DCAU #49: The Mechanic

IN THIS ONE... Penguin, meet Earl Cooper, the man who designed the Batmobile.

CREDITS: Written by Randy Rogel, Laren Bright and Steve Perry; directed by Kevin Altieri.

REVIEW: Haven't you ever wondered where he gets those wonderful toys? BTAS creates Earl Cooper as a partial answer to this, a brilliant engineer whose morals turned him whistle blower and hunted man and who, having been saved from assassination by Batman, became one of the Bat's most trusted employees. Are there other Earls out there who make Batarangs and Batwings and Bat-computers? Possibly! This is the story of how one clerk in a car parts company figures out he's shipping custom Batmobile parts and sells the information to the Penguin, who then uses it to find Earl, kidnap his daughter, and force him to turn the Batmobile into a death trap. And Earl isn't just a great mechanic - even a smashed Batmobile can be driven - he's a hero in his own right, finding a way to give Batman the means to escape without the Penguin getting wise, and bravely fighting one of Cobblepot's goons armed with nothing but lube and tires. His daughter doesn't want to play damsel in distress either, giving as good as she gets. So a great idea supported by worthy characters.

I'd give the episode bonus points anyway for simply feeling a little different, with all the car action, but it's got lots of nice touches in addition to that. Seeing an older Batmobile is a hoot. The grind of metal as the emergency gliders hit the ground. "Gotham City - America's Playground" (that explains all the fairgrounds then). And as an amateur DCU geographer, I love the hint, shown on a license plate, that Gotham City is in Gotham State! "Gotham - The Dark Deco State", a reference to the show's style as described by Timm.

Of course, though they use the Penguin, the plot could have been any villain's. I might never TRULY enjoy a Penguin appearance. At his best, he's sending a guy "out to sea" with a dummy check for his help (the show can't kill people, but it's a lot more chilling if you believe that guy died). At his worst, he's throwing yet another tantrum, punching the ground, and getting a trite "ironic fate" where he's hammering at license plates. It's really kind of lame.

IN THE COMICS: Earl Cooper is a character original to the animated series, but he may have been inspired by Harold Allnut, the mute, hunchbacked technician Batman saved and put to work repairing equipment in the Batcave during the 90s. The old Batmobile seen in this episode has a bat "face" different from, but certainly inspired by, the original Golden Age Batmobile. The shtick with the remote Batmobile is, of course, from Batman Returns.

SOUNDS LIKE: Paul Winfield plays Earl Cooper; I best remember him for his Star Trek work, as the Reliant's Captain in Star Trek II, and the alien Captain in TNG's "Darmok". His daughter Marva is played by Lynn Moody who has done a lot of film and television work, most prominently, the role of Irene Harvey in Roots. The Penguin's henchman Eagleton is played by John De Lancie, forever famous as Star Trek's Q. The other henchman, Sheldrake, shares a voice with Mutant Turtle Donatello, that of Barry Gordon.

Despite its lackluster use of the Penguin, the episode explores a question we might all have asked, and answers it well.


Anonymous said...

"Earl Cooper is a character original to the animated series, but he may have been inspired by Harold Allnut, the mute, hunchbacked technician Batman saved and put to work repairing equipment in the Batcave during the 90s."

I saw it as a nod to "The Untold Legend of the Batman". This was a three-issue miniseries around 1980 where issue 1 was Batman's origin, issue 2 was Robin's origin and maybe one or two other people's, and issue 3 was quick reveals of every other damn thing in Batman's existence. There was a mystery story going on throughout, but mostly it was an excuse for characters to say things like "boy this makes me remember the first time I met Jack Edison, the race car driver whom Batman saved and in turn has been the source of all our Batmobiles".

And that's the way TULotB tells it: Batman pays a race car driver to build him Batmobiles in secret. There was even some Batmobile sabotage in TULotB.

Andrew Gilbertson said...

The whole giant-duck/out-to-sea thing felt both really strange (the Penguin doesn't strike me as the throw-away-a-useful-resource type), and very Batman Returns as well. (In fact, I think this is the only appearance of the giant ducky in BTAS?) For my money, the show is always at its worst when it's trying to do Returns.

Siskoid said...

The duck appeared in an episode before this one, I don't quite remember which right now (his first?).

Siskoid said...

Anon: Thanks! I would not call myself a Batman expert, AT ALL, so I do the best I can on the "In the Comics" section. Don't be shy about revealing better sources!

American Hawkman said...

Exactly. I can't remember if Jack got killed off in The Many Deaths of the Batman arc by Byrne or not.

LiamKav said...

I'll take Earl over "mute hunchback Bruce keeps locked up to look after the Batmobile" any day of the week.

The way the different continuities answer "where does he get those wonderful toys?" is fascinating. Some give the impression that Bruce and Alfred develop and maintain everything. The Nolan trilogy went for the idea that Bruce raids Waynetech's little used R&D department (and turns Lucius Fox into a scientist-engineer who knows Bruce's identity and covers for him.) The Arkham games use the same idea. And the 90s comics went with *sigh* a mute hunchback.

LiamKav said...

This is another episode where my memories didn't match my rewatch. I remember loving it when I was young, for all the obvious nerd reasons (old Batmobile! A retro Batman costume that's halfway between the "Robin's Reckoning" one and the current one). Going in to it now, knowing that Bruce Timm thinks it's a "stinker" and that it's animated by AKOM, I was expecting the worst.

I was pleasantly surprised. The Penguin is good fun in this (one nice thing about the character is that he doesn't have to dominate a story in a way that the Joker can, and he can do low level supervillainy that would seem wrong or out of place for Two-Face, not that they don't sometimes do that anyway). The retro stuff is good, and there's a surprising heart at the centre. Batman's idea at the end to set up dummy And even the animation is well above average for AKOM (although they really struggle with Oswald himself. His face and overall size and shape change constantly).

Noted director Kevin Altieri, "It was the first show that AKOM laid out itself. It's not as good as their 'The Last Laugh,' but had far fewer retakes (almost 80% of 'The Last Laugh' needed retakes.) I think they were threatened that they might lose the work, so they put their A-Team on it.

So yeah, I liked it. Only thing I don't really understand is why Robin is in it. He doesn't really bring anything to the story at all.

Small easter egg: In Arkham Knight there's a building labelled "Earl Cooper Auto Repair".


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