February 18, 2012

Superman Saturday: Dyer Breaker

This week, we begin another exciting episode of The Adventures of Superman, courtesy of a prepackaged cereal product and the miracle of radio!

As promised last week, we see the return of the Yellow Mask, the Action Ace's first radio supervillain. We have already encountered the Yellow Mask, of course: he was the mastermind behind the attempted sabotage of the Silver Clipper and, when Clark Kent foiled that plan, he tried to get his revenge by atomizing the Daily Planet building with an atomic death ray. In the comics by this time, the Ultra-Humanite was already an established enemy of Superman,1 and in one story he, too, attempted to blow up the Planet with an atomic beam. So it would appear that the Yellow Mask is a radio proxy for Ultra, though with somewhat less of the mad-scientistiness and, as we shall soon see, not quite the same megalomanaical pretensions.

For this story, the producers started titling each serial, rather than each individual episode. Not only does it make the stories easier to track, but no doubt it will ease up on the inadvertent spoilers, as well!

So, with further ado, let's drop the needle on this amazing transcription feature, and start with . . .

Episode 18: The Mystery of Dyerville, Part 1 (1940/03/22)

Listen!

The Wolf and Keno have arrived in Metropolis where, still pursued by the police, they make their way to the Yellow Mask's secret lair. The Wolfe, bitter because the Mask let them cool their heels in prison, tells Keno that he intends to challenge him. The Yellow Mask then reveals himself. He's played by the same actor as his last appearance: he still sounds like Sir Bedevere from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

"This is the last time you'll stand in the way," declares the Mask, "of high voltage."

Fzzzzot!

"That finishes the Wolfe," he adds. Have I mentioned recently that this is a children's program?


Meanwhile, Clark and Lois have also returned to the city and the Daily Planet, where Perry White commends them for their work on the San Miguel prison riot story. Pleased with how well they worked together, Perry decides to send them out on another assignment together: to the city of Dyerville, population 30,000, which has recently been plagued by a series of mysterous incidents: power and phone outages, floods, even earthquakes. He suggests they rent a car, as he doesn't feel comfortable with their travelling into Dyerville on a train under the circumstances.

However, the Yellow Mask has an agent at the Planet office, who calls to inform him that Clark and Lois are en route to Dyerville.

That night, as Clark and Lois drive toward Dyerville, they share a moment of mutual antagonism when they are nearly run into the ditch by a car coming in the opposite direction. Lois thinks the same car had passed them already going the other way, but Clark dismisses this as her being "tired and upset," and (to her irritation) tries to tune in the news on the radio, although it doesn't seem to be working. As they approach Dyerville, suddenly they are nearly run down again by the same car. A voice comes over the radio: "Go back, Mr. Kent. Go back." Realizing it must be broadcast from the other car, Clark floors it in pursuit. Travelling too fast, though, he crashes through the toll gate on the bridge into Dyerville. The toll officer, peeved that Clark has destroyed his nice gate, is less than impressed with the car he thought he saw. "You'll be seeing pink elephants and green elephants," he says, demanding to see Clark's license.

Now, hang on. When did Clark ever manage to get a driver's license? The stories so far have been more or less continuous, meaning that Kal-El has been on Earth for, perhaps, a month. In that time he's managed to get himself a job, save a train, save the Planet, save a girl from a burning building, foil a mining fraud, and stop a prison riot. When in the sweet name of Rao was he supposed to schedule a road test?

Sorry. Every so often I have to remind myself, again, that this is a children's show, and sometimes questions of continuity are secondary.

Just as Clark is about to receive a law-enforcement-administered beatdown, the bridge begins to shake! In the confusion and darkness, Clark quickly transforms into Superman and dives over the side to see what's going on, but the car, with Lois inside, begins to slide toward the guard rail . . .

Can the Man of Steel save the bridge of steel? (Their question—and a well-put one!)

Will he be in time to save Lois?

Will the toll officer forget about Clark's pathetic driving?

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode . . .

Episode 19: The Mystery of Dyerville, Part 2 (1940/03/25)

Listen!

Superman flies under the bridge and sees that its foundation has been blown apart. He twists the steel structure back together to prevent the bridge from collapsing, then returns to the bridge surface where, reassuming his Clark Kent persona, he rejoins Lois. He insists that they can continue across the bridge, despite her frightened insistence: "I've paid the toll," he protests. Ha!

The next morning, Clark and Lois meet with the city commissioner. He has spoken with Perry White, who informed him of Clark's knack for getting the truth of things. (He's more impressed than Lois, who chalks up Clark's investigative abilities to "dumb luck.") In addition to all the other strange goings-on, now the commissioner has to contend with a bridge that seems to have mysteriously repaired itself after nearly collapsing. "Why, only a superman could have done it," he exclaims. Imagine that. He wants Clark to get to the bottom of all the problems that are plaguing Dyerville. "If there's one more catastrophe, just one more unexplained accident—"

The phone rings: a railroad barge has broken loose on the river and, with 15 tank cars filled with gasoline on board, is heading for the waterfall. Clark beats a hasty exit, changing to Superman and diving out a window. He dives into the river and pulls the barge and its frightened crew from the brink of destruction.

Back in the office, the commissioner, fearing the worst, gets the news that the barge has not only been saved, but it drifted back upstream and floated into a dock. "Some crazy, impossible story," he says, relieved, "but who cares about that?" Clark comes in, and is chided by Lois for missing his big scoop. The barge crisis was no accident: is cable was cut!

Suddenly an aide barges in on the meeting, telling them to turn on the radio. It's a message from the Yellow Mask and his "Secret Empire": Dyerville will cease to exist unless, by midnight, he is paid the sum of . . . one million dollars!

Mwa-ha-ha-ha!!

The mystery of Dyerville is now clear: the various disasters that have plagued the city were acts of terrorism, perpetrated by the Yellow Mask. Well. Knock me over with a feather.

Can Superman save the city in time?

How does the Yellow Mask intend to destroy Dyerville?

Does it perchance involve sharks with frickin' laser beams attached?

This story is a great improvement from the last—it's the best one yet. It's fast-paced and has a villain of actual comic-book proportions in the Yellow Mask. I should note that the last time we encountered the Mask, he was stealing an atomic death ray on his way to becoming Ming the Merciless, supreme ruler of the universe. Now, he's shaking down a small city for a ransom of one million dollars! (Which, to be honest, was probably a considerable sum for such a small city back in 1940. But, thanks to Austin Powers, it sounds ludicrous.) As supervillians go, he's seen better times.

What's with the city commissioner? He wants to get to the bottom of power outages, floods, and earthquakes: problems which, though unusual, are at least fairly explainable. Yet when a bridge mysteriously repairs itself and a loose barge floats back upstream and into its dock—meh. Who cares?

Finally, there's some great character development between Clark and Lois. In the comics, the Golden Age Clark was constantly trying to get a date with Lois; here, he just seems to at least want to be friends. However, she's content to be on a last-name basis with him, and seems naturally resentful of his meteoric success. Who can blame her? As a woman, she's probably had to fight to prove her worth to the Planet, whereas Clark got a great scoop practically on his first day on the job, and became Perry White's golden boy. In these two episodes, they trade some great barbs.

Stay tuned next week, for the exciting conclusion of The Mystery of Dyerville!

Footnote

1 The Greatest Criminal Footnote of Our Time: Superman had also encountered Lex Luthor, who would go on to become his best enemy, a few times. However, in his earliest appearances he had a head of red hair. He would later gain his trademark bald head by mistake, when an artist mistook him for the bareheaded Ultra-Humanite.