THE PENGUIN’S GREATEST UMBRELLAS
February 10 is National Umbrella Day, and what better way to commemorate the occasion than to admire a few of the most unusual umbrellas, pernicious parasols, and baleful bumbershoots ever used by that Blackbird of Banditry, Gotham City's Man of A Thousand Umbrellas, The Penguin!
Batman is famously considered to have the greatest rogues' gallery in comics. With muscular menaces like Bane, Clayface and Killer Croc confronting the Caped Crusader, plus brilliant lunatics like Two-Face, Poison Ivy, and of course The Joker, you’d be hard-pressed to argue otherwise.
But then again…there’s The Penguin. Even the most athletic depictions give Oswald Cobblepot a waddling limp and dress him in a top-hat and tuxedo, which may be elegant but is impractical for fighting. On top of that, he's typically portrayed as a chain-smoker who stands only chest-high to the Dark Knight Detective, is burdened with a brobdingnagian bay window, and is apparently so specifically near-sighted that he needs to wear a monocle.
Still, he’s one of the criminal crown jewels of Batman’s roster of foes. Why? In part, because of his inventive intellect and carefully-laid plots. Mostly, however, it’s the Penguin's armory of amazing umbrellas, many of which hide deadly weapons and astonishing escape devices.
The Reverse-Gas Gun Umbrella
As seen in Batman vol. 1 No.33, “Crime on the Wing”
By the time this tale was published, the Penguin and his unusual arsenal had been around for a solid five years. In the course of those stories, the reading audience and Batman alike had been witness to the Penguin employing all sorts of machine-gun umbrellas, flamethrower umbrellas and–most importantly–umbrellas that filled the entire room with knockout gas! But in this story, Batman wrestles yet another gas-shooting umbrella away from the Penguin, only to find that it’s been rigged to shoot soporific mist backwards–right into Batman's face! Smooth move, World's Greatest Detective. Clearly the Fine Feathered Fink has learned a thing or two from your previous encounters.
The Hidden Microphone and Penguin-Tickling Umbrella
As seen in Batman vol.1 No.51, “Pee-Wee the Talking Penguin”
In a complicated plot, the super-criminal Penguin masterminds the career of “Pee-Wee the Penguin,” a wisecracking flightless seabird in top hat and tie whose antics enthrall the nation. Smelling something fishy in Pee-Wee’s proclivities for parlance, Batman correctly deduces that penguins don’t actually talk. So the Caped Crusader exposes the complicated umbrella-concealed electronic rig which his foe uses to put words in the formal-dressed fowl’s beak (diagram duplicated above). Why this is a crime, exactly, it’s hard to say. If ventriloquism is outlawed, only outlaws will ventriloquate.
As seen in Batman vol.1 No.36, “The Penguin’s Nest”
This discreetly-secreted getaway-umbrella which The Penguin keeps in his top hat raises more questions than it answers. At the very least, it raises the question: “HOW?” Pulled fully-formed from his formal chapeau, the umbrella doesn’t seem to collapse, bend, fold or, in any other fashion fit in a hat. Yet the Foul-Feathered Fowl is able to access it handily, and use it parachute-style to float gently down from the top of a moderately-tall building. I suppose it’s not so important to figure out how it fits in there, as long as it works.
The Umbrella-Type Pipe
As seen in Batman vol.1 No.43, “The Blackbird of Banditry”
Not an umbrella, technically, this is an umbrella-shaped smoking pipe which The Penguin breaks out for an occasional change from his trademark cigarette holder. Despite the fact that it seems to be exactly what it is–just a pipe, not some sort of weaponized accouterment–The Penguin is nonetheless able to use it to escape the clutches of the Dynamic Duo. How? By mixing his pipe tobacco with dried kernels of corn, lighting the concoction, and stupefying the crimefighters with a blizzard of popcorn! Not particularly on-brand for Pengy and his umbrella/bird theme, but any port in a storm, as they say.
The Glider Umbrella
As seen in Detective Comics vol.1 No.87, “The Man of a Thousand Umbrellas”
A story titled “The Man of a Thousand Umbrellas” is under a lot of pressure to deliver, and this one does not disappoint. While the number of bombastic bumbershoots is well under the four-figure mark, readers are nonetheless introduced to umbrellas performing double duty as helicopters, radio transmitters, acetylene torches, swords, gas guns and even a discreet tote bag (phew, that’s a lot of umbrellas!). Among these inventive umbrellas is The Penguin’s glider-umbrella, a distinctly un-umbrella-shaped accessory which allows the fowl fiend to float between rooftops with ease!
Jet-Powered Rocket Umbrellas
As seen in Batman: The Movie, 1966 (directed by Leslie H. Martinson)
When The Penguin (played, as in the TV series, with waddling irascibility by Burgess Meredith) teams up with The Joker, The Riddler and Catwoman to abduct an entire roomful of United Nations diplomats, each of the vile villains is responsible for bringing something useful to the table. For The Penguin, that would be “transportation.” Besides providing a Navy surplus penguin-shaped submarine, the Tuxedoed Terror produces a quartet of jet-powered rocket umbrellas for his compatriots, allowing them to zip through the skies astride a folded brolly. That’s definitely an umbrella that you wouldn’t want to open indoors, as it might launch itself right through the window.
“The Cute One”
As seen in Batman Returns, 1992 (directed by Tim Burton)
Danny DeVito’s bizarre and unsettling interpretation of The Penguin hatches all sorts of grim, malevolent plans throughout his appearance in the sequel to Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. Chief among them, the bilious bird-man attempts to kidnap the first-born sons of Gotham City’s most prominent citizens, luring them away with this spinning, toy-festooned “Pied Piper” umbrella. Later, during his final confrontation with the Caped Crusader, The Penguin, intending to grab a dangerous weapon, inadvertently selects this same umbrella from his arsenal instead. “Ah, s***”, he exclaims, before dropping the useless gadget, “… I picked a cute one!”
The Legion of Regrettable Supervillains, by Jon Morris, is on sale March 28, 2017.