I’m a sucker for a good inescapable doom trap (from which the hero will, of course, inevitably escape). And so was my father.
Even twenty years later, he could describe in vivid detail how Batman had gotten out of the evil Dr. Daka’s room with the spiked closing walls in Chapter 14 of his 1943 movie serial (the Masked Manhunter blocked them in the proverbial nick of time with a crowbar tossed down to him by Robin). Dad also loved James Bond’s escape from Auric Goldfinger’s laser table, one of the best examples of that venerable melodramatic convention.
Like a classic detective story, the inescapable doom trap should always play fair, I think. The hero should escape by virtue of his own wits, resourcefulness and established abilities, prompting us to admire him all the more. He should never be saved by a random deus ex machina (something that happened too often in the hurriedly written and filmed movie serials).
One of my favorite examples from Silver Age Marvel Comics occurred in the story arc that ran in Daredevil 39-41 (April-June 1968), written by Stan Lee and drawn by Gene Colan.
To save his secret identity, Matt Murdock has had to invent and play the role of his own outgoing and brash twin brother, Mike, explaining away why the unmasked DD looks like him. For the second time, he’s up against the Unholy Three (Cat Man, Ape Man and Bird Man, who might have been Batman villains from a decade earlier). But the trio’s new boss, the Exterminator, has invented a time displacement gun that hurls Daredevil into what is essentially the Phantom Zone.
That’s a fate that would give even Superman trouble. It seemed to the reader that there was no way for a mere costumed acrobat to escape from a limbo where he could observe the real world, but do nothing to affect it. I just had to buy issue 41 to find out what was going to happen.
Turns out that DD was able to use his super senses to detect that he was only out of phase by a fraction of a second, and that increasing his speed just slightly could shift him back into the real world. Using his versatile billy club to snag the bumper of a speeding car did the trick. Daredevil escaped to save the day, killing off Mike Murdock in the process so he wouldn’t have to bother with that exhausting charade any longer.
I was entirely satisfied with the story, which helped fix this period in my mind as a favorite era for Daredevil’s adventures.