October 04, 2014

Superman Saturday: Ain't it a shame about the radium rain?

Clark Kent and Lois Lane are in New Birmingham to interview Lois' uncle, meteorologist Horace Morton, who has a supposedly foolproof method for predicting the weather. They soon learn, however, that he has discovered a means to control the weather, and is being used by a criminal syndicate to aid them in their crimes.

Dr. Morton was also aiding a local radium refinery to find a new process for refining pitchblende ore. When Clark and Lois discover his assistant dead, with a handful of pitchblende, the police arrest Morton for murder. However, the syndicate actually committed the murder, and also abducted Morton from the jail . . .

Episode 56: Horace Morton's Weather Machine, Part 5 (1940/06/19)

Listen!

As usual, "some time has passed," and Clark and Lois have had no luck finding Dr. Morton. They have driven to the radium refinery outside of New Birmingham, which sits against Music Mountain with a settlement. An evacuation is underway, as the mountain is moving, and it is inevitable that it will collapse and flatten everything.

They locate the man who runs the refinery, Milo Phails. At first he is too busy to talk to reporters, but changes his mind when they find out they are trying to find Dr. Morton, and Lois is his niece. She is worried because they don't know if he is even alive. "Oh yes, he's alive—" blurts Phails, then suddenly corrects himself: "must be." Hmmmm.

Morton was helping Phails to simplify the refinement process, which has 35 steps. He points at the ore trucks being loaded, and says that even in its unrefined state, the 25 tons of ore are worth $30,000 per ton. Naturally they are rushing to get it away before the mountain comes down. At that moment, he takes a call from the company engineer, who reports that the rain on the mountaintop is causing the moutain to slide further: it is now only 60 feet from their back wall.

Lois is determined to do something to help them, but Clark notes that they are only newspaper people, and the best they can do is write a story. As Phails ushers them out of his office, Lois begins to sympathize with the people who have to evacuate. Meanwhile, Clark is marveling at the ore trucks: "Do you realize its value? Over three-quarters of a million dollars right there in front of you!" Well, actually, Clark, 25 tons at $30,000/ton is exactly $750,000.1 "If anything happened to it—" he adds, then you can almost hear the lightbulb go on over his head.

Lois wants to help some women with the evacuation, but Clark decides to stay behind, to "think." Actually, he wants to eavesdrop on a phone call that he overheard (his super-hearing gives him the ability to hear radio waves and audio signals carried by wire), between Phails and Collins of the crime syndicate. It seems Phails, too, is in on the conspiracy. He reports that Lois and Clark are present, but suspect nothing. He asks if "he" (meaning Morton, clearly) has found a solution to the radium problem. Collins assures him that he has, and that they stand to make a fortune off his discovery. He tells Phails that 10 o'clock that night, there will be "the biggest rainstorm you ever saw," and to have the ore trucks in the right place. "We'll block 'em off with the mountain and raze the whole lot of 'em." Uh-oh.

Lois returns, and Clark tells her that he has learned of the plot to steal the ore using the landslide as cover, and unfortunately her uncle is in the midst of it. . . .

How much can Clark tell Lois without giving away his secret?

What can they do to stop the plot?

How can an episode with literally zero action actually be so exciting?

Seriously, good job, writers! On to the thrilling conclusion . . .

Episode 57: Horace Morton's Weather Machine, Part 6 (1940/06/21)

Listen!

As this episode begins, Clark and Lois are helping the last of the settlement's residents evacuate. As the last bus leaves, Clark tells Lois that he knows the gangsters are forcing her uncle to control the weather, so that they can destroy the refinery, then trap the trucks and the evacuees. They try to figure out where Dr. Morton is controlling the weather from, and guess that there might be a secret entrance into the observatory that the police guarding it don't know about. It's now 9:15: less than an hour left before the next storm!

They drive back to the observatory on the top of the mountain. Clark sees a light through one of the cellar windows. He tells Lois to go wait in the car, so he can change to Superman, and breaks through the wall into the cellar, where he finds Dr. Morton being held at gunpoint by Collins, and the police guard tied up in a corner. I think this is the only glaring plot hole in this story: Clark/Superman has never met Collins, so how does he know who he is? Nonetheless, that doesn't stop Superman from grabbing Collins' gun and beating him up. Changing back to Clark, he revives Morton. "I guess there was an explosion," he says, "the whole wall went out!" Or in, maybe.

Lois hears the noise and comes into the cellar with a flashlight. Dr. Morton tells them that he was captured by the criminals and forced to change the weather. One final storm—the one at 10 o'clock— will bring the mountain down on the refinery and settlement, but also on the trucks and the buses full of evacuees. Clark implores Morton to stop the storm, but it's already too late: it's ten!

Morton knows that the criminals plan to trap the convoy and steal the ore at Forest Hill Pass. Clark wants to rush out there and see if there's anything he can do to warn them, and he tells Lois to take care of her uncle, and also to untie the cop so he can tie Collins up. As Superman, he flies toward Forest Hill Pass.

Meanwhile, a woman on one of the buses tells the noisy kids to "shut it," but notes optimistically that they've reached the pass and are almost safely away. Superman arrives just as the rain is causing the mountain to move. The truck drivers run away, but Superman picks the trucks up, dumps out the ore, and piles them up into a barrier that holds back the landslide long enough for the buses to get through. Huzzah!

Later, Lois and Clark are having tea with Dr. Morton. Clark says that by the time he arrived at Forest Hill Pass to help, the buses had already gotten safely through, though the ore trucks were wrecked, but Lois finds it unusual that the landslide dumped out all the ore and piled the trucks into a heap. Clark also reminds Dr. Morton that they came to get an interview from him, but Morton declines: he has decided to give up manipulating the weather. His secret is better off unknown.

OK, it occurs to me that there's another major plot hole. How, exactly, was Collins' plan supposed to work? They wanted to trap the ore trucks under the landslide? Then what? Dig up all the ore again and cart it away in—I don't know, a fleet of ore trucks?

Other than that, however, this was a really good serial. Damming a rockslide by flinging a bunch of trucks into a pile is just the sort of super-feat we want to hear Supes do. I appreciate also that the writers seem to be giving Clark more plausible lies to cover for his work as Superman: he didn't once have to pretend to be Clark the daredevil. Instead we got the ineffective, cowardly Clark Kent we all know and love.

Coming up: Adventure and intrigue in Hans Holbein's doll factory. The elder or the younger? Tune in next week to find out!

Footnote

1. In the late 90s, I had the opportunity to hold, in my own hands, a spindle of software CD-ROMs with a total cash value of 1 million dollars. I feel less impressed than Clark at 25 tons of dirt worth three-quarters as much, as a result. Different time, different values, I guess.