Superman on Radio & Audio
Superman Radio Series - Story Reviews
1941: The White PlagueReviewed by: James Lantz
Original Broadcast Dates: June 23, 1941-July 09, 1941
"The White Plague"
At a logging camp near the Big Beaver River up north that is owned by Walter Bartlett - a friend of Perry White's, there has been some trouble. The loggers in the camp believe that its troubles are being caused by something called the White Plague. Many men have quit their jobs in the camp because of their fear of the plague. One man named Gaston even screamed twice and disappeared in front of his cabin not long after he had said that he'd be going back to Quebec because of the White Plague. Middle aged camp foreman Fred Harmon and logging crew boss Bill Dawson and the others in the logging camp are now searching in the snowy, adverse weather conditions for the lumberjack.
Meanwhile, Clark Kent and Jimmy Olsen are on a train going to the logging camp for a working vacation, but they receive a telegram telling them to return to Metropolis because there's trouble in the camp. Unfortunately, they didn't get the message until just before the train arrived, and the next train wouldn't arrive until tomorrow morning. Clark and Jimmy must hire a dog sled to take them to the logging camp.
On the way to the camp, Clark and Jimmy's sled is surrounded by timber wolves. The sled driver tries to scare the wolves away by firing his rifle, but the gun is jammed. The timber wolves are edging closer to Clark and Jimmy. After making sure that the sled driver takes Jimmy to the logging camp with great haste, Clark takes a piece of meat and fends off the wolves as Superman.
At the camp, Jimmy is worried about Clark. Nancy Harmon, Fred's daughter, tries to reassure the young copy boy, but nothing works until he sees the mild mannered reporter return. With Jimmy more calm and Clark Kent safe, Nancy begins to tell them of the events that have occurred and the loggers' superstitions. Any lumberjack that cuts down a tree whose roots are covered with snow will suffer the vengeance of the White Plague. So far, two men have died under mysterious circumstances, and Gaston has still not been found. Nancy's father and Bill Dawson think nothing of the White Plague, but others in the camp seem to believe there is something to the legend.
Suddenly, there is a knock on the cabin door. Clark answers the door when nobody responds to Nancy's call. It is Gaston, who's been missing for two days. He is frozen and near death. Nancy goes to get some brandy to warm him. However, it is too late. Gaston is dead.
The next day, Clark and Jimmy watch the lumberjacks do their work. There is some uneasiness among the men, but they are still doing their jobs. Clark and Dawson are discussing the White Plague. While Dawson tries not to think about it, Clark thinks someone in the camp is trying to scare the logging crew.
Suddenly, a frantic logger named Kurt Travers approaches Dawson. One of the men named Sam Green is dead. The other lumberjacks believe the White Plague killed him, but Dawson thinks he died of a rattlesnake bite, even if the death looks like a heart attack. Jimmy later notices that Sam was working with another man on a tree with snow covered roots. Dawson recommends that Clark and Jimmy take a horse-drawn sled back to the logging camp.
On the way to the camp, the trip seems to be going smoothly for Clark and Jimmy. Suddenly, someone shoots at them with a high powered rifle. Clark is struggling to control the sled. The shooting stops as suddenly as it started. Clark then makes Jimmy promise not to tell Fred Harmon or Bill Dawson. However, Clark must tell Harmon about it after a Swedish man named Olaf Johnson brings back the gun. The rifle smells like it has been recently fired. Olaf, however, says the gun had not been fired all day. Clark later discovers that the rifle was also reloaded by the shooter.
While waiting for Bill Dawson to return, Harmon tells Clark that he may close the logging camp. Clark tries to convince him otherwise while the two men begin to be worried about Nancy and Jimmy, who went to look at some raccoons that are in pens behind the foreman's cabin. It's beginning to get dark, and Harmon and Clark now must search for Jimmy and Nancy. They find tracks belonging to Harmon's daughter and the Daily Planet copy boy in the snow near the pens. However, they stop suddenly near the woods. It seems like the only direction Jimmy and Nancy could have gone was up in the air.
Just then, Bill Dawson arrives to help in the search. Dawson and Clark look in the forest for Jimmy and Nancy. Harmon remains in the logging camp to see if they are in one of the cabins. Clark tells Dawson of the attempt on his and Jimmy's lives earlier. They then hear shots coming from the camp. Dawson and Clark rush to find Fred Harmon in a state of shock. He claims to have shot at a giant white eagle with a wing span of at least ten feet. The eagle was big enough to carry a man, and Harmon thinks the great bird took Jimmy and Nancy. Both Clark and Dawson believe that Harmon is mad with anxiety. However the mild mannered reporter finds an extremely large feather.
While Dawson takes Fred Harmon to his cabin, Clark flies into the woods as Superman to see if the giant white eagle really exists. He doesn't find the bird, but he does see smoke coming from a cabin's chimney. Dawson had told Clark Kent that there wasn't another human being within five miles of the logging camp. Superman decides to investigate the cabin in his guise of the mild mannered reporter. He finds both Nancy Harmon and Jimmy Olsen unconscious and drugged.
In Fred Harmon's cabin, the middle aged foreman is discussing the possibility of closing the logging camp with Bill Dawson. However, before they can continue talking about this, Clark Kent returns with Nancy and Jimmy. Clark then asks if there's a doctor nearby. Unfortunately, the nearest doctor is fifty miles away. Local clergyman Father Malone, however, knows how to treat various sicknesses. Dawson goes to find Father Malone while Clark and Harmon do what they can to help Nancy and Jimmy.
Later, Father Malone has helped get Jimmy and Nancy out of danger. The girl, the young boy and the previously hysteric Fred Harmon are now resting. Clark, Dawson and Father Malone are discussing the recent strange events that have been blamed on the White Plague. The lumberjacks are scared and plan to leave tomorrow. Clark shows Malone the giant bird feather. The father says that it is actually a turkey feather that has been re-colored. Malone raised turkeys as a boy. The clergyman then tells Clark and Dawson that rattlesnakes hibernate in the winter. It is then that Clark reveals that Sam Green's death was caused by rat poison placed in his sandwich. Dawson doesn't like Clark's accusations about a murderer in the camp and seems to protest the reporter's theories.
At that moment, the three men hear the sound of someone or something moving in the back of the cabin. Thinking nothing of it, an irritated Bill Dawson leaves Clark and Father Malone. Malone reassures Clark that there is nothing suspicious about Bill Dawson. Most lumberjacks are a gruff lot. They rarely talk unless they have something to say.
Suddenly, Father Malone and Clark are interrupted by screams coming from another part of the logging camp. The scream is coming from Kurt Travers, and his cabin is on fire. Travers is trapped within the blaze. Father Malone wants to go into the burning cabin, but Clark doesn't permit this. Clark then goes into the flaming fury from the other side of the cabin as Superman. The Man of Steel grabs the horribly burned Kurt Travers, puts out the fire on the man's clothes and brings him to Father Malone as Clark Kent. Taking Travers to Fred Harmon's cabin, Father Malone and Clark do everything they can to help him.
While waiting to see if Travers will be okay, Harmon and the rest of the men announce that they want to leave the logging camp. Clark, Father Malone and Bill Dawson later discover that Travers' cabin was burned down because someone poured kerosene on the wood. Clark then notices snow from Harmon's shoes melting while he checks on Father Malone's patient. Kurt Travers is now dead, and Clark knows who killed him and used the White Plague to murder the other four lumberjacks.
Recounting the events that have occurred in the logging camp, Clark tells Father Malone, Fred Harmon and Bill Dawson who the killer of five men is. This person did this because he knew of Clark and Jimmy's coming to the camp through a telegram from Walter Bartlett. The killer believed Clark was a spy for Bartlett and wanted to hide the fact that he had stolen money from the logging camp. The White Plague Murderer was also working together with Kurt Travers. It was Travers that had shot at Jimmy and Clark when they were returning to the logging camp. The assassin was afraid that Travers would talk and burned down the logger's cabin while the man was still inside. The White Plague Murderer killed five lumberjacks and captured Jimmy and Nancy. However, he didn't kill the copy boy and the young girl. The killer was desperate, but not desperate enough to kill his own daughter. The White Plague Murderer is Fred Harmon, and he had stolen money from the logging camp to give Nancy a better life.
Crazed, Fred Harmon grabs his shotgun. Father Malone tries to take the weapon. The raving Harmon then fires his rifle, and something startling happens. What was it? Who did Fred Harmon shoot? Will Superman be able to save the victim of Harmon's madness? Only the next serial in The Adventures of Superman can answer those questions. Be sure to be here, and stay tuned for "Fur Smuggling," boys and girls.
Much like the previous serial, "The White Plague" seems like a second draft of another arc. In this story's case, it feels like the writers were trying to improve upon "The Howling Coyote." "Coyote," admittedly was not one of my favorite serials simply because it really didn't feel like a Superman tale. It merely felt like a story that had Superman drop by as a guest star. "The White Plague" seems to have worked out this issue as it feels like it belongs in The Adventures of Superman radio series.
I have noticed - and perhaps many of you have taken note of this as well - that, so far as a whole, I really haven't had much to dislike about the 1941 serial arcs if you exclude the aforementioned "The Howling Coyote" and certain aspects of "The Black Pearl of Osiris." It honestly feels like the writing has improved considerably since the series began. The first year or so, as with any series - be it for radio, television or even comic books, the writers are trying to find out what works and what doesn't. Maybe the scribes for Superman took previous serials and re-wrote them to make the story work better. Robert E. Howard often did this. There are some Conan stories that were basically re-written, more polished versions of his King Kull tales.
Whatever the case may be, the 1941 stories in The Adventures of Superman have been generally very good, and "The White Plague" is no exception. Sure the ending may seem rushed to some, but one has to consider that this radio program is a fifteen minute serial. There is not much time to get all the story elements in place. Plus, the ending is a cliffhanger The rest of "The White Plague" seems to fall into place nicely and make sense perfectly for the serial. I couldn't really find anything wrong with the pacing of "The White Plague," and I found the ending made me impatient to hear "Fur Smugglers." I'll go listen to it now, and you all be sure to be here when we all learn who got shot by Fred Harmon together. Was it Clark, Bill Dawson or Father Malone? We'll have to wait until next week for the answer to that question, Superfans. Until then, don't touch that dial, and remember to keep smiling and look up in the sky.
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