February 11, 2012

Superman Saturday: Oooh, give me steam!

After a brief hiatus, Serial Saturday returns—this time, with a short two-episode Superman adventure. As promised last time, we meet up with some old friends: the Wolfe and his sidekick Keno, now officially the first two recurring villains of Supe's rogues' gallery. So, without further ado, on we go with . . .

Episode 16: The Prison Riot (1940/03/18)


At the Daily Planet office, Perry White commends Clark Kent for his story on the North Star Mining Company (from his previous adventure). Lois is on assignment: she's at the nearby San Miguel penitentiary, writing a feature on the modern prison system. Clark recognizes this prison as the one where Keno and the Wolfe were sent after their sabotage attempt on the Silver Clipper passenger train. Perry tells Clark to pick up Lois and bring her back, and so Clark finds himself a rental car and heads out.

While Lois is taking her tour of the prison, however, unrest is brewing, and it is masterminded by none other than the Wolfe himself. He and his henchman Keno plot inconspicuously in the prison yard. A prison break is planned during suppertime, which is only an hour away. While some of the inmates cause a disturbance at the gate, Keno and the Wolfe will slip into the steam plant, from which they will make their escape with the help of their boss, the Yellow Mask.

The last time we saw the Yellow Mask, Superman saved the Planet from his airborne death ray, by intentionally crashing another plain into his. The Yellow Mask's body was never found, so of course he was going to come back, sooner or later. Supervillains never die, after all!

In any case, the Wolfe is bitter about being left to cool his heels in San Miguel, and despite the loyal Keno's protests, he plans to make his displeasure known to the Yellow Mask when he gets out. Just then, they notice Lois Lane on tour with the prison warden, and the Wolfe wryly remarks that she's going to get a heck of a story today.

Lois, curious about the prison diet, asks the warden if she can eat in the prison dining hall when her tour is over. You don't need to guess what happens next: right on cue, the sirens go off as the prisoners barricade themselves into the dining hall, led by the Wolfe, while other inmates storm the prison gate.

The warden calls for help from the state police and militia, and they close all roads to the prison. Clark Kent comes to one of these roadblocks. The police aren't going to let him through, especially when they find out he's a reporter—they're suspicious how he could have heard of the riot so soon, though of course Clark knows nothing about that yet. Clark decides to ditch his car and run to the prison, easily outrunning the pursuing county mounties on their motorcycle.

Meanwhile, the warden has ordered the guards to repel the inmates with tear gas only: though the guards want to break out the machine guns, he doesn't want to have to shoot anyone. The inmates are preparing to batter down the main gate with a 20-foot-long timber, but just then Superman arrives. He grabs the timber, and wielding it "like a baseball bat," scatters the prisoners and drives them back into the cell block!

What has happened to Keno and the Wolfe in the dining hall?

Is Lois in trouble?

Will someone attack Superman with a 2-foot-wide baseball?

You'll find out the exciting answers to these very questions, in the next episode . . .

Episode 17: The Steam Plant (1940/03/20)


Thanks to Superman's superior giant-bat-handling powers, the situation at San Miguel prison is temporarily calmed. However, villains Keno and the Wolfe are still barricaded into the dining hall, and they have received word of his arrival, recognizing him as the same figure in a red cloak who foiled their sabotage of the Silver Clipper. Clark Kent has also arrived at the prison, and (not recognizing that Clark and Superman are one and the same) they plot their revenge against him, as well. Despite the tear gas, they plan to rush across the prison yard to the steam plant, believing they are safe as long as the warden is opposed to using bullets. Also—they have Lois Lane hostage, thanks to her last-minute decision to eat in the dining hall!


Clark learns this because he is meeting with the warden when Wolfe calls. Immediately he changes back to Superman and flies across to the dining hall, vandalizes government property by tearing through the roof, and leaps into the room, terrorizing the inmates and marching them out with their hands up. In the confusion, Keno and the Wolfe have of course already escaped, taking Lois with them.

At the steam plant, some of the the inmates rig the steam hoses so they can use them as weapons against the guards/police/militia, while others open up the escape tunnel to the outside. As this is the first mention of this tunnel, it's not clear whether they had been digging this tunnel clandestinely before the riot, or whether it is just a convenient "feature" of the modern penitentiary, available for their use. They tell Lois that she is an "antidote" against Clark's interference. For some reason, they seem unconcerned about Superman's interference. Lois, who until then hadn't realized Clark was even there, screams to him for help.

In the meantime, Clark has learned that Keno, the Wolfe, and Lois were spotted escaping to the steam plant, and he again becomes Superman and rushes over there. Though the escapees turn the steam on him, he is naturally impervious to its scalding effects. "Go on, boys, turn it on full," he taunts them. Now his fancy blue suit is both indestructible and wrinkle-free. He hears Lois screaming again, and finds her just as she is passing out—another convenient opportunity to change back to Clark Kent. The guards have found the prisoners' escape route and begin rounding up the prisoners on the outside. Lois wonders why Clark was there, and if it was him that had helped her, as she had seen a figure in a red cape just before she went out. Clark teases her for mistaking him for Superman, and in return, the Ice Queen snaps at him for not chasing the escaping prisoners down the tunnel, scoffing: "You'll never be confused with Superman." I was wondering if this story was ever going to feature some of Lois and Clark's trademark antagonism. I'm surprised she didn't accuse him of trying to steal her story, too.

In the end, all the inmates were accounted for except for two: Keno and the Wolfe, who, with the help of the Yellow Mask, made good their escape.

All told, these aren't the best couple of episodes. The story itself is rather bland, and doesn't show off Superman at his most spectacular. It serves mainly as a prologue to the next adventure. However, the anticipated return of Superman's nemesis, the Yellow Mask, holds out some promise!