Opus the Penguin, Bloom County’s most beloved inhabitant and Berkeley Breathed’s finest creation, retired for good today. In the final strip, he was sent off to his paradise. Luckily, he was not killed off per se, and should Breathed ever decide to bring him back, it’ll be a pretty easy trick. But I doubt he will: the loving look on Steve Dallas’ face as he sees Opus’ final resting place is surely traced from Breathed’s own.
Opus first saw the light of day in Bloom County, which made its way to Norway as Binkley in the late 80s, and I loved it, despite the fact that many of the references went over my head. I did love the art, however, and that saw me through. I picked up some of the collections as I got older, and while the Caspar Weinberger jokes went miles above my head, the immortal DeathTöngue did not. Still, Bloom County kept on giving: as I became more knowledgeable about modern American politics, a whole new vein of laughs were found to be mined.
Outland, which succeeded Bloom County, never caught me the same way, and neither did Opus, though I liked it more than Outland – the inspired lunacy of Bloom County was often predicated on the basic economy of three or four panels of sheer narrative thrust. (See the strip where Opus decides to try smoking, for example.) By contrast, Outland and Opus felt bloated and indulgent to me.
But no matter – Opus the character will surely be remembered fondly by all his readers. Breathed’s world that was very never kid-friendly; real life intruded all the time, yet Opus defiantly remained himself. The bon-vivant with the heart of gold, Opus encapsulated the naiveté of childhood, remaining ever optimistic in face of the scary world. Calvin, one always knew, would one day grow up. Opus both did and didn’t, which is why I respect Breathed’s decision to retire him – a character can only be meaningful for so long, and in fairness, Opus was getting on.
So I’m also pleased to say that the last panels of the Opus saga work wonderfully: after a look back at his life, our penguin friend ends up in the sort of paradise he deserves, and we get to follow him there for our good-byes. For the fans, it’s a remarkably affecting sequence, and if ultimately bittersweet, probably the most fitting farewell to this flightless waterfowl we could ever get. Goodnight, Opus.