March 02, 2013

Superman Saturday: I hope the Russians love their children too

The story so far: Perry White has sent Clark Kent on assignment with Ed Hamlin of the National Air Service to Bridger Field, an airfield in the Southwest. His instructions are to investigate a number of mysterious and fatal transport plane crashes that have taken place in the past two weeks. As they fly their way west, they first discover that Jimmy Olsen has stowed away in Hamlin's plane; second, that another plane is following them, and trying to shoot them down. In the skirmish, Hamlin is seriously wounded by machine-gun fire.

As Superman, Clark successfully fends off their attackers, but their own plane is damaged. Clark manages to make an emergency landing alongside a railroad track, and they are picked up by a circus train en route to the Mexican town of Del Rio. However, the train's brakeman, Balto, is a suspicious figure in the pay of a Professor Hagen, the circus' animal handler—who is also behind the attack on Hamlin's plane and, presumably, the crashes at Bridger Field. (Note: In the previous instalment, I had called Hagen "Professor Egan," but these later episodes make it clear that he is in fact "Hagen." So, Professor Hagen he shall be henceforth.)

Acting on Hagen's instructions to get rid of Clark and Jimmy, Balto locks them in a car with an enraged gorilla. Jimmy escapes, and Clark/Superman fights the gorilla into submission, just before the train starts rolling again, leaving Jimmy behind. Clark also jumps train, hoping to find him in the desert . . .


Episode 36: Airplane Disaster at Bridger Field, Part 3 (1940/05/03)

Listen!

When we last left our heroes, they were stranded in the desert after being abandoned by the circus train, after Hagen instructed Balto to continue to Del Rio without them. As this story begins, Clark and Jimmy have made their way finally to Bridger Field, Jimmy has been taken by one of the field employees to see the circus, and Clark is discussing the plane crashes with Ed Hamlin, in his office.

Wait, what?

Now, come on!

Part 2 ended with a great cliffhanger. Part 3 leaves it unresolved: Clark simply informs Hamlin that they caught the next (fortunately psychotic-gorilla-free) freight train to come along, and finished their trip that way. I'll grant that the solution is the obvious one. It is also woefully bathetic.

Also, it leaves a major question unanswered. Hamlin had been shot because someone working for Hagen tried to kill him by shooting down his airplane. When Clark and Jimmy left the train, they also abandoned Hamlin to the mercy of the same people. After shooting him up, did they take him to a Del Rio hospital out of humanitarian concern? He's even back at his desk doing his job. It looks like the writers just plain forgot that he was badly injured.

Anyway.

Clark and Hamlin sit in Hamlin's office and discuss the mystery of the airplane crashes. Because of the attack on their plain and the attempted murder by gorilla, Clark is completely convinced that the disasters are deliberate and man-made. They listen to a weather report coming out of Mexico that warns of a coming gale, leading Hamlin to remark that the Mexicans always get the weather wrong when they say it's "important."

Next, Hamlin receives word that his boss, Fuller, will be arriving by plane in only 15 minutes. When they go outside, they discover that the weather report was right: a violent dust storm is approaching. Hamlin warns Clark to go back inside rather than risk exposure to the dust storm. Just then, Fuller's plane arrives and is caught in the storm: it bursts into flame on approach to the airfield!

Quickly, Clark changes to Superman and flies out to the rescue: everyone else thinks he has gone inside, and they can't see him flying over the field thanks to the dust storm. He safely guides in the burning plane and rescues Fuller.

Once Fuller is safely inside (with Clark taking the credit for the unexpected rescue), he informs Hamlin that Bridger Field will be receiving a special visitor in only 48 hours, despite Hamlin's protests that the field is not secure. Fuller orders him to make the field safe in time.

Hamlin's assistant comes in to tell Clark that Jimmy is back from the circus, and he has very important news . . .

What is Jimmy's news?

Who is the mysterious visitor?

If Ed Hamlin accidentally disembowels himself while trying to secure the airfield a day after being shot down, will Fuller ding him in his next performance review?

I can't wait to find out!

Episode 37: Airplane Disaster at Bridger Field, Part 4 (1940/05/06)

Listen!

Clark and Jimmy are in a car, speeding toward the circus grounds at Del Rio. Clark has deduced that since the National Air Service makes new aircraft, the "visitor" arriving at Bridger Field is likely some sort of new experimental plane being brought to the field for testing. Jimmy says this might be true, based on what he overheard at the circus: he was wandering around and was almost caught by the brakeman Balto, but he evaded him and overheard Professor Hagen (the circus' animal trainer) and Fodor, the strongman, talking inside a nearby shack.

Flashback to the conversation.

Hagen reveals that he is, in fact, responsible for the airplane crashes. Furthermore, he knows something that the people at Bridger Field don't: their "visitor" is not arriving within 48 hours, but that very night! The final confirmation will come, as always, by radio. The "visitor" is, indeed, apparently some new and secret innovation in the field of flight, but Hagen assures Fodor that it will never arrive. Fodor, who speaks in a bad Russian accent—I was hoping for him to ask about the "nuclear wessels," but sadly he was 20 years too early—asks why the Professor is bringing down the planes, but Hagen reminds him that they are both well enough paid not to ask questions. (Aha! Hagen answers to a higher power! Who could this be? Does he wear a mask, perhaps in a fetching shade of yellow?) He is going to ready himself by going to their hidden cabin in the hills, but he instructs Fodor to stay at the circus grounds and keep an eye on things. End flashback

Clark and Jimmy arrive at the circus grounds after dark, sneaking in through a hole in the fence, but they find the place quiet. They find the cabin where Jimmy eavesdropped on Hagen and Fodor (also deserted)—but, inside, they find an open trapdoor that leads to an underground cave. In a subterranean chamber, they discover a radio: it's another Mexican weather report, which Jimmy doesn't think makes any sense. Clark, thinking the message might be more than it appears, transcribes it on paper.

Just then, they hear someone coming down the stairway from the shack. Clark orders Jimmy to hide inside a closet, strictly instructing him to keep the door closed no matter what. While he claims this is for Jimmy's safety, it's really because he doesn't want Jimmy to see that he's Superman. (Clark has, perhaps, not noticed during his recent adventures that Jimmy has a small problem with authority?) Fodor, keeping guard on the hideout as instructed, sees Superman in the room and challenges him, accusing him of being a "t'ief."

"I bend crowbar in naked hands," boasts Fodor.

"I bend strongmen," retorts Superman. (Great line!)

A fight ensues, and Superman naturally cleans Fodor's clock, throwing him against the wall and knocking him silly. Again donning his disguise as Clark Kent, he tells Jimmy it's safe to come back out. Jimmy is of course impressed that Clark "licked the strongman."

"Well, I didn't exactly lick him, Jimmy," lies Clark. "He more or less tripped and fell on his neck." Bouncing off my fist a couple times on the way down, he doesn't add.

With Fodor dispatched to sleepyland, Clark and Jimmy turn their attention to the weather report Clark had copied down. Suddenly, Clark realizes that his hunch is probably right, and he shows it to Jimmy . . .

What does Clark see on the piece of paper?

How can he save the airplane due to arrive anytime at Bridger Field?

Isn't this kind of a sad cliffhanger?

Actually, it's a sad couple of episodes, compared with the first two. The most egregious offense is the cheat I noted in part 3, a blatant refusal to satisfactorily resolve the cliffhanger from part 2. A major story premise has also changed from the first two parts: Hamlin originally told Clark that the crashed planes were transports, yet the narrator now says they were "test planes," apparently to set the story up for the arrival of a secret experimental aircraft. And, finally, part 4 fizzles with a lame cliffhanger. Of course the "weather reports" are coded messages to the bad guys. Who didn't see that coming back in part 2?

Stay tuned, Faithful Reader—even though there are still a couple of plot howlers to come, the final third of this Superman adventure is better than the middle one!