Penguin returned, “I’m not laughing! I’m crying!”
The Penguin is one of the few sane villains Batman regularly faces. He now runs a nightclub where his underworld dealings are trivial enough when compared to the information he can provide Batman that he is allowed to maintain it. Currently, the Penguin is continuing to run his club, even urging The Riddler to maintain a legal lifestyle.
Elseworlds. An interesting idea, whereby characters in the DCU could be taken out of their normal surroundings and put into the most unusual and unique situations, and there would be no continuity issues because the stories were imagined and self contained.
Thought to be the first of these was Batman: Gotham By Gaslight. Written Brian Augustyn, with pencils by Mike Mignola, this story put Batman in the 1880’s fighting Jack the Ripper in Gotham City. It takes place a year after the famous Ripper murders in London, and Bruce Wayne had recently returned from Europe himself. Plus, since he is Batman at night and can therefore not account for his whereabouts in the evenings to authorities, Wayne is deemed a suspect. The story also features Sigmund Freud, as well as many other characters of the period. The story ended up spawning a sequel, Master of the Future, which wasn’t as well received.
Another Elseworlds tale, Superman: Red Son was written by Mark Millar, an author who often imbues his stories with politics, and involved a Kryptonian baby who landed in the Soviet Union instead of America. In this reality, Superman fought the never-ending battle for Stalin, socialism, and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact. The story spans about 50 years and features many familiar DC characters, now completely unfamiliar. Superman’s chest bears a hammer and sickle instead of the familiar "S." Oliver Queen has taken over the bumbling reporter role at the Daily Planet. Lex Luthor is once again Superman’s arch nemesis, but this time Luthor works for the USA and is married to Lois Lane. In a wild turn of events, Luthor begins trying to defeat Superman at the behest of CIA agent Jimmy Olsen! I would describe the story further, but I haven’t read it yet and don’t want to spoil it for myself!
Finally, a truly fascinating Elseworlds tale, or set of tales, takes place in Batman and Dracula: Red Rain, Bloodstorm, and Crimson Mist. This trilogy obviously involves Batman and vampires. In this tale, Batman becomes a vampire in order to defeat Dracula. In the next chapter, the Joker takes control of Dracula’s forces and has to be defeated by the vampire Batman. In the final tale, Batman is brought back from death and gruesomely dispatches his various enemies until the remaining heroes of Gotham must find a way to vanquish Batman.
Apparently, these and other Elseworlds tales are now many of the 52 parallel Earths in current continuity, so we can hope to see them again soon and allow our regular DCU characters interact with them. I greatly look forward to this, and can’t wait to see what happens! Take care, and I’ll see you next week!