about_faces (about_faces) wrote,

The Giant Penny and the Penny Plunderer: the enduring legacy of a loser villain

Like many or perhaps even most comics fans, there was a time when I naturally assumed that the giant penny in the Batcave was--alongside the robot T-Rex and the big Joker playing card--a trophy from some previous clash with Two-Face. Well, either that or the time the Joker dressed up as Simple Simon and used a giant penny to try busting open a bank vault, but more likely it HAD to have been from Two-Face.

Naturally, I was only half-right. It was from a past caper, but the villain was an almost-literally two-bit crook by the name of the Penny Plunderer.

Normally, I wouldn't think that it'd be important to look at a character whose legacy has been almost entirely overshadowed by a novelty weapon he used one time, but the character is surprisingly fun. Especially the first page of his origin. Do yourself a favor and read--no, perform it aloud, because every time I try, I can't get past the last two panels without cracking up.

I love this logic. Coppers! Pennies! Coppers and pennies! COPPER PENNIES! GAGAHAHASGUDAGSUGD:DIQSGIUQSHDNNBSD!~!!!!DBJKAU! And thus, we have the only villain alive to swear vengeance upon currency. I bloody love comics.

So Coyne (GET IT?! HA.) proceeds to start up his criminal empire using a penny arcade as a front while he and his gang commit crimes such as stealing a bunch of priceless antique penny banks and robbing a bank by pretending to deposit a roll of pennies which was actually a gas bomb. HOW DO YOU LIKE IT NOW, PENNIES?!

Batman and Robin deduce the Penny Plunderer's next target: a rare coin and stamp exhibition which will be featuring a priceless one-cent stamp initiated by Queen Victoria:

So yeah, near as I can tell, the giant penny never actually belonged to the Penny Plunderer himself! It just happened to be present at the site of his robbery. Man, so the character has even LESS to do with the only real link he has to Batman history! Poor guy really is screwed over by pennies at every turn! Even when he actually uses them as weapons (smacking Batman over the head with a roll of pennies, or throwing loose pennies under Robin's feet to slip him up) or as a final screw-you to his enemies, pennies still prove to be his undoing:

Hmm... y'know, Joe, if pennies were already the bane of existence, maybe it wasn't such a swell idea to make them your signature. It'd kind of be like if Bruce Wayne became Gun-Man, or Clark Kent became Kaptain Kryptonite. Perhaps Coyne should have instead become an anti-penny crusader, swearing to wipe the little copper bastard off the earth! He'd certainly have been in good company:

Yes, Henchgirl, I know you're the true VlogBrothers fan, but how could I resist? Do you think John Green is even aware of the Penny Plunderer? Maybe we should tell him after we somehow convince/trick him to coming to see us perform at Indy Fringe Festival some year!

Indeed, the story of the Penny Plunderer is a tragic cautionary tale of misused potential akin to Lex Luthor or Dr. Doom. Alas, the only other thing he has in common with those two greats is delightful alliteration, as Coyne soon finds himself hoist on his own copper petard.

Joe, the pennies couldn't "betray" you if they were never your friends in the first place. What's the moral to come away from the pathetic plight of the Penny Plunderer? Don't become a supervillain based around your own greatest weakness? All pennies must be destroyed before they ruin more lives? The Penny Plunderer is a lousy character who deserves to be forgotten forever?

If it's the last one, DC Comics writers have certainly taken it to heart. Near as I can tell, the Plunderer has only appeared twice since his original appearance here, both of which are rebooted continuity, and both of which feature him dying horribly. In the first, he's crushed by the giant penny and ends up in Hell, telling his life story to demons (who we don't see, but I imagine they have to be giant anthropomorphic pennies).

In the latter, he makes a pointless appearance in that clusterfuck of a story known as Two-Face Year One, where he serves no other purpose but to get killed by Harvey. I forget if he was also crushed by the penny, or cut in half by it, or what. The story is aggressively forgettable.

In the end, the giant penny's most memorable origin is the all-time-classic Batman: The Animated Series episode, Almost Got 'Im, which had it used in a deathtrap administered by--who else?--Two-Face. So whether it's by innocent mistake or just plain retconned out, the giant penny now seems largely associated with Two-Face, with pennies finally getting the last laugh on poor, forgotten Joe Whatsisname.
Tags: bob kane and bill finger, dick sprang, golden age, non-two-face-related-ness, the coin

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