“The Mechanic” (season one, episode 55; originally aired 1/23/1993)
Ever wonder where Batman takes the Batmobile for repairs? Me neither, and “The Mechanic” is a Batman: The Animated Series episode that lands firmly in the “forgettable” pile. Stretching the “Penguin controls the Batmobile” scene from Batman Returns into a 22-minute episode isn’t the best decision from writers Steve Perry and Laren Bright, and the bland plot gets no help from the animation. Kevin Altieri is a solid director, but even the best can’t overcome the ugly, stiff work of Akom studios. It’s Akom’s final show, the last time we have to watch their off-model characters contort putty-like faces and move robotically across the screen, and the story loses its emotional weight under Akom’s incompetence. The episode isn’t horrible, but it’s aggressively average. There’s not much reason to watch, especially with “Harley And Ivy” immediately following.
After crushing the Batmobile’s engine during a chase with the Penguin, Batman brings his car in to Earl Cooper (Paul Winfield), an ex-engineer at Global Motors who quit his job after executives refused to address safety defects with a new vehicle. His ethical code makes him a perfect fit for Batman, who approaches the blacklisted Earl to design his new car and become his resident gearhead, funding the project through anonymous bank corporations to protect Bruce Wayne’s identity. When salesman Arnold Rundle (Steve Franken) sees Earl’s order for the parts needed to repair the Batmobile, he tries to sell the location of the garage to the Penguin, who takes the information and kills Rundle by throwing him in a giant rubber ducky and flushing him down a sewer drain.
The scene between Penguin and Arnold saves this episode by making Penguin a semi-legitimate threat, helped immensely by Franken capturing Arnold’s confusion and subsequent horror as he sinks to his death. I say semi-legitimate because I have a difficult time ever taking Penguin seriously as a hands-on, physical villain. It’s the mix of the design and personality the character’s been given, and while I appreciate the writers toning down his overly-verbose language from previously episode, the camp elements (vulture sidekick, rubber ducky) make Oswald Cobblepot a joke.
Penguin breaks into Earl’s garage and forces him to override the Batmobile’s security system by holding Earl’s daughter hostage. Penguin rewires the car so he can control it by remote, causing all kinds of trouble when Batman and Robin get behind the wheel. For the world’s greatest detective, Batman sure has trouble picking up on Earl’s clues that the car has been compromised. The Penguin takes control of the car and decides to kill them by driving the Batmobile off the top of a parking garage, and his showboating is the reason why he is such a lousy villain. He could have put a bomb in the car, or immediately driven them into a brick wall, but instead he gives them enough time to figure out how to escape. It’s all so predictable and boring, and the lackluster animation drags the quality down even further.
“Harley And Ivy” (season one, episode 56; originally aired 1/18/1993)
“This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” Poison Ivy says as she speeds away in her pink car, narrowly escaping the police with the help of the woman sitting to her left, Harley Quinn. The Thelma and Louise of the superhero set, Harley and Ivy’s relationship marks a turning point for this series. With most of the origins out of the way, the creators have established the foundations of their world, and this is the episode where they start having some fun combining the personalities they’ve created. The pairing of Harley and Ivy, the clown and the vamp, is one of the most endearing elements of the series, and Paul Dini has such a complete understanding of both characters that he’s able to make their partnership immediately believable and exciting.
Dini is a great comedy writer because he roots the humor in a real emotional place, in this case, Harley’s dysfunctional relationship with the Joker. This is a surprisingly dark episode considering how funny it is, and Dini uses Harley’s deep-rooted obsession with her puddin’ to maximum tragicomic effect. I see Harley as the embodiment of the producers’ vision for this series, an original character that is colorful and a little silly but totally damaged and driven by emotion. In the testosterone-heavy environment of Gotham City, Harley’s delusions of true love and romance bring a nice feminine outlook to the show, and make her a perfect foil for the feminist Ivy. Thus far, Poison Ivy has really only shown sympathy for plants, but when Harley helps her escape, Ivy sees an opportunity to groom her into the perfect partner. All she has to do is help Harley get over that abusive jerk she’s madly in love with.
The two quickly become Gotham's Queens of Crime, hanging out in their underwear in a cozy house on top of a toxic dump, but Harley can't resist the pull of her man, picking up the phone to beg his forgiveness. We see a different side of the Joker this episode, the human side that can be attributed to Harley's presence. He can't find his socks, he doesn't know where the hyena food is, and there's even a slight possibility that he just plain misses her. Of course, Joker tracks Harley's phone call to Toxic Acres, where Harley and Ivy have just dumped Batman into a river of toxic waste, and ambushes them. I did say slight possibility.
When Joker buries Ivy’s face in his poisonous flower, it has no effect on her. The Joker’s poison, the act that he’s put on to fool Harley into loving him, does nothing to Poison Ivy, who has found the cure for selfish male asshole through feminism. The animators do great work capturing this battle of the sexes as Joker and Ivy face off. Although the character is horribly off-model, the Joker’s chin is so pointed that it becomes almost phallic. Ivy straddles a chair backwards and rocks back and forth suggestively in front of Joker's henchmen. Poor Harley is stuck in the middle, but Ivy makes the choice for her, delivering a swift kick to the Joker’s jewels and making a run for it. BS&P prevents them from showing a groin kick, but Mark Hammill gets the point across with the squeaked-out “Get ‘em!” he tells his cronies.
Dong Yang provides the animation with layouts by the ever-brilliant TMS, and the added help brings a clarity and precision to the story that fills out every moment. The commentary track for this episode reveals a lot about what the director and studios contribute to each episode, and both director Boyd Kirkland and TMS add flourishes to the characters and sequences that bring personality and reality into each moment. Little details like Harley kicking her feet when Poison Ivy gives her a shot and Ivy’s Little Mermaid hair flip when she’s monologuing to a tied-up Batman are little nuances that reveal character, and that’s part of why Kirkland is so good at emotional storytelling. And while the characters are great actors, the action sequences in this episode are breathtaking. The explosive climax moves fluidly as flames engulf Toxic Acres, and there’s impressive use of sound and visual effects to capture the full intensity of the blasts.
There are so many fantastic moments in this episode, but the best one comes courtesy of Bruce Timm, Eric Radomski, and Ted Blackman, who cameo as three horny frat boys looking to pick up Harley and Ivy at a red light. After Ivy chastices them for cat-calling, Ted Blackman shouts back, “Oh, and what are you gonna do? Spank us?” Harley responds with a fierce, “That's right, pigs!” Pulls out her rocket launcher. “And here's the paddle!” BOOM! It’s one of the most badass moments ever on this series, and shows how strong women can be when they’re freed of their male oppressors. Unfortunately, Harley’s not free at all. She sees her man’s face in a plate of mixed vegetables, for god’s sake.
- Batman Beatdown: After escaping a toxic waste bath, Batman leaps off the rooftop of Ivy’s house, landing on the backs of two of Joker’s thugs. The animation really captures the weight of Batman, and that looks really painful.
- “Is he kidding?” “Maybe he's new in town.”
- How does Batman get his car to the mechanic when the engine is demolished? Bat-tow truck?
- “What happened? You've been letting the kid drive again?”
- “Excuse me?! Where will this take me? “On a sea cruise.”
- “I need a new car.”
- “In your dreams, Pinocchio.”
- “America’s Playground”is the slogan of Gotham City. Just replace the monkey bars with costumed psychopaths and the sandbox with a thousand abandoned amusement parks.
- “You didn’t say which gun!”
- “You’ll be laughin! (Beat.) I miss him already.”
- Ivy’s car has a “Rose Bud” license plate.
- “I wasn't trying to get caught! “Coulda fooled me!”
- “Hey, aren't you that plant lady? Poison Oaky?”
- “My puddin’s a little rough, but he loves me.”
- “If you had a middle name it would be ‘welcome.’”
- “You wanna be some wacko victim the rest of your life?
- “Honey… baby… pumpkin pie!”
- “Gee, Red, you got style.”
- “Choosing a weekend date, sir?”
- “Land-a-goshen, Harleen! This gentleman's come-a-courtin'!”
- “Herw we have the typical male aggressor, fittingly imprisoned within the bonds of female domestic slavery.”
- Batman is weighed down by a vacuum, blender, toaster, iron, and what looks to be a giant vat of Miracle Whip.
- “Man or woman, a sick mind is capable of anything.”
- Batman would totally die after being dumped in toxic waste.
- “Whoops. Dopey me.”
- “I think we can still work it out, don't you?”
- After reading Gotham Central, the capturing of Harley and Ivy by Renee Montoya has even more irony (spoilers: she’s a lesbian).