February 09, 2013

Superman Saturday: Hero, lands the crippled airplane, solves great mysteries

When we last left our heroes, the program announcer was mispronouncing "Superman" as two words: "Super Man." As a new Superman adventure begins, he's still doing it. I think it's going to be some time before they get a new announcer that knows the right way to say the name of the most famous comic-book character in history. Meanwhile, however, sit back and enjoy . . .

Episode 34: Airplane Disaster at Bridger Field, Part 1 (1940/04/29)


Back from busting up the Donelli gang, Clark Kent is back at his desk at the Daily Planet. Along comes Jimmy Olsen, and asks Clark what he knows about an "airplane story." Planes are crashing out at Bridger Field with alarming frequency. "Boy, it's keen!" he says, and when Clark looks at him askance, he quickly adds that he's just interested in anything to do with flying.

Coincidentally, Perry White calls Clark into his office, where he meets Ed Hamlin of the National Air Service. White has been buttering Clark up to Hamlin as "more than the average reporter" ("but not much more, mind you"), and hopes that in addition to writing up a story about the disasters, Clark might actually find out what's behind them. In two weeks, 6 large transport planes have gone down with no survivors. It's a desolate area—Bridger Field is in the southwest Rockies, near the border, and surrounded by rocks, mountains and desert. The only civilization nearby is the town of Del Rio across the border, which has gambling and a circus that comes once a year.

Just then, Jimmy comes in with a telegram for Hamlin. There's been another crash! Hamlin decides to return to Bridger Field immediately, and tells Clark to meet him at the airport in one hour.

While winging their way west, Hamlin fills Clark in on one more detail: in every crash, the planes' engines had all disappeared. Suddenly, smash! Something punches a hole in the window. Clark goes aft to see if a bolt had shot loose, or something, when he hears "Mr. Kent! Mr. Kent!" It's Jimmy who stowed away in the back of the plane. he saw another plane following them and shooting at them with a machine gun, so he came out of hiding to warn CLark and Hamlin. Just to underscore the point, Hamlin is badly wounded, and the plane's engine begins to falter.

Clark quickly takes the controls. Jimmy asks him if he can fly. Apparently, he wasn't working for the paper only a few weeks ago, when Clark foiled the Yellow Mask by deliberately crashing another plane into his. "Just enough to land," says Clark.

But with the other plane still in pursuit, Clark tells Jimmy to take over the controls, as he grabs a rifle from the back and climbs out on the wing—ostensibly to shoot back, but really to change into Superman and dive-bomb their attackers! Superman smashes their engine and begins to follow them down so he can question them. However, he realizes that something has gone wrong up on Hamlin's plane, so he quickly flies back to help Jimmy. Their plane is also going down, spinning out of control, thanks to a broken oil line!

Who is trying to shoot down the plane, and why?

Can Superman stop them?

Why does anyone let Clark Kent behind the controls of any aircraft, anyway?

Stay tuned . . .

Episode 35: Airplane Disaster at Bridger Field, Part 2 (1940/05/01)


With Ed Hamlin's plane still on a rapid course for terra firma Clark and Jimmy search for a suitable spot to land. Jimmy spots a rail line and a train, and Clark thinks it might be safe to land nearby. After a safe landing, they get out and are able to flag down the train as it approaches. The brakeman is suspicious, but he reluctantly agrees to take them to Del Rio, where they will find a hospital for Hamlin.

As it happens, this is the circus train. The freightman (whose name, we learn, is Balto) uses a radio to speak to a mysterious Professor Egan, the man who handles the circus animals. Egan is the one who ordered the shootdown of Hamlin's plane. He tells Balto that Kent must not make it to Bridger Field. He suggests letting Clark and Jimmy visit the circus animals. "The gorilla will do very niely," he suggests. The gorilla is half-crazy. Egan orders Balto to leave the cage unlatched.

Following the professor's orders, Balto brings Clark and Jimmy to the animal cars when the train stops for water. They can hear Jojo, the gorilla, raising Cain in his private car. Contradicting the evidence, Balto tells them that Jojo is so tame he will eat out of his hand—and, in any case, he's behind two-inch-thick steel bars. Clark, the intrepid reporter, doesn't think to ask why the gentle primate needs to be imprisoned behind two inches of steel.

Jimmy—now placed in mortal danger by Clark Kent's failure to pay attention—observes that Jojo the gorilla appears to be even more enraged. Suddenly, the cage door swings open. Balto is gone, and the train car door has been locked shut! As the gorilla comes at them, Clark smashes a window and Jimmy jumps out. Clark as Superman takes on the furious Jojo. "Let's see how you bounce!" he says. "Oh, now you're really angry, eh?" After a few minutes of beating on the poor, innnocent creature, Superman stuffs him back in his cage. Just then, the train starts moving again—without Jimmy on board.

Balto is back on the radio with Professor Egan. He reports, incredulously, that Clark put Jojo back in his cage. "It's not possible," agrees Egan, apparently unaware that even in his guise of Clark Kent, Superman enjoys a life of excitement and adventure and impossible feats. Clark is no longer on the train, as he has jumped off to find Jimmy. Egan says it is just as well, as "big things" are about to go down at Bridger Field, and he doesn't want the Daily Planet people meddling. They are left to die in the desert . . .

What danger does Professor Egan plan for Bridger Field?

What will happen to Jimmy and Clark out in the desert?

How is Clark going to explain to Jimmy where he learned to box gorillas?

It has been a good while since I listened to this full serial. My recollection is that even though the first two episodes start out a bit slow, the story does pick up its pace, and the mystery of the Bridger Field crashes is actually somewhat intriguing. I guess we'll find out in the next couple of weeks!

In both episodes, we have an example of Clark's unintentional badassery: in the first, when he climbs out on the wing of his plane to shoot back at the attacking plane; and in the second, when he beats up a gorilla. All in a day's work for the Man of Tomorrow, of course, but frankly, I still think it would be less farfetched for Kent to just own up to being Superman.

And on that note, True Believers, stay tuned for next week's exciting double feature!