It’s been a while, but finally some new information from the upcoming Gotham has been released: now we have the first official image of Carol Kane as Gertrud Kapelput, the old woman who’ll appear as The Penguin‘s mother. Almost nothing is known about the character, but that she’ll be a proud and vain woman, still attached to a past glory her family doesn’t possess anymore. This is not the first appearance of the character: she already had a brief role in Batman Returns portrayed by Diane Salinger, but this time she was named Esther Cobblepot. In the movie, she was a rich woman in Gotham City, who was quite disgusted by her newborn son, the deformed Oswald; along with her husband, she decided to get rid of the little monster, and threw him in the river, hoping to kill him. Unfortunately, the baby survived, and was nurtured by the penguins in the sewers. What about the comics? Well, her name is yet another one. And her story differs, depending on the continuity you’re looking to. Let’s see together.
Miranda Cobblepot is one of the minor characters who went through the biggest changes during the Crisis on Infinite Universe storyline. Her first appearance was an unnamed one, as she was simply known as Mrs. Cobblepot, an old lady who had become a widow after her husband had died of a pneumonia. The accident deeply traumatized the woman, who became overprotective towards her only son, Oswald. Since she believed her husband had died because he had been walking under the rain with no umbrella, the woman forced her son to take along an umbrella everytime he got out, even if it was sunny: she didn’t care the fact that her son had become the laughing stock of the entire neighborhood because of that, she preferred to have a living outcast for a son rather than a another dead beloved one to cry for. The only activity Mrs. Cobblepot cared for, apart from taking care of her son, was running her bird shop, the only inheritance she received from her husband. Unable to manage the shop alone, the woman was helped by her sister, Miranda, while Oswald spent most of his time in the shop as well, since all the other boys mocked him for his unique physique, and of course for his umbrellas. Ironically, it was Mrs. Cobblepot herself who fell sick, and the expenses for her medicines dried the savings of the entire family. Mrs. Cobblepot died, leaving her son only the shop, and the recomendation never to go out without an umbrella. Unfortunately, the medical expenses had created a lot of debts for Oswald, and the creditors eventually expropriated the shop, leaving Oswald only with his loneliness, his umbrellas, and quite a grudge against the legal system.
After the entire DC Universe was revolutioned, the Penguin’s mother changed almost completely. The Cobblepots were now a rich and famous family in Gotham City, business rivals to the Waynes and among the most ancient and respected families around. The Penguin’s mother and aunt got merged into a single character, Miranda, wife to Tucker Cobblepot, the heir of the Cobblepot family. They had a son, Oswald, but he was nothing like his father: short and fat, ugly and clumsy, he soon became the favorite target of any bully. Far from getting worried for their son, the Cobblepots started treating him like a reject, the unworthy spawn of a once-wealthy family (now ruined, mostly because of Tucker’s inability to manage his fortune). When Tucker died because of a pneumonia following a downpour, Miranda lost her mind: rude and violent, she became also overprotective, forcing her son to bring an umbrella wherever he went despite of the weather. Whenever Oswald refused to do so, she savagely beat him, arriving to the point of threatening to kill him with her own hands. Needless to say, this kind of family environment didn’t benefit Oswald’s mental health at all, and when eventually Miranda died of old age, her son remembered only her reproaches about him being unable to put together the old family fortune…something that soon led him to become the mob boss known as The Penguin, again one of the richest and most feared men in Gotham City.
Miranda Cobblepot, in every reality, isn’t exactly a balanced woman, nor in her right mind. After the death of her husband, she became terrified of the perspective of losing her son the same way, forcing him into habits that would have accompanied him all her life. Being as a sweet, scared old lady, or as a brutal, authoritative and violent woman, Miranda Cobblepot has always had a major role in the creation of one of the greatest threats for Gotham City.