The Secret Origin of the Batcave

I’ve been talking about a series of Batman posts for months so I felt it was about time I wrote one! 

In the late 70s and 80s, the BBC broadcast movie serials from the 30s and 40s often during the long, dark winter months. Thus I was introduced to Flash Gordon, Vultan of Mongo, the Clay People, Killer Kane and the king of the Rocket Men. (I’ve also just learned Flash and Rocket Man were resurrected for Xmas 1991 on BBC2!)

Nowadays, thanks to internet vendors, I’ve been recreating those distant days with the adventures of Captain Marvel, the Shadow and this year, Batman.


The 1943 Batman serial is a fairly racist kiddy adventure but in the context of the war years, the gung-ho prejudice is perhaps understandable -if not excusable. Despite the evocative pulpy chapter titles- Mark of the Zombies; The Sign of the Sphinx; Embers of Evil- it’s  a pretty dull and plodding  Californian affair but it introduces two elements recognisable to modern Bat-audiences.


First is the ninny Alfred, an impulsive yet dithery gentleman’s gentleman. This rather effete figure was a re-imagining of the portly cockernee introduced in 1943’s “Here Comes Alfred”.


The slender, balding and mustachioed butler was the version I grew up with-reinforced by the refined yet plucky version on tv portrayed  by Alan Napier and much later by the etoliated Michael Gough. Nowadays, Michael Caine’s grave and paternal Alfred has inspired the bruisers who buttle in the Batverse- more of that another time.


But the second element of Bat-lore introduced in the film serial is the Batcave itself. It’s remarkable to think that this stony dungeon, equipped with only a filing cabinet, a sizeable desk, a prison cell  and the silhouettes of rubber bats would become the nerve centre we know today.


B’n’R are played by Lewis Wilson  and Douglas Croft: the latter is a scrappy  16-year-old with an untameable bramble of hair. Wilson, only 23 or so looks perhaps a decade older by modern standards ( a world in which Brad Pitt looks ten years younger at least than fifty). Wilson’s Wayne is a shallow, frivolous fellow but interestingly, when in the guise of underworld drifter “Chuck White”, his physicality changes and he resembles a tough, young Mitchum. Batman’s impersonation of crooked Chuck prefigures his “Matches Malone” role in the 70s. Unfortunately, the 1943 costume is unflattering, the bat-ears look like Hallowe’en horns and the athletics are too gracelessly real.


The villain of the serial, the improbable Tito Daka, is played by J. Carroll Naish, a character actor of Irish descent. The fiendish Daka, both a doctor and a prince(!) is a spymaster reporting to Hirohito himself. His schemes include a radium death ray and a brainwashing machine. His Shogunate lair is hidden behind a ghost train ride depicting a brutal POW camp. A fun day out, then.


Unlike the villains of other serials- the hooded Scorpion, the imperious Ming or  the enigmatic Black Tiger- Daka really enjoys being eeeevil: terrorising heroine Linda Page ( cafe society girl turned nurse from Batman#5) and chuckling sadistically. Patriotic Bats dismisses Daka as a dirty Jap and Tito falls into his own alligator pit at the serial’s climax.

Daka returned, after a fashion, as the leader of a group of Japanese super-villains ( including Kung and Tsumami) in the pages of 1985’s All-Star Squadron.


In future posts, we’ll look at some of the giant Batman issues of the Sixties and Seventies, and unearth a few more obscure Bat-foes.

Coming soon: Ice Warriors and the Club of the Damned

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You Want Weapons?

One Hundred and Eighty! Here we are, rapidly approaching half-term. February is Dr. Who Month in our school library. We had a staff writing competition – state where you’d take the Tardis . I chose Harlem 1936 and Orson Welles’ “Voodoo” Macbeth.  I came second and won a plunger…

The local paper (The Northern Scot) ran an article on our links to literacy with the project and featured one of our autistic pupils on the front cover. He spoke about how important the programme is to him as a tool for communication.  My First Years are writing “Texts from the Tardis” next week.

But I’m afraid I was let down by Who in a variety of media in the last six weeks or so, beginning with

UK DVD 3D web

The Enemy of the World:  the shock re-discovery and rush-release of this story at the end of last year basked in the glow of the 50th Anniversary. I had enjoyed the Target book in 1981, adapted in a faux-adult style by the late Ian Marter; it was just the kind of sweary stuff that legitimised my late-teen adoration of lost 60s Who.   However, on dvd, the fascination of this Bond pastiche lies mainly  in the lost scenes, like those featuring dictator Salamander’s capsule.


There seems to be little explanation of the mad Mexican’s master plan of natural disaster and , with its rather jarringly realistic violence, there’s little fun to be had. There is some charm in scenes of Troughton’s Doctor frolicking on the beach and his companions have cute matching kilts.  However, this futuristic tale of intrigue and politics feels more like a Hartnell story and is, frankly, a bit of a snoozer.  3/5

The Revenants: a “free” additional disc in the deluxe edition of The Light at the End. Essentially it’s a Cottage-Under-Siege story featuring the Hartnell Doctor and set in Orkney. I always like hearing William Russell as Ian and the “Lost in the Marsh” scene was really effective. Otherwise, the bog men and their onslaught was a bit dull, with a ending that baffled me. 2/5


Night of the Stormcrow: 2012’s BF subscriber special, a 4th Doctor/Leela story set in an island observatory haunted by a Goth version of Marvel’s Phoenix Force. It attempted to be scarily atmospheric but only succeeded in being talky and oblique. I despair of this team ever getting a decent story. 1/5


The Time Machine: the delayed conclusion to the Destiny of the Doctor series. A story of Time Agents and invading insects, it’s a disappointing and dull end to the line. Jenna Coleman is, unfortunately. an inexperienced reader and the giant infodump at the end was deadly. Why not reference HG Wells when you’ve nicked his title? Dreary.  1/5

Happily, though,  we can turn to comics to redress the balance.


The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who: a charming, metafictional tale from the team behind  DC’s Knight and Squire as The Eleventh Doctor meets Matt Smith among scenes of Kroton cosplay. A knowing gag about Peter Capaldi and the school bully subplot  are teeth-clenchingly twee and I think  DWM did this better and with more charm in TV Action , a 1999 comic strip.  But I was amused to see Paul Cornell reference his Andy Warhol gag from Scream of the Shalka and the bittersweet tone seemed appropriate for IDW’s last Who comic.  4/5


Coming soon: more audio Doctor Who, audio Spider-Man and the BBC’s Supernatural -1977.

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Please Save Me From The Monsters

1974 is a distant, fragmentary year in my memory: the names Quatermass and Barbarella had an alluring aura of adulthood and exoticism. The first BBC2  Saturday night double bill season -the “Fantastic Double Bill”- began in the late summer of 1975. There were very few if any colour Marvel comics distributed in my area; it was very much the era of DC’s glossy archival 100-page Super-Spectaculars.  HTV’s Sky – a teatime sci-fi/folk freak-out- was still a year away.


This was the period then in which I first pored over The Horrific World of Monsters, a Golden Hands book I must have read in primary school. I probably took it off the mobile library’s drab brown shelves very tentatively- a gloriously lurid picture book,  like something authored by  Lovecraft’s Arabic occultist.


Aside from dinosaurs,  of which I already had a sound knowledge thanks to an album of Brooke Bond tea cards, the book contained a wealth of monsters from film, tv and mythology.

First, there were the cinematic horrors. The Alligator People who probably inspired Ditko’s Lizard story in Spider-Man. The hispid Blacula.The Blood Beast of Terror (sic) a vampiric moth-woman. A hideous and fascinating full-page picture of The Fly. The Gamma People, European zombies. The Monolith Monsters. The grasshopper Martians of the evocative Quatermass, which I knew had something to do with blobby space vegetables. And speaking of which, the Triffids: vague, spiny things with grotesque protuberances.

Then there were fabulously esoteric images from ancient Doctor Who: 1969 Cybermen who could, allegedly, be destroyed by laser gun. The Daleks of Skara (sic). A startling full-page photo of Varga the Ice Warrior and  tiny Victoria, from unimaginably distant 1967. And from Star Trek: the Talosians who looked like frail elderly women with distended, bloated brains. The deadly robot Nomad and the gaping, corpse-like Salt Sucking Monster.

Next the creatures from myth and literature: Echdina, mother of the Hydra, Cerebrus and the Sphinx. The Lambton Worm. The Slavic Vodyany. Most intriguing of all, Tolkien’s Ringwraiths and their airsteeds.

 But better even than that were the freaks garmered from the pages of early 70s Marvel: seemingly embargoed since the launch of the UK weeklies, these were rare glimpses into a new universe. Annihilus, the thinking insect who terrorised the Negative Zone via “seeds of life ” from an abandoned spaceship.  The bizarre Bi-Beast, guarding Red Raven’s dead, aerial city. The Dark Messiah a ” cross between a tyrant and a hot gospeller” ( After more than 30 years, I now know Hot Gossip -of Kenny Everett infamy- is a pun!)


Then came far more familiar faces: the FF, the Green Goblin, the Hulk. Medusa of the Inhumans. Morbius. Mysterio. Dr. Octopus. The Sandman, a member of The Fearsome Foursome (sic). Finally, a Conway- Buckler behemoth rejoicing in the alliterative moniker, Darkoth the Death-Demon. Some of these were names and faces glimpsed in the quarterly pages of the occasionally racy  Foom Magazine.

This was a fabulous compendium that ignited the imagination in a world where the second- and the best-season of ITV’s Tomorrow People had gone out in the spring. (Avoid the current, Twilight-inspired remake if at all possible!) Furthermore, Pertwee’s final season as Doctor Who was airing. Shang-Chi dominated the Avengers UK weekly and the twin, transgressive b/w weeklies Dracula Lives and Planet of the Apes would launch in the autumn. I bought myself a copy for Christmas a couple of months ago- vist this post to read another account of its bounty!

Next: The Shopkeeper of the World

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