Wednesday, July 23, 2008

B:TAS reviews: The Mechanic


Upon learning that he has no choice but to assist the Penguin, due to the criminal’s threats against his daughter, Earl Cooper launches into a three-minute flashback about the origin of his relationship with Batman.  As his reminiscence ends, the Penguin hardly seems to care.  This is to satisfy our curiosity, yes, but I find it odd how heavily the story is bludgeoned for the sake of such information.  Amusingly enough, that flashback is the only thing I enjoy about The Mechanic, in spite of its confounding context.

Batman helps people not always by apprehending their predators; he also does little things.  As Bruce Wayne he donates to charities and sets up institutions for the benefit of the underprivileged.  Here Batman is the one looking out for a man down on his luck.  First he saves Earl by defeating his attackers.  But as Earl wanders the streets desperate for work, Batman saves him again, this time by offering him a job.  What The Mechanic does is reveal to us part of Batman’s network of contemporaries.  We have not known of Earl’s existence before, but his appearance here leads us to believe that he is just the tip of the iceberg.  Who else has Batman helped out by letting him or her become an active participant in his life as a crime-fighter?

That is about the limit of my enjoyment though.  The writers hope to absorb us in the high-tech world of the Batmobile and the multitude of possibilities that might accompany a total sabotage.  But AKOM kills all visual splendor dead, at the same time the storyboard artists fail to milk the premise for all that its worth.  Penguin takes hold of the Batmobile and proceeds to drive it through an empty airport before sending it careening off a parking garage.

Even if some flashy visuals held my interest, The Mechanic would remain a weak installment.  Ideas should be fueled by storytelling elements like suspense and characterization, not by how neat the Batmobile looks or operates.  As we are spoon-fed information about the Batmobile and why it must be connected to Earl (something Batman in good character would have likely foreseen), we lose interest in the Penguin’s one-dimensional depiction as an evil mastermind devoid of any bourgeoisie charm and in Batman’s and Robin’s uniform personality.

When we are not pausing for patronizing exposition, we are following Batman and Robin through the streets of Gotham as they chase after bland henchmen of the Penguin.  The power of the series is being able to look at a character and detect some semblance of emotion or feeling or motivation in their simple cartoon designs.  Entries like this remove these things, so that we left with a hollow surface of puppets performing the most meaningless of tasks.


Three bad episodes in a row is a track record I didn’t think I’d see since the first batch of episodes I reviewed.  But unfortunately, this is yet another poor episode.  It’s little more than a simple story that alleviates the curiosity of anyone who has ever wondered about the origins of the Batmobile.  While I like the history, the actual story of the episode is nothing short of abysmal. 

What happens is that, in an accident involving the Penguin and his goons, the Batmobile gets destroyed, and so Batman has to turn to his friend Earl Cooper, an automotive engineer who has been building and repairing Batman’s vehicles for a long time.  Unfortunately, the Penguin finds out about some strange parts ordered and traces them to Cooper’s garage, deducing that he must be the Batmobile’s mechanic.  After sabotaging the Batmobile, he puts Batman and Robin into serious danger. 

I’ll say right now that the flashback that somehow makes it way into the story is the only worthwhile part of the episode.  It’s actually sort of interesting watching an honest man in a rut get helped out by the Batman.  This illustrates not only the fact that Batman seems attracted to honest men among the corrupt and also that Batman doesn’t just save people from criminals, but he does his best to help out any disadvantaged person.  I like it, but it fits poorly into the narrative, which is more typical action cartoon nonsense without the slightest hint of depth.  In fact, I hear this story is a retelling of one that had been done a good three times before.  No wonder the characters have no personality and the episode is filled with clichés.  For instance, Earl has a daughter.  What purpose does she serve?  None; she’s a damsel in distress.  Why is Penguin such a stereotypical evil villain? It seems to be because in bad action cartoons, villains aren’t allowed to have interesting characterizations.  Most things in this episode are unoriginal and built on common stereotypes and qualities inherent to generic superhero cartoons. 

What makes the episode even worse is the fact that so much of it makes no sense.  The example that comes to mind immediately is Penguin’s uncanny ability to pilot the Batmobile from such a long distance away, even through tunnels that he can’t possibly see.  I’m also thinking about why the Penguin just happens to be the villain who gets contacted by an official with access to reports of the odd parts Earl had ordered, especially given that just happened to be the criminal that damaged Batman’s car earlier on.  It’s far too coincidental.  Things like Penguin’s hideout in the sewers and giant duck vehicle aren’t so much flaws so much as they make the episode all the more ridiculous. 

The animation is horrible.  The only thing that makes it worth shedding any happiness over is that it is the last episode animated by AKOM in all of ‘Batman: the Animated Series’.  But that realization obviously does nothing to benefit the animation, and it’s so bad that it makes the episode hard to sit through.  Penguin seems to change his size and shape every scene; one in particular has his eye growing absurdly large.  It also greatly hinders the episode’s climax.  The backgrounds and music are more of what we’re used to, making for yet another episode that falls short in both story and artistic merit. 

It’s a relief that ‘The Mechanic’ is one of the last truly bad episodes of the series.  The episode is one of the most generically plotted, badly animated, and downright uninteresting episodes of the series ever produced.

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