March 10, 2013

Superman Sunday: It's like a heatwave burning in my heart

When we last left our heroes: Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen are in the Southwest, investigating a series of mysterious plane crashes at Bridger Field. After being nearly shot down and mauled by a circus gorilla, they finally arrived at the airfield. There, they discover that the disasters are connected with a Professor Hagen, the circus' animal trainer. However, Bridger Field's head Ed Hamlin has just gotten a visit from his boss, who says a "visitor" is expected within 48 hours. Clark and Jimmy sneak onto the circus grounds, where they discover the underground hideout of Hagen and his henchman, the Russian strongman Fodor. Clark, as Superman, defeats Fodor, as he and Jimmy overhear a cryptic weather report come over Hagen's radio. . . .

Episode 38: Airplane Disaster at Bridger Field, Part 5 (1940/05/08)


This episode begins with another cheat! In his recap, the announcer informs us that Professor Hagen, assumed to be a mere animal trainer, is actually an "inventor of terrible and deadly machines." Really? To this point, no noe has said how Hagen is working hsi sabotage. Even in this episode there's no mention of any machine; the narrator has gotten way ahead of himself.

Clark and Jimmy are still in Hagen's underground cave, looking at the "weather report" that Clark has transcribed. Clark realizes that the report is actually a coded message for Hagen: by keeping every third word, it instructs Hagen that the new mystery plane will arrive at midnight, and he must not miss. Unfortunately, Bridger Field is not expecting the plane for 48 hours! Clark tells Jimmy to go back to the airfield and tell them to start searching all the cabins overlooking the field. (How Jimmy is supposed to get back over the border from Mexico is unstated. I guess their driver just waited around while their break-and-enter into the circus grounds was in progress.) Meanwhile, Clark becomes Superman and hunts for Hagen.

Fodor, who has regained consciousness and evaded Superman, contacts Hagen on his intercom system. He warns him that their scheme has been found out. Hagen tells Fodor to ambush Clark: he will use the intercom to project his voice into the next room, which will lure Clark there for Fodor to eliminate. "It must appear to be an accident," warns Hagen, who is suspiciously cryptic about how Fodor is to take Clark out. I see a novel trap of some kind in Superman's near future.

Amazingly, Superman falls for this facile trap, smashing through the wall into the next room, where he is set upon by a pair of fierce Bengal tigers! I must admit that between this and the attempted gorilla mauling in Part 2, Professor Hagen is about the closest thing this series has come to an actual themed supervillain. When the tigers prove no match for the mighty Man of Steel, however, Fodor opens fire with a gun. Naturally this leads to another beating. Superman tries to beat Fodor into revealing the location of Hagen's cabin, but Fodor doesn't know. Hagen himself comes back on the intercom to taunt Superman, but Superman warns him that he is coming for him next . . .

Can Superman reach Hagen in time to save the mystery plane?

What has happened to Jimmy?

Will Superman fal into another lame ambush?

Episode 39: Airplane Disaster at Bridger Field, Part 6 (1940/05/10)


Hagen is in his mountain hideout with his henchman Carl, as well as another Mexican goon, Pedro, who is acting as a lookout on the trail. Hagen is sure that Clark has tipped the airfield people off, and they will be looking for him. "Much will happen before they reach here," he boasts.

Finally, Hagen's secret weapon is revealed: the "Teleflame," some kind of invisible heat ray that evaporates metal—hence the disappearance of the planes' engines after the crash. Hagen plans to completely vaporize the mystery plane.

Meanwhile, it's eight minutes to midnight. Jimmy and Hamlin are on mules searching the mountains for Hagen's cabin. (Apparently Jimmy made it back to the airfield in another exciting, suspense-less adventure.) They are coming up on the "Chasm Trail"—a narrow shelf of about 500 yards. As they risk crossing the shelf, a sudden rock slide threatens to sweep them down the mountainside!

Fortunately, Superman was in the neighbourhood. He saves the day by dividing the rock slide, so that it falls on either side of Hamlin and Jimmy, who cling to the rock wall for dear life. Then, he flies up to the cabin and confronts Hagen.

At two minutes to midnight, Hagen and Carl expect the mystery plane to arrive any second. Carl thinks he hears its flying, although Hagen thinks it's too far away. Then, they spot its wing lights. Hagen starts the Teleflame machine. Carl realizes that the flying sound he hears isn't the mystery plane: it's Superman, swooping down on them from above! Superman orders Hagen to stop the Teleflame, but Hagen refuses: as Superman closes in on the villain, the whole mountain starts to come down on him.

From their vantage point on the trail, Hamlin and Jimmy also see the mystery plane make a safe landing. Huzzah! Clark catches up with them. He announces that Hagen is dead: apparently, "something must have gone wrong," as Hagen's machine backfired on him and destroyed him, itself, and the cabin. "Hagen and his machine are finished forever," Clark says.

Together, they go back down to the field to see this new machine, the "last word in the conquest of the air." (At least, until the jet engine was invented a few years later.) Also, they have a story to file before another adventure comes along.

The final verdict? This was kind of a poor story, full of plot holes and outright cheats. It was obviously not Superman's brightest moment, either, as he falls for not one, but two ruses in which he is lured into a trap involving wild animals. This early in Superman's history, he is still a super tough guy, instead of a super-genius.

Most interestingly, we never get to learn who is pulling Hagen's strings. Someone is paying him for these seemingly pointless acts of sabotage, but we never learn who.wants them carried out. I do find it interesting, however, that the chief villain, Hagen, and one of his goons, Carl or Karl, have Germanic-sounding names. Even though the United States was still a year and a half from entering World War II, it appears that the scriptwriters had potential Nazi subversion of Truth, Justice, and the American Way on their minds!

Next week, a new Superman adventure awaits, in the Buffalo Hills, again in the American West.