Superman on Radio & Audio

Superman Radio Series - Story Reviews

1940: The Origin of Superman

Reviewed by: James Lantz

Original Broadcast Dates: February 12, 1940-March 01, 1940

Radio has often been called the Theater of the Mind, and The Adventures of Superman proves that. The show relies on superb voice acting and sound effects to give the listener's imagination what special effects wizards do with millions of dollars on television and film now. One can't help but feel like they are on Krypton when Jor-El tells the ruling council of the planet's plight.

Most episodes in the 15 minute serials of The Adventures of Superman consisted of episodes with the titles of the story arcs. They normally followed the title of a story until the next one started. For example, "The Scarlet Widow" was an 11 chapter serial and was followed by the 19 chapter story called "The Atom Man." The first story arc, which I'll call "The Origin Of Superman" because it's comprised of nine episodes with different titles, begins the Man of Steel's first adventures outside of the comic pages. Much like many other versions of Superman's origin, the radio serial does follow what I like to call the Tom Mankiewicz Three Act Theory. It does, however, follow the theory differently to the later versions of Superman's origin. There is no Smallville in this origin, Ma and Pa Kent never found Baby Kal-El, and we never see Clark's boyhood journey into becoming Superman. I've divided each act into 3 episodes each.

ACT ONE:

"The Baby From Krypton"

Krypton is a planet populated by a race of super beings. Jor-El, the planet's most important scientist, tells the world's governing council that Krypton and all its inhabitants will perish in a great explosion. He urges the council to evacuate Krypton's population to Earth, a planet on the other side of Krypton's sun, in a spaceship he has designed. The council doesn't believe Jor-El's findings and chooses to stay on Krypton. The scientist then leaves after saying that his wife Lara and his infant son Kal-El are too important for him to allow them to die.

Later, Jor-El is outside working on the prototype of his proposed space vehicle, which he's pointed in the direction of Earth. Lara comes to him to get some air. Krypton has become increasingly hot since it's been gradually pulled closer to the sun. This is a fact Jor-El never mentioned to the ruling council. Lara also tries to convince Jor-El to see Kal-El. He has barely seen his son since he began work on ways to save Krypton's people. Jor-El explains that he's working to save his son. He then explains that while Earth's population is different from that of Krypton, the planet itself is the only one with an atmosphere similar to Krypton's.

Suddenly, an intense earthquake interrupts Jor-El. Knowing that these are Krypton's last moments, the scientist pleads for Lara to get into the prototype spacecraft. Lara says that the baby Kal-El should be the one to go into the rocket. She runs to get the child and places him inside it. The ship is launched and escapes just seconds before Krypton is destroyed.

"Clark Kent, Reporter"

Kal-El's ship lands in a desert, and he emerges from the vessel as a fully grown man in a red and blue costume with a red cloak. While observing the new world upon which he's landed, the alien spots a trolley car moving very fast. The car's motorman isn't inside, and there's only a man and his young son in the car. Kal-El grabs both of them before the car crashes, and he flies them to safety. Astonished by the fact that a flying man saved them, both father and son ask about Kal-El and his uncanny abilities. Kal-El replies that many on Earth would consider him a Superman.

The father asks if there was anything he and his son could do to repay Superman for saving their lives. Superman asks how he can best find out how to help those in need. They say that the best way would be to become a reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper under a different name. The boy gives Superman the name Clark Kent. Superman thanks both father and son for their help before asking them to keep all that has just happened a secret.

Meanwhile, at the offices of The Daily Planet, Editor-In-Chief Perry White receives a telephone call from someone saying that White should send a reporter out west to investigate railroads that are being sabotaged by a mysterious figure calling himself the Wolfe. After the phone call, Clark Kent enters White's office asking for work. White refuses at first, but White is almost convinced to hire him after Kent says that he can get the story of the Wolfe and the railroad sabotage. Before White can answer Kent, a phone call comes from the Wolfe. The villain says that the train called the Silver Clipper will not make it to Salt Lake City, Utah from Denver, Colorado.

White gives Clark the story after realizing that many of the newspaper's reporters are already on other assignments. The editor than asks his secretary to give Kent an advance of money. Clark says he'll make it out west in spite of the bad weather conditions. Kent follows Mister White's secretary out of the office. He then changes to Superman and flies out of the window while the secretary gets the money. The secretary then screams in terror when she doesn't see Clark Kent because she believes he fell out of the opened window, which is twenty stories above the ground.

"Keno's Landslide"

While Superman flies west to investigate the railroads, the Wolfe and his henchman Keno Carter plan to destroy a train called the Western Limited with a rock slide. Superman sees Keno plant some explosives on a mountain cliff, and he boards the train as Clark Kent. The conductor tries to make Clark leave the train when he discovers the reporter doesn't have a train ticket. However, the conductor changes his mind after Kent tells him that he's a reporter for The Daily Planet. Desperate to save the train, Clark pulls the emergency cord to stop it just before Keno's explosives go off. The surprised conductor asks Clark how he knew to stop the train before the explosion, but Clark disappears in the crowd of witnesses in the dark.

Meanwhile, while Superman clears away twenty tons of rock and repairs the railroad tracks, Keno tells the Wolfe about Clark Kent and the events that happened with the train. They are interrupted by the sound of the train's engines and think that the Western Limited is heading back to its previous destination. Much to their surprise, the locomotive is on its intended course to Denver, and the sinister Wolfe vows to learn everything he can about Clark Kent.

ACT TWO:

"Kent Captured by the Wolfe"

Clark Kent has written the article about the rock slide. The Wolfe and Keno discuss the reports and the supposed appearance of a so-called Superman. The train's conductor has been put in an insane asylum for speaking about his seeing a flying man in blue tights and a red cape.

The Wolfe orders Keno to disguise himself as a messenger to eavesdrop on Clark Kent's meeting with the Divisional Superintendent of Railroads. Keno learned of this meeting when he followed Kent earlier that morning. In the superintendent's office, Clark says that his articles imply that he knows more than he's writing. Additionally, an engine has suddenly disappeared without a trace, and the superintendent is working frantically to find it. Clark then suggests that the Silver Clipper, a train the Wolfe has recently threatened to destroy, doesn't go on it's scheduled route. The superintendent refuses because he is afraid to cause a panic.

Suddenly, the superintendent sees Keno in the doorway. In his guise of a messenger, Keno gives the superintendent a telegram. It is from the Wolfe, and he's threatening that the Silver Clipper will suffer the same fate as the missing engine. Clark asks the superintendent to have the telegram analyzed for its validity while the reporter follows Keno with the intention of being captured by the Wolfe in an effort to discover the villain's plans. Clark's plan succeeds. He is later captured by the Wolfe and Keno. The nefarious duo chain Kent to a thick wall made of steel and concrete in a sound proof room.

"Locomotive Crew Freed"

Keno is trying to beat information out of the chained Clark Kent when the Wolfe returns. The Wolfe explains that he plans to make the Silver Clipper disappear before abandoning Clark to go to San Joaquin. After giving them time to get away, Clark breaks down the wall and escapes as Superman. Flying over San Joaquin to follow the Wolfe and Keno, the Man of Steel overhears their plan.

The Wolfe reveals that Scooner Canyon had a mining camp, which was destroyed by high water from Scooner Canyon Lake. The miners built a railroad within the canyon. Some of the railroad went under water during the flood. The engine that disappeared fell and landed into Scooner Canyon Lake, but not before it's crew jump off at the last minute. The Wolfe chained the crew to some rocks and left them to die, but Superman saves the unconscious engineers and leaves them at a nearby farmhouse called the Circle Y Ranch.

As the night progresses, Keno becomes nervous because he sees the red caped figure of Superman in the shadows. The Wolfe dismisses Keno's sightings as insanity. Fearing that Keno is losing his nerve about the train sabotage, the Wolfe wants to show him the tunnels where the mining camp's railroad is located. He plans to make the Silver Clipper crash into the river. While inside the tunnels, the Wolfe asks Keno for the time, to which Keno replies that it is 7:15.

"7:15?!," The Wolfe exclaims, "Keno, the Silver Clipper is twenty minutes out of Denver."

"The Silver Clipper"

Clark Kent has convinced the chief of police to investigate Scooner Canyon Lake and to question the engineers found at the Circle Y Ranch. He then calls The Daily Planet to ask Perry White to stop the presses for an upcoming big break in the western railroad story. White then asks if Clark knows anything about the Superman people are talking about. Clark just dismisses Superman as idle gossip.

As Keno and The Wolfe leave the caves to avoid being injured by the crash they plan for the Silver Clipper, Superman races to repair the railroad switch that can put the train back on its intended course. After Superman fixes the switch, the train is saved. The Wolfe and Keno attempt to get away, but the Man of Steel catches up to them and smashes their getaway car as if it had been in an accident. Superman then flies away before the police arrive. He returns in his guise of Clark Kent to see the police surround Keno and the Wolfe. They hear Keno ranting like a madman about getting the man in the red cape away from him. He says that he'd much rather go to prison for what he and the Wolfe did to the trains than face Superman again. Seeing that as a confession to the crimes, the police arrest Keno and the Wolfe as Clark Kent tells them that the missing engine is at the bottom of Scooner Canyon Lake. Kent then gives the story to The Daily Planet.

Back at the Planet offices, Perry White congratulates Clark on the railroad story and continues to ask about the mysterious flying Superman. Clark begins to deny that Superman is even real when the two men are interrupted by a phone call. The call is from someone claiming to be the Wolfe's master. He calls himself the Yellow Mask, and he wants revenge on Clark Kent and The Daily Planet for their foiling his plans to destroy the railroads. In twenty-four hours the Planet will be blown up.

ACT THREE:

"The Atomic Beam Machine"

While The Daily Planet Building is being searched for explosive devices, Doctor Sven Dalgren is showing a Professor Schmitt his invention: An atomic beam machine. The machine fires a beam of atomic force that can make things within a one mile radius explode into atomic dust. Schmitt laughs and says that Dalgren has given him exactly what he wants. Professor Schmitt is really the Yellow Mask, and he wants to use the machine to destroy one of the city's biggest newspapers for foiling his plots to sabotage railroads. At 6:00, the Yellow Mask has every intention of using the atomic beam machine to blow up The Daily Planet Building.

At that newspaper's offices, Perry White searches for Clark Kent, who's helping police search the basement for bombs. White is clearly nervous about the Yellow Mask's threat, but he's not letting that interfere with how the paper is run. He introduces Clark to Lois Lane when he returns from the basement. Perry goes into his office to answer a phone call Lois advised him about.

When they first speak, Lois takes an instant disliking to Clark. She is very cynical toward Kent and believes that he made up the bomb threat to create a new front page story. Clark doesn't understand her accusations and asks her if she hears an airplane that's flying too low. She says that plenty of planes fly low in the city. When he returns, Perry White also dismisses Kent's concerns about the plane. White then tells Lois and Clark that the call was from Doctor Dalgren, and he's told Perry about the theft of his atomic beam machine. Perry sends Lois to cover the theft.

After Lois leaves, Dalgren calls Perry again. He tells the editor that the thief wanted to use the beam machine to destroy one of the city's greatest newspapers. Dalgren and White's call is cut off before the scientist can speak more. Both Kent and White deduce that the thief is the Yellow Mask, and he plans to use Dalgren's machine to destroy The Daily Planet. White tries to call Dalgren again, but he has no success. Clark then runs out of the offices and into an empty locker room to change into Superman. The Man of Tomorrow then flies in the direction of Doctor Dalgren's lab.

"Fuel"

Lois Lane has arrived at Doctor Dalgren's lab. The doctor's servant Michael is secretly working for the Yellow Mask and is listening to Lois and Dalgren's conversation. The Mask has ordered Michael to close some doors whenever he gives a signal. Doctor Dalgren tells Lois that the Yellow Mask took the duplicate of the atomic beam machine that requires special atomic cylinders to function properly. The Mask took the machine, but he didn't take any cylinders. Dalgren opens some special security doors and shows Lois the room that houses the safe in which the cylinders are located.

Meanwhile, Superman has arrived, and he overhears the Yellow Mask ordering Michael to close doors when he gives the signal. Disguised as Clark Kent, the Man of Steel asks what Dalgren wanted to say when the phone call to Perry White got cut off. Dalgren tells Clark about the atomic cylinders. He then goes into the safe room to get the copy of the atomic beam machine and the cylinders. While the doctor is getting his invention, Lois accuses Clark of wanting to steal her story and leaving the rest of The Daily Planet staff to their fate like a coward. Clark tries to call the newspaper, but Lois reminds him that the phone is dead. Thinking the phone is being repaired, Clark discovers that the phone wire was cut by someone inside the house.

Suddenly, Dalgren's security doors close as the scientist screams for Michael to get away from the safe. Clark asks Lois to go and get the police while he tries to enter the security doors. As Superman, he breaks the doors and finds Doctor Dalgren unconscious. He returns to his guise of Clark Kent before the scientist awakens. Both men find the safe empty. Michael and the Yellow Mask have stolen the atomic cylinders. The Yellow Mask speaks to Clark and Dalgren through a dictaphone. He says that the time is 5:30. There is only a half hour to save The Daily Planet.

"Threat to the Planet Building"

The Yellow Mask has captured Lois Lane while the police investigate the explosion in Doctor Dalgren's lab. Clark tells the doctor that Michael betrayed him to work for the Yellow Mask. Seeing that there's only twenty-five minutes to save The Planet, Superman flies with haste to warn Perry White, as Clark Kent, to evacuate the building. When White receives a call from the Yellow Mask saying that he plans to kill Lois, Clark says he can get an airplane in eight minutes to save Lois and stop the Mask. Clark says that if Perry doesn't hear from him by 5:58, The Daily Planet cannot be saved.

Seeing that he's being followed by Clark Kent's plane, the Yellow Mask throws Lois out of his airplane before aiming the atomic beam machine at The Daily Planet. Clark crashes his plane into the Mask's air vehicle. Kent jumps of the plane and changes into Superman. The red caped hero grabs Lois before she can fall to her death. She's told the next day by Perry White that Clark parachuted out of his plane and saved her and tried to grab the Yellow Mask before the planes exploded. However Lois believes that a flying man in a blue costume and red cape saved her.

When Clark enters the office, Perry thanks him for saving everyone. He then said that the Yellow Mask's airplane was destroyed along with Doctor Dalgren's atomic beam machine. There was also no sign of the Yellow Mask in the wreckage of the planes. Mister White then asks Clark if the flying Superman is real. Clark dismisses Superman as a myth when the two men are interrupted. A man runs into Perry's office to say that there is a girl trapped in a fire that is engulfing the Sterling Building. Clark says he'll cover the story to see if he can do something to save the girl. Will he save her as Clark Kent, or will he reveal to the world the existence of Superman? Tune in next time to find out, boys and girls.



Review

First, I'd like to start off the review section of this piece by thanking Steve Younis for allowing me to review this series. Without Steve and the rest of the staff of the Superman Homepage, the internet community of Superman fans would not be the same. Thank you, Steve. Secondly, I'd like to say that I'll try not to make the plot summaries for future reviews as long as this one. I wanted to show how the Mankiewicz Theory worked with the radio serials. That being said, let's get on to the review.

When listening to the Man of Steel's radio adventures from 1941-1951, one must keep in mind that they were aimed at children, and some might consider the plots a little too childish and silly by today's standards. However, I do not feel that this is the case. Like the television series starring George Reeves, the radio serials are something the entire family can enjoy together.

The voice acting is superb, which helps a lot. Having done some voice work for my wife's 3D animations, I feel that a voice can make or break an animated cartoon or radio show. Some old time radio shows, like the horror anthology series The Sealed Book, have actors that tend to exaggerated the voice characterizations, and that makes it hard to take the story seriously many times. This is not the case with The Adventures of Superman. Clayton "Bud" Collyer does an especially spectacular job portraying both Clark Kent and Superman. With just a changing of his voice, Collyer can make the listener believe that Clark and Superman are two different people.

The story itself is good, but there are some things I didn't like about it. First, there is a continuity error. In "Keno's Landslide" the train is called Western Limited, but it is named Continental Limited in "Kent Captured by the Wolfe." Given that this is the first story arc, part of me could possibly let it slide. I mean, there are continuity errors in the first episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series that violate things that were established in later episodes and films. However there is that part of me that is extremely bothered by the glaring name difference of the train.

Another thing I didn't like was the complete lack of the Kents. I believe that the Kents are extremely important to the development of the Superman character. They helped him to form his value system, which made him what he is today. Much like Aunt May and Uncle Ben in Spider-Man, the Kents are essential in Superman's developmental years.

I honestly find Superman landing on Earth as an adult hard to swallow. Kryptonians are supposed to be an advanced people, but their spacecraft's can't do faster than light travel? What's up with that?

Superman asking the first people he's saved to keep everything that happened a secret is a little unbelievable for me. Maybe it's because this was done in a simpler time period when people could trust their fellow man. I'm not sure, but many people would probably not keep the secret of a flying man for very long. Then again, had the Kents been written in the story, maybe the events of the second episode would not happen as we now know them.

The scene of Mr White's secretary is also a bit far fetched. She believes Clark jumped out of a twenty story window, but nobody dares to ask about this when Clark calls the newspaper or returns to the offices? That is a huge plot hole in the story.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, let's go on to things I liked about the story.

We have here in these first episodes of The Adventures of Superman the first appearance of Perry White and The Daily Planet. In the comic books before the radio serials, Clark Kent and Lois Lane worked for Editor George Taylor at the The Daily Star. Perry White and The Daily Planet appeared in the comics after the radio serials became popular. The pure historical value of this makes it extremely important to the Superman mythos. I honestly enjoyed hearing the first adventure with characters that will later be a lasting part of the legend of the Man of Steel.

The villains were well done and well played by the actors. Some radio serials, especially ones based on comics or geared toward a younger audience, tend to make the villains campy and over the top. The Flash Gordon radio shows tended to do this, in my opinion. However, the Wolfe, Keno and the Yellow Mask were brilliantly evil and made me hope that Superman had not seen the last of these foes.

I also enjoyed the character interaction and the action of the story. I found myself on the edge of my seat during the cliffhanger endings of each fifteen minute episode of this story arc. I loved the dialogue between the characters, especially Lois and Clark, and more importantly, I cared about the characters. I wish I could say the same about many protagonists in television shows that are broadcast these days.

All in all, in spite of some flaws, the first story in The Adventures of Superman is a thrill ride from start to finish with great characters and incredible acting. If you haven't heard these episodes yet, you're in for a treat. Go out and search for them for the pure fun of a Superman story. If you have heard them before, play them again, and let your mind go to Metropolis for a little adventure. Trust me, you'll be glad you did.



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