Friday, February 12, 2010

Episode 1 - "Baby From Krypton"

Listen to Episode 1 - "Baby From Krypton"

Summary: Welcome to Krypton, "millions of miles from earth" (so not that terribly far, astronomically speaking) and "like a green star twinkling in the sky". It possesses an atmosphere remarkably like earth, but much larger. Life here developed similar to earth's, but is just plain better. Kryptonians are super-strong, super-smart, and can leap over vast distances like gang-busters. Spoilers: the planet is also about to blow up. Whoops!
   Enter Jor-L, apparently the only scientist on the planet who felt the need to investigate all those ominous earthquakes and volcanic the planet's been having lately, y'know, all over. Not one to break bad news gently, Jor bluntly spells it out to Kyrpton's world government: the sun is drawing Krypton out of its orbit and the planet will soon, quote, explode like a bubble. This is based on calculations which were made by himself, one of the most respected scientists on the planet, and would be presumably easy to verify by another party (if not by the sun which, also presumably, would be slowly appearing larger in the sky). Concerned, the Kryptonians unanimously approve of Jor-L's plan to exodus and resettle on a planet not unlike Krypton, and- oh wait, no. They unanimously vote against doing anything at all, and laugh him right out of the building. Apparently super-politicians are super-idiots on Krypton! Or, heh, were.
   Returning home, Jor-L feverishly works on a plan at least get himself and his family to safety via rocket-ship. Proving he is indeed an intelligent man, he builds a small but functional model that he will fire to verify that his plan is sound. As he explains to his wife, Lara (Lara-L?), Earth is just like Krypton, only populated by beings comparably feeble to Kryptonians. Lara thinks it sounds like a terrible place, but expresses that she only cares about her son surviving, if it came down to that. The Planet Krypton itself decides to call that bet almost immediately by beginning to break apart. The L's work frantically to stuff their yet-to-be-named son into the model rocket and shoot him off towards the planet Earth as the planet literally falls in on itself around them. The rocket is fired in the nick of time, which is of some small comfort to Jor-L and Lara as they and the entire population of Krypton perish from the sun. SUPER-perish.


  • Jor-L, Lara-L, and their (non-speaking) son Kal-L
  • Krypton's governing body of chumps


  • One of the most consistent parts of Superman's origins is the planet Krypton's destruction, and hubris its people experienced by ignoring Jor-L, the same man universally regarded as its smartest scientist. It is because of this is why Kal-L (Superman's real name) is one of the precious few survivors of an otherwise magnificently powerful species. That, or he's the super-one-eyed man in the kingdom of the super-blind, and really really good with building model rockets. Regardless, notice the 'L' here; later, would it double in length to 'El'.
  • It's interesting to note that the transcription spends an entire episode on Krypton, which was only given a mention in the first panel of the original comic (which had baby Superman already hurling towards Earth). I believe this may be one of the first instances of Krypton's fate being explored in the mythology of the series. If so, chalk up another mark on the board, Martha.
  • Also strange is the fact that the very first episode of the show doesn't feature the titular character in a speaking role. Bud Collyer, Superman's voice actor, did have a part in this episode - he's one of the voices in the background when Jor-L addresses the governing body.

Highlights of the episode:

Rozan: Jor-L speaks
Jor-L: Members of the council...I have completed my solar calculations and much as I dread uttering these words, I have come to the conclusion that Krypton is doomed.

He certainly didn't pull any punches. Good thing Kryptonians think he's the best scientist like, ever. Just like we listen to our scientists, right?

Rozan: You have been working too hard Jor-L. You need a rest. Believe me, we have the upmost respect for knowledge and integrity, but this is carrying it too far, planets as large as Krypton do not explode Jor-L.
[rumbling sound is heard]

Jeez, what does it take to convince these guys, is the planet going to have to EXPLODE fir-... oh.

Rozan: When it comes Jor-L…it shall find all of us ready. If Krypton is to die, we shall die with it. The parting would be much too severe!

I didn't know which was funnier, a politician completely ignoring the chance of others who might want to escape the apocalypse, or the complete lack of an angry mob outside the government building, demanding something be done about all the freaking earthquakes.

Jor-L: Yes, I know I know, Lara its been hard on all of us, and particularly hard on you. How is the boy?
Lara: Sleeping Jor-L. That quake this afternoon frightened him, but he's all right now. Can't you come in and look at him? You've scarcely see him these days, what with working all hours on the space ship model.
Jor-L: It can't be helped dear, I'm racing against time. Right now I'm anxious to know whether the model will behave as I hope.

Fun little observation: Jor-L's rocket is not only a working scaled down model of the actual escape pod, but an untested one to boot. What a lucky boy Kal-L is. Incidentally, he IS called by name at the very end by his parents - sadly, he is too young to remember it, and when he lands on Earth some years later, he possesses intelligence and strength, but truly no identity (other than really, really stretched out jammies).

In the next episode, Superman touches down and does mortal combat with a runaway trolley! And just who IS this mysterious Jimmy? And why is he being taken to the fair? And where the hell did he pull the name "Clark Kent" out of his rear? All this and MORE... Sunday at 7pm!

Happy 70th, Radio Superman!

What Radio brought to Superman! (1)

To keep up appearances that I am serious about keeping this blog stocked well and often, I'll be sprinkling articles now and then between the episodic reviews. There's a lot of stories about the people behind the show, as well as the general fun it can be to compare and contrast the Superman of today with the Superman-that-was.

Last Post I rattled off a list of major departures that the radio show initially made from the then-two-year-old comic book that beget it. The radio show turned around and added major characters and devices that the comic would later adopt, and so later the serials, the television show, a number of movie, and eventually led to a heavily armed Santa-Superman facing down Twin Hitlers and a army of mutant Batman clones At Earth's End. What? Damnit, wrong decade!

Yes, anyway, we're back in the early 1940's when Superman had yet to strangle himself under years of conflicting continuities, crossovers, and camp. We're back at the time when the radio show introduced:

Perry White - That's right. Superman's editor in the comics was a man named George Taylor (but usually called Chief or 'the Editor'). The show gave us the grumpy, lovable old Perry White, and he took over Taylor's place in the comic book in 1941. Radio's Perry White *is* Perry White, and actors in other medias would depicted him as voice actor Julian Noa did. Perry's a particular favorite of mine, as he's a risk-taker, taking a chance on a resume-less, literally-walked-in-off-the-street greenhorn named Kent to cover a story he claimed could be 'bigger than the Lindbergh Baby!' Also fun was the time he appeared more concerned that a bomb would destroy his presses than he was evacuating the freaking building. His memory is as notoriously short as his temper, going as far as threatening to fire Kent over petty things. Kent, the man who not only broke open many, many sensational Daily Planet exclusives for White, but also saved White's life repeatedly, (and not as Superman). Then again, you don't get to run a newspaper by being soft with your minions. Oh, speaking of soft - hey look it's copy-boy

Jimmy Olsen - Superman's pal, although technically he's the second Jimmy Superman became pals with (see episode 2). (Jimmy was probably introduced to keep with the status quo of heroes having boy sidekicks, a trend begun by Dick Tracy and Junior in the funny papers.) He first shows up as a copyboy employed the Daily Planet, and jumps into our hearts with a tale of woe as his widow mother being shaken down for protection money for her failing candy-store, shit which obviously did not fly with a superman who took the idea of 'shaking down' rather literally. After that Jimmy accompanied Kent on many adventures, some invited, some not; at least he didn't get under foot too much. He certainly never gained super-powers ("Golly!") or had a time machine ("Golly!", Radio Jimmy was more likely to assist Clark with the mystery of the week, getting trapped in a burning hotel, cave-in, or flooding pirate cave. Interestingly, his voice actor was briefly replaced with a prepubescent boy, before resuming the tone of a teenager. And of course, Jimmy found his way back into the comics and even got his own series! In contrast, the first Jimmy appeared in only one episode and we never find out if he ever got to the fair after Superman flew away. Yes, flew because of

Superman's ability to fly - Yep, calling it, Superman flew first on the radio. As I mentioned last post, Comics Superman jumped around with the proportionate strength of a human-size grasshopper; he could glide, but that's not the same thing of being able to fly under your own power, hover, etc (you're just jumping really high and controlling your fall creatively). Try to convey that to a radio audience, however, using a sound-effect. Superman's original 'whoosh' stood in for him flying, not jumping around, and it was easier to describe (and for the audience to picture) a flying man than get into the technicalities of the thing. Depicting Television's Superman flying involved putting a man into a complicated harness, and even that was easier than trying to simulate a jumping Superman, so it follows that form follows function in this case. Regardless, the artifact of Superman's jump-no-fly days seems to be the famous line: "Leap tall buildings with a single bound!". I have to wonder if Superman never was on the radio, if he would have stayed a jumper rather than a flyer.

Kryptonite - Superman's infamous green Achilles' heel. It deserves an article all on its own, because it owes its existence to the benefit of Bud Coyller, the talented voice actor who gave the iconic superhero his first real voice. Although the radio show was pre-recorded ('transcripted'), re-runs were unheard of and production was a constant thing. Writers could give a voice actor a break (or replace them!) ahead of time by writing his or her character out for a few shows, either by having the character not present, unable to speak, or simply have the narrator describe what the character is doing in passing reference (the latter led to a notable storyline where Lois gets in the thick of some gangsters over the course of several shows, without actually saying a line!). Mr. Collyer, of course, was both Superman and Clark Kent, and had a speaking part the vast majority of the shows. Small breaks could be fudged where Collyer could miss a recording session, but in order to give the man a vacation, kryptonite was invented as a way to incapacitate the nigh invincible Superman in a believable manner.

Bonus: On the subject of giving Bud a break, there was one other way his vacations influenced the show. Although the comics had the crossovers first, five years in Batman and Robin started to guest-star in the show, occasionally filling in whole episodes, keeping kryptonite from becoming a one trick pony, or making it come out with other colors than green or some such nonsense as that.

Well, tonight is the night the first episode, 'Baby from Krypton' debuted! I'll be posting it then. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why Radio's Superman is Different

I'm writing this blog on the assumption that the reader knows who is the guy in the blue pajama suit and red cape, and that the fella can fly. Superman had an undeniable impact on American culture - America's first runaway success in the superhero-ing business. His story origins are the stuff of myth itself, never quite matching up from telling to telling, but it's one of those things that pretty much everyone knows, however peripherally.

The basics being: shot from a dying planet by his scientist dad, landing in Kansas, being raised by a humble farmer and his wife, possessing fantastic powers, using said powers to benefit mankind while keeping up the identity of a timid, bespectacled newspaper reporter. When Superman debuted on the air, however, there were some very significant differences even from his comic book of the time. They lasted until the show rebooted a couple of years later, with more of the elements of the story which people are familiar with today. I touched on them in my first post, and we'll examine them in depth as we come to them, but for now, let's sum up the major ones. For clarity, I use the terms 'Comics Superman' and 'Radio Superman'.

Radio Superman was never raised on Earth - Superman walked out of his escape pod an adult, having spent the majority of his life in a tiny rocket-ship headed towards Earth. Since he left Krypton as an extremely young child, if not an infant, he doesn't even know his real name, so right off the cuff the implications are disturbing. Lucky for us, he seems to have taken the whole ordeal in stride, deciding to help humanity rather than take it over like a deranged man-child. Incidentally, this means that:

There is no John and Martha Kent - Even in the comics, Superman's identity is tied with that of the Kents, the couple who either raised the baby they found as their own, or dumped him in an orphanage (looking at you, Max Fleischer). Because of them, it explains why an alien child learned our customs, our culture, and the basic right from the wrong. Radio Superman's a stranger in a strange, extremely fragile land. The reason for this is likely due to the fact that the comic book Kents of the time had passed on before Clark took his job as a newspaper reporter, and thus it wasn't practical to give them voice actors (having already done 'throw away' roles for Jor-El and Lara, perhaps?) and so gave the roles to the Professor and son Jimmy, who were the first people Radio Superman rescued, from a run-away trolley (The Professor, incidentally, was taking Jimmy to the fair). They have a profound, lasting effect on Radio's Superman anyway, because, you see:

The name "Clark Kent" was pulled out of thin air - Superman states twice in his debut episode (the second one, as the first was entirely set on the doomed Krypton) that he has no name. Comic's Clark Kent is a man who learns he has an alien origin and swears to use those powers well. Radio's Superman has nothing to go on, other than he wants to learn more about Earth and help its frail meat-bags. The Professor helpfully suggests he take on a role of a reporter; little Jimmy (not Olsen) gives him the name of 'Clark Kent'. He might as well have called him 'Hugh Jorgan' or 'Heywood Jabloeme' and Superman would have bought it. Luckly, Jimmy knew better than to play around with a man who demonstrated he could peel back a trolley roof like tin-foil, and also can fly. Oh, also:

He can fly right away - No duh? Well, in his very earliest of days, Comic's Superman didn't fly so much as leap - much like how a grasshopper the size of a man could hypothetically jump high (thus 'leap over tall buildings in a single bound). There's no indication that Superman does anything other than fly through the air, rather than leap, although Lara-El mentions it only takes her 'a step' to her relations over in the mountains some miles away. The reason is most likely that it's difficult to rely the act of leaping by sole use of sound effects (and flying is way cooler). It's implied Radio Superman can hover, or at least land gently. I am not sure if this preceded Superman's ability for true flight in the comics. Speaking of flight,

His powers are kind of vague - Superman's 'Golden Age' and 'Silver Age' are best define that the latter proved he could pretty much do anything, which to me led to severe character decay. Punch a planet out of orbit? No problem, Silver age, baby! Radio Superman is firmly in the Golden Age levels of power, which the running rule being 'just enough to pull off what the story called for'. Later, being able to bust out of a steel room or to push over some large boulders became less remarkible when it's been established your main character can carve his name in the Moon, from Earth, by looking at it really hard. Superman's powers did add up over time, and it's kind of a hoot to hear Superman toss out a line such as 'good thing I can see in the dark!' or when he speaks underwater. Also!

He is not at all a public figure - Contemporary Superman is a very public figure. He's an inspiration to everyone, he's the leader of the Justice League, he constantly makes public appearances, he saves the Earth and basically everyone knows it's him doing it. It all leads to a very different kind of storytelling than Radio's Superman uses. Early episodes on the radio revolved around not only keeping his identity of Clark Kent a secret, but Superman's very existence as well. I'm well over a hundred episodes into the old show by now, and Superman still has managed to keep himself practically an urban legend. It serves him well - like the time he just walks into the headquarters of a villain, gets captured (dressed as Superman), and goes along with it exactly long enough to learn what the plan is before giving them the surprise of their very lives. This one alone would make this a very different story from the Superman today, when an entire world would mourn his supposed death. And because Superman plays down his exploits a lot, it leads to the impression that...

Clark Kent is a total badass - We all know Superman is a strong, manly-man and Clark Kent is a push-over, a wimp, right? At first glance, that might seem to be the case in the Radio. However when I started listening to the radio Adventures of Superman I realized just how incredible Clark Kent came off. Radio's Clark Kent brought down terrorist networks, exposed criminal rackets, and played detective so effectively that it gave him a reputation today's journalists only wish they could have, and this is solely on what the public sees him do. Yes, we know that Clark Kent is secretly super Superman, but they don't! Kent would constantly do heroic things (or appear to, anyway, to cover up the act being that of Superman's) and yet still be called a coward. Not that Kent cares (just the opposite, he encourages it), but it's amazing just the same to listen to the episode where Clark Kent appears to climb out on an airplane wing with a rifle to return fire at a pursuing plane. Or when he flew a plane into another plane, or when he singlehandedly lead Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen out of a forest fire, or when he stood up to an extortion racket, or when he...

One last thing, which probably deserves an entirely separate post - Radio's Superman is not a boy scout. He's not a bad guy by any means, but he's not above threatening the occasional goon, demonstrating he has the means to do grievous harm with his pinky fingers alone. To paraphrase a line he uses more than one occasion: "Bullets just bounce off of me, let's see how YOU bounce! It may not have been intentional, but it is interesting this aspect of Superman is coupled with a version who was not raised on Earth - he is very much a dangerous alien being who, fortunately, is on the side of law and order. He's not off doing good deeds constantly, he's more of a proactive observer, only stepping in to help if he's truly needed, and no more. Again, it's a side of Superman many are not used to seeing.

Friday starts my vigil! On the day of its 70th broadcast anniversary , I'll cover an episode in detail. I'll link to the show on BOTAR, and you are welcome to listen along! See you then.