Thursday, July 4, 2013
The Adventures of Superman, radio program: "The Clan of the Fiery Cross"
When we look at Superman's history and draw comparisons we ought to remember how medium dictates story. A one in done story from 1971 has to engage its world differently than a written for the trade arc in 2011, or a feature length film from 1980, for example. You have to understand not only a historical context for these stories, but a formal context for that particular Superman and the world he inhabits. Every medium has its own advantages and contrivances. Every story that occurs outside our own minds is in some way a compromise to the demands of a physical medium.
That's what makes reviewing a radio serial starring the greatest and most visual character in American popular fiction such a wonderful challenge. To someone living in 2013, radio is defined by what it cannot do, but in listened with a sympathetic ear it's easy to hear why it was such a powerful medium-- like comic books there are no wasted moments and no unnecessary elements. Every line is designed to further the plot or develop the characters which allows us to create a clear and distinct picture in our mind's eye. It's also worth mentioning that unlike the radio shows I had been familiar with before reviewing this show, Superman is not a 30 minute weekly serial, it's a 15 minute daily serial which was recorded live. This necessitates building "breaks" into the serial for the lead actors when they needed days off, which is why Batman and Jimmy Olsen made their debuts in the Superman radio show before they showed up in his comic book.
Before I go on with this review I'd like to tell you about Kellogg's Pep, the Sunshine cereal. So light and crisp and tender it gives your appetite the old come on and makes you want to eat a hearty breakfast every morning. And now that we're sending these cereal grains overseas to feed fellows and girls overseas, remember not to waste it-- eat all your Pep!
(Thought you'd like a little local color there)
The story itself is really good; the kind of social consciousness stuff that permeated early Superman before being swept away in the 1950's. Superman takes on "the Clan of the Fiery Cross", an obvious analogue for the Ku Klux Klan, who have used a dispute between boys on a City League baseball team to incite a campaign of violence against a local Chinese family. I like the way they use a very small incident and build the tension solidly over two episodes before Superman even gets involved. They're also not shy about calling the Klan "Un American bigots and speak pretty specifically about what they do and why they do it.
I also like how adept they are at painting the images with words: the Klan members, illuminated by a single candle, drawing weird shadows in the sour milk light and Superman as a red and blue blur hurdling buildings in a desperate race to save Perry White. I could see these with greater intensity than some comic book images. It's a wonderful format.
The serial is quite long (16 parts of 15 minutes each) but well worth your time to track down and listen to. Here's a link to listen for free: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ol8Gmi57DI