Penguin is a short, rotund man known for his love of birds and his specialized high-tech umbrellas. A mobster-type criminal, he fancies himself a "gentleman of crime;" his nightclub business provides a cover for more low-key criminal activity, which Batman tolerates as a source of criminal underworld information. According to co-creator Bob Kane, the character was inspired from the then advertising mascot of Kool cigarettes which was a penguin with a top hat and cane. Bill Finger also thought the image of high-society gentlemen in tuxedos was reminiscent of emperor penguins.
Subsequent Batman animated series have featured Penguin in depictions that alternate between deformed outcast and high-profile aristocrat. Despite his popularity, he has repeatedly been named among the worst of Batman's enemies, though the DeVito Penguin was named the fourth greatest Batman villain by Premiere. The deformed version of the character has also appeared in comics, most notably in the miniseries Batman: The Long Halloween and its sequel Dark Victory. He only appears for a minor cameo at the end of the Long Halloween, and has no lines. He plays a slightly more notable role in Dark Victory, when Batman goes to him for information. This incarnation also included elements of the 1966 TV series character, as he shouts the well-known "Waugh! Waugh! Waugh!" while talking. In 2009, the Penguin was ranked as IGN's 51st Greatest Comic Book Villain of All Time.
Born Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot, Penguin was bullied as a child for his short stature, obesity, and beak-like nose. Several stories relate that he was forced as a child to always carry an umbrella by his over-protective mother, due to his father dying of pneumonia after being drenched in a downpour. These traits make him an outcast in his rich, high society family; their rejection drives him to become a criminal. In keeping with his family's tradition of wealth, the Penguin lives a life of crime, yet executes it with his own self-proclaimed class and style. In keeping with his pretensions of being a refined gentleman, he also prefers to wear formal wear such as a top hat, monocle, and tuxedo during his jobs.
Penguin received his alias from a childhood nickname, bestowed by his peers, who teased him because of his grotesque appearance and love of birds. (Retellings of his origin suggest he also suffered from some sort of hip ailment, which caused him to waddle when he walked. The Penguin shows no signs of suffering from this affliction today.) Some comics suggest that he tried to abandon the nickname, which he hates, but it has been permanently brought into popularity by his high-profile criminal career. He has cashed in on its popularity with his Iceberg Lounge nightclub in Gotham City.
Unlike most of the Batman villains, the Penguin is in control of his own actions and perfectly sane, features that serve to maintain a unique relationship with his arch-enemy, Batman. This has extended into the current situation with the Penguin ceasing his direct involvement in crime, instead running a nightclub that is popular with the underworld. As such, he is an excellent source of information on crime, so Batman grudgingly tolerates his operations so long as the Penguin agrees to be one of his informants. However, the entrepreneurial Penguin is often fencing stolen property or arranging early furloughs for incarcerated former criminal associates - for a hefty fee, of course - on the side. During the storyline "No Man's Land," when Gotham City is nearly leveled by an earthquake, he stays behind when the US government shuts down and blockades the city. He becomes one of the major players in the mostly-abandoned and lawless city, using his connections to profit. One of these connections is discovered to be Lex Luthor and his company, LexCorp.