There is perhaps no car cooler in the entire world than the Batmobile. It looks awesome, it’s got gadgets galore, and it’s nearly indestructible. “Nearly” being the operative word. Sometimes, the Caped Crusaders’ favorite auto gets beaten up something fierce and needs a complete overhaul. Most of the time, we just assume Alfred fixes it, or Batman himself, but in the Batman: The Animated Series episode “The Mechanic,” we finally get to see who built and services the biggest car in Gotham City. It’s the one and only time this happens, so we better make it count, hadn’t we?
It’s the rare occasion that we actually get to see the other people who’d have to be involved for the Dark Knight’s continued campaign against evil to actually work. In the Nolan movies, we see that Bruce Wayne obtains his Bat-Gear from Wayne Enterprise’s own R & D department, with Lucius Fox being the inventor and supplier. That works for that movie, but here we get a story much more in keeping with the timbre of the series, and one that hearkens back to radio serials like The Shadow in point of fact.
We begin with Batman and Robin chasing down some goons working for the Penguin who’ve stolen some valuable stamps. Though the Batmobile is clearly a superior automobile, the goons manage to drive off a bridge onto a fishing boat while the Batmobile’s from gets pinned under the lip of the draw bridge and crushed. They take the shaky, broken automobile to the man they know can fix it, mostly because he built it: Earl Cooper. He and his daughter work in a giant underground garage and apparently only have the one customer. But, it’s a doozy. He says it’ll take him a week to get everything that needs fixing (which is quite a lot) back in working order, leaving the Duo to take a pair of motorcycles back on patrol.
Elsewhere, the Penguin is angry about everything and is annoyed when an accountant comes to him with documents. However, the accountant soon tells the crime boss that it looks like what he’s discovered is parts that only the Batmobile would need all going to the same auto body shop. Cooper’s Garage, in fact. The Penguin is suitably happy with this and gives the guy a check for $400,000 before promptly flushing him down the sewer. Rich and smelly, also possibly dead. He breaks into Cooper’s place and takes Earl’s daughter hostage, saying he will kill her unless Earl make a mobile death trap out of the La Voiture de Chauve-Souris.
The Penguin then wants to know why Cooper helps Batman and what follows is a short flashback (in black and white, naturally) of when Earl Cooper was an engineer working for a underhanded development company and he was going to blow the whistle on their illegal activities. They sent goons to kill him and Batman, who’d been listening the whole time, intervenes and saves Cooper’s life. However, being labeled a “whistle-blower” didn’t do him any favors in the business world and before long he had been entirely outcast. This is where Batman came in again, asking for his help and know-how in constructing a better car. The one he had was a bit crap, it has to be said. Cooper, using all the parts and money Batman provided, designed and constructed the behemoth of nocturnal righteousness we see today.
Batman and Robin pick up the car, and Earl acts like everything is fine, except he keeps hammering home the words “the basement” and “air conditioner,” and Batman, commonly known as the World’s Greatest Detective, says “Uhh, thanks, Earl.” The Penguin, of course, has had Earl fit the Batmobile with a remote control so that only he is driving the car (sort of like in Batman Returns only less stupid) and the Dynamic Duo have to figure out Earl’s clues before it’s too late and the car meets its fiery end.
This episode, as I said earlier, is really fun for learning a bit about Batman before the series picks up, something that would occasionally happen in the odd episode. That he drove such a silly car initially, one based on the original Batmobile from the comics, is funny both as a visual and as a reminder of the humble beginnings of Gotham’s watchful protector. Though they would never again utilize Earl Cooper or this backstory for the Batmobile, it’s fun to think that he was Batman’s personal mechanic.
I also mentioned how this is similar to The Shadow; in that serial, the Shadow saved people’s lives and they would become part of his underground network and do him favors, or even work for him. Lamont Cranston’s personal chauffeur was one such person, and he owed the Shadow his life. I like to think Batman has a city full of people like this out there, doing little odds and ends for him if he needs them to. Batman’s personal dry cleaner? Batman’s personal grappling hook distributor?
And finally, just a word about the Penguin. The character only appeared on Batman: The Animated Series in seven episodes and three of those were as a secondary or supporting villain. He was voiced each time by the brilliant Paul Williams, who gives the avian adversary a clipped erudition he needs, very different from Danny DeVito’s performance in the aforementioned Returns, though his appearance still suggests that film. This is probably my favorite of Penguin’s solo episodes and he seems the perfect person for such a caper; intelligent, suave, and ruthless, the Penguin is the gentleman bandit of Gotham City.
Next week, the Dark Knight buys the farm and the unlikeliest of triggermen popped the cap. The Joker, also, is none too pleased. It’s “The Man Who Killed Batman” next time.