August 13, 2011

Superman Saturday: Playing with the train set

This week on Serial Saturday, Superman wraps up his first radio adventure! So tie a red towel around your neck, grab a bowl of your favourite brand of whole-wheat cereal flakes, and tune in . . .

Episode 5: Locomotive Crew Freed (1940/02/21)

Listen! [MP3]

In this exciting episode of The Adventures of Superman: Another spoiler title.

As you will remember, Clark Kent intended to lure out the perpetrators of the railway sabotage plot by using himself as bait. Conspicuously lurking around the hideout of Keno and the Wolfe, he is not disappointed: they grab him and drag him into the basement, where they have built an interrogation room complete with reinforced walls and "aids."

Keno, working Clark over, frustrated that he can't make him talk. Then the Wolfe comes in and orders it to leave him alone; whatever Clark knew, it doesn't matter now. Clark demands what he means by that, so the Wolfe (a non-genre-savvy supervillain) reveals their plan: just as they didn't find the locomotive that went missing last episode, they won't find the Silver Clipper, "crack train of the West Coast Railroad," either. Clark is to be sealed into their vault, built out of concrete and three-inch-thick steel, and left to die. They clobber him unconscious and leave for the road to San Joaquin, 20 miles out of town.

Of course Kent was merely faking; he bides his time, until Keno and the Wolfe are out of earshot. Then, he transforms to Superman and goes to work smashing his way out of the basement. He finds a skylight on the top floor, and crashes through it on his way up, up, and away. This will not be the last skylight to fall victim to a super-act of vandalism. Understandably, Supe didn't want to be seen on the street, but he couldn't have quietly slipped out the back door instead of blasting through a glass roof?

Keno and the Wolfe arrive at the scene of the crime. Schooner Canyon was the location of a mining camp, until a dam was built and the canyon was flooded to create a reservoir. The camp had a railway line leading to it, through a tunnel and down the canyon wall. The branch line, though abandoned, still leads to the water. The Wolfe's men sabotaged the switch to divert the engine through the tunnel; it is now a thousand feet underwater. Fortunately, the engineer and fireman jumped clear just in time. Unfortunately, the Wolfe has schackled them to the rocks above the tunnel. When they are dead (presumably of exposure), he will leave their bodies by the tracks: creating an unsolvable mystery. The same fate awaits the Silver Clipper and its passengers. Keno again balks at the thought of mass murder, but the Wolfe taunts him for his cowardice.

While Keno and the Wolfe are talking, they think they hear the sound of rushing wind, or wings. Keno thinks he spies a man in a red cape flying around the scene; it calls to his mind what the Western Limited conductor had said. The Wolfe dismisses it. But Superman has overheard this entire conversation, and speeds over the tunnel to rescue the injured train crew. Fortunately, we learn, he can see in the dark - and through rock! He frees the men from their bonds, and leaves them at a nearby ranch house.

Meanwhile, the Silver Clipper is now 20 minutes out of Denver; the whistle blows in the distance . . .

Not too much happens in this episode; it's mainly a setup for the finale. However, we do learn something new about Superman's powers: he has night and X-ray vision, though he doesn't seem to use the latter.

Can Superman warn the authorities and get back in time to rescue the Silver Clipper?

Will he finally rescue the Silver Clipper?

Listen again nextime for thrills! Suspense! Climax!

Episode 6: The Silver CLipper (1940/02/23)

Listen! [MP3]

The Silver Clipper is on its way to San Joaquin Pass and the Wolfe's trap. Meanwhile, Superman has changed back to Clark Kent and gone to the chief of police. He tells the chief to rush to the crossing at San Joaquin and apprehend Keno and the Wolfe. The two injured train men, now at a nearby ranch, will be star witnesses against them.

Now, in last episode's cliffhanger, the announcer asked whether Superman had enough time to rescue the two men and get back in time to save the train. He didn't mention anything about paying a call at the local sheriff's office en route.

Clark then calls Perry White back at the Planet, and convinces him to stop the press because he's had a break in the railroad story. For some reason, White had thought Clark was dead. However, Clark reassures him that he'd only been "tied up in a cellar, but I broke out." Yep. Just another workday for Clark Kent, cub reporter. White asks if Clark's heard the rumours about the flying "Superman," but Clark brushes them off.

Did I mention that there's a passenger train about to be diverted off the main track and into a thousand-foot-deep watery grave?

Clark finally manages to tear himself away from his phone conversation, and as Superman flies back to the San Joaquin crossing to rescue the train. Keno and the Wolfe are hiding in the tunnel waiting for the Silver Clipper to arrive. In five minutes, the tunnel will be a "most unhealthy place . . . Something resembling the end of the world, Keno. Screaming brakes, rending steel, billows of steam! Yes, decidedly we should move, my friend. Come." (I would love to meet the guy who wrote that dialogue, and buy him beer. Sadly, he's probably dead.) With only minutes left, Keno and the Wolfe go to the tracks to observe the mayhem from a discreet distance.

Superman arrives at the junction with only a minute to spare. He quickly resets the switch and, for good measure, tears up some of the branch track. He is spotted by Keno and the Wolfe, who take a few shots at him, with the predictable results. With the Silver Clipper bearing down upon them, they run for their car. Superman has thrown the switch in the nick of time, and the train safely barrels through en route to Salt Lake.

The two villains have sped away in their car, but Superman quickly catches up with them and stops their escape. He picks them both up with one hand, and with the other he commits yet another act of wanton property damage on their car, making it look like a crash. With police on the way, he warns them not to try to sabotage another train and flies away. The police arrive and recognize them as the men Clark Kent warned them about. Keno, hysterical, pleads to be put in jail if it will keep him safe from Superman. Clark, who has joined the crowd, congratulates the chief on capturing the saboteurs.

Back at the Planet, White congratulates Clark for a job well done and promises him another assignment. Again he asks about the rumours of a "Superman," and again Clark dismisses them as an urban legend. Just then the phone rings. It's the shadowy figure that has been behind the Wolfe all along - the Yellow Mask! Because of Kent's meddling in his train plot, he threatens the Daily Planet with certain destruction in 24 hours!

And thus ends Superman's first adventure on Earth. Despite plot holes you could drive an Art Deco streamliner through, I quite enjoyed it. The Golden Age-era Superman reminds me a lot of the character George Reeves played on television in the 1950s: more likely to get into a punch-up with gangsters than use godlike superpowers in an epic confict with a campy supervillain.

Who is the voice on the phone?

Who is this Yellow Mask?

Aren't those just the same question?

Tune in again next week, when Science! threatens the Daily Planet! Also, Clark Kent meets another indispensable member of the newspaper staff . . .