The latest in our continuing series on the 1943 continuing series The Batman. This week: Chapter 6, The Poison Peril
The Narrator catches us up on the recent doings of “Daka and his Jap spies,” which is a bit confusing, since everybody who works for Daka is actually a middle-aged white guy, including Daka himself. To me, this somewhat weakens the otherwise robust verisimilitude of The Batman serial. Perhaps, if your goal is to exploit racial prejudice against a wartime enemy, it would make it easier if the government didn’t round up any fellow citizens who resemble those foreigners, and ship them off to detention camps, because that pretty much limits your casting options to tubby Irish guys from Queens. Anyway, just a little something for Michelle Malkin to chew on, along with her Raisinets.
Last week, two zombie mechanics stole an experimental plane, and the Army shot it down, even though they knew the Batman was on board, and that he was working for the War Department. Why? I’m guessing it was to pre-empt some embarrassing publicity (although the government Didn’t Ask — let’s face it, when your agent is a tights-wearing bachelor who lives with a frequently pantsless boy and a manservant who’s slightly less butch than Waylon Flowers — he doesn’t really have To Tell, does he?
So how did the Batman escape this time? Did he have Bob Vila and master carpenter Norm Abrams come in and do a little remodeling on the sequence, adding ceramic ring-top cabinetry pulls with a pottery style glaze and a new shot of the Batman pulling a parachute out of his ass? Did his cape turn into a hang glider? Was he Raptured just before impact? I mean, we saw the plane do a power dive straight into the ground, so he had to have pulled off some lame stunt in order to survive.
Nope. He couldn’t be bothered. He just crashed. But fortunately, this was not to be The Day the Cheap Library Music Cues Died, because The Batman shook it off and sauntered out of the wreckage, causing Don McLean to sigh and crumple up the tribute song he was halfway through.
Since aviation fuel isn’t volatile or anything, Batman drags the zombies to a safe distance of about 3 feet away. Suddenly, the radio-controlled colander falls off one of them, and the Batman jerks upright like a marionette and throws his arms out wide in what would have been a perfectly pantomimed indication of surprise if he were Lillian Gish and this was 1912.
Troops run toward the downed plane, and The Batman absconds with the brainwashing colander, which might have cleared the two mechanics of treason, but oh well…
Meanwhile, back at the lair, one of Daka’s Caucasian Japs (the original inspiration for Norman Mailer’s White Negro – not a lot of people know that) radios that the plane they were trying to steal has crashed. Which I guess is very interesting if you’re following the plot, but personally I was distracted by a close-up of J. Carroll Naish as Daka, showing what appears to be a painfully inflamed, puffy-eyed allergic reaction to his racist make-up. Sort of like what happened to Buddy Ebsen after he was originally cast as the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz (and I have to say, it served him right for trying to revive the shameful minstrel show practice of performing in Silverface).
Daka radios the Japanese submarine from the last episode to report that his streak of failures continues unbroken, and that he next plans to fail to steal the blueprints for the plane he just failed to steal.
Dazed and confused by Daka’s seemingly effortless ability to screw up, the sub commander accidentally surfaces in the middle of a squadron of U.S. destroyers. Oops. He recoils from the periscope and turns to the only other guy on the submarine and orders him to “Flashdance!”
Well. That’s what it sounded like. Let me rewind.
Okay, my bad. He actually yells “Crash drive!” The sub’s single sailor instantly snaps into action by performing one of those plate-spinning routines from the Ed Sullivan show.
Back at not-so-Stately Wayne Manor, Linda is in the sitting room containing the secret passage to the Bat Cave, while Alfred is in mid-tizzy, stammering that Bruce and Dick could be anywhere! The beach! The steam room! Fire Island! And managing to hit a pitch and frequency of twee so high that only dogs can hear him femming it up.
Suddenly, Bruce and Dick emerge from the grandfather clock behind Linda, imperiling their secret identities, just as Alfred feared! Of course, blowing their secret identities would require that Linda actually notice that a grown man and a boy are squeezing their way out of a clock four feet away from her, and since she doesn’t seem to have noticed that she’s been getting abducted three times a day, they’re probably safe.
Meanwhile, at the lair, Dr. Daka receives a visit from the League of Extraordinarily Bland Gentlemen, who show him a screaming newspaper headline about a Japanese submarine sunk off the coast. Daka slams down the paper and snarls, “Another disaster! Due to the interference of The Batman!”
Okay, granted, our hero has managed to foil – if only inadvertently – most of Daka’s schemes, but the submarine was sunk by the U.S. Navy, not the Dynamic Duo, and I’m beginning to think that this whole blame-the-Batman thing is becoming Daka’s answer to everything. Next week I expect to hear the sinister spymaster bellowing from the bathroom, “Hemorrhoids! Due to the interference of The Batman!”
Daka orders his minions to cease trying and failing to steal the aircraft blueprints, and instead to immediately concentrate on failing to kill The Batman. One of the Doctor’s posse observes that Batman seems to be interested in Linda Page, but she really likes Bruce Wayne, suggesting that the thugs and quislings who who have joined with our enemies and labor in the shadows to destroy America spend their leisure time reading Sweet Valley High novels. This prompts another of the traitors to say, “Hey, you don’t suppose this Bruce Wayne and The Batman could be one and the same person?”
Daka instantly slaps him down. “Don’t be absurd! That simpering idiot could never be The Batman!”
Um, so how does Daka know Bruce Wayne? Granted, Bruce is a wealthy man about town, but given that Daka didn’t know his own submarine had been sunk, despite it being front page news, he apparently doesn’t get the newspaper. Or maybe he does, but just for Winchell’s column, with maybe a quick glance at the box scores and Thimble Theater.
Daka sends one of his men to Linda’s apartment, first scribbling down the address from memory, which is kind of creepy. (I just hope this chapter doesn’t end with Daka standing below Linda’s window, holding a Victrola over his head that’s playing “In Your Eyes.”) He orders his lackey to pose as a telephone repairman, and “install a Dictaphone.” Later, we see Daka and his Hollaback Boys electronically eavesdropping as Linda entertains a bearded, crusty old prospector played by Charles Middleton, who was Emperor Ming the Merciless in the infinitely superior Flash Gordon serials. And Ming thoughtfully brought Linda a hostess gift: exposition. It seems that years ago, Linda’s Uncle Martin “grub-staked” Miner Ming, and by a not really amazing coincidence, he’s just hit a motherlode of radium.
Then Bruce and Dick show up, and it turns out that Ming is an old friend of Bruce’s, too. (Is Gotham City the size of Mayberry? Everybody knows everybody in this burg!) They give the old prospector a ride back to his hotel, then Dick reveals that back at Linda’s he found a microphone under her desk. Bruce says that the Batman and Robin had better keep an eye on things and Dick breaks into a radiant smile and chirps, “Swell! Let’s get into our outfits!”
You know, I don’t think it’s even really about the crimefighting anymore. It’s all about the outfits.
Daka’s thugs break into Ming’s room and try to force him to give up the location of his radium mine. Batman and Robin intervene, and there’s another bout of lethargic roughhousing, which concludes, as always, with the bad guys escaping.
The next day, Bruce and Dick are in Wayne Manor’s only room, having breakfast in their jammies while Alfred stands around flaunting his eerie resemblance to John Waters. Ming rings them up, and says that Uncle Martin called and asked for a meeting. It sounds dangerous, so Bruce volunteers to go in Ming’s stead, then orders Alfred to dress like Ming and go in his stead. Alfred demurs, saying he doesn’t feel very “top hole,” and I have to say, I believe him – he doesn’t much seem like a top – but Dick slaps another beard on him anyway.
They meet the thugs at a warehouse with several nice features – beamed ceilings, convenient swinging ropes, and an above-ground children’s wading pool full of acid. A lame fight breaks out, and Alfred and Robin wind up locked in a cardboard vault. Batman struggles to disarm one of Daka’s minions, but succeeds only in shooting holes in the acid-filled Doughboy Pool, before pulling some live wires out of the wall and getting knocked unconscious.
The thugs proceed in an orderly fashion to evacuate the warehouse before the acid reaches the sparking wires (Daka’s monthly fire drills at the supervillain lair really pay off here). The electricity causes the chemical fumes to explode, and the roof caves in on the cold-cocked caped crusader.
Just us next week for Chapter 7: The Phony Doctor! (The Bill Frist Story)
Posted by scott on February 10th, 2008