While I didn’t really have a “Kids Today!” reaction to the handling of Penguin and Joker in two recent graphic novels, I did find myself very, very unimpressed (to put it mildly)
Penguin has been played as a straight crime boss for at least a decade now, and that fits with his early portrayals as a cunning crook, but DETECTIVE COMICS: Emperor Penguin by John Layman and Jason Fabok, still didn’t work for me. A big part of the problem is that it’s ultimately nothing but a mundane gang war and the usurper (“Call me Emperor Penguin.”) is quite unremarkable. Another, which didn’t really sink in until this, is that Penguin’s invariably played as a loser of a crime boss—either intimidated into cooperating with Batman or overthrown by some tougher hood or adversary. I wonder if that’s partly because you can’t really have a Kingpin type in Batman’s Gotham? And the use of Clayface as nothing but a bludgeoning brute man was a real waste.
That said, that TPB looked like Watchmen compared to BATMAN: Death of the Family by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. The core plot is serviceable, that the Joker’s going to wipe out all of Batman’s allies and friends, on the grounds Batman will be a more worthy foe when he stands alone as he originally did. But the Joker here is written like Heath Ledger’s Joker (yes, it’s a great performance, but it has no resemblance to any canonical version of the Joker ever)—not the cunning, calculating killer of his early days or the Crime Clown or the insane, black-humored killer of more recent years, just a massively homicidal chaos-bringer whose goal is to murder more and more people as brutally as possible (compare his first murder in the original Joker story with the murder of the same character’s son here). It’s the same kind of New 52 psycho killer we got with the Mad Hatter and Scarecrow, trying to shock us by the sheer number of corpses—oh, and Snyder’s dialog for the Joker is insufferably tedious (the Joker reveals his Deep Clever Insights into Batman’s character, which only shows he doesn’t have any). A failure on every level.