Tuesday, February 17, 2015

BATMAN, Chapter 6 (August 20, 1943)

"Poison Peril"
Screenplay: Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, Harry Fraser
Producer: Rudolph C. Flothow
Director: Lambert Hillyer

Last Time: Daka's spies steal a new secret airplane, but Batman's stowed aboard! He fights Daka's men, but the ever-vigilant US army spots the stolen plane and shoots it down with artillery fire! It crashes and explodes with Batman inside, inevitably he must surely be dead?
Synopsis: Nope. The fiery wreckage is completely nonfatal to Batman, who simply walks away from the crash after pulling both of Daka's men to safety - the second really disappointing cliffhanger "escape" of this serial thus far.
While pulling the men out, he discovers Daka's mind control caps, removes them and takes them for evidence. 

Our confusion of where the fuck this serial takes place continues when Batman wanders over to the highway to check out a road sign and figure out where he's crashed. Despite early episodes establishing the serial as using Batman's comic book home of Gotham City, last week's chapter had us in LA - perhaps because the real world Lockheed factories where in California? Anyway, the road sign has nearby places as Edgeworth (a town in Pennsylvania), Edenville (in Michigan), and Garden City (there are several) so we're apparently back on the East Coast.
Losing contact with his men, Daka realizes Batman must have overpowered them. He contacts the submarine and tells it of the failure of the mission. The sub believes that rather than wait for the Americans to build another prototype, it will be better to secure the blueprint of the plane rather than the plane itself. But this plotline is rendered irrelevant when the sub is spotted by American destroyers and sunk in a combination of newsreel footage and stock footage from other war movies.
Linda stops by Wayne Manor to pay a visit, informing Bruce that Ken Colton, an old friend of her Uncle Martin, is back in town wanting to get in touch with Martin. Ken has struck it rich with a mining prospect and wants to register the claim in both names. Linda hasn't yet told Ken of her uncle's mysterious disappearance. Bruce agrees to come meet Ken with her at her apartment.
Daka finally comes to the realization that he's never gonna get anywhere in life unless he kills the Batman. His men spitball that Batman seems to always hang around Linda Page, and that Page is seeing Bruce Wayne, so maybe Batman and Bruce Wayne are the same guy? Daka dismisses the idea as "that simpering idiot could never be the Batman!" But he does agree that Linda Page is the key - so they bug her apartment to see what they can find out.
Colton meets up with Linda, Bruce and Dick at her apartment. Turns out Colton has a found a rich radium mine (of course) - and Daka hears all about it thanks to the bug! Luckily, Dick notices the hidden microphone and pulls it out just before Colton reveals the location!
Hoping to take advantage of this opportunity before it disappears, Daka sends Preston and some men to Colton's hotel room to search it for clues to the location of the map.
Bruce and Dick drop Colton off at the hotel, and Dick reports about the bug to Bruce. They decide to switch to Batman and Robin and keep an eye on Colton.
The prospector arrives at his room while Daka's men are still searching it, and a fistfight breaks out. Batman and Robin burst through the window and fight the intruders off, but they escape. The duo switch back to their civillian identities and check on Colton, who reveals that the "claim jumpers" didn't find anything, which means they're liable to try again. 

The next day, Colton calls Bruce to let him know that Martin Warren has contacted him, wanting to meet him at the Atlas smelting plant (the explanation being that he's gotten some work there for the Defense Department). Bruce thinks it sounds fishy, and asks Colton to wait, that Bruce will go to meet this person and if it really is Martin then he'll call Colton down there. Colton agrees to be cautious.
Bruce's real plan is a little bit more tricky - he pressgangs Alfred into service, using his make-up kit to transform his butler into the facsimile of Colton. Alfred-in-disguise heads down to the smelting plant, and is met by Fletcher and some other goons of Daka's.
Alfred won't give them the location of the mine (since he doesn't know it anyway), so they decide to rough him up, and discover in the process that he's not really Colton. At that moment, Batman and Robin swing in on their ropes from the plant's high windows, and the usual fistfight breaks out. Its pretty fierce, with Alfred and Robin both getting punched into another room, and then a goon locking them in there behind a big metal door. 
An electrical box gets smashed and a wire gets loose, so of course the vats containing the acidic smelting chemicals get shot and starts leaking, and so then of course it's just a matter of time before the chemicals reach the live wire, so the crooks high tail it out of there, the wire hits the spill, the whole place goes ablaze in flame, and the building EXPLODES with Batman inside it!
Next Time: Fletcher poses as a doctor to get at Colton to find the location of the mine, while Robin (maybe) faces off with Daka!
Thoughts and Review: Chapter 6 feels a lot like Chapter 3, in the way that it deals with the fallout from Chapter 5, and then starts into a whole new storyline. It's certainly the biggest step forward in the storyline of the serial since we started, since it introduces a major new character and plotline in the story of Ken Colton and his radium mine.
So, when it comes to old school serials, I know most people know them through imitation rather than firsthand experience. You watch Star Wars or Indiana Jones and understand that they are evoking this older style, or you see parodies or what have you. When I was a kid the biggest straight-up serial parody I was exposed to was Six-Gun Justice which was a segment on the utterly brilliant Canadian sketch comedy series SCTV. It was a western style serial, with a hero, his sidekick, his love interest, and her father figure who was a prospector with a mine that the villains wanted to steal. Real cliche stuff, which added to the parody. But SCTV, being brilliant, added an entire hilariously surreal wartime propaganda element as well, in that the mine was a radium mine, and the bad guys were working for Tojo. It made no sense in the western context, but it introduced me to the idea of serials as wartime propaganda obsessed with radium mines.
So when I finally saw Batman, and it also weirdly shoehorned in Japanese spies and radium mines into a series that should've been about an urban vigilante fighting gangsters, well, let's say I was prepared by Six-Gun Justice. But I was also surprised at how accurate the parody was!
Anyways, Ken Colton may be one of the weirdest characters in the serial, but I love how Alfred gets drawn into it. William Austin really is fantastically funny as Alfred and I can see why his performance became so iconic as to inform the comic book version. 
The final battle scene in the smelting plant is also one of the serial's best, as is the cliffhanger. But one question... what does the "poison peril" of the title refer to? The chemicals in the plant are gonna explode Batman to death, not poison him...

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