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The Batman: Villains we could see in HBO’s Penguin spinoff

The resounding success of Matt Reeves’ The Batman is unquestionable at this point, with Robert Pattinson’s take on DC Comics’ brooding Dark Knight laying a promising foundation for the future. This blossoming Bat-verse is building a version of the superhero that draws on the “World’s Greatest Detective” moniker from the comic book source material, and the world is already showing signs of its expanse. Even before getting to the talks of a prospective trilogy, HBO Max already has plans to branch out with the movie’s supporting characters. The first to get the green light is The Penguin, with Colin Farrell confirmed to be returning to play the role of Oswald Cobblepot.

Farrell’s portrayal of the classic Batman rogues ‘gallery member was an impressive way of balancing a grounded, realistic take on the character with a look that’s reminiscent of his comic book counterpart. Likewise, he was suitably conniving and even morbidly funny, which is unsurprising to anyone familiar with the actor’s work in dark comedies like In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. This version of the villain and the personality Farrell injects into him look promising for headlining a TV show of his own, and if the Scarface-like inspiration holds, it also opens the door for a variety of new villains to make their appearance.

Note: Spoilers for The Batman are discussed in this article.

Black Mask

Split image of Black Mask in Batman: Arkham Origins and in Birds of Prey played by Ewan McGregor.

A show centered around the Penguin on HBO Max will undoubtedly need to focus on the organized crime corner of Batman’s iconic rogues’ gallery. Aside from the introductory villains from the Detective’s early years on the job like Carmine “The Roman” Falcone and Salvatore Maroni, Roman Sionis/Black Mask is one of the higher-profile rogues from when the “age of the freaks” was fully ushered in. Ewan McGregor — of Star Wars and Obi-Wan Kenobi fame — brought to screen the first live-action theatrical portrayal of Black Mask not too long ago in 2020’s Birds of Prey, but while he gave a colorfully sinister performance, the villain felt underused and his future in the DCEU was cut short by his apparent demise at the end of that film.

Having a more prominent role in The Penguin could be an excellent way of fleshing out this universe’s roster of villains by giving him more to do in the forthcoming limited series. His massive ego and extremely short temper would make for an exciting rivalry with Cobblepot. Producer Reeves and showrunner Lauren LeFranc (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.Chuck) could even get away with recasting McGregor as Black Mask given the universe’s disconnections from the mainline DCEU.

Salvatore Maroni

A mugshot of Salvatore Maroni after being arrested by Gotham City police in the Batman comics.

One of the big lies of The Batman‘s world was that the famous Salvatore Maroni drug bust in Gotham was a massive achievement and a step toward cleaning up the city. As Paul Dano’s the Riddler reveals, the bust was no more than a staged farce so that Falcone could wipe a direct rival off the board and make himself Gotham’s shadow mayor for the next 20 years. HBO Max’s The Penguin could use this opportunity — and Gotham City being in shambles — to properly explore the character of Salvatore Maroni in this universe.

Of course, Maroni has played second-fiddle to Falcone even in the comics, but Gotham being under martial law could justify a Blackgate Penitentiary breakout fairly easily. He shouldn’t be given a huge role given the creative possibilities available with other villains, but could be interesting to see Maroni at least go up against the Penguin in some capacity.

Great White Shark

Great White Shark out on his boat in the Batman comics.

Certainly one of the more obscure Batman villains, Warren White/Great White Shark had a brutal backstory in the comics. White first appeared in Dan Slott and Ryan Sook’s Arkham Asylum: Living Hell as a corrupt financier who gets caught for white-collar crimes. In a desperate attempt to avoid having to serve a heavy time in prison, he feigns insanity to speed up the chances of his release.

It backfires, though, as his sentence results in a stay at Gotham City’s Arkham Asylum. He’s violently beaten and kicked around by the asylum’s villains until he’s eventually scarred and inspired to take on the “Great White Shark” persona. His origins would be a more natural fit in the upcoming Arkham Asylum series that’s also in development with HBO Max, but a smaller role in Penguin’s circle could be fitting at the same time.

Victor Zsasz

Victor Zsasz covered in scars on a bloody background in the Batman comics.

Victor Zsasz has had a couple of smaller roles theatrically, with his first being what was essentially an extended cameo in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. He got an expanded role alongside McGregor’s aforementioned Black Mask in Birds of Prey, in which the two maintained an entertaining dynamic.

Perhaps the villain’s best — and most relevant — roles, in this case, were in the Batman Chronicles comic and Rocksteady’s Arkham City video game, where he featured in an ominous side mission where the serial killer angrily vents his downtrodden life and obsession with “liberating” people by murdering them. What makes this particularly relevant is that Zsasz’s life fell apart after becoming a gambling addict and losing everything he had to the Penguin in the Iceberg Lounge. It’s a great premise that’s primed for adaptation in Reeves’ world.

Two-Face (first as Harvey Dent)

Split image of Harvey getting acid thrown in his face and scarred as Two-Face in the Batman comics.

Two-Face is undoubtedly one of the top-tier Batman supervillains, with the character sharing a personal past with the Dark Knight’s early days. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween chronicled the rise and fall of Harvey Dent’s friendship and partnership with Batman and Jim Gordon as they worked to root out Gotham’s corruption, before he descendied into the madness of the Two-Face persona. He was physically scarred at the hand of Maroni during a botched trial, which was partially alluded to in Nolan’s The Dark Knight.

The sequel(s) to The Batman should focus on bringing more neglected villains to light, but this multimedia expansion of Reeves’ franchise would be a great excuse to bring back some of the classics in a unique capacity. Taking the character’s history into account, introducing him as Harvey Dent in The Penguin would make for a good origin story should Maroni make an appearance as well.

The Batman is playing now in theaters, with HBO Max’s The Penguin premiere date TBA.

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