Superman on Radio & Audio
Superman Radio Series - Story Reviews
1950: The Ghost of Billy BakerReviewed by: James Lantz
Original Broadcast Date: January 7, 1950
"The Ghost of Billy Baker"
Daily Planet reporters Lois Lane and Clark Kent have arrived in the small community of Honiker. The Honiker Valley Coal Mine, according to the newspaper's wire service, is believed to be haunted, and editor Perry White has sent the pair to investigate the situation. They are hoping to speak with the company's foreman Jeff McGraw when they encounter an eccentric old woman who claims that her son Billy Baker has stopped the mine's daily routine. One year ago, a worker went into a tunnel that had caved in afterwards. The company had done nothing to get him out because it was too expensive to do so. The man's name was Billy Baker. Since his accident, other employees have claimed to have heard Billy's ghost in the caverns.
An explosion has just occurred in the coal mines. Clark and McGraw are checking to see what has happened. Dynamite has been used in an old shaft. An angry mob of men is refusing to work in the tunnels. McGraw fires his gun into the air to get the group to go away. The foreman is then forced to make a decision to call company owner Mister Honiker to close the entire operation. However, when Kent and McGraw return to the latter's office, they get a chilling surprise. Lois Lane has disappeared.
The elevator in McGraw's office has been taken to the main mine shafts. Clark's superhuman eyes see that Granny Baker has taken Lois with her into the tunnels. He follows their trail in the darkness. Unfortunately, our hero's X-ray vision cannot penetrate the lead deposits within the underground walls. The Man of Steel may not find Lois.
Granny Baker is quite mad. She believes that her son Billy is alive waiting for her to get him out of the caved-in tunnel. The elderly lady has brought Lois with her to assist in the rescue efforts. Clark has caught up with the two women and has discovered something. A sound that is like a heart beating can be heard from behind the rocky debris.
Clark has promised Granny Baker that he will get Billy out of the shaft in which he is trapped. As Superman, he removes the rocks as if they were pebbles. He finds Billy Baker's dead body inside. Suddenly, Lois screams. The elevator car was sent back to Jeff McGraw's office. There is also a stick of dynamite with a lit fuse on the ground. The Man of Steel rushes to take the explosive so it can blow up harmlessly in the sky. He also finds McGraw with a Geiger counter. It was that device that sounded like a human heartbeat. McGraw had used it to look for uranium deposits that had been discovered after Billy's accident. The mine foreman had intended to make a profit for himself with the material. Now, McGraw will be spending his days in a prison cell, and poor Billy Baker can finally rest in peace.
"The Ghost of Billy Baker" is an episode that takes the mind's eye all over the place. It has elements of The Shadow, while at the same time, it feels like a springboard for the television series starring George Reeves. All of these aspects blend well to give us a really exciting story. I found that I felt like I went with Lois and Clark to help investigate the mystery in Honiker. This made it more thrilling for me.
I mentioned before that "The Ghost of Billy Baker" feels like a test for stories in the television show. My reason for this is because many scenes in the mines reminded me of "Rescue" and other episodes from season one. This can lead one to believe that producer Robert J. Maxwell was preparing the Man of Steel for the small screen. This is just another reason why this tale is so magical for me.
"The Ghost of Billy Baker" provides a twist in the fact that the villain is not the person whom Clark and the audience assume is causing trouble. Granny Baker is believed to have taken Lois to the mines for some nefarious purposes. Alas, the poor woman is just someone who was driven mad by the death of her son. Had this been an episode of The Shadow, the character would have probably killed many people to get them out of the area. However, in this tale, Granny's insanity leads Lois and Superman to the truth. I, for one, am happy that the writers didn't go for the stereotypical "crazy old hag = evil" plot device. The way Granny is presented, in the end, makes her more sympathetic to the listener.
While Jeff McGraw doesn't really show his true colors until "The Ghost of Billy Baker" reaches its conclusion, he provides post-war listeners with a classic greedy bad guy willing to do anything to keep anyone from learning of the uranium Billy Baker's accident had uncovered. It was the beginning of the Atomic Age, and everyone that found any material that could help America in the Cold War was seeing dollar signs in their eyes, and McGraw was no exception. However, he learned an important lesson once he had crossed swords with Superman. Crime does not pay.
"The Ghost of Billy Baker," while completely different from last week's story, is a fantastic episode that gives the audience's imagination a workout. Let's hope the same is true when we learn why "Dead Men Tell No Tales" in seven days or so, Superfans. Until next week, don't touch that dial, and remember to keep smiling and look up in the sky. Now, go read the other superb articles and reviews on the Superman Homepage. You'll be glad you did.
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