June 23, 2013

Superman Sunday: I'm flying north again

And we're back! It's been a long time since we did Superman Saturday (or Sunday), but with the recent release of Man of Steel, I felt sufficiently inspired to return to the series. Which, despite the dearth of posting, is actually pretty fun. (And I haven't seen the movie yet, BTW.)

We pick up the series with a new adventure. Indians! Lost explorers! Mystical powers! Treasure! Wait, have we seen this one before?

Episode 46: Alonso Craig, Arctic Explorer, Part 1 (1940/05/27)

Listen!

Clark Kent is called into Perry White's office, where Perry asks him what he knows about Ellesmere Land in the Arctic. Explorer Alonso Craig had launched an expedition up there three years ago, but disappeared. The Daily Planet sponsored a second expedition, consisting of Professor Peters (whom Clark knows from the museum), and Planet reporter Ray Martin, to find Craig— but they, too, have disappeared.

Perry notes that there are rumours of an Indian tribe living on Ellesmere, large and powerful. Supposedly they are ruled by a witch doctor who never dies. Also, they're white.

Clark gasps. White Indians? Why, that's crazy talk!

White wants to send Clark up to Ellesmere as well. Apparently, losing two explorers and one reporter isn't enough. Just then, they are interrupted by the coincdeeeeental arrival of Alonso Craig's twin sister, Paula. She has received a package from Captain Walters, Alonso's navigator. She and Alonso possessed matching signet rings, and she had sent hers along with Ray Martin to help identify Alonso. Walters bought Alonso's ring from an Indian at Port Ormond!

Perry notices suddenly that Clark has a train to catch, but it's really just an excuse to get Paula out of his office. Perry had discreetly scratched Paula Craig's ring before giving it to Martin, and he recognized this ring as hers, not her brother's. Since she didn't realize Martin and Peters had also gone missing, naturally she thought it was Alonso's ring.

Just then a telegram arrives for Perry. It's from Captain Walters, and it instructs Perry to send his man north "with all speed." Clark realizes he may just have to catch that train, after all . . .

Of course, he just flies north as Superman, instead. I'm glad the writers finally remembered that this isn't The Adventures of Clark Kent, Mild-Mannered Reporter. He meets Captain Walters, who talks like a crusty old prospector, at Port Ormond, and they sail north on his icebreaker. Walters fills him in: there's been doin's happenin'. He thinks Alonso Craig was searchign for a vast Indian treasure called "The Luck of the North," and that's why he disappeared. Suddenly, a fog envelops the ship, and they are surrounded by icebergs!

Shrouded by the convenient fog, Clark changes again to Superman and dives into the water, as the icebergs begin to close in and crush the ship . . .

Episode 47: Alonso Craig, Arctic Explorer, Part 2 (1940/05/29)

Listen!

I can only imagine how the bull session went while writing this serial.

Writer 1: OK, so we've got Captain Walters' icebreaker surrounded by icebergs and in danger. Superman dives into the water. How do we get them out of this?

Writers: Beats me, I don't know, That's a tough one!, etc.

Writer 2: Well . . . why don't we just say that some time has passed, and that Superman pushed away all the icebergs and they arrived safely?

Writer 1: Hey, that's a great idea! Let's do that.

Writer 3: Um, isn't that kind of a deus ex machina? Why don't we have Superman actually shove all the icebergs away and rescue the ship? Wouldn't that be more exciting?

Writer 1: Well, well. Look who thinks he's smarter than all the rest of us. Let's give Mr. Exciting a great big round of slow, sarcastic applause. Also, you're fired.

Either that, or they were all drunk, because I can't see how telling us that Superman saved the day is a better resolution to the cliffhanger than showing us Superman saving the day. Once again, a potentially gripping cliffhanger is wrecked by poor writing. If Part 2 started with Clark and Walters saying, "Whew, I'm glad we got out of that one!" and congratulating each other heartily, it could not have succeeded at being less dramatic.

So "some time has passed." The icebreaker has reached Ellesmere Island and established a base camp. Clark and Walters have struck out on dogsleds in search of Martin and Peters. They debate whether to continue ahead or give up and return to base. Walters is apprehensive about continuing, as he feels unseen eyes following their every move. He notes that the lead dog, Chico, is especially skittish—and he thnks dogs have a sixth sense for danger that humans don't. Clark accuses him of losing his nerve.

Clark presses Walters to explain the urgency in his telegram to the Planet, and Walters tells him how he had purchased Paula Craig's ring from an Indian in Fort Ormond, who refused to tell him how he got it. Walters is convinced that the Indian witch doctor has captured Alonso Craig because he was searching the Luck of the North.

Just then, Chico acts up again, and this time Walters sees what he sees: "Up in the sky, Kent! Look!"

It's a bird! It's a plane!

No, it's a giant apparition of an Indian in the clouds, glowing green, with its hand raised in a warning. Clark quickly ducks out and, changing to Superman, flies up to inviestigate, but he sees nothing but clouds.

Returning to earth and resuming the guise of Clark Kent, he and Walters again debate whether to go on or go back. When Clark spots a light in a valley up ahead, thinking it might be Martin and Peters, Walters reluctantly goes with him. As they mush ahead, however, shadowy figures follow them . . .

They discover an igloo. It contains Martin and Peters' property, but there is no sign of the explorers. Suddenly the dogs go wild, and Walters realizes that they are under attack by Indians. It's a trap!

Walters is quickly knocked out by a club to the head, but Clark as Superman takes to the air and fights off the Indians, two at a time!

When Walters comes to, he is impressed that Clark managed to singlehandedly fight off their attackers, though Clark more or less dismisses it as nothing. Naturally. He is more interested in something he found in the baggage, which may be an important clue to the whereabouts of Ray Martin, Professor Peters, and Alonso Craig. Captain Walters pleads with him to tell him what it is . . .

What is it that Clark found in the igloo?

What is it, Kent?

Kent?

Kent, what is it? What is it, Kent?

I am already disinclined to enjoy this serial. A mysterious Indian tribe, again? Mysterious powers, again? Priceless treasure, again? This isn't the first time we've seen this plot line, and it won't be the last.

It's also amusing to hear Clark's skepticism—not merely that the Indians apparently possess the secret of immortality, but that they could possibly have white skin! I know from listening that Superman is no bigot. It would be ironic if he were, given that he is himself a minority of one! But it seems that the writers can't tell a story without the 1940s stereotypes we see here.

I can live with bad stereotyping. It's bad storytelling that really gets on my nerves. Resolving a major cliffhanger off-mic is the height of lazy writing. It also robs the story of a good Superman moment. Fortunately, the fight scene with the Indians makes up for it somewhat.