August 23, 2014

Superman Saturday: The Flying North Remix

Since the last installment of Superman Saturday, it has been one year and two months, exactly. I was planning on kicking off a fresh "season" with the continuatino of "Alonso Craig, Arctic Explorer," but decided that since a) it's been so long, b) I've still got one or two more things to say about the radio series The Adventures of Superman, and c) I spent the night watching Peter Capaldi's starring debut on Doctor Who, I decided the easiest, most expedient, and smartest thing to do would be to remix and repost the first two episodes, then start fresh next weekend instead.

As I said last year: "Alonso Craig" is another of the "lost explorers discover mysterious natives with ancient treasure" kind of story that we seem to see recurring with early Superman. Of course it's not a unique trope: as I recall, Hergé did it two or three times with Tintin, as well, amongst others. Recycling story lines for the pulps is nothing new.

Without further ado, then, I re-presennt . . .

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


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

Perry notes that there are rumours of a tribe of large, powerful Indians living on Ellesmere. Supposedly they are ruled by a witch doctor who never dies. Also, he adds, 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. They are interrupted by the coincidental arrival of Alonso Craig's twin sister, Paula. She has received a package containing a signet ring from Captain Walters, Alonso's navigator. She recognizes it as Alonso's, as they had each been given matching rings by their parents, and she had sent hers along with Ray Martin to help identify Alonso. Walters says that he bought the ring from an Indian at Port Ormond.

Perry suddenly remarks that Clark has a train to catch. This takes Clark by surprise, but it's really just an excuse to get Paula out of his office. Perry recognized the signet ring as hers, not Alonso's, as he had discreetly marked it before giving it to Martin. She didn't realize Martin and Peters were also missing, so naturally she thought it was her brother's ring.

A telegram arrives from Captain Walters, instructing Perry to send his man north "with all speed." Clark realizes he may just have to catch that train, after all . . .

After flying to Port Ormond as Superman, Clark meets Captain Walters, who talks like a crusty old prospector. They steam north on his icebreaker. Walters fills him in: there's been doin's happenin'. He thinks Alonso Craig disappeared because he was searching for a vast Indian treasure called "The Luck of the North." Suddenly, a fog envelops the ship, and they are surrounded by icebergs!

Shrouded by a convenient fog, Clark changes again into 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)


I imagine that the bull session while writing this serial went something like this:

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.

I don't see how telling us that Superman saved the day is a better resolution to last episode's cliffhanger than showing us Superman saving the day. 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 as this installment begins, "some time has passed," wherein he icebreaker has reached Ellesmere Island, the crew has established a base camp, and Clark and Walters have struck out on dogsleds in search of Ray Martin and Professor 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 for the Luck of the North.

Just then, Chico acts up again, and this time Walters also sees what is spooking the dog: "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 warning. Clark quickly ducks out and changes to Superman to inviestigate, but he sees nothing in the clouds.

Returning to earth and resuming his Clark Kent guise, he and Walters again debate whether to go on or go back. 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 Superman takes to the air and fights off the Indians, two at a time.

Clark Kent: Unintentional Badass

So far, Clark has claimed to:

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, what is it? What is it, Kent?

As I said up top, because of the recycled plot line, I found myself disinclined to enjoy this serial. However, it does have its moments, particularly Clark's skepticism—not that a tribe of northern Indians have the secret of immortality, but that they have white skin. Who knows—as an alien, maybe he's not surprised by weird things, but on the other hand, his experience with earthlings of native American descent might be a bit limited. Certainly, he's not prejudiced: the last time this story line came around, he ultimately took the side of the Indians. As happens many times, I'm sure, the fault is not with the character, but his writers.

I can live with bad stereotyping. It's bad storytelling that really gets on my nerves. Episode 2 resolves a major cliffhanger off-mic. This is lazy writing that robs the story of a good Superman moment. Fortunately, the fight scene with the Indians makes up for it somewhat.