September 10, 2011

Superman Saturday: June is bustin' out all over

Dadadada-dada! Saturday!

We last left Superman waiting to learn the fate of an unidentified girl who had, in the course of a day, been trapped in a burning high-rise, then stabbed by two men posing as her relatives. Also, Superman did a number of things that were not very clever. Fear not, Faithful Reader, for the Man of Steel's bonehead streak continues this week as Clark Kent continues to investigate the . . .

Episode 12: North Star Mining Company (1940/03/08)


Despite being nearly burned alive and stabbed in a single day, the girl's injuries were light, and she is now well enough to grant Clark his long-delayed interview. And since the script now calls her by her name, June Anderson, I will do the same.

June reveals that it was indeed her bosses, Bartley Pemberton and Joseph Dineen, who stabbed her. It turns out they are swindlers: the North Star gold mine is worthless, and they have been bilking their investors out of their savings. June discovered this, but on the day of the fire she had been caught by Pemberton and Dineen. She admitted that she knew what they were up to, and tells them she has removed incriminating papers from the file and put them in a secret location that only she knows. This was all Pemberton and Dineen needed to know: if an "accident" should befall June, there is no fear of reprisal. They tied her up and left her in the burning building.

June had bundled the papers and given them to her brother, who is the captain of a tramp steamer, for safekeeping in the ship's safe. Just then, the nurse comes in and informs Clark that an orderly knew that Pemberton and Dineen's car was still in the parking lot (since the police in Metropolis obviously keep hospital orderlies informed about ongoing police investigations). Clark, changing to Superman, flies over to the lot and finds the car. Ripping the door off (and thereby illegally interfering with a crime scene), Superman searches the car for clues, but finds only two handguns in the glove box. These he crushes, destroying any fingerprints that might be on them and contaminating them with Clark Kent's. (Bonehead count: 4) He flies away when he is spotted, and returns to the Daily Planet.

At the Planet building, Clark is visited by a Dr. Ambrose, an investor in the North Star Mining Company, who becomes upset to learn that he has been swindled out of his life's savings. Nonetheless, Clark reassures him that they have evidence against the swindlers. Just then, Perry White comes in and tells Clark that they have located June's brother: his ship, the Madison, is sailing down the coast to Charlotte. Ambrose thanks them for their time.

Back at the hospital, June tells Clark that her brother will turn her papers over to the police when he reaches Charlotte. Clark tells her about Dr. Ambrose's visit to the newspaper, and June becomes alarmed when she recognizes him from his description: he was Pemberton in disguise, and Clark had told him everything they knew. (Bonehead count: 5)

Superman flies down the coast in search of the Madison. Meanwhile, Pemberton and Dineen have hired a fast cruiser and caught up with the steamer. They fake a distress call to compel the sailors to bring them aboard   

As much as I enjoy this story, it doesn't show off Superman at his brightest. In fact, this plot line has advanced beyond an episode and a half only because he has done exactly the wrong thing on multiple occasions. Fortunately, for the next little while at least, he doesn't do anything too idiotic.

Will Pemberton and Dineen find June Anderson's papers?

Will Superman intervene in time?

Is dimbulbery his newest superpower?

Find out, in the next episode!

Episode 13: The Steamship Madison (1940/03/11)


Pemberton and Dineen's phony distress call has gotten them on board the steamship Madison, captained by June Anderson's brother Vincent. He is understandably angered by their actions: not only is a false distress call a crime, but the Madison is in government service transporting munitions. They claim they have been sent by June to retrieve her papers. Captain Anderson is, understandably, suspicious. Suddenly he finds himself at the wrong end of a pistol, as Pemberton and Dineen drop the charade and go for the brute-force approach. When Dineen can't break into the ship's safe, they compel Anderson to take them to the ship's hold, where they lock him in and start a fire. If they can't retrieve the papers, they'll destroy all the evidence, and the Madison too. Sailors frantically abandon the ship, and Pemberton and Dineen also escape in the general confusion.

Meanwhile, Superman spots the Madison on fire and swoops down. He realizes that the captain is still trapped inside the ship, and smashes his way through the hull into the hold. He rescues Captain Anderson (who has conveniently passed out), wraps a life preserver around him and drops him into the water near the lifeboats. Returning to the ship, he breaks into the safe and retrieve's June Anderson's bundle of papers before bashing his way out again.

Down on the water, the crew of the Madison rescue the captain and row for their lives just as the ship explodes . . .

There's a pattern evolving in these Superman stories that is starting to become apparent. In his first adventure, he foils the Yellow Mask, who was, for some unstated reason, attempting to sabotage the American railway system. In the next story, the Yellow Mask, under the alias of "Professor Schmidt," steals an atomic death ray. Finally, Captain Anderson is in command of a tramp steamer, shipping munitions for the U.S. government.

Of course, this was 1940, and there was a war on, although the U.S. wasn't yet involved. Officially neutral, and still nearly two years before Pearl Harbor, the U.S. was nonetheless building up its own military forces, and at the end of 1940 would become the "Arsenal of Democracy" for Allied powers in Europe and the Far East. The scriptwriters never mention the war, but it's not hard to speculate that it's the historical backdrop for many of Superman's adventures in these years. It explains a shipload of munitions easily enough, but possibly also why railway saboteur "the Wolfe" has a Germanic name, and why the Yellow Mask adopts a German alias to steal the atomic beam weapon.

Speaking of munitions ships, the explosion of the Madison should have ended this story then and there. Munitions ships don't just catch fire and blow themselves apart. They do this. While Superman would have gotten away with the papers (maybe—in these days he was tough, but not invulnerable), Pemberton and Dineen would likely have been vaporized in a mushroom cloud—thus obviating the need for incriminating evidence—along with Captain Anderson, the remainder of the crew, and any nearby towns.

But since there was no mushroom cloud, what became of Pemberton and Dineen?

What will Superman do with the papers?

What will he do next to prolong this crisis unnecessarily?

You know you can't wait to find out next week!