August 06, 2011

Superman Saturday: Superman's first challenge!

Where we last left our hero, he had just arrived on Earth after an unexpectedly long rocket ride from the doomed planet of Krypton. Despite being crammed into a toy rocket as an infant and adrift in space for 20-plus years, having no outside knowledge of Krypton or Earth, Superman arrives with fluency in English and a superhero costume in his size. Even with no money, no experience, no Social Security number and a suit he probably stole off a guy in an alley, he scores a job as a cub reporter for the Daily Planet.

Now, Superman-as-Clark-Kent is off on his first assignment: to cover the threats made against trains in the West, and specifically, the Silver Clipper, "crack train of the West Coast Railroad," which a shady figure named the Wolfe has warned will never reach Salt Lake City after departing Denver.

So put on your Superman Underoos and listen to . . .

Episode 3: Keno's Landslide (1940/02/16)

Listen! [MP3]

The airport being closed due to fog, and with only 24 hours before the Silver Clipper meets its doom, Clark Kent decides to skip the TSA groping and fly out West under his own power as Superman.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the Colorado wilderness, our villains are languishing in a cabin: Keno Carter, "gunman, gambler, bad man of the Southwest," and the "shadowy" Wolfe, Maker of Ominous Phone Calls. Keno has just planted explosives on the railway tracks in anticipation of another train, the Western Limited. While Keno is apparently OK with sabotaging the rail system, he balks at the deaths that blowing a train 300 feet down a cliff will cause. The Wolfe, however, is not so scrupulous, and he reminds Keno (in an effete Eastern accent) that his job is to obey orders. Aha - so the Wolfe gets his orders from even higher up.

Superman, who is also following the Western Limited from the air, spots Keno by the tracks. Somehow, he recognizes the gear in his hands as a charging battery for dynamite blasting - such gear apparently being rather common in Kryptonian rockets. Realizing he has to act quickly to save the train, he swoops down and boards as Clark Kent, intending to stall the train by being thrown off when the conductor finds out he has no ticket. Unfortunately, he overplays his hand: the conductor decides to give Clark the benefit of the doubt for the time being, lest he write a hit piece for the paper.

So Clark goes for plan B: he pulls the emergency brake cord. This is, of course, not legal. So far, in his short time on Earth, Superman has destroyed a trolley car, mugged a guy for his clothes, and now illegally stopped a train. Obviously, it's going to take some time for the Man of Steel to evolve into the big blue Boy Scout we all know and love.

Clark suggests that he deserves to be thrown off the train for his bad behaviour. The furious conductor threatens him with jail time. But then the dynamite goes off and drops 20 tons of rock onto the tracks, but thanks to Clark, the train is unharmed. In the general confusion, Clark slips away, changes to Superman, and clears away the rock.

In the meantime, Keno slips into the crowd and discovers that Clark Kent, reporter, is responsible for saving the train. Nonetheless, the Wolfe assures him, with 20 tons of rock on the tracks, the Western Limited isn't going anywhere soon. Of course, it leaves immediately. The Wolfe and Keno quickly run for their plane to get to Denver, continue with their nefarious plot, and take care of Kent.

All in all, this isn't a bad start for Superman's first real adventure. There's a credible challenge - saving trains is one of those things Superman does a lot of. And there's a decent antagonist, in the duo of the thuggish Keno and the ruthless Wolfe.

Mind you, I'm still going to have a bit of fun for the next little while wondering where Superman got a working knowledge of Earth culture.

How is the Wolfe going to deal with Clark Kent in Denver?

Who is the Wolfe getting his instructions from?

Will Superman straighten himself out, or continue his life of petty crime?

Don't miss . . .

Episode 4: Kent Captured by the Wolfe (1940/02/19)

Listen! [MP3]

Having arrived in Denver without further incident, Clark Kent files a story about the rockslide with the paper and pays a visit to the railroad's division superintendent. Meanwhile, the henchman Keno is down because he doesn't understand how the rockslide completely failed to stop the train. The Wolfe admonishes him for failing. When Keno insists he didn't fail, the Wolfe suggests that he should be committed along with the conductor of the Western Limited who insists that a man in a blue outfit had singlehandedly cleared away the rockslide and repaired the tracks. (Ha! Irony!)

The Wolfe has done some checking into Clark Kent, and is surprised that he got out West so quickly. "He musta flown," suggests Keno. (Irony!) Nonetheless, they want to know what the railroad is planning, so Keno is sent to the superintendent's office disguised as a messenger, to deliver a telegram and overhear as much of the conversation as he can.

In the district office, the railroad superintendent and Clark ruminate some about the rumours of a "Superman" that have circulated after the rockslide. Clark dismisses the rumours as fantasy (irony!). It's easy to forget that in Superman's earlier years, he was very much a "mystery man": a costumed vigilante who operated outside the law and in secret. (Remember in Episode 2 how he warned Jimmy and the Professor not to tell anyone about their rescue.) In 1940, Superman was treated as a sort of urban legend, and it would actually be several years before he "went public" and became such a visible symbol of Metropolis.

In his news story, Clark had hinted that he knew more of the story than he had reported. He knows that the bad guys are following him around Denver, and he intends to use himself as bait by making himself conspicuous. "Mild-mannered reporter." Riiiight. His friends, at least the ones who don't know his real identity, must think he wrestles grizzly bears made of piranhas, for fun. As we'll see in future episodes, it must be tough for Superman to pretend he's not Superman.

Now Keno arrives in his messenger outfit and leaves the Wolfe's telegram: a cryptic message, again threatening the Silver Clipper. Kent thinks that the telegram and messenger are faked, and it will also lead right back to the perpetrators. Just then, a phone call arrives: the Superintendent is shocked to learn that a locomotive and tender have vanished without a trace. The message is clear: the same fate will befall the Clipper.

Clark goes out to "hunt wolves," hops out a nearby window and, as Superman, follows Keno back to his hideout. Keno spots him outside the house (again dressed as Clark), and he and the Wolfe plot to capture Kent and drag him into the basement, where they have a steel vault to lock him in and plenty of "aids to conversation."

This episode was mainly filler, and the title pretty much gave away the ending.

What has happened to the missing engine?

How will Clark Kent face the Wolfe's torture?

Could I write that last question with a straight face?

Find out next week!