In its purest form, the serial belongs to another era, to a time when kids flocked to neighborhood theaters (instead of shopping malls) to plunk down two bits as admission to the Saturday matinee. There they'd get popcorn and candy bars and become part of the Matinee Mavericks (or the Saturday Rustlers or the Popcorn Circus). And when the theater finally darkened and the show began, they'd see a half-dozen cartoons, a two-reeler, a B western, and previews of coming attractions. And then, as they jumped up and down in excitement, the serial would begin. As the characters appeared on the screen, the audience would cheer the hero and heroine and hiss the villain and his henchmen.
Tom Tyler at a distinct advantage
in Adventures of Captain Marvel.
These were the days when masked villains such as the Scorpion, the Spider, the Dragon, and the Lightning strove for world domination with a vast array of diabolical devices (such as the radiatomic transmitter, the decimator, and the cyclotrode). Meanwhile, courageous heroes valiantly struggled for justice, loyalty, and the American way, deactivating infernal contraptions with nary a second to spare. Terrifying falls were broken by overhanging branches. Secret passageways were discovered in centuries-old jungle temples. These ingredients were all packaged together in 12 to 15 chapters (15 to 25 minutes each) with each chapter typically ending in a cliffhanger, a moment of prolonged suspense when the hero or heroine was placed in life-threatening danger only to have the words "To be continued . . ." appear on the screen.