February 26, 2012

Superman SaturdaySunday: When the levee breaks, we'll have no place to stay

This week's instalment is a day late: I was watching the recent David Tennant/Patrick Stewart production of Hamlet last evening, and it turned out to be longer than I'd planned. Not that I'm complaining. Anyway, Sunday is just as good a day for lazing around and watching bad old movies, so no harm done. Plus, it's still alliterative!

When we last left our heroes, Clark Kent and Lois Lane were on assignment in the city of Dyerville, population 30,000, which had been experiencing some mysterious disasters. Even while they were there—but for Clark's intervention as Superman—the bridge into town collapsed, and a barge loaded with gasoline tankers nearly plunged over a local waterfall. Then, Dyerville's woes were revealed as the work of none other than Superman's nemesis, the Yellow Mask—who, if he did not receive the sum of one million dollars! by midnight the next day, would destroy the city. His diabolical plan would, no doubt, involve a school of ill-tempered sea bass . . .

Episode 20: The Mystery of Dyerville, Part 3 (1940/03/27)


It is just after noon the next day, and only about 12 hours until the Yellow Mask's deadline. Clark and Lois are again sitting in the uninquisitive city commissioner's office. (If he had a name, it would be much easier to type, but we're never told.) Clark asks him: If he wanted to destroy the city, how would he do it? Once Lois has assured him that Clark isn't crazy, the commish suggests that he might blow the upriver Harley Dam, sending "billions of gallons" of lake water down the gorge and wiping the city off the map.

At that moment, the phone rings. It's the Yellow Mask, with a "friendly reminder" that they have only 24 hours to meet his demand for one million dollars! (thereby proving that he doesn't know how to tell time). Otherwise, every living thing in Dyerville will drown. Clark deduces that the Mask's plan does not involve installing a giant "laser" on the moon. He and Lois make tracks to the dam, to see what's what.

However, the Yellow Mask has a plan to deal with them, as well. He has invented a device that can stop machinery cold. He gives it to his henchman Keno, telling him to hide in an abandoned cabin near the dam, and use the device on Clark's and Lois' car. The box works as expected, and as Clark tries to figure out what's wrong with the vehicle, Keno and his henchmen nab them both and drag them back to the cabin, where they are tied up in separate rooms. (How convenient!)

In Clark's room, Keno rigs a device that he says is a "one-way ticket to dreamland" for him and Lois. Interestingly, when we first encountered Keno, he wasn't willing to commit murder for the Mask. Now, he seems all too eager. Perhaps seeing the Mask introduce his partner, the Wolfe, to a deadly Zot! of high voltage has increased his enthusiasm. Anyway, Clark correctly guesses that Keno means to blow up the cabin with him and Lois in it. He waits for Keno to leave, then easily snaps his bonds and dismantles the bomb. Meanwhile, in the next room, Lois is screaming for Clark's help. Ironic, considering that her antagonism for Clark has been ramped up for this adventure, and she basically thinks of him as an inferior human being. He breaks into her room, where she has fainted. (How convenient!) Not wanting to risk bringing her on a search for the Yellow Mask's hideout, he elects instead to fly her to the dam.

The commissioner has sped to the dam himself, looking for Clark, who at that moment emerges from the bushes with an unconscious Lois. As they stand in the middle of the dam (as you would, if you thought that a supervillain was going to blow it up), it begins to shake. Quickly, everyone runs for it . . .

What is the cause of this new rumbling?

What brought the city commissioner racing to the dam?

Does anyone in Dyerville have an actual name?

Learn the answers to these questions and more, in . . .

Episode 21: The Mystery of Dyerville, Part 4 (1940/03/29)


After hearing the earthquake-like rumblings in the water above the dam, all escape safely to dry land. The city commissioner—suddenly taking an interest again in unusual doings—believes they heard an underwater explosion. He had rushed out to the dam after Clark because the Yellow Mask had somehow left a note on his desk: his patience is running thin, and if the town doesn't expedite delivery of his one million dollars! with greater alacrity, he may change his mind about waiting until midnight! Clark wonders whether the crisis at the dam isn't just some kind of diversion. Perhaps the Mask has another plan. If Clark has a reason for this guess, he doesn't say it.

Lois and the commissioner drive back into the city, as there is to be a town meeting to decide whether to give in to the Yellow Mask. Clark, however, stays behind and, changing to Superman, dives into the lake to investigate the cause of the explosion. He finds a crack in the dam, and a piece of shiny metal, which he concludes came from a torpedo.

Quickly Superman streaks back to Dyerville where, as Clark again, he tells the commissioner what he has discovered. He asks how the water will go if he dam breaks. "Billions of gallons," says the commish, not so helpfully. No, says Clark, where will it go? Down the gorge and right into Dyerville itself. Clark thinks it might be possible to divert the flood if the gorge were blocked, and urges the commissioner to call the Army to dynamite it as soon as possible.

At the town meeting, the city officials vote unanimously to refuse to pay the Yellow Mask's ransom. Suddenly the Mask himself is on the radio again. Since they have rejected his ultimatum, he will go ahead and destroy the city immediately. "Run for your lives, fools!" he gloats, "Save them if you can!" Mwa-ha-ha-ha!

Lois bursts into the room—she's taken a phone call that confirms the dam has broken. Panic ensues! The commissioner tries to find Clark, but he's suddenly disappeared. No doubt he's embarrassed that the dam explosion wasn't a diversion after all . . .

But no! He has again transformed into Superman, and races the wall of water to the bend in the gorge. With mere seconds to spare, he pulls down the rock walls. Superman succeeds in blocking the gorge at the last second. The flood tide is diverted! The water misses Dyerville by half a mile! Huzzah!

Two hours later, Clark meets Lois in the telegraph office, where she has just finished wiring the story back to the Daily Planet. She gloats that thanks to his cowardice, she's scooped him this time: he was shut out of this story! If this were an issue of Action Comics, Clark Kent would give the reader a knowing wink as the story closes.

Clark smiles to himself—but, he wonders, what has become of the Yellow Mask, who has escaped to wreak havoc another day?

Unlike the previous so-so story, this was a great adventure. It had genuine excitement and suspense, which is not easy when your hero is well-nigh invulnerable. Between a collapsing bridge, a runaway train barge, and a burst dam, Superman has his fair share of super-feats. Richard Donner included a similar dam-breaking in 1978's Superman: The Movie, solidifying the bona fides of this super-challenge. The rivalry between Clark and Lois was well played. And, finally, the narration in these four episodes was also very good.

On the other hand, as I mentioned last week, the Yellow Mask previously had world domination as his ambition. Now, he's holding small cities for ransom. As supervillainy goes, he's definitely slumming. At least there's the promise of hearing from him again, though it won't be for some time.

Coming up next on Superman Saturday: Science! meets savagery and brown-skinned natives who speak pidgin English with funny accents. Aren't the 1940s wonderful?