March 17, 2012

Superman Saturday: Burnin' down the house

It's Saturday night again. That means it's time to put on a good fire, grab your decoder rings, and gather around the old tabletop radio for another double feature of The Adventures of Superman.

The story so far: Clark Kent is investigating the disappearance of archaeologist and scientist Professor Beecham, with his daughter Elsie. They find him at the professor's rural retreat, Stone House, but not before they are attacked and Elsie is kidnapped by Little Brown Guys of the Aztlàn tribe. The professor has taken a sacred idol from the Aztlàn, a large emerald carved into a figure and inscribed with strange markings that he thinks hold the secret to eternal life.

Elsie escapes with he help of Beecham's manservant, who dies in the rescue, but then the Little Brown Guys blow the professor's safe, steal back the emerald, and make their escape in an autogyro . . .

Episode 26: Emerald of the Incas, Part 5 (1940/04/10)


Clark is about to jump out the window and fly after the escaping Little Brown Guys, but he realizes that Elsie is hurt—she's twisted her ankle. This conveniently allows the three of them to work out exactly which way the Indians would be going. The professor thinks they might have a boat waiting for them out at sea. Clark agrees, and to the amazement of Beecham and Elsie, jumps out the window, but they don't see him put on his blue jammies and fly off in pursuit of the autogyro.

Sure enough, the professor was right: the Little Brown Guys are flying out to sea. They have the emerald well hidden. What's more, they have set fire to Stone House. Just then, they spot Superman chasing them. Even the "magic of the Aztlàn" can't do that. Superman catches up and demands they hand over the emerald. They say they "no speak Yankee" in pidgin English and an accent that suggests Little Brown Guys Not From Around Here, Perhaps from South America or the Philippines. Superman is unimpressed with this tactic. They insist (rightly) that the emerald was stolen, but that doesn't concern Superman, who is interested only in Truth, Justice, and Recovering Stolen Property for the Guy who Stole It Originally. The Little Brown Guys point out that Stone House is ablaze thanks to the "magic of the Aztlàn"; to keep them from escaping, Superman uses some of the "magic of Krypton" on their autogyro, meaning he smashes it and leaves them floating on the sea before winging his way back to Brentwood.

Back at the house, Elsie realizes that the taxi driver, whose name is Eddie Hilly, was hiding in the cellar and was now trapped by the fire. It's a good thing she remembered, as his usefulness as a plot device expired two episodes ago. At that moment, Clark returns and smashes his way into the basement to rescue Hilly from the fire, which sounds like someone crinkling a very large sheet of cellophane wrap. He brings Hilly outside into the fresh air, and makes the customary excuse about how the dangerous rescue was really nothing. Pretending he had never actually caught the Little Brown Guys, he rushes off again to the spot where he left them floating.

Meanwhile, though, Beecham makes an important discovery: one of the Little Brown Guys has lost a valuable amulet. It turns out they are Aztlàn priests, and losing that sacred amulet is a crime "worse than death." He thinks that he can use it as a bargaining chip, in exchange for the continued use of the emerald, which he only "borrowed," never intending to keep permanently, but only as long as it took to decipher its inscriptions.

Elsie reports that Eddy Hilly has come to, and he said that when he drove the Little Brown Guys to Stone Hous, he had heard them say they had hired a seaplane to leave Brentwood.

Will Superman find the Little Brown Guys where he left them?

Can Elsie and her father beat them to their seaplane before they escape?

Say, are there any other odd characters hanging around that everyone's forgotten about?

I can't wait to find out!

Episode 27: Emerald of the Incas, Part 6 (1940/04/12)


Still thinking they can bargain for the emerald with the Aztlàn amulet, Elsie and Professor Beecham speed by car toward the airport. In the meantime, Superman flies back to the place where he had stranded the Little Brown Guys in their smashed autogyro. However, using his newly introduced power of telescopic vision, he finds only loose wreckage, as though the aircraft has been deliberately scuttled. He decides to fly to the nearest lighthouse and ask the Coast Guard about them, quickly changing to Clark Kent again as he pounds on the door. The Coasties had rescued the two Indians, but they had then hurriedly left to go to the airport, where in five minutes a hired seaplane is going to return them to "parts unknown." (Maybe the priests don't know either whether they're supposed to be in Brazil or Mesoamerica?)

Beecham and Elsie arrive at the airport just in time to see their seaplane take off, as a fierce thunderstorm whips up. Have they missed their chance? No—just then Superman arrives on the scene. He is about to break into the plane and accost the Little Brown Guys when a sudden lightning strike disintegrates the craft, killing the pilot and leaving the two Indians struggling in the water.

As Elsie and Professor Beecham take shelter from the storm, Kent meets them with the two priests. He explains that he had to make a choice between saving their baggage or saving their lives, and as a result the sacred emerald is lost forever at the bottom of the ocean. Though disappointed, Beecham assures Clark that he did the right thing. One of the Little Brown Guys thanks Clark for saving them, and praises his "great magic," which is greater than theirs because they cannot fly through the air—"That's enough of that," interrupts Clark, hastily.

With the emerald lost, Beecham realizes he has no more leverage over the priests, and offers back the sacred amulet. The Aztlàn are grateful for its return, and they know by their magic that Beecham never intended to keep the emerald permanently. Thus, they reveal that they know all the inscriptions, though their meaning has been lost to time. However, the priests will give their knowledge to Beecham in the hope that he can decipher them at last.

Clark Kent, remembering that he's a reporter who has just witnessed what might be "the biggest story since the Flood," rushes off to write it up.

"Emerald of the Incas" was a fun story. It had suspense in all the right places, particularly the cliffhanger between Part 3 and 4 where Beecham's life hung by a thread. I think the writers must have had some fun with the dialogue this time round: not only are Clark's excuses getting better, but he's also getting downright witty: "Things are certainly opening up," he quips after smashing Stone House's solid iron, electrified gates to pieces. The racial stereotypes were laid on pretty thick, as was the prevailing attitude of Science! that said a white archaeologist could just waltz into a native shrine and take whatever artifacts he wanted. To the credit of Professor Beecham (and the writers), he never intended to keep the emerald for himself, which may place him a notch above Indiana Jones on the Ethics-O-Meter. Although Superman started out by defending the thief, which sort of runs against his mandate as "guardian of the weak and oppressed," in the end he stands up for what is right and fair, choosing life over treasure. The Aztlàn priests also turn out to be more civilized than anticipated. (If it weren't for all that murdering, blowgunning and kidnapping that went on in the first two-thirds of the story!)

On the other hand, the story had more plot holes than a wedge of Swiss cheese. If Beecham never wanted to keep the emerald, why could he not have copied its inscriptions while in South America, without stealing the emerald and bringing such great danger upon himself and his daughter? Elsie Beecham seems to have little function in the story except to be the damsel in distress, and at least twice Clark leaves her alone specifically to allow something bad to happen to her. Eddie Hilly, the cab driver, is a plot device intended to deliver a specific piece of information; then his character is all but abandoned, until some writer realized they'd left him to die in the basement of a burning house. The giant, on the other hand, had no conscientious writer looking for him: after being treed by Superman, he disappears from him temporary "jail" and then from the story entirely. In the end, "Emerald of the Incas" comes off as weaker than its predecessor.

Next week: More racial stereotypes. Plus, another regular character makes his debut, in "Donelli's Protection Racket"!