By: Gregg Hurwitz (writer), Szymon Kudranski (artist), John Kalisz (colorist)

The Story: It’ll be a while before anyone in Gotham rents The Birds again.

The Review: In these modern times, we don’t see too much of the villain of pure evil anymore.  It may have been the thing once to have characters who committed crimes out of spite or malice and that was that, but now we expect a little more depth than that.  Almost all villainous origins today have some element of tragedy or reasonable motivation to them, even to the point where you can admire them to some degree.

In the end, however, these are villains we’re talking about, and no matter how sympathetic or reasonable their actions, they’re still wrongdoers.  So it goes with Penguin.  Hurwitz has spent an extraordinary amount of time and craft to build up Oswald as a figure of pity, with even an air of nobility.  Yet while we may have come to recognize the humanity in him, you can’t ignore the fact that he’s targeting innocent children in a misplaced vendetta of wounded pride.

That exact same pride is ultimately what leads to his downfall, in every circumstance and every level.  I feel I own an apology to Cassandra for my suspicions back on #3; here she lays bare the truth of her biggest fear and weakness, a step which Penguin’s own insecurity leads him to refuse to reciprocate.  That same insecurity leads him to destroy the love being freely offered with his own hands, only to learn, too late, his error.  In that sense, his loss is just as deserved as it is tragic.  Instead of focusing on the happiness at hand to him, he fixates on getting back the dignity he lost, and thus reveals what really drives his character.

With that in mind, you can soon and happily switch your loyalties back to the real hero of this book.  Admittedly, Batman got a little roughed up during Penguin’s last attack against Gotham, but of course, the master of prep-time comes more than ready for the next wave.  In fact, you can delight in how easily he takes down Penguin’s meticulously laid operations.  You get a fantastic sequence of thugs getting knocked out, vault doors opened, lights broken, all without seeing more than a silhouette of the Bat, and not even that most of the time.

I suppose Penguin does succeed in attaining some degree of respect.  As Batman inevitably strikes him down, he makes no apologies, spares no explanations, or grovels.  He goes out the way a villain worthy of the Dark Knight should: fighting to the last, putting every secret trick and trap to bear, no matter how futile.  But once fallen, he must realize that if anything, his goal of wiping off every smile in Gotham has backfired; the last bit of dialogue we hear is from the guards, mocking him and laughing.  Good thing Penguin already has a plan for revenge in place, meaning the bitterness and the rage is destined to go on.

Kudranski has done some incredible scenes of tension for this series, which has mostly been a dramatic work, where most of the material involves people in a room, just talking.  But between this issue and the last, he proves that he’s just as smashing in delivering the action.  He brings you in close to each strike and movement, quickly cutting from one moment to the next, keeping the energy high and the pace rollicking.  With Kalisz’s haunting use of colors, I have every confidence that a Batman series under Kudranski would be a work of some magnificence.

Conclusion: The ideas may be old, but the execution is spot-on and of the highest quality, making this easily the best miniseries out of the new DC so far.

Grade: A

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – And how excited am I to hear that Hurwitz is going to write a Batman ongoing all his own?  Now, if only we can get Kudranski on board again too—that’d just make things perfect.

– I’m tickled to see that the hunter gets taken down by Penguin’s birds, but the elementary school music teachers manage to batter the avians to death.  Poetic, I have to say.