"The Model Plane Mystery" / "Dr. Cameron’s Helicopter" / "The Vulture and the Thunderbolt Express" / "The Bainbridge Disaster" The Adventures of Superman Radio Serial - March - April 1943
The few remaining intact recordings of this series alert the listeners to the fact that Dr.Leander Cameron’s ingenious inventions continue to be the target of The Vulture’s thefts - first the “Tin Man” robots created by the eccentric inventor to aid the war effort, and now a fully-functioning helicopter which can be folded into a suitcase-sized carrying case. The titles also imply that The Vulture continues his mad parade of perniciousness in regards to a Thunderbolt Express, evading the law and the Man of Steel for months on end.
"The Tin Men" / "Trouble in Athabascus" / "The Island of Ghost Ships" The Adventures of Superman Radio Serial - January - February 1943
Surviving recordings of this era are few and far between, so what little there is to say about the radio shows of 1943 come from individual episodes scattered here and there. Dr.Leander Cameron remains as the cast’s go-to scientific wonder-maker, and a new villain under the moniker of The Vulture arises to undermine Superman’s efforts to promote peace, justice, and an Allied victory to the war in Europe.
"The Mystery Ship" The Adventures of Superman Radio Serial - December 1942
The Daily Planet staff emerge from Dr.Leander Cameron’s amazing submarine when it’s plowed through by a rampaging ghost ship. On board the offending they find piping hot soup freshly poured into dinnertime bowls, lit corridors, and no living soul except a cackling , knife-wielding maniac called The Old Man of the Seaweed, all of which turns out to be part of an enemy plot to undermine the confidence of the Merchant Marine (Well, not if Superman has anything to say about it).
"The Lost Continent of Atlantis" The Adventures of Superman Radio Serial - December 1942
With the relatively dire episode - The Headless Indian - receding in the headlights, the Daily Planet staff partakes on a lighter adventure in the company of surprisingly competent comedy character Dr. Leander Cameron, whose motto is “Always Be Prepared” (he carries ice cream fixin’s in his overstuffed backpack and rides a motorcycle in a diving suit). The Doctor is leading our cast on an expedition to find the lost continent of Atlantis and which, as the key players expectantly bemoan, comes to nothing except to set the crew up with their next adventure.
"The Midnight Intruder" The Adventures of Superman Radio Serial - November - December 1942
Because fans of superheroes become accustomed to boundaries – characters “belong” to specific companies, or to dedicated timelines, particular eras, specific continuities, etc – we might look at The Midnight Intruder as the radio show’s first example of uniting its original 3-day-a-week run with its newly invigorated 5-day-a-week existence. What begins as a weird but slightly whimsical adventure –figures dressed as clowns and cartoon characters (Mickey Mouse, specifically) are breaking into homes to smash a particular brand of novelty plastic statue – eventually ends up reintroducing the Japanese agent The Leopard Lady. She’s returned and is sending her henchmen to smash the statues looking for a cleverly hidden formula for a super-explosive! Naturally, Superman is on hand to keep the super-explosive safe in Allied hands…
"The Headless Indian" The Adventures of Superman Radio Serial - October - November 1942
In many ways, the new-for-1942 incarnation of The Adventures of Superman is as much a horror program as an adventure show, pitting the Daily Planet staff and their allies against intimidating, often seemingly superhuman threats. With a protagonist who can shrug off bullets, bombs and poison darts, the threat of danger benefits from being indistinct, apparently omnipresent and generally difficult to simply punch into unconsciousness.
This episode ladles it on, with the murderous apparition of the episode’s eponymous headless Indian partnered with a “Wandigo”, prowling the deep and frozen north woods where the cast has found themselves on a mission to help one of Perry White’s friends. Also in attendance is an obese, looming antagonist, unflappable and obscene, a man I’d categorize as the radio show’s one true entry into the super-villainous Class of 1942 – The Laugher.
At their first meeting, even tough and unflappable Superman is taken aback by the Laugher’s grotesque appearance – a giant of a man, unbelievably obese (“My chins are three and my stomach, though only one, is big enough for six men!” he oddly brags), with sick-seeming eyes and a gray pallor, “a toad” as the Man of Steel dubs him, glittering diamonds festooning his fat fingers and every button of his shirt. Most unsettling, though, is the Laugher’s limitless cheer – a booming, velvet chuckle, rumbling like thunder and percolating like flood water rushing through a drain, a smooth but intimidating giggle that hides a terrible malevolence. “I will even laugh – at my own death” he tells Lois Lane, having lured her into the frozen woods in order to kill her where no superhuman eyes can follow.
The Laugher is preceded by his reputation – the underworld fears him almost as much as they fear Superman, sometimes moreso. The depths of his cruelty are limitless, his wrath terrible to behold. Despite his size, he’s not an equal to Superman’s terrific might – who is? – but he resists the Man of Steel’s choking grip, and laughs as powerful steel-hard fingers threaten to crush the breath from his throat. And even more terrible than his perversity and bulk – his mind; although the script takes pain to backtrack, it’s clear upon the first meeting between The Laugher and Clark Kent that the villain has – owing to a subconscious verbal slip on Kent’s part – figured out Superman’s dual identity!
(Although there’s clearly no relation between the two characters, The Laugher routinely reminded me of Judge Holden, the malicious, impenetrable and infernal presence of writer Cormac McCarthy’s powerful Blood Meridian. Given to waxing philosophic, deeply intelligent and flamboyantly eloquent, and – of course – physically tremendous, as well as renowned for inconceivable and occult acts of cruelty, The Laugher even shares with The Judge an antagonistic but intimate relationship with nature. Sadly, unlike Holden, we find The Laugher can indeed die, blinded and frozen to death in the bitter white wasteland of the snowy woods…)
"Mystery in Arabia" / "The Black Narcissus" The Adventures of Superman Radio Serial - September through October 1942
Lois, Jimmy and Clark find themselves in Mecca, where Lois is almost immediately abducted by The Red Fez Gang, mistaken for a lookalike Polish Countess. A Shakespearean ham with the unlikely name of Sir Mycroft Bittersweet pals around with them until both countess and journalist are rescued, at which point it’s Jimmy’s turn to be captured and the whole crew finds themselves jet-setting off to the Belgian Congo under the threat of the terrible leader of the Cult of the Black Narcissus …
"The Tiny Men" The Adventures of Superman Radio Serial - September 1942
With the war turning America’s attentions overseas, the Daily Planet staff finds a reason to start globe-hopping. First stop: Blitz-battered London, where Lois, Jimmy and Clark survive Luftwaffe bombardment and – even more threatening – the terror of The Tiny Men! A secret weapon of the Nazis, the Tiny Men don’t pack much of a physical punch but, rather, drive men mad by dint of being too small to fathom.
The show’s atmosphere of tension and terror does much of the work in making the Tiny Men more than merely a nuisance or an oddity, with Lois in particular given over to hysterics on sight of the diminutive ne’er-do-wells…