Superman Radio Series - Story Reviews

1946: The Clan of the Fiery Cross

Reviewed by: James Lantz

Original Broadcast Dates: June 10, 1946-July 01, 1946

"The Clan of the Fiery Cross"

Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen are taking a cab on a sunny afternoon in Metropolis. Clark is covering a story for the Daily Planet, and Jimmy is going to baseball practice for the Unity House team in which he manages. Two boys, Tommy Lee and Chuck Riggs, are fighting when Jimmy arrives. Chuck has been acting like a sore loser since Tommy, who just moved into the neighborhood, replaced him as number one pitcher on the squad. During practice, Chuck crowds the home plate and gets hit in the head by a ball thrown by Tommy. Chuck believes Tommy did it on purpose, and Jimmy is forced to remove the former from the team because of his attitude toward Tommy.

Chuck has just returned home to find his Uncle Matt waiting for him. The boy tells him of the incident with Tommy. Knowing Tommy's father Doctor Wan Lee, an Asian American, was promoted to the Metropolis Health Department as a bacteriologist, Matt gets an idea. He makes his nephew believe that Tommy beaned him on purpose and invites the boy to a secret meeting of what he calls "true Americans." Matt Riggs has every intention of making Tommy Lee and Jimmy Olsen pay for humiliating Chuck.

Matt is now donning a white robe with a blue scorpion design and hood. He then takes Chuck to a secluded place where a wooden cross burns. Other similarly dressed men are in the area. Uncle Mack reveals that he's the leader of The Clan of the Fiery Cross. Chuck is coached into saying that Tommy Lee was trying to kill him in order to keep his position on the Unity House baseball team. Chuck says that this will help Lee's people take over America. The first phase of the Grand Scorpion Uncle Matt's plan is now in place. Now, The Clan of the Fiery Cross can cleanse the country of those that are not "True Americans."

Tommy Lee is in the Unity House locker room speaking with Jimmy Olsen. Tommy wants to quit the team because a burning cross was placed onto his family's lawn. Jimmy tells the boy not to worry. He will go to the Daily Planet to ask for help from Clark Kent, who later promises to find the reasons for The Clan of the Fiery Cross singling out Tommy's family. However, Clark must first speak with Tommy himself.

Clark has finally convinced Doctor Lee not leave Metropolis despite the warnings of The Clan of the Fiery Cross. The reporter has promised to have Police Inspector Bill Henderson send some men to protect them. He is about to call Henderson as Jimmy and Tommy ride the latter's bicycle to the baseball game. However, his superhuman eyes see something that means danger for the boys. Not taking time to change into Superman, Kent forces Tommy and Jimmy off the bike, which has a bomb under the seat. Our hero then roles it down a hill mere seconds before it is destroyed. Seeing the explosion, Tommy's father is more determined than ever to stop The Clan of the Fiery Cross.

A member of The Clan of the Fiery Cross named Will is calling his comrades from a drug store phone booth. The bomb on Tommy's bike has failed to prevent the lad from pitching in today's baseball game. He and Jimmy have just arrived by taxi at the ball field. Now, a new sinister plot must be hatched. Tommy Lee must not pitch in today's game, and he's to be stopped by any means necessary.

The Clan of the Fiery Cross has recruited a boy named Stubby Miller from the opposing team. Stubby is to make it look like Tommy was accidentally hit by his baseball bat when it flies out of his hand. The plan would have succeeded had it not been for the timely arrival of Superman. The Man of Steel's great speed aided him in preventing Tommy Lee from being seriously injured. Tommy then helps the Unity House team win the game and go to the boys' team finals.

Matt Riggs is in his garage meeting with his fellow clan members later that night. Spreading vicious lies about Tommy Lee, he plans to tar and feather the boy. Tommy could possibly die in the attempt, and Superman knows nothing of the Grand Scorpion's ominous plot.

A truck carrying twelve robed members of The Clan of the Fiery Cross, including the Grand Scorpion, has gone to the Lee home to capture Tommy. They are being followed by Chuck Riggs. The lad rides his bicycle and sees the clansmen grab Tommy and knock out his father. Feeling pangs of conscience, Chuck goes to a drug store to call Clark Kent. At the same time, Tommy has escaped The Clan of the Fiery Cross and is trying to make his way through a raging river despite a broken arm. Meanwhile, Chuck gets no answer from Kent. By the time the reporter answers, the lad is forced away from the phone booth. Superman may be too late to save Tommy.

Clark has gotten another call from Chuck, who doesn't reveal his name. Superman then rushes to the river bend and takes Tommy to the hospital as Clark Kent. The young boy is safe for now thanks to the Man of Tomorrow.

The Daily Planet is offering a one thousand dollar reward to anyone with knowledge of the identities of the members of The Clan of the Fiery Cross. The call Clark had received the night before has led him and the staff to believe that the boy on the telephone had information about the racists. So far, nobody has come forward. In the meantime, Matt Riggs isn't happy about the Daily Planet's article. He wants to send a message and does so when Clark, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White are approaching the driveway of the editor's suburban home. A flaming cross has been planted on the lawn. Perry has now been marked as a target for The Clan of the Fiery Cross.

Thirty minutes have passed since the burning cross had been found on Perry's lawn. The editor, Jimmy and Clark are now searching for Poco, White's fat, little rhyming chef. They find him in the garage beaten and unconscious. When he awakens, Poco tells Perry that The Clan of the Fiery Cross had told him to lay off them in the newspaper. Not one to bow down to threats, Perry now raises his reward for the clansmen's identities to five thousand dollars. Clark thinks it's unwise for Perry to go around unprotected. However, Perry won't listen. Had he done so, he would have had aid for what the Grand Scorpion had planned for him at 6:00 PM the following evening. Perry's car is run off the road as he and Jimmy go to the editor's house. The chief and cub reporter are now surrounded by the hooded, robed members of The Clan of the Fiery Cross, and the hateful terrorists intend to do everything possible to rid themselves of Perry and Jimmy.

Some time after The Clan of the Fiery Cross has placed the unconscious forms of Jimmy and Perry in the Grand Scorpion's truck, Superman, in both of his identities, and Inspector Henderson search for the cub reporter and editor. At the same time, one of Henderson's men thinks that he'd found the boy that called Clark about Tommy Lee. However, the lad turns out to be somebody who came from the south, and Chuck Riggs has no accent. It looks like Perry and Jimmy will not be found.

Jimmy and Perry are in a secluded cave used by The Clan of the Fiery Cross. The Grand Scorpion has requested to see them. However, he may be the last person they see as the leader of the hate mongers will stop at nothing to prevent the Daily Planet from printing more about the organization. The Grand Scorpion orders that Jimmy and Perry be tarred and feathered, but there is no tar. Matt Riggs will have to go to town for more. Perry and Jimmy have gotten a stay of execution, but how long will it last?

Clark Kent and Lois Lane have published a special morning edition of the Daily Planet asking the boy who had called the former to come forward with any information about The Clan of the Fiery Cross in order to save Jimmy and Perry. Chuck Riggs, the youth in question, is debating within himself. Should he keep quiet, or should he tell Clark everything and risk the wrath of his uncle the Grand Scorpion? He's about to do the latter until his uncle threatens him. Family means nothing to the bigot. If anyone, even flesh and blood, betrays The Clan of the Fiery Cross, they will be tarred and feathered in order to keep the secrets of the hate mongering group.

Perry and Jimmy are untying themselves as the members of The Clan of the Fiery Cross boil the tar brought by the Grand Scorpion. There is a struggle with the robed racists as the editor and cub reporter attempt to escape. Perry removes the Grand Scorpion's hood in a scuffle revealing that the clan leader is Matt Riggs, Chuck's uncle. Now, Riggs has no choice. He must kill Perry and Jimmy in order to keep his identity secret.

Clark Kent is in his office speaking to copy boy Beany Martin. He then gets an idea about how to find the boy who had called him about Tommy Lee. Clark believes whoever called him is on the Unity House baseball team. Beany is to ask the members about their chances of winning the next ball game. Clark will tap a key on the locker room wall once if he hears the right lad and twice if the boy isn't the one who telephoned. However, none of the youths interviewed are whom Clark is seeking. Muggs, Jimmy's assistant on the team, later tells Clark and Beany of Chuck Riggs being on the team mere hours before the burning cross was placed on the Lee Family's lawn. The person that Kent is searching for has been found!

Chuck Riggs is clearly scared, but Clark has promised that Superman will protect him. Chuck assists the Man of Steel in finding The Clan of the Fiery Cross meeting area in the woods. However, they have arrived too late. Neither the racists nor Perry and Jimmy are anywhere to be seen. Elsewhere, The Clan of the Fiery Cross is taking Perry and Jimmy to a hidden glade. Their fates are sealed unless Superman can find them.

While Superman and Chuck desperately search for Perry and Jimmy, The Clan of the Fiery Cross is preparing a grave for their prisoners. The Man of Steel's sudden arrival prevents bullets from hitting Perry and Jimmy. Superman then ties up the robed racists and places them in the back of one of Mack Riggs' trucks while Perry, Jimmy and Chuck are in the front. Our hero then flies everyone to Inspector Henderson. However, Matt Riggs is missing among the group of bound clansmen, and he knows Chuck told Superman of his being the Grand Scorpion of the hate mongers.

Superman has not found Matt Riggs, who is in Graham City at the home of Segret Wilson, the Grand Imperial Mogul of The Clan of the Fiery Cross. Riggs is shocked to learn that Wilson is merely using the hate of others to make a profit. The Grand Imperial Mogul doesn't really believe in the things that The Clan of the Fiery Cross stands for. In a mad fit of rage, Riggs strangles Wilson and flies back to Metropolis under an assumed name to rid himself of Perry, Jimmy and Chuck.

The Grand Scorpion is trying unsuccessfully to recruit the rest of The Clan of the Fiery Cross. As dawn approaches, Inspector Henderson and Clark Kent learn of Riggs' flight back to Metropolis. Clark persuades Henderson to have men guard Perry, Jimmy and Chuck. However, that may not be enough. Matt Riggs is approaching the house where he had lived with Chuck and the boy's mother. Two lives are now possibly in great danger.

Matt Riggs has not found his nephew Chuck. Learning that the boy is staying with Jimmy Olsen, Riggs has tied his sister in-law in a closet. Unfortunately for the Grand Scorpion, he cannot kill both lads. The police are surrounding Jimmy's house. However, an article in the Daily Planet gives him an idea. The Metropolis Boys Baseball Championship Final between Unity House and Metropolis High School will be played later today. Chuck Riggs will pitch in Tommy Lee's place, Jimmy Olsen will mange the team, and Perry White will give gold baseballs to the game's winners. All three of the hate monger's targets will be in the same place this afternoon.

The Unity House Baseball Field is heavily guarded by Inspector Henderson's men. This does not stop Matt Riggs, who is hidden near a skylight with a high powered rifle that has a scope. He has now placed Jimmy Olsen in his sights. He cannot get a clear shot of any of his three targets. He has to do this. Otherwise, the police will capture him.

The score of the baseball game is tied. Perry thinks Matt Riggs is far away, but Clark Kent sees a flash of light that reveals the Grand Scorpion's location. Before bullets can strike Perry, Jimmy and Chuck, Superman catches them and takes Riggs and his henchman to the police. Meanwhile, Unity House has won the game and the championship. Gold baseballs are given to each team member. Chuck Riggs wants to give his to Tommy Lee because he feels that he doesn't deserve it. Perry, on the other hand, has had a gold ball made for Tommy. The chief, Clark and the victorious baseball team now go to the hospital to give Tommy his award. All is well once again for Superman and his friends, but this won't last long. A telegram sent to Greenrun, Ohio because of line trouble is a matter of life and death for the Daily Planet staff. How is "Horatio F. Horn, Detective" connected to this message? We'll find out next week, boys and girls. Be sure not to miss the next serial in The Adventures of Superman.

Trivia:

This fact is taken from the Wikipedia page on The Adventures of Superman radio show:

"The series is also credited with dealing a powerful blow against the Ku Klux Klan's prospects in the northern USA. The human rights activist Stetson Kennedy infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan and other racist/terrorist groups. Concerned that the organization had too strong connections to the government and police forces, Kennedy decided to use his findings to strike at the Klan in a different way. He contacted the producers of the Superman series and proposed a story where the superhero battles the Klan. The producers, looking for new villains, eagerly agreed to the idea. To that end, he provided information - including secret codewords and details of Klan rituals - to the writers. The result was a series of episodes, "The Clan of the Fiery Cross", in which Superman took on the Klan. Kennedy intended to strip away the Klan's mystique, and the trivialization of the Klan's rituals and codewords likely had a negative impact on Klan recruiting and membership.

"Reportedly, Klan leaders denounced the show and called for a boycott of Kellogg's products. However, the story arc earned spectacular ratings and the food company stood by its support of the show."

Review:

After the disappointment felt because of the wasted potential of the previous serial, I was expecting "The Clan of the Fiery Cross" to be overblown and preachy in order to hide bad writing. Fortunately, the story was better than what I had originally anticipated. My only complaint is the fact that none of the clan members points out that Superman is from another planet. Had a the Grand Scorpion or someone else said, "We have to deal with that dirty alien Superman," perhaps many listeners might be able to identify with the Man of Steel more. Aside from that, this entire saga was surprisingly good.

The character of Matt Riggs comes across as a bit exaggerated in the beginning of this story arc, however, as "The Clan of the Fiery Cross" progresses, the audience sees that his overzealous attitude makes him go to great lengths, even murder, to stand up for his twisted beliefs. Maybe the person playing Riggs was trying to find his way around the character, or he was nervous in the beginning. Whatever, the case may be, we do eventually get to see Riggs' downward spiral from Grand Scorpion to madman. This helps the serial's impact in my opinion. Had Riggs continued to be overdone as in the first couple of chapters, the overall quality of "Clan's" writing would have been overshadowed by bad acting.

While "The Hate Mongers Organization" and "The Clan of the Fiery Cross" are among the first Superman stories to deal with prejudice, they wouldn't be the last. The Man of Steel dealt with the racist rantings of the second Bloodsport in the comic books of the 1990s. The radio series, however, could have possibly paved the way for writers like Rod Serling and Gene Roddenberry. It went where few radio programs in 1946 dared to venture. As I said before in my review of "Hate Mongers," had this story featured another character, it might not have had the same reaction. Superman's iconic status perhaps helped the arc have its desired affect on its audience.

Next week, we meet "Horatio F. Horn, Detective." I, for one, am curious to see what will happen when he meets Superman and his friends. We'll find out together in seven days or so, Superfans. Until then, don't touch that dial, and remember to keep smiling and look up in the sky.



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