Much as in the previous issue of Action, Superman faces a pseudonymous crook who affects all the appearance of a super-villain except for scope. A cooked dealer in second-hand cars, THE TOP is a criminal mastermind who knowingly sells cars that are in less-than-optimal condition. Whether his nom du crime is intended to indicate his ranking in some criminal hierarchy, elaborate on his practice of “spinning” the reputation of lemons so that they appear to be safe cars, or some other resemblance in practice or appearance to the child’s toy of the same name, it’s unclear. It sounds good, whatever the case…
The Magnetic Telescope “Superman” Theatrical Cartoons - April 24, 1942
Generally the advantage of the telescope is that distant objects can be examined remotely, but one scientific contrarian instead chooses to use his magnetic telescope to circumvent optical science by bringing a death-spitting comet close to the Earth. Really, it’s the unchecked fear of the citizenry which ultimately causes the subsequent disaster, although bringing tremendous celestial objects to a height reachable by stepladder was probably unwise to begin with.
At the end of this episode, Clark receives – however mistakenly – what appears to be the first kiss between himself and Lois Lane (Lois has planted a smacker on the Man of Steel before, but never on her despised rival co-worker).
Luthor – seemingly now befanged – returns in one of his most pivotal golden age appearances, in pursuit of the POWERSTONE, a strange gem which is capable of bestowing on its owner strength greater than even that of Superman! In the course of the story, Luthor embarks on one of his most ambitious schemes, capturing Metropolis’ most corrupt, power-mad and greedy tycoons in one fell swoop and ransoming their lives.
Comic stories which continued between magazines was a rarity in the Golden Age, and generally were limited to single titles – the well-known Fawcett comics examples, for instance, happened entirely either within the pages of Whiz (Captain Marvel vs Spy Smasher) and Captain Marvel Adventures (the multi-part epic Captain Marvel vs The Monster Society of Evil), and Timely’s famous battle between the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner took place over two issues of Marvel Mystery. The battle between Luthor and Superman over the Powerstone, however, begins here in Action Comics and concludes over in Superman’s eponymous volume. It was a bit of a calculated risk, frankly, to assume that readers of one title were necessarily buying the other, but then again the Superman brand had a terrifically powerful appeal…
Superman vol.1 No.15 - Cover date March-April 1942
War occupies no small part of Superman’s attention in this issue; first, he upends the plans of “Napkanese” infiltrators to sway the otherwise friendly and peaceful nations of South America towards their insidious, imperialistic ends. Then, overseas, Superman helps rout an “Oxnalian” invasion of peaceful “Numark” and broker peace between the nations. The maps of war-torn Europe and Asia grow ever more densely occupied…
Elsewhere, Clark and Lois help repair the wounded reputation of a disgraced police officer and, later, Superman is pitted against a scientist calling himself “The Evolution King”. In truth, the self-proclaimed Evolution King can merely age or de-age a person using his ingenious scientific inventions. While that isn’t exactly “evolution” it’s also still pretty impressive, so we can probably let the scientific inaccuracy of his name slide…
World’s Finest Comics vol.1 No.5 - Cover date Spring 1942
Native Americans often get short shrift in fiction, and the assorted Superman media is no exception; ostensible outsiders in their native land, they’re customarily portrayed as antagonists, typically engineering plots to recover “lost property” (Not unusually, the whole island of Manhattan, for instance) or just generally disrupting the safety and the status quo for what ends up construed as political ends. Then, of course, there’s their portrayal as 20th century barbarians, bare-chested and whooping, bereft of identity, defiantly primitive and parochial, defined only by assimilation or their resistance to assimilation.
Much in step with the overall theme, in this issue Superman finds himself defending an industrialist from an angry tribal reprisal following his acquisition of a sacred native tower. Although portrayed as yowling and bloodthirsty, they’re ostensibly not the bad guys, although you’d be hard-pressed to tell from looking.
The Bulleteers “Superman” Theatrical Cartoons - March 27, 1942
Even moreso than the old theatrical Looney Tunes and Mickey Mouse cartoons, which relied heavily on sight gags, the Fleischer Studio Superman cartoons are some of the most visually dense animated shorts in the history of the medium. For the last several generations of Westerners who have grown up on cycled animation, re-used clips and backgrounds, lowered frame rates, static faces and gag or dialogue driven cartoons, the old Superman series presents a genuinely cinematic experience.
Although you will miss out on the full experience, it’s possible to watch animated shows like Archer, The Simpsons, The Venture Brothers, et al, and periodically look away from the screen without missing the essence of the story. The Superman cartoons, however – and the Bulleteers being a prime example – rely almost entirely on the visuals to communicate the action and atmosphere. Imagine missing not only the sight of the Bulleteer’s deadly vehicle smashing buildings in vibrant explosions, but the looming spectacle of the loudspeaker booming out over Metropolis from the precarious mountain lair, the cathedral ceilings of City Hall, the shadowbox scale of the police scattering before the oncoming missile of doom …
Arson Evidence Superman Sunday Newspaper Strip - March 22, 1942 to May 24, 1942
Part of the appeal and efficacy of Superman’s adventures is his moral certitude – surely his unerring ethical code is as intriguing a component of the escapist fantasy as his leaping over tall buildings or racing locomotives. It’s an enchanting idea to imagine one’s self imbued with the power of flight, but probably no moreso than having absolute and incorruptible moral authority.
That’s why this arc of the newspaper strip is such a distinctive entry in the early catalog of the character; Clark Kent investigates a series of arsons, and the evidence he turns up condemns a man to death – but was Clark wrong? Superman’s career as a journalist puts at his command a power almost as potentially deadly as his unearthly abilities, and must be wielded even more carefully. Doubting his own investigation, Clark calls on his alter ego to verify with certainty whether Clark has exposed a murderer or falsely accused an innocent man …
As the super-villainous Class of 1942 start winding up for the season, a few baddies who would have been otherwise portrayed as mere thugs and heavies are given masks, sobriquets and plastic fangs and sent forth to trouble Superman’s brow with their only-somewhat colorful crimes.
Here, Superman confronts THE DOMINO, a racketeer whose business is strong-arming carnival operators into allowing him to set up rigged gambling establishments on the premises. It’s not exactly a crisis on infinite earths or a panic in the sky so much as it’s robbing pocket cash from rubes, but with the four-color firmament increasingly becoming a highly competitive place for costumed crooks, it seems to require a proto-super-villain at the helm.
The Arctic Giant Superman Theatrical Cartoons - February 27, 1942
Arctic explorers find a gigantic, wholly intact dinosaur trapped in the ice – go figure – and bring it back to Metropolis to be displayed in a specially refrigerated museum. The monster is, of course, still alive, and when an accident causes the turbines powering the refrigeration to shut down, the titanic beast rampages across the city.
The Arctic Giant predates the grandpappies of the giant monster movie craze – the Harryhausen masterpiece The Beast From 50,000 Fathoms and the genre-defining Godzilla – by more than a solid decade, but would look pretty familiar to monster-movie aficionados of the 1950s. The monster’s tail smashes the corners of buildings, he wrecks an elevated train, wades towards a dam overlooking a vulnerable village below, and so on. Obviously inspired in some part by King Kong, which had debuted a decade earlier, the Fleischer’s Arctic Giant was nonetheless setting the stage for legions of giant monsters yet to come.
The Arctic Giant also marks the debut of Jackson Beck in the role originated and usually performed by Julian Noa, Perry White, while Noa retains the role of narrator. Later, Beck – best known probably as the voice of Bluto in the Fleischer Popeye cartoons, and also the narrator of the radio serial – would go on to voice Perry White in the later Filmation series of Superman cartoons.
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…