Superman on Radio & Audio

Superman Radio Series - Story Reviews

1942: The Mechanical Man

Reviewed by: James Lantz

Original Broadcast Dates: December 19, 1941-January 09, 1942

"The Mechanical Man"

As various factories, airfields and shipyards aid in the American Armed Forces war effort, Clark Kent has been given an assignment by the government as a special agent in the Espionage Division of the Secret Service. Only Perry White, editor of the Daily Planet, knows of Clark's covert appointment. Sinister forces have been at work trying to undermine the United States' defenses. Fires and other forms of sabotage have plagued the dozens of industries in Metropolis that are providing weapons, ships, planes, etc. to the allied troops.

In the state prison, the villain known as the Yellow Mask is plotting to escape. He and a man named Rusty Wallace are pretending to repair a motor while discussing their breaking out of prison. Rusty has a gun given to him and the Yellow Mask by a foreign agent named Max Heller. Heller needs the Yellow Mask for some reason, and the notorious terrorist knew that he'd be called upon during this time of war. Heller was deported from the United States for alien activity.

Acting like he had gotten his hand caught in the flywheel of the motor, Wallace provides a distraction for the Yellow Mask to break out of prison. However, there's suddenly a change in plans. The villain makes his escape without Rusty. As a result of being betrayed by the Mask, Rusty tells the police everything he knows about the villain's daring evasion. The police now begin a five state manhunt for the Yellow Mask.

In the offices of the Daily Planet, Perry and Clark are discussing Max Heller and his assisting in the Yellow Mask's escape. A call from the notorious criminal interrupts their conversation. He has a surprise planned for the newspaper after he makes everything dark and the presses stop. Perry traces the phone call and discovers that the Yellow Mask is calling from somewhere inside the Daily Planet Building. However, the office lights go out before anyone can search for the madman.

In the darkness, Clark changes into Superman. The Man of Steel flies down the elevator shaft to the basement, where the presses are located. He then discovers that the Yellow Mask has opened the gas main. Should someone strike a match, the Daily Planet will be blown up. He saves a night watchman, who tells him that two men are trapped in the boiler room. While placing the security guard outside in an alley, Superman hears the boilers explode. He rushes into the boiler room, saves the two men and closes the gas main before the fire department arrives.

Later, in Max Heller's penthouse in the Montgomery Apartments, the Yellow Mask is angry when he sees that the Daily Planet is still standing. However, his revenge on the newspaper and its reporters will have to wait. Heller, who knows of Clark Kent's Secret Service work, needs the Yellow Mask to take an experimental robot called the Mechanical Man. This robot can walk and fly, and it has a vast array of weaponry. The American government won't use the Mechanical Man in their war efforts because it feels that the automaton's methods of attacks would be inhumane. The Yellow Mask must acquire the Mechanical Man from its creator Wallace Thornton by any means necessary.

Posing as a government agent with false credentials, the Yellow Mask tries to make Thornton give him the blueprints for the Mechanical Man, but Thornton does something the Mask had not counted upon. He reaches for the telephone to call a Major Nichols at the United States War Department. The Mask forces Thornton at gunpoint to put down the phone. The nefarious criminal then steals the blueprints for the Mechanical Man.

Suddenly, before the Yellow Mask knocks out Wallace Thornton, the Mechanical Man's creator slams on the automaton's radio controls. This sends the gigantic robot on a rampage through the Metropolis suburb of Lenwood while the Yellow Mask makes his getaway.

At the offices of the Daily Planet, Perry White has been getting calls about the Mechanical Man. He thinks all the callers, including a reporter named Leeds, are mentally disturbed until he sees a teletyped news-flash. The Mechanical Man's next target on its path of destruction will be an orphanage farm in Lenwood. Perry sends Lois Lane and Clark Kent to cover the story of the ten foot tall, red-eyed robot. The two reporters encounter a panicked gas station attendant when asking for directions.

As for the Mechanical Man, the giant metal beast's chaos continues. Two highway patrolmen shoot out one of its eyes, but the robot ignores the police and continues on its rampaging path.

At the orphanage, the superintendent remains calm and can only wait and see what happens. The orphanage's matron, on the other hand, is in a panic. Her frenzied behavior doesn't help the situation, and the superintendent orders her to go to the dining hall with the children while he speaks with Lois and Clark. He tells them that he called the police to send some officers twenty minutes ago. He phones again only to learn that every policeman in Lenwood has gone to attempt to stop the Mechanical Man.

Suddenly, Lois sees the frighteningly gigantic robot, and it's headed right for the orphanage's dining hall. Clark runs to stop the automaton despite Lois' begging him not to risk his life. Clark must become Superman even though Lois is watching him.

At that moment, Wallace Thornton regains consciousness and uses the controls of the Mechanical Man. A propeller and wings come out of the robot as it flies away. Clark takes his car far from the orphanage before changing into Superman. The Man of Tomorrow smashes the monstrous robot before more innocent people can be scared or injured in its hurricane-like rampage.

Later, in Max Heller's penthouse, the Yellow Mask reads about the Mechanical Man's damaged body and missing blueprints in the Daily Planet. Heller then tells the Mask why he needs the stolen plans for the automaton. A new Mechanical Man will be constructed, and it shall bring chaos and terror to the free world.

At the Daily Planet, Lois gives Perry her follow-up story on the Mechanical Man and eavesdrops on a conversation between the editor and Clark Kent. She learns of the Yellow Mask's theft of Wallace's blueprints and the fact that the Mask is working with Max Heller. Lois, thinking she too can work for the Secret Service to get the same glory that she believes Clark is taking from her, takes a taxi to the Montgomery Apartments to confront Heller and the Yellow Mask. She tells Tony the cab driver to wait because she should come out of the building in about an hour.

Using the name Gurta Stein, Lois successfully enters Heller's penthouse. However, sophisticated video equipment in the foyer and the Yellow Mask's spying from a secret passage's special portrait reveal Lois' true identity. Lois tells the two espionage agents that federal men will arrive at the penthouse soon. Not taking any chances, both Heller and the Yellow Mask take Lois to the penthouse's terrace.

Meanwhile, Tony the taxi driver is worried about Lois. It's been over an hour since the star reporter went up to the penthouse. Tony enlists the aid of Clark Kent after the suspicious guards at Heller's home do not permit the cabbie to enter. They told Tony that the penthouse is empty, but the driver doesn't believe them. He later brings Clark to the Montgomery Apartments.

Removing his mild mannered reporter guise in a dark alley, Superman flies up to Max Heller's penthouse through the terrace. Oddly enough, the apartment is empty, but Superman hears the faint hissing of steam or compressed air. His X-Ray Vision allows him to see something that surprises him. Heller has hidden all of his furniture and belongings in secret compartments placed throughout the penthouse. The apartment can return normal by pressing various buttons and switches, and Superman shows this to Major Campbell, head of the Secret Service Espionage Division, an hour later as Clark Kent.

Amazed, Major Campbell inspects the rest of Max Heller's penthouse with Clark. The two men find some compressed air cylinders above the terrace. They were the source of the hissing that Superman had heard. The cylinders help a particular catapult launch a special airplane with wings that can fold into the fuselage. According to Clark, Heller and the Yellow Mask escaped in this plane with Lois as their hostage.

Suddenly, before Clark and Major Campbell can return the apartment back to its empty guise, some men arrive at the penthouse. They are some of Max Heller's foreign spies. Clark tells Campbell that they must pretend to be captured by the enemy agents. It's the only way to find out where Lois, Heller, the Yellow Mask and the blueprints for the Mechanical Man are located. However, Heller's men shoot at both Clark and Major Campbell.

While Campbell takes cover behind a brick wall, Superman makes short work of Heller's agents. He resumes his guise of Clark Kent when he hears a worried Major Campbell. Both men move the unconscious foreign spies when they hear a message in something similar to Morse Code coming from a shortwave radio that was hidden behind some false books.

While Clark and Campbell attempt to break the code, Max Heller is sending the message repeatedly from a radio set in factory located two hundred miles away from Metropolis. Heller has become worried as his agents were supposed to meet him at midnight. He feels something has happened to his men. They should have responded to his shortwave code.

Just then, Heller and the Yellow Mask question Lois Lane. He wants to know how the star reporter knew of his penthouse headquarters. She refuses to answer, and as a result, Heller will send his new talking version of the Mechanical Man to destroy the nearby Bartlett Shipyard. The ten foot mechanical beast is awakened before Lois agrees to tell Heller and the Yellow Mask everything she knows. However, Heller cannot deactivate the Mechanical Man. The giant automaton is going on a rampage.

Now, the streets of Hanesville are evacuated, and the new, more fearsome version of the Mechanical Man lumbers through a destructive path to the Bartlett Shipyard. Police machine guns have only been able to destroy the robot's blood red eyes.

In the home of Wallace Thornton, Clark Kent is speaking to the inventor. The reporter tells him of Heller's plane with folding wings. Thornton then shows Clark a wooden model of an aircraft similar to the one used by Heller and the Yellow Mask. Wallace created the model three months ago, and he's astounded someone had created a working version of the flying machine.

Now, Wallace Thornton is working on a machine that can send a jamming signal to the radio controls of any Mechanical Man that Max Heller may try to create, and he's just in time. News of the new talking Mechanical Man attacking the Bartlett Shipyard has reached the inventor and Clark Kent via radio. Clark rushes out of Thornton's home and flies to Hanes River as Superman to battle the gargantuan robot. Firebombs are launched from the Mechanical Man as Superman arrives. The Man of Steel pushes twelve completed destroyers free of the flaming docks. He then smothers the fires by creating an earthquake that rains sand and rock onto the angry flames. The fires are gone now, and the Mechanical Man has mysteriously disappeared with Superman.

In the abandoned factory, Max Heller has ordered that Lois Lane be taken back to her room. The foreign agent witnesses the return of the Mechanical Man. However, Superman is hidden inside the gigantic robot. He later exits from the automaton's chest and begins to search for Lois and Wallace Thornton's blueprints for the Mechanical Man.

Using his X-Ray Vision and resuming his guise of Clark Kent, our hero finds Lois, knocks out Max Heller and the Yellow Mask and fights off Heller's men before retrieving the plans for Thornton's giant robot.

The next day, in the offices of the Daily Planet, Clark gives the Mechanical Man's blueprints back to Wallace Thornton. He also tells the inventor that according to Major Campbell, Max Heller died of a heart attack while being transported to the state prison. The ringing of the telephone interrupts Clark. The mild mannered reporter is shocked to hear someone claiming to be Max Heller vow to turn the tables on Mister Kent. How can Max Heller be alive? Is "Lita The Leopard Woman" connected to his miraculous resurrection? Tune in to The Adventures of Superman next week to learn the answers to those questions, boys and girls.


I'd like to clarify something that I wrote last week. I said that I was no expert on the Golden Age comics. I have read a few stories from 1938 up until the year before I was born, but I'm more familiar with the books from 1976 up until now, which still consists of quite a bit of reading. Check out some of the Elliot S! Maggin/Cary Bates/Curt Swan stories out if you haven't gone to the local comic book shop to do so. Now, on with the review.

From start to finish, "The Mechanical Man" is an amazing serial full of action, adventure and suspense. I honestly wasn't expecting something that would make me exclaim "WOW!" so much. One would think that a giant robot story would be campy like a movie on Mystery Science Theater 3000, but the premise works well in a Superman story, especially in the radio shows.

The writers really let the imaginations of both themselves and the listeners go wild in "The Mechanical Man" like in no other serial so far. The mind's eye gets a clear and vivid image of the Mechanical Man as it carves its path of destruction before Superman battles the robotic beast. My plot summary for this story, or any of the other show in The Adventures of Superman for that matter, doesn't do the radio program justice. I recommend that anyone reading my story arc reviews take time to listen to this series and form your own judgement on which episodes are good, bad or indifferent.

The Yellow Mask is back. He's voiced by a different actor, but he's returned. It takes a couple of chapters to get used to the Mask's new voice, which is explained in a conversation with Clark Kent by dialogue that says something along the lines of, "My voice must have changed from the last time we met." However, at least he's more in character in "The Mechanical Man" despite the fact that he plays second fiddle to Max Heller. I was really hard on "The Yellow Mask and the Five Million Dollar Jewel Robbery" because the Mask was extremely out of character in that serial. Fortunately that's not the case here in "The Mechanical Man."

Speaking of characterization, I really liked how Lois Lane was portrayed in "The Mechanical Man." This is the Lois we all know and love. She's willing to take risks to get the story and takes no crap from anyone. Yet, there are times when she gets up to her neck in trouble and needs help. From the Seigel and Shuster comic books to Erica Durance in Smallville, this is the way our Miss Lane is, was and always will be - or at the very least should be. She really handled herself well against her captor Max Heller.

While we're on the subject of Heller, I really liked him as a villain. His working with the Yellow Mask kind of reminded me of the team-ups between Lex Luthor and Brainiac. I'm really glad we'll be seeing more of him. I was disappointed when Clark said he had died of a heart attack, but I kept asking, "How the $%#@ did he pull that off?" when he talked with Clark on the telephone at the conclusion of "The Mechanical Man." Hopefully, my question will be answered soon, and we'll see if "Lita The Leopard Woman" has something to do with Heller's return from the dead next week, Superfans. Until then, don't touch that dial, and remember to keep smiling and look up in the sky.

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