Even if drama might not be the focus of their shows, it’s actually a rarity for reality stars to not have any serious issues off-camera. However, while most of the time these troubles might cause severe damage to a celebrity’s career, Gotham Garage’s owner Mark Towle’s encounters with the law aren’t well known by his newly-found “Car Masters” audience.
Counting legal battles against big companies, former employees and clients, the truth is that Mark Towle has been in court on a variety of occasions for sometimes surprising reasons.
So how many legal troubles has he been in, and has he lost any money in court? Keep with us to know more about Mark Towle’s surprisingly dark past.
The Batmobile Case
Probably the most publicized legal trouble Mark Towle has ever faced is the lawsuit filed against him by DC Comics. As it happens, for years one of Mark’s most commented upon works was his Batmobile replica, which he sold in the already established Gotham Garage since the early 2000s.
Slowly but surely, the popularity of his replicas of Batman’s car increased until attracting the attention of DC Comics, the legendary publisher and subsidiary of Warner Bros, which didn’t take much time in suing Mark and his business in 2011. As read in court papers, the company accused Mark of unfair competition, on top of trademark and copyright infringement for selling replicas based on the designs of Batman’s car, presented in past productions of the franchise from 1966 and 1989, as well for promoting the built replicas under the “Batmobile” name, naming his website with it, and selling customized kits for clients to build their replica themselves.
While Mark actually acknowledged his designs were based on said “Batman” productions, he argued their characteristics differed compared to the originals, but also admitting not having permission from the franchise to reproduce these replicas, which he sold for around $90,000 each – the case wasn’t over yet.
Verdict & Aftermath
After concluding that the Batmobile was a character with defined physical characteristics, the district court determined DC Comics indeed held the rights to its trademark. In response, Mark’s defense argued that his car replicas were useful articles, and hence excluded from copyright laws, further warning of the possible negative implications of deeming them as copyrightable by stating big car manufacturers ‘would start publishing comic books so that they could protect what, up until now, was unprotectable’, as reported by The Hollywood Reporter.
That being said, federal court determined that despite the fact that DC Comics transferred the right to produce ‘derivative works’ of its “Batman” franchise decades before, that transaction didn’t include the rights to the Batmobile as a character, which they concluded was copyrightable. Furthermore, the test of “substantial similarity” wasn’t run due to the fact that Mark had already admitted to having copied his design from the series and movie “Batman” productions, from 1966 and 1989 respectively. Lastly, Judge Ronald Lew determined Mark had infringed DC Comics trademarks: ‘the fact that the unauthorized Batmobile replicas that Defendant manufactured, which are derivative works, may be ‘useful articles’ is irrelevant’, read his 2015 sentence.
It’s unknown if Mark had to pay financial compensation to DC Comics, but it’s for sure that he wasn’t allowed to sell any Batmobile-related articles thereafter.
The Website Case
Even if not receiving as much media coverage compared to the legal battle with DC Comics, there’s a case in Mark Towle’s records which is just as questionable. Everything goes back to 2007, when a West Virginia man named Scott Lee was contacted by Gotham Garage to perform web design services for them, receiving one of Mark’s Batmobile kits in exchange for his work.
Lee signed a contract with Mark and his associate Kory Geick, also agreeing to pay them $5,000 on top of working for them. However, finishing the website was apparently an uphill battle for Lee, who affirmed that he was denied the resources necessary for his work, and was thus also denied his kit and even threatened with legal action; ‘for four years my work was displayed for Mark Towle to sell $90,000 replicas, while he stalled completion of the project, and held most of my work captive’, as reported by The Journal.
According to Lee, three years later he was lured into signing another contract, paid an additional $3,000 in order to get his Batmobile kit, but another 17 months passed without a positive outcome. At the same time, Lee claims his original kit was old, and afterwards, Mark was unable to build or sell other Batmobile replicas due to the then-ongoing court case DC Comics filed against him.
Lawsuit & Outcome
Around 2011, Scott Lee was sued by Mark Towle for ‘unlimited damages’, which according to Lee was surprising to say the least: ‘I couldn’t believe it. He simply quit the projects and stiffed me. I never did anything to deserve this’, as reported by The Journal. Afterwards Lee countersued Mark and had the initial lawsuit against him dismissed, but his own case didn’t proceed further due to lack of jurisdiction.
Knowing the costs of hiring a lawyer added to the expense of traveling to California, Lee started educating himself in Law, in order to defend himself in court. He then sued Mark for breach of contract, and after several years of a gruesome legal battle, in August 2016 the Superior Court Of California gave Lee the news he was waiting for: ‘they used to call me a dumb hillbilly living in a log cabin in West Virginia while they were threatening to sue me, but I won’, said Lee.
Although Gotham Garage was ordered to pay Lee over $35,000 for his work and legal costs, he didn’t get his car back, and so was apparently determined to obtain it through an appeal case, even regardless of the Court’s ruling of not allowing Mark sell or make more Batmobile replicas or kits. As well, Lee was allegedly ordered to deliver the finished Gotham Garage website to Mark.
— Gotham Garage (@TheGothamGarage) August 17, 2021
Other Alleged Issues
Besides the eyebrow raising statements of Scott Lee about his complicated work relationship with Mark Towle and Kory Geick, there’s a lot more to uncover in this case.
Lee explicitly detailed his legal battle against Gotham Garage through several Batman-related online forums, and especially on the website Taken By Towle, the latter which also revealed some alleged incidents involving Towle’s business. According to documents posted by Lee, a Texas woman named Sandra McKee apparently lost around $8,000 in a never-finished replica of the Munster Koach from the TV series “The Munsters”, but never sued Gotham Garage due to the high legal cost that would ensue, as read in the affidavit signed by McKee.
There’s also another incident, which despite not ensuing with legal action, was quite questionable. According to Lee, during his time working for Gotham Garage, he was also asked to work as a graphic designer by delivering what he described as ‘defaming parodies’ mocking business’ competitors, including the company which was legally licensed to produce real life Batmobile replicas. Given the negative business tactics he allegedly had to perform against them, Lee ultimately apologized on his blog to the company’s owner Mark Racop, about the issue.
The Scamming Case
Last but not least, there’s a scamming lawsuit on Mark Towle’s record that’s eyebrow-raising as well. As it happens, in 2008, a New Orleans philanthropist named Michael Hunt commissioned Gotham Garage to build a Batmobile replica, meant to be auctioned in favor of a local children’s hospital in a Halloween ball.
However, despite paying approximately $85,000 to Mark Towle, the Batmobile not only didn’t arrive in time for the charity event, but was apparently never built at all. According to a Courthouse News Service, Mark Towle had ‘failed and refused to provide Plaintiff with a date, time and place where he or his representative can inspect the vehicle’ by the time Hunt filed a lawsuit against him and Kory Geick in March 2009, in which he asked for his money back, and compensation for the distress that the whole deed apparently made him go through.
The case lasted several months in court, until in August that year it was transferred to the District of Central California, but from then it’s unclear what happened, so the possibility of it having been settled the matter out of court is not far-fetched.
What Happened To Kory Geick?
Given that his name was mentioned more than once in the several cases involving Mark Towle, it’s only fair to wonder what Kory Geick’s whereabouts are.
For starters, Kory isn’t a known face by the “Car Masters” audience for good reasons. Only credited with a ‘special thanks’ note in a season two episode, the truth is that around 2020, Kory left Gotham Garage for good, after working with Mark for far too long.
The story of how Mark and he met was actually detailed by Kory on his website, on which he recalled commissioning a Mach 5 replica from Mark back in the late 1990s, when apparently the name Gotham Garage didn’t even exist: ‘He told me I had a gift. Well, he had gifts too, so he said we had to work together. I put everything on hold; we joined forces’.
Given that at the time Kory apparently already worked on producing props for movies, he and Mark’s similar goals intersected, and grew Gotham Garage from scratch. From then on, Kory learned how to make business alongside Mark, though their paths took different routes in 2020, when he left Gotham Garage to found Project Rustoration Garage, which nowadays serves as an addition to his years-long work as a preacher in Abba’s Own Route 66 Ministries.
How Did Gotham Garage Start?
It’s unknown when exactly Gotham Garage was officially established, but Mark Towle had certainly been in business long before founding the shop which would gain him international fame. According to an interview he gave to Speedway Motors on YouTube, Mark was already well known for building “Speed Racer”s Mach 5 replicas, attracting clients all around the country, such as the popular Dallas’ radio host Russ Martin by the time 1999 came around.
It was Martin who first requested a Batmobile replica based on the 1966 “Batman” film from Mark, who bought a kit from one of the original Batmobile makers Bob Butts. From then on, numerous requests for Batmobiles came to Mark, whose business was then called Mach 5 Factory, but was changed to Gotham Garage in order to make it fitting to the concept he was looking for his shop: ‘A lot of the ‘Gotham’ for me is just because it’s New York City, you get to that part of the country where cars were born on the East Coast’, he admitted.
Even if Mark’s doesn’t mention Kory Geick anywhere in the process of starting Gotham Garage, both stories are fairly similar.
What Happened To The Mach 5 Replica?
Even if Mark Towle is mainly known nowadays for his diverse car building designs, the works which took people’s attention in his beginnings were his Mach 5 replicas from the Japanese animated series “Speed Racer”.
As Mark told LSX Mag in 2012, the Mach 5 was ‘the car I wanted to build as a child’, so he put a great deal of effort into making them the best he could: ‘I try to find the nicest cars I can, the kind that have been well taken care of for a long time’, he admitted.
Built over Corvette C4’s chassis, Mark would strip them of almost everything except for doors and the drivetrain, building the rest of the body with molds and fiberglass. The average price of his replicas was $72,500, increasing the cost if extra special features were added. However, these replicas were apparently taken off Mark’s site in 2014, but while he offered no explanation for this decision, the move could have been related to the legal battle the American and Japanese “Speed Racer” distributor companies faced against each other back then.
Nowadays, it’s unknown if Mark continues producing the replicas, but one of them is currently exhibited at the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles.
TV Debut & Future
The way Gotham Garage became the central focus of a show such as “Car Masters: Rust To Riches” happened in a very conventional way. Due to the fame Mark already had gained throughout his car building career, his work took the attention of Michael Lutz. who along with other producers had a clear idea of a new car show for Netflix.
However, upon meeting Mark in person, they realized Gotham Garage wasn’t as they’d imagined, and so changed the concept to fit what the business was really like, as Mark told Speedway Motors on YouTube.
Since its premiere in 2018, “Car Masters” and Gotham Garage have certainly kept away from scandal, and there’s nothing left for us other than to wish that it continues that way for a long time.