I just finished reading "The Caped Crusade: the Rise of Batman and Nerd Culture" by Glen Weldon, and he talks about how the central, defining trait of Batman is his obsession. He made a vow as a young man by candlelight to avenge the deaths of his parents and spend his life warring on all criminals. Throughout every iteration and reboot and medium, this remains Batman's defining characteristic.
By the early 40s Batman co-creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane, knew that they had a winner in the character of Batman, so when it comes to villains, why not have that same obsession and vow?
And yeah, the best villains often serve as inverted mirrors of their heroes - as shadowy warnings for what the hero could be. Or...they could be the Penny Plunderer.
Coppers and Pennies
Another super-famous Batman tagline is that criminals were a, quote, "superstitious and cowardly lot." I don't know about cowardly, but Joseph Coyne - C O Y N E - (the writers weren't that obvious, guys), was absolutely superstitious.
Joe Coyne's parents were penniless. He sold papers for three cents. He was fired from his first job for pitching pennies in the office. By the way, I didn't know this, but pitching pennies is where you place a bet and then throw pennies at a wall and the person who can get the pennies to bounce closest to the wall get the money. He turned to crime and on his first and last robbery as Joe Coyne, the register was full of pennies.
He blamed his crimes on pennies and coppers...get it because...yeah. Anyway, in jail, the first victim of Joe Coyne, the Penny Plunderer, was subtext when he said, quote "when I get out, I'll get back at coppers and pennies...I'll fight coppers with pennies! Every job I pull will involve pennies! My crime symbol will be pennies!"
I get it. I've had bad ideas that I've been excited about, too. This podcast, for example. Hello to our dozens of listeners.
Anyway, when he got out he set up a penny arcade as a front for his criminal enterprise. I know this is probably asking a lot, but how did a literally penniless ex-con get the seed money to buy a penny arcade?
But, he did a solid job doing penny-themed crime which, I mean, is difficult to pull off. He actually terrorized Gotham with pennies and made a lot of money in the process. He would go to the banks and give them a roll of pennies, only to have the pennies explode in crazy purple knockout gas, and he would steal the rest of the money while the bank was out. Coyne threw rolls of pennies at Batman, knocking The Dark Knight unconscious. Twice. The second time around, the Penny Plunderer trapped Batman in a room with carbon monoxide gas after bolting the door and tearing out the phone line. His supervillain slow burn death trap was undone by his own bit, when he tossed two pennies into the room and said something about his own two cents because OF COURSE HE DID. In one part plot contrivance, one part elementary school science experiment, Batman and Robin managed to get the word out by making a battery with the copper and zinc pennies and send an SOS message through the phone lines before they died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Despite months of penny-related crimes being committed in Gotham, Batman and Robin needed to literally be imprisoned by the penny arcade owner named Joe Coyne for things to click. Then, Batman realized that people in need were in trouble.
And, by people in need, I mean Bruce Wayne's millionaire friends who NEEDED to throw a penny slot machine party aboard a yacht when there was a penny-themed villain on the loose. It must have just been a mistake on their part, because, with both the Great Depression and World War II going on, the super rich would never be as arrogant, out of touch, and as insensitive as to be partying it up on a yacht while the rest of the city, country, and world struggled. Nope.
Anyway they got gassed, but no worries! Batman was able to protect their walking around money. Joe Coyne came up with a desperate last plan. He split up with his goons and he would lure Batman and Robin into the city, lock himself into a room, and then call his criminal guys with his location, and they could come and do what he should have done instead of locking them into a room with a leaky gas pipe.
Well, as always, Joe Coyne's downfall came from pennies. He needed a nickle to operate the phone, and he had five pennies. The payphone would only take one coin. Not five. Minutes later, Batman and Robin broke through the door and valiantly beat him into unconsciousness.
In the end, Joe Coyne learned that his superstitions were just that. Superstitions. He was responsible for his own choices and life. This is his only issue because...he got better.
Just kidding, he got the chair.
Yeah, he was executed by the state - ostensibly for murder, but you never actually see him murder anyone. My personal theory? It was for robbing the rich. Gotham is willing to overlook murder clowns and fear gas. But taking pocket change from millionaires? That's a step too far.
The Penny Plunderer does live on, though. In every iteration of the Batcave, there's a life-size T-Rex, a giant Joker card, and the giant penny, a memento of his fight with Joe Coyne. I honestly have no idea why, but it totally tracks that a penny that was merely a fun background for one of his heists is more revered and remembered than Joe Coyne will ever be.
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