Superman on the Radio: Ep, 1: Baby from Krypton
Superman debuted in Action Comics No. 1 in June 1938, but by Feb. 12, 1940 he was already all over the place. His daily comic strip began on Jan. 16, 1939 and it was soon in 300 dailies and 90 Sunday newspapers across the country. He crowded out the rest of the Action Comics heroes so after Nov. 1939 he was always the feature on the cover. He got his own quarterly comic, “Superman,” in summer ’39. Talk of a live-action movie serial with Republic Studios fell apart but Max Fleischer began developing his classic collection of Superman cartoons, which would debut in Sept. 1941. Plus a live version of Superman did appear. In June 1940, actor Ray Middleton appeared as The Man of Tomorrow for “Superman Day” at the New York World’s Fair.
Then there was this.
The Superman radio series ran thrice weekly for 15 minutes, and it introduced kids to patter that would be soon be familiar to everyone across the globe—if, here, in slightly different fashion:
Boy and girls, your attention, please! Presenting a new and exciting radio program, featuring the thrilling adventures of an amazing and incredible personality!
Faster than an airplane!
More powerful than a locomotive!
Impervious to bullets!
Up in the sky, look!
It’s a bird, it’s a plane
I love the differences: “Up in the sky, look!” When did they reverse it? And when did they change the “faster” to a speeding bullet? Which would, of course, necessitate a change in the third stranza, right? You can’t have bullets twice.
I also love that they call him a “personality.” Plus they‘re polite when asking for your attention.
Believe it or not, this kind of patter continues. Apparently they had a lot to explain about the guy:
And now Superman. A being no larger than an ordinary man, but possessed of powers and abilities never before realized on Earth. Able to leap into the air an eighth of a mile in a single bound. Hurdle a 20-story building with ease. Race a high-powered bullet to its target. Lift tremendous weights and rend solid steel in his bare hands, as though it were paper.
The first episode, no surprise, is about the last days of Krypton. Most of the storyline is familiar to anyone familiar with Superman. Jor-El is Krypton’s “foremost man of science.” He warns everyone of doom. They laugh. He tries to build a rocket to take himself, his wife and his baby, away from Krypton, but ... too late! So they just send the baby.
Some differences from the canon:
- Superman gets his abilities not from a yellow sun but because Kryptonians are “advanced to the absolute peak of human perfection.” They are a race of supermen. Nazism soon made this a little unpalatable.
- Krypton is breaking up because it’s being pulled closer to its sun. (Or is that canon?)
- Jor-El actually wants to send Lara to Earth: “If one of us must go, it should be you!” It’s Lara’s idea to send the baby. Some dad.
We don’t come off well, by the way. Humans are described by Jor-El as “weak and helpless and with all their faculties extremely limited.”
Lara: And that’s where we're going? Oh, how dreadful!
Jor-El: My dear, which would you rather do? Go to Earth and live or stay on Krypton and die?
“Earth: Better than dying.”
Anyway, the baby gets away to Earth. Tune in next time.