A Bomb on the Highway: The Adventures of Captain Marvel, Chapter Eight: Boomerang

A Bomb on the Highway: The Adventures of Captain Marvel, Chapter Eight: Boomerang

Tom Tyler as Captain Marvel-smallEase back in your seat and take a deep breath. That’s the way. Now a handful of buttered popcorn… wash it down with a swallow of soda pop. Your week of unbearable suspense is almost over, and now you can finally find out how Billy and Betty got out of last week’s impossible situation; the answer will be revealed in today’s chapter of The Adventures of Captain Marvel, “Boomerang.” (Notice I didn’t say “if they got out.” I respect your intelligence too much for that.)

This week’s catch-up title cards on last week’s episode are brief and to the point: “The Scorpion: Plans an elaborate trap to catch Captain Marvel.” “Barnett — Holds Betty and Billy Batson in a shack at the bombing range.” Now, as the magic name of Shazam passes your lips, prepare yourself for ten cents’ worth of suspense and superheroic thrills! (No refunds.)

Last week, we left Billy and Betty tied up in the shack at the bombing range, waiting for the other shoe… er, bomb, to drop. (What? Your town doesn’t have a bombing range? Mine either. The decline in social services these days is just shameful — libraries closed every other weekend, public parks run down and neglected, no bombing ranges… ) Betty calls for Captain Marvel on the radio, but is knocked out by a falling beam when the first bomb hits. Billy, meanwhile, struggles with his bonds — and his gag.

At the last moment, using the powerful jaw muscles he’s built up over years of broadcasting, Billy works the gag loose and shouts “Shazam!” Billy Batson vanishes, to be replaced by Captain Marvel, who quickly scoops up Betty (and the chair she’s tied to — Tom Tyler’s line readings are only fair, but he’s better at heavy lifting than any actor I’ve ever seen) and exits the shack, just an instant before it’s blown to pieces by a bomb.

[Click on any of the images for bigger versions.]

boom-smallThe World’s Mightiest Mortal unties Betty and, just before she regains consciousness, says the mystic word and changes back into Billy. (This is chapter eight, my friends — you should have stopped asking why five chapters ago.) “I got loose just in time,” he says to the disheveled secretary. “This is dangerous business, Betty — for your own good, you better give up your job.”

At this point, I really wanted to reach into the screen and slap the little twerp. I would be happy to strand Billy, Whitey, Tal Chotali and the rest on a leaky raft in shark-infested waters and leave Betty to handle the Scorpion.

Betty’s a better person than I am, however; she doesn’t take offense, or point out the almost surreal incompetence of Billy and everyone else around her. She just calmly tells him that she’s the ony person in eight chapters to accomplish anything really useful.

“I can’t quit now, Billy; I’ve got a real clue… when they took me to the Scorpion, I shot at him, and I injured his hand.” Yeah, Billy — go quit your job, you… you broadcaster!

At least he grasps the significance of what Betty has done. “Well, if the Scorpion’s one of the scientists, we’ll spot him at the meeting tomorrow!” he gushes.

Back at stately Scorpion Manor, Barnett gives his boss the old “good-news-bad-news” routine. The good news: they’re not going to need to have those shacks on the bombing range fumigated after all. The bad news: Billy and Betty aren’t dead; they were rescued by Captain Marvel.

“I’ll remove Captain Marvel — in due time,” the Scorpion intones. He actually still sounds as if he believes this. (Maybe he’s really not one of the Malcolm expedition — maybe he’s Donald Rumsfeld.)

Barnett is rash enough to ask just how Captain Marvel is going to be removed. The Scorpion has a ready answer. “When I complete this atom smasher, I’ll have a weapon that not even he can withstand. But I must have those other lenses!” Oy vey! Everything is lenses with this guy — talking to him is like being buttonholed by a drunk who thinks Lee Harvey Oswald was a clone for the CIA.

In addition to his usual Marvel animus and lens obsession, the Scorpion is also peeved at Billy Batson. (Join the club.) He tells Barnett to “take care” of Batson; he gives the job to his henchman because he knows he’s really not a nurturer himself. “I’ve got one trick that never misses,” Barnett says.

What is this trick? The Scorpion doesn’t ask, and Barnett doesn’t tell. The evil mastermind has apparently decided to loosen up his administrative style and not be such a micromanager. Still, I wonder… could anything go wrong because of this lack of communication? Nah…

planting the bomb-smallWe next see Billy and Whitey pull up in front of Malcolm’s place; once the two are in the house, Barnett and another thug leap from behind a hedge and run to Billy’s car. They open the hood and plant a bomb; the device will detonate when the car’s speedometer hits fifty. In their eagerness to please their master, they’ve confused Billy with Sandra Bullock. (On second thought, make that Keanu Reeves; after that “give up your job” crack, Billy deserves all the scorn he can get.)

While this is going on outside, inside they’re having a meeting, believe it or not. The devious Billy whips out a paper that he secretly had Betty type up for him — and she wasn’t hit on the head and knocked out while she was doing it, either.

“Here’s a statement from the museum; it guarantees the authenticity of the specimens we brought back from Siam. They want each of us to sign it.” Malcolm feigns looking shifty for a second, but then, with a barely perceptible shrug, he gives it up. You can almost see him thinking, “Ah, what the hell.”

He signs and passes the document to Tal Chotali, who signs and passes it to Bentley. Bentley signs and hands it to Lang. Lang starts to sign with his left hand, fumbles the pen, and, scowling, brings his right hand — bandaged — up from under the table and uses it to sign. Bingo!

Billy takes the paper into the next room, where Whitey and Betty are waiting to see who won the pool. “Doctor Lang — that’s hard to believe,” Betty says. (She must have been betting on Tal Chotali.) “What are you going to do now?” she asks.

Billy replies that he intends to go search Lang’s house and look for lenses or a golden scorpion or some leftover dessert that looks worth eating, like a good cheesecake maybe. When Billy says this, we see a door slightly move, which is the international cinematic language for eavesdropping.

There’s just one problem with snooping around at Lang’s. Whitey informs them that the doctor “keeps a guard on the gate day and night.” (Ah ha! So he does have a cheesecake!) How will Billy get in? Well, what would you say the odds are of Billy having a trench coat and hat that are identical to those worn by Doctor Lang? That’s right — in a 1941 Republic serial, one hundred percent.

Billy tells Betty to stall Lang as long as possible. Then he puts on the hat and coat and runs out to get in Lang’s car. Barnett and the sub-henchman watch from the bushes as he drives away. “Who’s that?” the thug asks. “Must be Lang — it’s his car,” Barnett answers. Billy has nothing to worry about — if he can fool these two geniuses, he can fool anybody.

On his way out Lang is stopped by Betty. “I’m terribly sorry, but your car isn’t here. Billy had to borrow it.” She blames Whitey for being late to pick Billy up. Once again, Betty thinks faster than anyone else; Whitey’s ineptitude is the one thing no one will question.

“I’ll be glad to take you any place you want to go, Doctor Lang,” Whitey volunteers. After a bit of pro forma grumbling, Lang accepts the offer; he needs to get home immediately. Really, this should clear Lang; would a man who has world domination almost within his grasp let Whitey drive him anywhere? Lang dons trench coat and hat (I guess everyone should think he’s Billy now) and he and Whitey get in Billy’s booby-trapped car and drive away.

At Lang’s house, Billy easily gets past the gate guard. As he motors up the drive to the house, he’s observed by two Scorpion thugs who are hiding in the shrubbery. They immediately recognize him, even though Barnett and his stooge and the gate guard have been completely fooled by this hat and coat. With skills like this, these two are clearly destined for higher things.

Billy pulls the car into the garage and gets out, and is immediately jumped by the thugs, who have come up behind him. Abortive fisticuffs ensue and Billy gets taken out by one punch, a showing that would shame a chambermaid, to say nothing of a butler.

“What’ll we do with him?” one thug says to the other, as, in movie houses all over our great land, thousands of young voices chant in unison, “Shoot him! Shoooot him!!” As a graduate of The Scorpion’s Famous Mastermind’s School correspondence course, the lead thug has a better idea — the car is still running, so they’ll close the garage door and leave Billy to croak from carbon monoxide poisoning.

At the same time, Whitey and Lang have started on their way. Whitey is driving slowly so as keep Lang from the house for as long as possible. At the doctor’s insistence, Whitey speeds up a little. Forty six miles per hour… forty seven… forty eight… but not to worry. “I don’t like to drive over fifty miles an hour, Doctor Lang,” he explains.

driveway-smallIn the garage, Billy comes to. He staggers over to the door but is too weak to get it open. He slumps to the ground, his life (such as it is) flashing before his eyes. Now there was something he needed to do… what was it? Clean out the raingutters? No… Get some hamburger buns? That’s not it… beat the tar out of Whitey? Later, later, not now… what was it… ah well, goodbye, cruel world… oh, wait a minute! “Shazam!” A second later, Captain Marvel smashes through the garage door as easily as if it were… er, made of balsa wood.

He’s spotted by the goons; they were hanging around at the end of the drive — Lord knows what for. Now that they’re confronted with an invulnerable superhuman, they have no inhibitions about using their guns; they let fly with a barrage of bullets that have the usual mood-elevating effect on our hero.

After watching four or five shots bounce off the Big Red Cheese’s chest, they run up several feet closer. Maybe reducing the distance by a couple of yards will give their bullets the extra penetrating power they need… nope. Now they try running for their lives. Unlike bullets, sometimes that actually works.

Cap pursues and tackles them with a flying leap. He tosses one thug fifteen feet into the bushes, then punches the other fellow and sticks him in the crotch of a tree.

Just as he’s finishing up this chore, he sees Whitey and Lang pull up. A fast “Shazam!” and Billy strolls up the driveway to meet them. Before Lang can even say, “What the hell happened to my garage door?!” Billy points a revolver at him and accuses him of being the Scorpion.

“Well, what do you mean?” Lang splutters. “The Scorpion was wounded in the hand yesterday,” Billy explains. “Since you’re the only suspect with a bandaged hand, I knew — ” Lang interrupts. “Well, I can explain that.” But not here — in the house.

As they walk into Lang’s living room, Lang hangs back to have a word with his butler Benson (Wilson Benge). “Benson, it’s rather cold in here,” he says. “Will you turn on the furnace? And give us plenty of heat.”

gassed-smallHe says it just like that — in italics. Benson seizes the opportunity — the only one he’ll get — to do a bit of smirking and eyebrow waggling that’s almost good enough to get him a seat on the Malcolm Scientific Expedition’s board of directors.

Benson goes down into the basement and opens a valve in the heater; then he pours some mysterious liquid into the opening. Up in the living room, the heater is going full blast. Lang sits at his desk, holding a handkerchief to his nose, while Billy and Whitey get very woozy.

This is really too disturbing to think about — apparently Lang has done this before; he has it all worked out with Benson so that nothing explicit need be said. Yuck! Whatever you do, Betty, don’t take any dictation at Doctor Lang’s house!

Sounding like he’s had three beers (in other words, really bad), Billy says, “I can believe the story of your injury, Doctor Lang, but how do you explain the Scorpion’s men being here?” He’s so far gone he can barely get the words out.

“He’s after me,” Lang plausibly answers. “The Scorpion wants my lens.” After wrestling with this for a few seconds, Billy passes out. (Whitey’s already completely zonked, of course.)

Lang turns off the heater and opens some French doors to clear the air. He summons Benson, the butler we can never look at the same way again, and says, “I must leave at once. The Scorpion’s men may be here at any moment. These chaps wouldn’t allow me to leave, so I had to gas them.” (I can just him making that argument in court. Case dismissed!)

“I understand, sir. What do you wish to do with them?” Benson asks. (I guess this is the place for a Pulp Fiction joke, but I really don’t have the heart for it.)

Lang considers for a moment. The contractors haven’t finished the lime pit yet, so he says, “I imagine Whitey will be all right, but if the Scorpion’s men find Billy, they’ll kill him.” This is Whitey’s nadir; he has reached the point of being insulted even as he slumps unconscious in a chair.

Captain Marvel closer-smallReferring to Billy again, Lang says, “I’ll have to take him to a safer place.” Leaving Whitey to whatever fun and games Benson can come up with later, Lang and the butler drag the still unconscious boy broadcaster out to Lang’s car.

While this is going on, the two thugs outside have come to their senses. (Well, not completely — they still work for the Scorpion.) They see Lang and Billy driving away and decide to pursue and catch them, in the only car available — Billy’s. You remember — it’s the car with the genuine leather upholstery, the new, ultrasmooth gyromatic transmission… and the bomb under the hood.

The oblivious goons speed along behind Lang’s car; the doctor sees that he’s being followed and speeds up. “Can’t you go any faster?” Thug A says.

“I’ll run him off the road,” Thug B replies. Famous last words, as they used to say in those little driving safety cartoons that appeared in Reader’s Digest.

Forty eight… faster… forty nine… faster! Just as the thugs pull up alongside their prey, the fatally rigged vehicle’s speed exceeds fifty and the car explodes with enough force to send the thugs to their reward (I told you they were destined for higher things — or it may be, lower) and obliterate Lang and Billy in the bargain.

Is this the end of the road for Billy and Doctor Lang? Can anything stop the Scorpion now? If Betty did look for another job, how much of this stuff could she put on her resume? This rohypnol parlor Lang and Benson are running — how creepy is that? I mean, really!

The answers to (some of) these and other questions will be found in next week’s exciting chapter, “Dead Man’s Trap.” See you then!

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