"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…)