The Matt Signal – Episode 55: The Mechanic

Plot summary: The Penguin tinkers with the Batmobile after uncovering the secret of Batman’s personal mechanic.

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Each Saturday and Sunday Matt Waters recaps an episode of the legendary Batman: The Animated Series, building an overall ranking along the way. Plus best performances, the ever-popular Villain Watch and more!

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Notes

Episode Title: ‘The Mechanic

Original Air Date: January 24th, 1993

Directed: Kevin Altieri (14)

Written: Steve Perry (5) & Laren Bright (6) (story), and Randy Rogel (7)

This episode’s plot is obviously taken from a sub-plot of Batman Returns.

One of Penguin’s henchmen is referred to as Falcone. Presumably this is not meant to be mob boss Carmine Falcone, but he is almost certainly named after him.

Earl Cooper Auto Repair can be found in the Arkham Knight video game.

Recap

We open in media res with a car chase between Batman & Robin and a group of Penguin’s men, one of whom opens fire on the Batmobile with a tommy gun, which doesn’t even chip the paintwork.

The goons foolishly attempt to jump a gap in a bridge after it lets a barge pass, instead landing on the boat itself and nearly dying. Luckily for them, an uncharacteristically careless Batman fails to brake in time and the front end of the Batmobile gets crushed in the now-lowered bridge. Bummer.

Bruce drives the wrecked Batmobile to a seemingly abandoned warehouse in a shady part of town, which is concealing a secret auto-repair workshop underground. A man named Earl Cooper weighs the damage while our vigilantes make bird puns.

Earl offers the two a pair of Bat-Bikes and they immediately take off to try and capture Penguin’s men, leaving Earl and his daughter to order replacement parts.

Over at Penguin’s secret lair, essentially an even larger Batcave, the villain throws a tantrum that his men didn’t steal good enough loot. He threatens one of them with a vulture, Percival (what happened to Scrap???), but his mood improves when he’s introduced to Arnold Rundle.

See, Arnold Rundle works for an auto parts distributor, and he correctly deduces a recent order was made by Earl for the Batmobile. Penguin offers him $400,000 as a reward, but instead puts him on a giant duck boat and sends him off to his ostensible death.

Just as Earl has finished his repairs, Penguin and his men attack the shop and make some modifications of their own after some trial and error with the Batmobile’s defences, made easier by threatening Earl’s daughter.

At Penguin’s insistence, we go to a black and white flashback of how Earl came to work with Bats in the first place:

Earl used to work at Global Motors, who ignored his warnings about a new car with brake issues and had him attacked by thugs to warn him off whistleblowing. Batman naturally intervened, but the damage was already done to Earl’s reputation.

A jobless Earl was approached by Batman some time later, seeking a replacement for his original Batmobile, thus the more famous version was designed and built by Earl.

Back in the present, Penguin’s men finish up and take Earl’s daughter with them to ensure he doesn’t rat on them. He still gives Batman a less than subtle hint that goes undetected by the sole lingering henchman… and also The World’s Greatest Detective.

A car chase ensues, with Penguin revealing his remote control and promptly wreaking havoc, with Batman and Robin unable to even escape the vehicle.

Batman at last figures out Earl’s secret code (he “fixed” the air conditioning switch), allowing them to eject moments before the Batmobile plummets off a parking garage and explodes into flames. The Dynamic Duo pursue via glider until Penguin’s car crashes too.

Earl closes up his shop, with Batman promising the new one will come with a series of shell companies to order parts through to make him impossible to trace. Penguin meanwhile spends his prison sentence furiously working on licence plates.

Best Performance

Nobody really stood out to me here, as it was pretty pedestrian stuff for Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester, and while Paul Winfield was perfectly fine as Earl, it was nothing to write home about. There’s some casting weirdness with Earl’s daughter, Marva, as both Candy Brown and Lynne Moody have been credited as the actress in different places, perhaps hinting at re-dubbing.

Thus I’m going with Paul Williams as Penguin once again. It’s not his best outing in the role, but he still outshone the rest of the cast, with his dangerous temper peppered back in after an attempt to go straight in ‘Birds of a Feather’. The scene with him threatening his own men, then perking up, then murdering Arnold Rundle, and then busying himself with the auto parts paperwork was some excellent moment-to-moment tonal shifting.

Ranking

Listen, I know it’s a controversial opinion, but I’m firmly on record expressing my intense dislike of Batman Returns, so to me this episode is essentially a superior version of the small sub-plot it’s based on with Penguin taking control of the Batmobile. Which IS a fun premise!

More importantly it’s another episode that fleshes out the world of the show, both in terms of the logistics of how Batman keeps his top of the line monster vehicle in order, and via the flashback, which contained some fun little nods to the golden and silver age era of Batman. The OG Batmobile is really something.

It loses some points for making Batman oblivious to Earl all but spelling the situation out to him, but that’s a minor quibble that doesn’t ruin an otherwise simple, fun episode.

  1. The Laughing Fish
  2. Almost Got ‘Im
  3. Heart of Ice
  4. I Am the Night
  5. Robin’s Reckoning Part I
  6. The Man Who Killed Batman
  7. Perchance to Dream
  8. Two-Face Part I
  9. Joker’s Favor
  10. Feat of Clay Part II
  11. Robin’s Reckoning Part II
  12. Beware the Gray Ghost
  13. Mad as a Hatter
  14. Heart of Steel Part II
  15. Appointment In Crime Alley
  16. Two-Face Part II
  17. Pretty Poison
  18. Feat of Clay Part I
  19. Off Balance
  20. Vendetta
  21. Birds of a Feather
  22. Heart of Steel Part I
  23. On Leather Wings
  24. See No Evil
  25. The Clock King
  26. It’s Never Too Late
  27. Joker’s Wild
  28. Eternal Youth
  29. The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy
  30. The Cat and the Claw Part I
  31. Zatanna
  32. Day of the Samurai
  33. The Mechanic
  34. The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne
  35. Terror in the Sky
  36. P.O.V.
  37. Christmas with the Joker
  38. Fear of Victory
  39. Be a Clown
  40. What is Reality?
  41. Night of the Ninja
  42. Mudslide
  43. The Cat and the Claw Part II
  44. Nothing to Fear
  45. Prophecy of Doom
  46. Tyger, Tyger
  47. If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?
  48. Dreams In Darkness
  49. The Last Laugh
  50. Cat Scratch Fever
  51. Moon of the Wolf
  52. Paging the Crime Doctor
  53. The Under-Dwellers
  54. The Forgotten
  55. I’ve Got Batman in My Basement

Villain Watch

The Penguin (Paul Williams) (fifth appearance)

While he’s not as good as in ‘Birds of a Feather’, the rehabilitation work that and ‘Almost Got ‘Im’ did for Penguin has gone a long way, so that even these kind of middle of the road appearances seem better than they would have a dozen episodes ago. He FEELS like a major antagonist now, and getting to futz around with the Batmobile is some big villain stuff.

Indeed, Penguin isn’t always presented as an evil mirrored version of Batman, but it does work surprisingly well. They’re both wealthy, avian themed, love gadgetry and this episode adds a lair that greatly resembles the Batcave. Lets slide Oz into the top ten, shall we?

  1. The Joker
  2. Mr. Freeze
  3. Two-Face
  4. Mad Hatter
  5. Poison Ivy
  6. Catwoman
  7. Harley Quinn
  8. Clayface
  9. Penguin
  10. The Riddler
  11. Clock King
  12. Killer Croc
  13. HARDAC (and Randa Duane)
  14. Lloyd Ventrix
  15. Count Vertigo
  16. Josiah Wormwood
  17. Scarecrow
  18. Roland Daggett (and Germs & Bell!)
  19. Rupert Thorne
  20. Sid the Squid
  21. Jimmy ‘Jazzman’ Peake
  22. Tony Zucco
  23. Man-Bat
  24. Hugo Strange
  25. Red Claw
  26. Arnold Stromwell
  27. Mad Bomber
  28. Tygrus (and Dr. Dorian)
  29. Kyodai Ken
  30. Talia al Ghul
  31. Ra’s al Ghul
  32. Nostromos (and Lucas!)
  33. Cameron Kaiser
  34. Dr. Dorian (and Garth)
  35. Professor Milo
  36. Romulus
  37. Sewer King
  38. Boss Biggis
  39. Montague Kane

Plugs

Eager for more long-form coverage of Batman? Why not check out my podcast with Mike Thomas, The Tape Crusaders, which reviewed every Batman movie and delved a tiny bit into the animated series.

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Matt Waters

Brit dude who likes both things AND stuff and has delusions of being some kind of writer or something. Basketball, video games, comic books, films, music, other random stuff.

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