Saturday, February 16, 2019
Adventures of Captain Marvel chs. 7-9
Chapters 1-3 Chapters 4-6
At his peak, Captain Marvel was huge. He appeared in Whiz Comics and Captain Marvel Adventures, and by 1944, sales reached a staggering 14 million copies.
All those sales also meant merchandising. A recent book catalogues the vast depth of dolls, figurines, toys, costumes, and other items made to promote CM and the Marvel Family of characters.
CM had, and has, a devoted fan following, and among the biggest fans included none other than Elvis Presley! Specifically, he dug Captain Marvel Jr. and modeled himself after him. Here's a detailed history of the Elvis/CMJ connection.
Vintage TV fans will remember Gomer Pyle and a certain catchphrase of his. Did you also know Jim Nabors cut a record called Shazam!, in character as Gomer?
CM has been referenced in songs, other TV shows, other films, books, and more. To pick one example among many: the 1950 film The Good Humor Man (which co-starred TV Superman George Reeves!) has a CM fan club as part of the story line, which Fawcett took advantage of with a promotional tie-in comic.
When the Shazam! movie comes out, I'll talk about CM on television. For now, let's return to the serial:
Chapter 7: "Human Targets"
The Scorpion escapes with Fisher's lens. In his true identity, as part of Malcolm's group, he suspects Betty is leaking information to CM, so he arranges for his men to kidnap her. Betty gives them the slip just long enough for CM to rescue her.
One of the goons hides from CM and hears him say to Betty that Billy knows how to contact him. He... uses a radio receiver. Yeah, that's it! The goon re-captures her later and brings her to the Scorpion with this new information. Betty grabs a gun and shoots the Scorpion in the hand before she's restrained.
The Scorpion's men get the drop on Billy, bind and gag him (of course) and bring him and Betty to a shack within a bombing range. This shack conveniently has a radio receiver, so Betty, conveniently not gagged, tries to contact CM with it, unaware that CM is closer than she realizes. And the bombs begin to fall on the range...
This is the best chapter so far! Billy's dual identity is endangered, Betty does all kinds of stuff, the Scorpion gets bolder, and Tom Tyler gets way more lines!
These chapters are relatively short, but the filmmakers pack so much into them. Small details matter because they lead to bigger things later on. The Scorpion now has a wound he'll be unable to easily hide in his real identity (or is it?), so we're closer to learning who he is. CM establishes a connection between him and Billy, so the possibility of their shared existence being revealed is greater.
This is the basis for dramatic radio shows, and later on, dramatic television, and I can see how it could've drawn movie audiences in week after week. Yes, it relies on crude storytelling contrivances, but for what it is — a serial that needs to sustain suspense and lead to cliffhangers — it works.
Chapter 8: "Boomerang"
A hunk of debris hits Betty in the head and temporarily knocks her unconscious, so she conveniently doesn't see Billy pry his gag loose nor hear him say "Shazam" and change to CM just in time to get her out of the shack. Whatever.
Billy, knowing the Scorpion now has an injured hand, concocts a ruse designed to reveal the Scorpion from among Malcolm's group. As a result, he believes it's Dr. Lang (who hasn't done much in the story so far). Billy grabs Lang's coat and hat and attempts to impersonate him at his guarded house in order to search it. Meanwhile, the Scorpion's goons sabotage Billy's car.
More goons knock out Billy at Lang's place, but he turns into CM and disposes of them. Meanwhile, Whitey drives Lang, in Billy's car, to Lang's home, where Billy demands answers.
Lang has his butler secretly gas Billy and Whitey. Turns out Lang isn't the Scorpion: he gassed Billy and Whitey so he could leave, fearful the real Scorpion would show up (but if Billy thought Lang was the Scorpion, why does Lang have an injured hand?).
Lang drives the unconscious Billy someplace away from his home. The goons that fought CM earlier pursue them in Billy's car, unaware of the bomb set to go off when they reach 50 MPH — which it does, right when the two cars are next to each other.
The real Scorpion said he had a way to avoid detection of his injured hand, so that's not a plot hole, but how did Billy get Lang's car keys so he could drive to Lang's home? Lang kind of half-heartedly covers his nose to avoid the effects of the gas, but not convincingly enough to me. Billy and Whitey should've sensed something was up.
Also, how is it the Scorpion has such an endless supply of goons at his disposal? That may be revealed when we learn who he is, but it's convenient (there's that word again) that he's able to command so many men and retain their loyalty, especially when they know they're up against a man who can't be hurt by bullets. If I were one of the Scorpion's goons, I'd either demand more money or quit. Did I say these storytelling contrivances work?
Chapter 9: "Dead Man's Trap"
Lang and Billy are run off the road by the force of the explosion. Lang flags down a car for help, but it's more of the Scorpion's men.
They take them both to the Scorpion, who tortures Lang for the location of his lens. Meanwhile, Billy comes to and changes to CM, but the Scorpion uses Lang as a shield to get away. CM pursues him.
Lang calls Betty and tells her the Scorpion's going to his house to open the safe containing the lens. He gives her the combination. The Scorpion finds Lang, shoots him and escapes with the scorpion idol.
His goons find the safe, but they're unaware it's booby-trapped. When Betty arrives, with Billy right behind, they hide. Billy opens the safe as the trap is sprung: machine guns that pop up from behind a secret wall and fire on Billy and Betty!
Okay, this was better. At one point, the Scorpion's mask accidentally comes off and we almost get a glimpse of who he is, but the shadows are too dark.
Lang does get to see who it is before he dies, though I find it hard to believe he wouldn't have recognized his voice beforehand. I mean, this is someone he's worked closely with and sees on a regular basis. But I guess the Scorpion's mask works like Clark Kent's glasses.
Next week: the Captain Marvel name