Perhaps the most harrowing part of life in Gotham (after those outrageous rent prices) is the fact that you can never be sure what to expect from the city’s criminal set. And in this month’s Gotham City Villains Anniversary Giant, commemorating milestone anniversaries for some of Gotham’s biggest and baddest, those nasty surprises come as big as they get. For starters? You’d have to be the world’s greatest detective to predict that Danny DeVito, star of the 1992 cinematic masterpiece Batman Returns, would be returning to his iconic role of the Penguin nearly 30 years later…as a writer. Unexpected, to say the least. But what may surprise you further still is that this isn’t even the first time this sort of thing has happened in the DC Universe. Here, gathered for you today, is the illustrious group Mr. DeVito now joins—actors from DC projects who have gone on to write their own characters’ further adventures on the comic book page.
Gilbert Gottfried – Nick Knack
The first DC actor to write their own character was DeVito’s costar in the 2017 film Animal Crackers, comedian Gilbert Gottfried. Though best known to DC fans for providing the most recognizable voice of Mr. Mxyzptlk in Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League Action and the LEGO DC video games, that wasn’t Gottfried’s first DC role, or the one he wrote for.
In the 1980s, a live action television series debuted that was produced by the Salkind family, makers of the Christopher Reeve Superman film series. The show aired for 100 episodes, chronicling the early escapades of their Man of Steel: Superboy. One of the villains this Superboy faced was an original character named “Nick Knack,” a sort of proto-Toyman played by the irascible Gottfried. What set this character apart from Superboy’s more famous future foe? Those answers would be explored in an issue of the show’s tie-in comic series, The Adventures of Superboy #20, co-written by a young Scott Lobdell and Gilbert Gottfried himself.
Helen Slater – Supergirl
Another major Salkind effort to build out the Superman mythology was the 1984 film Supergirl, with its title hero played by Helen Slater. While the movie’s own legacy is complicated, Slater herself has remained a beloved member of the DC family ever since, playing Batman’s beloved Talia in Batman: The Animated Series, Superman’s mother Lara on Smallville, Martha Kent in DC Super Hero Girls and Kara Zor-El’s own adoptive mother Eliza Danvers on The CW’s recently wrapped Supergirl series.
In 2009, in a special story for Supergirl’s 50th issue, Helen Slater returned to the character in a new way: by co-writing a Supergirl adventure herself with Jake Black. In this short story, Supergirl’s own complex legacy is tackled in a televised debate between the Daily Planet’s Ron Troupe and Cat Grant over a backdrop illustrated by Cliff Chiang of what Supergirl truly means to Metropolis.
Brec Bassinger – Stargirl
It’s well-known legend by now that DC creative workhorse Geoff Johns first cut his teeth in the DC Universe on the series Stars and S.T.R.I.P.E., which introduced us to Courtney Whitmore, the young hero who would become Stargirl. Today, Johns helms a TV series based on that early work heading into its third season, featuring talented ingenue Brec Bassinger as Stargirl’s star girl. To celebrate his creation’s newest run in the spotlight, Johns returned to the hero he made (and who made him) with this year’s Stargirl Spring Break Special and he brought Bassinger along with him to tell a short story of her own. Though perhaps not strictly a comic, Bassinger’s one-page series of notes written from Courtney’s perspective shed new light on how the fledgling hero attempts to navigate her difficult school-life balance.
Camrus Johnson – Batwing
June 8th, 2021 was a pretty big day for Camrus Johnson, who plays Luke Fox on TV’s Batwoman. In addition to being the scion to Wayne Enterprises’ Lucius Fox, Luke also fights crime as the high-tech superhero, Batwing. Not only was the world treated to the first look at his live action Batwing suit that day, but it was also the day Johnson earned his first writing credit with DC: a Luke Fox story in the Gotham-focused anthology comic, Batman: Urban Legends #4.
While Luke’s brother Tim “Jace” Fox has been grabbing headlines of late as “The Next Batman,” Camrus used his space in the Urban Legends collection to explore Luke’s own history and dynamics with his once-estranged brother, all while reinforcing what Luke brings to the table as a hero in his own right.
Ike Barinholtz, Heidi Gardner, Bobby Moynihan – Two-Face, Miss Tuesday, The Penguin
Maybe the funniest coincidence around Danny DeVito’s transition from Penguin actor to Penguin writer is that, by a margin of just a couple of months, he’s not even the first Penguin to do it.
One of the biggest surprise Bat-treats of the year has been the HBO Max exclusive series Batman: The Audio Adventures, which brings equal parts drama, depth and black comedy to life and death in Gotham City…and which features a wealth of comedy royalty in its vocal cast. This very particular flavor of Gotham got the comic treatment just a few months ago with an oversized prequel anthology in Batman: The Audio Adventures Special. A good number of writers and artists contributed to its eighty pages, but for some stories, series writer Dennis McNicholas enlisted the comic talent behind the characters they played to flesh out their backstories. Ike Barinholtz reported in for another night in the life of the self-battling Two-Face, Heidi Gardner for an encore of the scene-stealing Riddler henchgirl Miss Tuesday, and Bobby Moynihan for a return to the deceptively threatening Penguin.
Nicole Maines – Dreamer
TV’s Supergirl series will certainly be remembered for its mission to address such heady and all-too-real topics as sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia straight on through a superhero lens. In its later seasons, this mission statement came to life in the character of Dreamer, DC’s first transgender superhero on television, brought to life by actress Nicole Maines. Although an original character to television’s Supergirl, Maines herself showed up for this year’s DC Pride celebration to write the character’s comic book debut. And while the Supergirl TV show has come to an end, Dreamer is far too important a character to leave behind. If we can glean anything from the above post-series teaser image shared by Maines herself, it’s clear we may not have seen the last of Nia Nal or Nicole Maines in the DC Universe.
How will DeVito’s Penguin stack up to this double-threat actor/writer crowd? You’ll just have to pick up a copy of Gotham City Villains Anniversary Giant to find out for yourself.
Gotham City Villains Anniversary Giant #1, featuring a Penguin story written by Danny DeVito and drawn by Dan Mora, is now available in print and as a digital comic book.
Alex Jaffe is the author of our monthly "Ask the Question" column and writes about TV, movies, comics and superhero history for DCComics.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexJaffe and find him in the DC Community as HubCityQuestion.