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The Penguin

Batman (Classic TV Series)
by yo go re

The two-pack was fun, but let's get to the villains.

That feathered fiend the Penguin is at it again! But never trust a red herring, if something seems fishy, the monocle-wearing mayhem-maker will have something to do with it. With tricky umbrella weapons, this greedy, cold-blooded villain gives the Batman a run for his money!

The Penguin never really had a "hook" like many of Batman's other villains - other than the one on the handle of his umbrella. Depending on who you believe, he was either inspired by the fact that emperor penguins looked like high-society gentlemen (according to Bill Finger), or was based on Willie, the Kool Cigarettes mascot (according to Bob Kane). No matter what the truth was, he was a rather unremarkable villain, and would probably be a footnote today if he hadn't been featured on the 1960s Batman TV show. And if we had to guess (which we do), the only reason the show picked him was because creating his "costume" would be as easy as pulling an old tux out of the studio's warehouse.

The producers' first choice for the Penguin was Mickey Rooney, but he turned down the role, and it eventually went to Burgess Meredith. The likeness on this figure is very good, even once you look past the big prosthetic nose. He's sculpted with his monocle, and is showing his teeth in a big grin that allows him to bite his cigarette holder.

Meredith hadn't smoked for years when he got the role of the Penguin, so the cigarette smoke irritated his throat, and contributed to his distinctive quacking laugh. The figure's cigarette holder is a separate piece, glued in place, but it's not fully painted: the entire thing is black, while the end should really get some white so you can tell what it is. This was probably a conscious choice to avoid complaints about marketing cigarettes "to children" (even though the toy is identified as an Adult Collectible right on the packaging). Given the choice between getting the holder unpainted or not getting it at all, then pass the white paint, I've got some customizing to do!

Penguin has a unique sculpt - nothing is reused from either the DCU Classics or Batman Unlimited figures. But in typical Movie Masters style, the detail of the sculpt is softer than it should be. In their strive for "realism" with these figures, Mattel seems to forget that you need exaggeration to make small things look "real." This doesn't look like an action figure, it looks like a Hallmark ornament with joints. The wrinkles on his shirtfront seem to be placed at random, with little thought given to what's causing them. The sleeves of his jacket are good, but the gloves look too large for his hands. The straps that hold his spats on his shoes aren't painted, but none of us know enough about outdated formal wear to be sure if that's a mistake or not.

Naturally, Penguin comes with his umbrella, but this isn't a big fancy gun like the previous figures came with: it's just an umbrella. Sure, you can assume it fires bullets or knives or some kind of knock-out gas, but that's just in your imagination. It's soft PVC, so the handle gets pretty warped by its time in the package. He does look nice holding it, though.

The figure also comes with a small display base. Measuring 4¼" wide and 2⅜" deep, it's a half-circle with a sticker on top featuring a big version of Penguin's "AWK!" cry. The set also includes a thick cardboard backdrop with a painted image of The Penguin in front of a microphone with a big "Penguin for Mayor" button on his lapel. Yes, that happened in the TV series. And yes, it's the same as the plot of Batman Returns. So be it. The reverse of the card has a scene of beakers and flasks on a table - probably a bit of the Batcave? It all makes for a nice display with the figure in place.

Burgess Meredith had the best post-Batman career (even including playing cranky old Mickey in Rocky), but Penguin is the one who really owes the show a debt of thanks. He'd be on the same "lame-ass villain" lists as Mr. Polka-Dot, Crazy Quilt and The Penny Plunderer if Batman hadn't made him a star. This toy may not be better than the previous Penguins, but it's the only one with a famous face. He's a perfect fit for either a TV- or comic-based collection, and even without a super-gimmicky umbrella, is a very cool offering.

-- 09/19/13

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