“You’re a reporter, not a detective,” Perry White to Clark Kent.
The month of March madness seems an odd season to be writing about football, but here goes — with a tale that demonstrates that there were sometimes shades of gray in the heroism of radio’s newspaper heroes.
Before it’s over, the world’s favorite mild-mannered reporter has assaulted two innocent men, kidnapped one of them, burglarized a safe, and run from police.
Maybe the authors of this September and October 1941 storyline hadn’t refined their book of superhero ethics yet — or absorbed the finer points of impartial journalism.
The 15-episode story “Metropolis Football Team Poisoned” starts with Clark Kent announcing to Lois Lane that he’ll be covering a Metropolis U vs. State U game. He mentions that he doesn’t think State has a chance, but bases that on the Metropolis’ team’s perfect record.
That sounds OK from a journalism ethics point of view, but it’s still a bad move for Clark: The scrappy Lois turns out to be a State grad, a true believer in her alma mater’s ability to pull an upset and more cheerleader than reporter when they get to the game. (Perhaps the “Adventures of Superman” script writers can be forgiven for breaking the “no cheering in the pressbox” rule in the interest of making the audio-only story more exciting.) Lois also teases Clark mercilessly, claiming that she knows more about football than he does.
“I bet you don’t even know the difference between a T-formation and a double-wingback,” Lois says, producing a rulebook before agreeing to go to the game with Clark. “You’ll need it… Remember, I’m not going to tell you what the game’s all about.”
As it turns out, Kent’s reporting does leave a lot to be desired, but for a different reason: He ducks out before the dramatic final play to investigate a bigger story, leaving Lois to take his notes back to the paper, which does not please editor White one bit.
Next, to save the team’s reputation he agrees to suppress the bigger story — the possibility that something dastardly is going on, as suggested by the story title, “Metropolis Football Team Poisoned.”
An ethics class could have fun with Kent’s reasoning. The team members all were near collapse before the end of the game for mysterious reasons. The coach insists the team needs to win for a bigger reason than getting to a bowl game: Continuing the no-loss record is essential to winning a bequest for the university medical school, one that could fund a cure for infantile paralysis — polio, the disease that in 1941 was well-known to the radio audience, because it afflicted then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Kent accepts the Metropolis’ coach’s argument that the threat to the team, and through it $3 million in research funds, puts thousands of children’s lives at stake. As a result, Clark and Superman apparently feel justified in not only holding off on the story, but breaking several laws to find out who is sabotaging the team. Kent later admits that he made mistakes, and says he will have to find a way to make things up to one of his victims.
I won’t spoil any more of the suspense before you have a chance to listen. Here are the first four 12-minute episodes of the 15-part story.
|Episode 1: Team collapses.||Episode 2: The secret bequest.|
|Episode 3: Perry White confronts Kent.||Episode 4: Superman, gorilla fighter and safe-cracker|
For the next few weekends, I’ll work my way through this story several episodes at a time, paying more attention to the strange behavior of Clark Kent and the ethical choices facing the reporter and his cape-wearing alter-ego.
Note: Superman began in the comics in 1938 and on radio in 1940. His first crossover into football was in an early issue of Action Comics, later reprinted in the first issue of Superman comics, but it bore no relation to this Metropolis University story on the radio, and doesn’t involve Clark “on assignment” to cover a game. Instead, it starts with Superman overhearing a corrupt coach coach planning to kidnap a rival team’s star player — and Superman goes undercover as a member of the team. See the Superman home page for more of the plot (story 3 of Superman 1).