In Batman Returns Bruce Wayne/Batman starts investigating Oswald Cobblepot / Penguin almost as soon as Oswald comes into the public light. Two scenes later he's investigating the potential link with the "Red Triangle Circus". Even when Alfred asks him why he's so suspicious he doesn't answer.

But while we, the viewers, all know the truth because we are privy to information that Bruce is not, what is it that tips Bruce off? I can't remember any moment that would have made him suspicious.

  • I watched the scenes one more time after writing this question and did notice that while watching on TV, the screen shows (and the announcer mentions) Oswald standing next to Max Shreck and this provokes a subtle reaction from Bruce - maybe that got him thinking? It's still quite a leap though... – colmde Jul 17 '20 at 13:40
  • This is just a thought with nothing to support it, but when I saw the movie years ago, I remember thinking that Bruce was seeing a part of himself in the Penguin, because "someone with such a tragic past must have a dark side", which is totally along the lines of Burton's work in general. – kikirex Jul 17 '20 at 20:48

More superficially speaking, Bruce suspected Penguin because Penguin's rise to fame was, well, suspicious:

  1. A Red Triangle member kidnaps a baby in broad daylight, but gives up the baby to the Penguin in seconds. Why would a crazed gangster be afraid of a short stocky man?
  2. Max Shreck inexplicably goes to great lengths to protect Penguin's reputation and privacy.
  3. when Penguin is busy with research, the Red Triangle gang are nowhere to be seen, and the streets are, as Alfred remarks, "notably quiet." This could easily be (and is) because Penguin was their leader.

A bit more deeply, Bruce, being an orphan, sympathized with Penguin's desire to find the parents who abandoned him (scene where he and Alfred watch Penguin's staged heroism on TV). Curiosity may also be why he paid such close attention to Penguin, even from the beginning when the suspicious circumstances had not built up yet.

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