A Mystery for Superman The Adventures of Superman Radio Serial - February-March, 1942
This abbreviated, five-episode story arc marks the end of the initial 325-episode run of The Adventures of Superman, and the start of a four-month break before the Mutual Network relaunched the show on a five-days-a-week schedule.
The abrupt conclusion to the short series seems to imply that the show’s cancellation wasn’t fully expected; Clark Kent is kept guessing and dashing about at a harrowing pace in a plot involving Lois’ apparent kidnapping, a missing Perry White, $20,000 in possibly swindled Daily Planet money, a scene-shifting house full of retired actors and a keen psychiatrist who puts Clark Kent in sincere doubt of his own sanity. In the fifth episode, it’s suddenly resolved that the whole affair was a bluff engineered by the Daily Planet staff to celebrate Clark’s anniversary with the paper. Plot threads are abandoned wholesale in favor of a precise, if anticlimactic, ending, and the audience hears the cast leave the airwaves amid a congratulatory party…
The Ghost Car The Adventures of Superman Radio Serial - February, 1942
The Superman cast is never far from a dude ranch, it seems, such as in this short arc, which is also the penultimate episode of the radio show’s initial incarnation. Recovering from the poisoning he received at the machinations of the Leopard Lady in the previous arc, Jimmy discovers a haunting “Ghost Car” terrorizing the remote dude ranch (which also happens to sit on mineral rich land)
The personal automobile, in 1942, had gone from an oddity to a luxury to a necessity in what was essentially the course of a generation. So it seems unlikely that something as quotidian as a car could have supernatural powers ascribed to it – surely any reasonable observer would rationalize that a “ghost car” would just be a car with a trick involved. Still, one of the undeniable traits of humanity is the ability to anthropomorphize and mysticize any inanimate object – particularly mechanical items which seem to pulse with their own life force, which is why fiction in general seems filled with haunted telephones, typewriters, and the like…
"Lita the Leopard Woman" The Adventures of Superman Radio Serial - January, 1942
Historians and reviewers of older entertainment media often walk a particularly thin line when it comes to accounting for the portrayals of race and gender in these works. The onus is to be honest about the contemporary relevance of the portrayals without exhibiting a prejudice for modern cultural standards, which is why you’ll so often see soft language such as “not-quite politically correct” and “it was a different time” used to explain the presence of sexist and racist slurs, slights, omissions and stereotypes in the reviewed material.
The impression given by this soft language is that there was no backlash, condemnation nor resentment at these offenses and insults at the time, and that it’s only by virtue of looking back from our more enlightened era that we find something wrong with what we recognize as overt racism and sexism - which all manner of civil rights and equality documents from the time prove demonstrably untrue. What was lacking in this bygone era was a cultural machine which actively discouraged and socially penalized antics like blackface, minstrelsy and slurs.
This is worth addressing because of the content of this episode’s script - you may recall Perry White’s strident “anti-Orientalism” from the earlier radio episode “Teeth of the Dragon”. Facing the Japanese double-agent The Leopard Lady in this installment of the program, and now fully at war with Japan, Perry’s bravado is doubled down and infectious – even the narrator and Clark find themselves waxing rhapsodic on the insidiousness, oiliness and guile of the “untrustworthy Oriental” …
The Mechanical Man The Adventures of Superman Radio Serial - December
The Yellow Mask returns! Yet, even more surprisingly, Clark is secretly recruited into the Espionage Division of the Secret Service – the war effort is in full swing and Superman is clearly expected by the audience and the writers alike to do his part, even if only in his civilian disguise.
Both of these elements resolve in the theft of the unconquerable Mechanical Man, a powerful robot soldier who seems to have been at least lightly influenced by the Mechanical Monsters of the earlier Fleischer cartoon. Set loose by the Mask and sent rampaging through the nation, the Mechanical Man holds the country in terror – particularly as he bores down full speed on a packed orphanage.
The radio serial, at this point, tended to avoid singular menaces for the most part. The fast-paced and densely-packed Mechanical Man is an exception – due in no small part to the return of The Yellow Mask (one of Superman’s earliest foes) – but while the comics will begin to trend towards pseudonymous villains beginning in 1942, the radio serial is still some distance from setting Superman against super-villains on a regular basis, making stories like this a welcome exception…
The Pan-Am Highway The Adventures of Superman Radio Serial - December
This 15-part serial manages to bracket the Japanese Imperial Navy’s attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States’ subsequent declaration of war, and suddenly the threat of impending international conflict which has infused the Superman stories in all their assorted media is a reality.
Flying to Central America to investigate the disappearance of a crew building the first “pan-hemisphere highway” connecting North and South America, the Daily Planet crew – a complete coterie including an unnaturally hoarse Clark (Collyer was suffering a cold, it was explained away as Clark having worn his voice out dictating war reports), Lois, Jimmy and Perry White – are waylaid and find themselves in the hidden valley of the Incas.
These aren’t the Incas of the earlier “Emerald Of…” episode, it’s worth pointing out, although this arc also ends up in peaceful accord between the Incas and our heroes. In fact, the Incas are portrayed as sympathetic villains, which is conceivably to avoid offending potential allies down South, but also to lend Joan Alexander’s Lois an opportunity to wax philosophic on the cessation of war.
It’s an interesting speech, as it comes on the heels of literally months’ worth of lightly-disguised Nazi agents and saboteurs undermining America’s armament efforts in the comics and newspaper strips. Now with war fully inevitable, Lois is given one last chance to speak about the wisdom and superiority of man’s struggle for peace…
The Silver Arrow The Adventures of Superman Radio Serial - November
Cowboys and gangsters were always popular staples of adolescent entertainment, radio serials being no exception - but while the Superman radio show brimmed with the latter, it was a little sly on the former. The occasional excuse to get Clark Kent out into the plains was probably an intentional effort to bite some of the popularity of that genre, just as the Superman serial regularly attracted fans of the cops-and-robbers milieu.
With Tumbleweed Jones continuing to lend some sort of awkward gravitas to Clark and Jimmy’s wild west adventure, the trio discover the calling cards of an Old West vigilante, The Silver Arrow – something of a Robin Hood of the frontier, although slyly similar to another popular radio hero, the Lone Ranger.
The adventure relies more on riddles and mystery than Superman’s mighty feats, although it’s interesting in the sense that it not only expands the Man of Steel’s universe but does so by introducing, for the first time in any media, another costumed crimefighter operating under a colorful sobriquet to the Superman mythos (albeit fifty years in the past) …
The Crooked Oil Association Adventures of Superman Radio Serial - November
The radio serial continues to deliver on its promises, and The Crooked Oil Association does, indeed, feature a crooked oil association. It also features the return of Perry White’s old pal Comanche Joe – not long for the world, I’m afraid – and that old consarn owlhoot Tumbleweed Jones, complete with exhausting cowboy patois and yeehaw accent.
A gun-happy land-thief if attempting to wrest away Tumbleweed’s land – sitting on top of a massive oil deposit – by throwing bullets everywhere, one of which gets stopped by Jimmy Olsen’s unguarded shoulder. A tough kid, Jimmy struggles through and recovers well enough, but the scene is a reminder of the great gulf that exists between Jimmy Olsen’s gosh-a-plenty portrayals in later media and his original wide-eyed tough kid persona.
Metropolis Football Team Poisoned Adventures of Superman Radio Serial - September
As advertised on the tin, the Metropolis Football Team is indeed Poisoned – more specifically, it’s the local university’s college team, and the act of deadly sabotage seems to have been committed to cheat the school out of important funds needed to research infantile paralysis (one of the Superman team’s pet causes, back in the day). There’s a three million dollar inheritance owed the school, you see, but they have to raise half a million on their own to earn it, and the team needs to get to the Rose Bowl because the ticket sales, you see, but … well, listen, it’s complicated.
Suffice it to say that finding the cure requires Superman to head down to Central America and wrestle a few headhunters and giant snakes, as one will. Having ingested the antidote, the team is up, at’em, going to the Rose Bowl and earning an inheritance that’ll benefit modern science. Wait, did I mention that Superman also fights a gorilla named Hercules? It’s a little all over the map, this one…