In the 1950s, it was pretty normal for a superhero to be some guy with a rocket pack. One of those superheroes was known as Commando Cody – Sky Marshal of The Universe! Each of Cody’s adventures ended with him in the perilous clutches of certain death, but I’m here to ask: “did they really?” Hot Dog Readers, this Nerding Day we are going to take a critical look at every dubious cliffhanger from the 12-part saga: Commando Cody in… Radar Men From the Moon!
The story of Radar Men From the Moon is this: a moon laser is destroying targets on Earth to prepare for Retik’s invasion of our planet, so we send Commando Cody up to stop it. It’s more boring than you’d expect, but we’re not here to talk about the boring parts. We’re here to talk about all the times we are led to believe Cody dies and rate them on the key cliffhanger components of Danger, Surprise, Cleverness, and Adventure. The four elements combine to form the five stars of the…
The first cliffhanger comes during a battle between Cody and two henchmen. In a fight scene choreographed by a box of curious kittens, Cody swaps hugs and wiggles with Retik’s moon men. Retik is four feet away, firing his space pistol into the fight very carefully so as not to kill his men and then missing and vaporizing one the moment he has a clear shot at Cody. In sports terms, this would be like passing to LeBron James when he’s alone under the basket and then watching him turn to the crowd and hurl the ball directly into the new nose job of his publicist. It’s wrong, but a suspiciously deliberate kind of wrong.
Make no mistake, though– Retik’s gun rules— it shoots disintegration bombs, holds one bullet, and it takes so long to reload it would be faster to walk over to your target and prepare it red meat until it got heart disease.
The battle goes on for, as I alluded to, quite some time until finally Cody has fussed away from the final living henchman and taken cover behind a flimsy prop. I’m not sure what it’s for, but if I had to describe it, I’d say it’s something a Moldovan educator would build to teach children shapes can NOT be fun. The Sky Marshal of The Universe cutely peeks out from behind it, Retik shoots it point blank, and kapoof– Cody and the prop are atomized in a puff of smoke. There is literally no question he is dead and gone on a molecular level.
See you next week, I guess, for Commando Cody’s funeral and the subjugation of Earth?
Episode two starts with a title card that’s pretty casual about the death of the show’s main character, describing his on-screen murder as a mere plan “to disintegrate him with a ray-pistol blast.”
Oh, weird. It turns out Cody leapt behind a star ottoman in a different take from the one shown to us in the first episode. I guess in 1952 you could just tell your audience, “No wait, we meant he dodged that.” After this miracle, Cody gets up with the grace of four hangovers and casually punches Retik’s henchman in the face. Neither actor knew how to perform a stage punch, so it looks like the crew agreed on, “Just blast him in the fucking face, George, but not, like, the hardest you can.”
Then, even more casually than the punch, he puts on his hat and leaves. That’s how he escaped certain ray-pistol death– in the most obvious way we were deliberately shown didn’t happen. Make note of it, because it is almost always the secret to Commando Cody’s survival.
In the second episode, “MOLTEN TERROR,” Cody escapes with a gigantic ray gun and Retik sends “a car” after him. Here’s what’s crazy, though: the car is amazing. The crew could have glued some fins and tubes to a Buick, but they actually built a functional moon tank with racing zigzags. They show Car rattling up rocky hills at 30mph and effortlessly pulling 90 degree turns like it’s too stupid to know it should roll over. I mean, look at this kickass thing:
Car is awesome. If I was the background prop or costume designer for Radar Men From the Moon and saw this drive onto set, you wouldn’t even have to say anything– I would already be committing ritual suicide in shame. Calling this a “prop” is like calling Hulk Hogan “local Tampa senior” and his contribution to society “baldness advocacy.” This tank is how you would write The Declaration of Independence in Car. I have officially stopped rooting for Commando Cody because betting against Car is the dumbest move on the entire moon.
Car is so incredible that Commando Cody and his friend Ted don’t even bother trying to shoot it. They’re lugging a huge cannon making up the bulk of the plot, yet they know, instinctively, this ultra powerful, super important weapon could never do shit to stop Car. So they drop it and run into a cave. And here’s a useful tip for anyone hiding from Car inside a mountain– it can melt mountains. One of the pilots says, “Set the ray gun at constant heat. We’ll melt the cliff and bury them alive,” and less than 15 seconds later the entire landscape is lava. The episode ends with Commando Cody cowering at a dead end as he watches all before him become magma. There’s no question he dies. He is looking right at a tidal wave of lava as it crashes into him. RIP, Cody. You fucked with the wrong car.
So episode three, “BRIDGE OF DEATH” must be about whatever journey a human soul undertakes when you die on the moon, right?
Once again, the horrible death we clearly witnessed is downplayed on the title card as a mere pickle. The show describes Cody and Ted’s predicament, being dead as fuck, as “trapped in a cave by the moon men, who use their ray-gun to melt the rock walls.” This is exactly how a moon cop would spin it if Moon Fox News was interviewing him about the foreigners he lava-murdered for suspected robbery.
So fine, we already get how this show works. Cody’s actually alive, but how? Oh, it’s the exact way I’d assume he’d get away if I hadn’t been shown a liquid mountain smother him? No shit.
Commando Cody watches the lava, watches the lava, watches the lava, and finally points to the left and says, “Maybe we can get out along that side.” He says it like they’re looking for a parking space at Dave and Buster’s. He says it like he’s helping his wife put together a puzzle and they love each other and their time together. And he seems to already know this pussy show doesn’t have the balls to kill him.
He and Ted stroll outside. They could easily walk away but Cody decides to stay and throw a grenade at the invincible tank. It does less than fuck all, of course, and worse– it lets the pilots know he’s alive. One of them says, “They must have gotten out,” the same way you might say, “Hey, the guy from Burn Notice is in this.” Then Car, and this is going to sound crazy, drives back for no reason and everyone goes their separate ways.
It’s weird. Maybe there’s a moon law where you only get one shot at melt-raying a fugitive? It could also be that everyone in the show somehow knows Commando Cody is rule-bendingly unkillable for the first 9 minutes of each episode. He’s like a kid with fingers holding the last three places in a Choose Your Own Adventure book– if he ever runs into Death he simply shrugs and undoes time. No, seriously, I still can’t believe they straight up killed the main character a second time and he got out of it by saying, “Nuh uh, guys, I actually left?”
In Chapter Three, Cody rockets back to Earth and lands in the middle of a shootout between gunmen and police. In any other show they’d say, “What have we found ourselves in the middle of now!?” In Commando Cody, they silently pull out their guns and join in. They don’t seem upset or surprised and could truly take this shit or leave it. I can’t tell if the actors are incapable of expressing emotion or if hopping into gunfights is how our grandparents made new friends in the ’50s.
The bad guys drive away, so Cody takes the cops’ car and goes after them. They shout, “Halt! You can’t simply climb out of a rocket ship in the middle of an arrest and steal our car!” I’m kidding. The cops seem fine with the whole thing, don’t mention it, and we never hear from them again.
Cody is in hot pursuit! Except no one told the actor portraying him, who looks like he’s driving to the grocery store to pick up a Secretary’s Day cake. He was maybe going for “cocksure,” but overshot it and landed on “man who knows he has a 10% off cake coupon.” Cody doesn’t give a fuck how this car chase plays out. Cody looks like he’s fondly remembering how the peach blossoms smelled those spring mornings in Racial Slur Falls, Georgia. If you told me this actor died this was a fill-in shot they had to film with his corpse, it would make more sense than his acting decisions.
The bad guys stop on a bridge to set a bomb, and it goes off right on Cody’s car. No one could have survived it, and then the fiery wreck rolls off the bridge for a second certain death. Oh, no. How is Commando Cody going to get out of this one. We’ll have to wait for Chapter Four, which is oddly not called “SHIT, COMMANDO CODY BLEW UP ON THAT BRIDGE.”
They assume you already know how he got out of this one, so the Chapter Four title card doesn’t even bother mentioning the bomb on the bridge. What’s the point? It’d be like Mötley Crüe’s manager telling you he biked to work the day he had to arrange for six teenage abortions.
Cody is okay. It turns out he jumped out of the car before the bomb went off. In a way, it is sort of surprising how in a make-believe world of unlimited possibilities and wonder, the reveal for every cliffhanger has been “he got out of the way of whatever in the most ordinary way possible off camera.”
I and a lot of people reading this grew up in a Golden Age of genre fiction. In the ’80s and ’90s, a superhero would have gotten laughed out of the Justice League if they escaped a bridge bomb by simply not going onto it and watching it explode. A real hero would have de-molecularized the ions or guessed the right wire with a boomerang throw or grabbed a mattress off a truck and surfed the shockwaves across. The A-Team would have driven straight through it yelling, “I knew those blast proof van panels from Act 1 would come in handy, B.A.!” MacGyver would have landed right next to the bomb and suddenly remembered he had his nephew’s potato clock in his jacket. Quantum Leap would have been far away, playing with his titties as a female, wheelchair Lincoln. So fuck you, Cody, for having so few skills the writers have to get you out of every situation by having it turn out to be not very dangerous after all.
At the end of the next episode, a villain traps Joan in a plane by sabotaging the controls, parachuting out, and leaving her to die! She’s helpless! Careening to her doom! Commando Cody rockets to her aid! He climbs inside! The ground is coming at them! The controls don’t work! The flying man and his petite companion are falling out of the sky! What is the man known for his rocket pack going to do!? How can he save this small, carryable woman!?!?
Oh, man. He didn’t do anything. They flew right into the ground and exploded. I wonder if there are some events they didn’t show us, or if they’re dead.
This is another cliffhanger where the show figured you weren’t on the edge of your seat. The previously-on title card describes Joan and Cody’s airplane disaster as… let’s see… holy crap, they don’t even mention it!
How they got out of it is dumb, but dumber than you’d expect, Cody’s contribution was not to carry Joan to safety but to tell her to put on a parachute and get out. So wait, what? She was sitting next to a goddamn parachute this whole time!? What was all this “adventure” for? It was time she could have spent doing the first thing any occupant of a crashing plane would think to do. And you might be saying, “How is a 1952 woman supposed to know what parachutes are, much less what falling is?” It’s a fair point, but she witnessed a man parachute out of this very plane thirty seconds ago, and when Cody told her to put one on she didn’t say, “Put on that ‘pair of shoes?’ Why, I’ll have you know the pair I already have on are top-of-the-line designer suede and they cost seven dollars! You men. Hand me my cigarettes and tell the driver to slow down.” She put it on the proper way and competently leapt to safety.
So okay, to sum up, a woman in an out-of-control plane had every means to escape on her own, was shown exactly how to do it, and the writer decided she still needed Commando Cody to streak through the skies and perform a daring mid-air hijacking to not explain parachutes to her, but remind her they exist. Maybe 70 years ago people hated women enough for this to be normal, but it caught me way the fuck off guard. And it’s exactly this kind of non-sexism I carry in my heart that has allowed me to crush so much fine ass all these years. No, listen: my views on equality drop panties.
At the end of Chapter Five, which is excellently called…
… Cody and Ted are driving along a mountain road and Daly is heading straight for them in a stolen ambulance! He aims it toward their car and flops out of the moving vehicle with the grace of a distractingly untrained stuntman. It looks like they stopped the show to stress test a sex doll’s neck joint. Ted sees this and screams, “IT’S GONNA CRASH INTO US!!” Cody, with only tens of seconds to dodge this pilotless car, does not! Fuck!
This is the second time in twenty minutes Cody has been in a totalled car as it falls off the road, but he and Ted had more than enough time to jump out of the car. Hell, they had enough time to bring their car to a full stop and get out without doing a diving neck somersault like the unquestionably paralyzed henchman who just launched an ambulance at them. Still, the next chapter is called “HILLS OF DEATH,” so maybe he’s really dead this time, viewers.
Okay, “HILLS OF DEATH,” how did they get out of this o– oh, they jumped out of the car. Well, okay. Sure.
At the end of “HILLS OF DEATH,” Cody is hit in the shoulder by a rock and he falls off a cliff! Jesus Christ!
They really wrote themselves into a corner with this one. How is a flying man, in his flying suit, supposed to survive a fall? Have you ever seen anything as doomed as this man?
Will he land on something soft? Will Ted catch him? Did maybe he not fall at all? You’ll have to wait until next Punching Day to find out, hot dog readers! That’s right, this article about cliffhangers has a cliffhanger! Tune in in six days for the conclusion of The Many Certain Deaths of Commando Cody!