September 03, 2011

Superman Saturday: When we kiss, ooh baby, it's fire

After last week's triple feature, I return this week to the regular two-episode format and a new adventure for Superman: a tale of danger, intrigue, and frankly enough super-boneheadedness that I'm actually going to keep count as we go. Let's just say it's not Superman's finest hour.

When we last left our heroes, Clark Kent as Superman had just defeated the megalomaniacal Yellow Mask, by deliberately colliding a plane with his to prevent him from destroying the Daily Planet with atomic Science! Clark returns to work the next day, presumably to bask in adulation for saving everyone's lives. Immediately, a photographer named Mike rushes up and informs Clark and Perry White that the Sterling Building, one of Metropolis' largest, is on fire and there's a girl trapped on the 20th floor . . .

Episode 10: Fire in the Sterling Building (1940/03/04)


Clark pleads with White to let him cover the story, and Mike says that the fire marshal believes the fire might have been set. Meanwhile, Lois pops in for some gratuitous put-downs.

Mike and Clark hop a cab and head for the fire. Mike wonders what Lois has against Clark. Apparently she's smitten with Superman after he rescued her from certain death after being thrown out of an airplane.

They arrive on the scene and ply the fire chief for information, but he tells them nothing. However, he has called in a fourth alarm, so Clark phones in an update to the Planet while Mike stakes out a good vantage point for pictures on a balcony across the street. White warns Clark and Mike to be careful; "I don't take many chances," Clark retorts. Yeah, deliberately causing a midair collision and parachuting out of the flaming wreckage is just another day at the office for our favourite "mild-mannered reporter."

Joining Mike on the balcony, Clark spots the girl on the 20th floor. Taking advantage of a cloud of smoke, he changes to Superman and smashes his way into the Sterling Building. He spots the girl hiding in a closet (a nicely subtle reminder that Superman is able to see through solid objects). Quickly Superman wraps the girl in his cape, carries her through the flames, and smashes his way out again. He leaves the girl in a back alley, changes back to Clark Kent and goes off to find an ambulance doctor. He brings one back, along with the fire chief and Mike, and explains that he found the girl in the alley; she must have escaped herself somehow. The fire chief is skeptical, as he and the battalion chief had spotted Superman flying out of the building. (Bonehead count: 1) Then, the girl comes to and begins babbling: "Stop them, catch them!"

And thus begins Superman's latest adventure. It's got excitement and a daring rescue. Superman breaks as many windows in this episode as he has in all the previous ones altogether—but, to be fair, this time he's saving a life instead of just dropping in unannounced. For a mystery man trying to keep a low profile, he doesn't go too far to keep his existence a secret this time, jumping out of a burning building in front of a whole crowd of gawkers. This isn't the most boneheaded thing Superman/Kent will do in this story, though: it's a veritable comedy of errors. Wait 'til you hear the next episode or two. Finally, I don't think Lois Lane shows up again for the rest of this story; I can only guess that her pointless appearance at the beginning of the episode was necessary to meet some contractual obligation toward actress Joan Alexander.

By the way, just remember that in the continuity of the radio program, this is all still taking place only a few days after Superman popped out of his teeny-tiny rocket ship and saved the day for Jimmy and the Professor. (The program itself had only been on the air for about three weeks by this time, too.) It seems to have taken him all of about 30 seconds to assimilate himself into human culture. I have to assume that at some point, Clark Kent must have gone into the archives after hours and gotten himself up to speed with a little super-speed-reading.

Who is the girl?

Was the fire deliberately set?

Will the next episode title give away the ending again?

Episode 11: The Stabbing of June Anderson (1940/03/06)


Clark Kent is waiting in the hospital for the girl to revive and shed some light on the Sterling Building fire, and hopefully identify herself, since no one has apparently read the title yet.

In the meantime, two men are driving the hell out of Dodge. They listen to the radio, as the news reports that the fire started on the 20th floor in the offices of the North Star Mining Company. The district attorney is attempting to interview our nameless girl, who is the former secretary for the company, hoping she can shed some light on the situation. Even though she's still unidentified, they have somehow figured out that she's the secretary, instead of, say, the cleaning lady.

The two men in the car are also wanted by the police: they are Bartley Pemberton, president of the North Star Mining Company, and Joseph Dineen, treasurer and VPO. Realizing that the girl might finger them as the perpetrators, they quickly turn around to take care of her—deciding to pose as her uncle and cousin and visit her in the hospital.

Back in the hospital, Clark is still waiting. A nurse informs him that the girl's injuries were light, but she is drifting in and out of consciousness, mumbling warnings about two men in a car. (How does she know they're in a car?) The nurse tells Clark that he probably has about an hour before the girl wakes up, so he steps outside, changes to Superman, and flies off. To look for two men in a car. In a city. (Bonehead count: 2) Of course, Pemberton and Dineen aren't trying to escape the city, they're trying to get back in. They park at a pay lot near the hospital, informing the attendant they won't need more than the first hour. That same hour that Superman is using to search for two men in a car leaving town.

Superman has searched 500 cars and, of course, not found anything. Hoping to strike pay dirt with car #501, he spots another one with two men in it, swoops down and stands in the middle of the road. Unfortunately, it's a police car, and he nearly causes a wreck. (Bonehead count: 2) Quickly, he starts anew his ongoing crime spree by evading arrest, flying away with several police bullets in hot pursuit.

Back at the hospital, Clark Kent starts flirting with the nurse again, and learns that the girl is being visited by two relatives; the nurse bent a rule to let them in. It seems that two strangers claiming to be an uncle and cousin and demanding to visit an unidentified Jane Doe, who also happens to be the principal witness to a possible crime, raises no suspicion in today's modern nurse. Clark smells a rat, though, and begs her to let him in to talk to them, tempting her with a write-up and picture in the paper. Suitably bribed, the nurse agrees and goes in to check on the girl.

Guess what she discovers. Go on, guess.

Of course, if Superman hadn't flown off for an hour on a wild-goose chase, he might have been able to head her "relatives" off in the hospital. (Bonehead count: 3) "How badly is she hurt? Is she dead?" demands Clark. "I don't know, she's unconscious!" the nurse answers. (If she was conscious, someone could just ask her if she was dead, I guess.) Kent phones in an update to the Planet rewrite desk.

Have Pemberton and Dineen silenced their secretary for good?

What does she know that would drive them to commit arson and murder to keep her from talking?

Does anyone other than the scriptwriter know her name?

Sit tight . . . all will be revealed in next week's exciting adventure!