Sunday, July 27, 2014

BATMAN, Chapter 3 (July 30, 1943)

"The Mark of the Zombies"
Screenplay: Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, Harry Fraser
Producer: Rudolph C. Flothow
Director: Lambert Hillyer
Last Time: Daka has his men capture Linda Page, believing she has the radium gun. Batman and Robin bust in to rescue her, but as Batman carries Linda out the window along a telephone line, one of the hoods uses an electrical wire to spark a fire along the line, which catches up to Batman, causing Linda and him to fall off... to their inevitable deaths!
Synopsis: Robin throws a rope line, which Batman... catches... while still holding Linda.. and then swings down to ground level on... ? Honestly the way the shots are organized is kind of confusing and it feels like bad editing/movie trickery getting our characters out of this as a bit of a cheat.
Despite being shot at by Foster, our heroes make off with Linda and escape. Foster's men figure Daka won't be pleased with this failure - but Foster says he isn't afraid of any "squint-eye". Yikes. Seeds of dissent among the villains?
Daka indeed declares Foster a fool, and then asks his captive Martin Warren if he still refuses to join the League of the New Order. So he has Warren taken to his laboratory, and in a sequence full of classic 1940s Mad Scientist Gizmos (Tesla coils abound), has Warren transformed into a mindless zombie, controlled by Daka's electronic transmitter.
Meanwhile, Bruce has engaged in a classic "ad in the papers to trap the villains" gambit, and it totally works. Foster reports to Daka a classified ad featuring the radium gun listed as "found", with a time and place to pick it up. But Daka smartly realizes it's an obvious trap by the Batman. The ad has the time for pick up arranged at 10pm, but Daka needs the radium gun in order to blow up a US army supply train at 10pm. So Daka sends the boys to suprised Batman at the meeting place at 9 and take the gun in time to blow up the train (although he gives them some dynamite to use in case they fail to get the gun, because Daka is surprisingly competent.)
The meeting place is in an office in a high rise building, with Alfred playing the role of the placer of the classified ad. For some reason he's wearing a wig and fake beard, y'know, in case the crooks recognize him as Bruce Wayne's butler, I guess? Batman waits outside the window, while Robin plays look-out on street level. 
But the crooks have anticipated the use of a look-out, so one of them knocks Robin unconscious and then climbs up the fire escape to get Batman (a fun game with this serial is counting how many concussions Robin should have).
Foster shows up to meet Alfred, but is having none of the butler's stalling, calling the boys in and pulling a gun on him. Meanwhile, on the roof, the guy who knocked out Robin has a bead on Batman with his gun, but Robin has recovered and followed him to the roof. They struggle for the gun for a bit before crashing through a skylight and into the office.
Batman uses the distraction to crash through the window, and soon it's fistfight time. During the fight Alfred calls the police, then grabs a dropped gun and fires wildly into the air, causing the crooks to run away. They search for some clues and find a map of the railroad, with a circle around the bridge marked "10 pm", and Batman figures what they're up to.
So we end up with our crooks attaching a bomb to the bridge as the train's about to come in, with Batman and Robin close behind them. What happens next is predictable, but fun: a fight on the tracks, the train's a-comin', the crooks scram, Batman goes to try and defuse the bomb - telling Robin to get clear of the bridge, and then one of the escaping crooks throws a wrench at Batman's head, knocking him out just as the train gets there to run him over!!!
Next Time: Daka has pet alligators! The bad guys nab Linda again (for radium reasons, again)!
Thoughts and Review:  Chapter 3 is a bit of a step down from Chapter 2. It's perfunctory and predictable in parts. Also, I don't understand the title. I mean, yeah, Uncle Martin is turned into a zombie, but there's no "mark" on the zombies - they just all wear those little electric transmitters on their heads. 
I do like the use of the classified ads gambit - it's a cliché, but because it's a cliché in the comics it's fun to see it used in the serial. Another good detail is when Robin apologizes for screwing up by getting drawn off look-out duty, and Batman thanks him for saving his life. It really does a good job of cementing their mentor/pupil relationship, and gives him more personality and character beyond just "heroes". Alfred gets some good funny moments too, such as when he phones the police to report that he is "being murdered!"
The train tracks cliffhanger is one of the most tried and true of all cliffhangers, but it's still fun to see and they do a decent job with the fight. Hopefully however Batman gets out of it is less of a cheat than the confusing save at the start of this chapter - that being said it's cool that Robin gets to save Batman, and in fact in general the amount of stuff Robin gets to do is very cool. I think one very positive thing this serial does is have a kid Robin in the traditional costume who is very proactive and very useful - he flings himself into danger and contributes to the fights, he's not whiny or annoying or stupid. 
The weirdest thing about this chapter, at least on first viewing, is the structure. Basically it feels like two halves that meet in the middle. The first half is dealing with the aftermath of last week, with Batman rescuing Linda and Daka wanting the radium gun back. The second half is like "fuck that" with Daka wanting to blow up a train and the Dynamic Duo having to go foil that, which leads into another cliffhanger. But while it's a little weird at first, and also makes the episode feel a bit identity-less on its own, it's gonna become a pretty common structure. It's the same reason old 1960s Marvel comics feel so soap-opera esque, and lead right from one into another instead of having more contained arcs -- because you spend half the story wrapping up last week, and the second half setting up next week. So there aren't any good breaking points, it keeps the audience coming back week after week, which was the whole point of serials.

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