Clark Kent finds swell story via turtle

In 1940, Superman didn’t need a world-threatening super villain or a city-destroying duel with another “hero” to be an entertaining role model. In this early “Adventures of Superman” radio tale, Clark Kent’s reportorial curiosity gets the better of him — so much that he passes up a scheduled boat ride home from a previous adventure in the Caribbean.

After resolving the previous tale, the opening episode of “The Curse of Dead Man’s Island” starts with Daily Planet copyboy Jimmy Olsen catching a turtle to take home — only to discover a call for help scratched into its shell. That’s enough to inspire reporter Kent to investigate. As he says,

“There may be a swell story behind this plea for help. Someone is evidently in trouble!”

His instincts are right — the story eventually involves a mostly deserted island, a castaway, a beautiful woman, a secluded castle with a mysterious dynamo and, of course, a dungeon.

See the JHeroes overview page for the Superman radio show, which began in February, 1940, serializing its stories as 12-minute daily episodes. This particular story ran from Sept. 23 to Oct. 4, shorter than most of the adventures. The six individual episodes are downloadable from the chronological Internet Archive collection of the series, or as a combined 70-minute recording. (Unlike some full-story recordings, this one is before the repetitious Kellogg’s cereal commercials that came with the successful series’ full sponsorship later.)

There are no major explorations of journalism ethics in this juvenile adventure, although Clark does fib to the captain of their homeward-bound vessel to explain why he and Jimmy are staying in the islands, and he does show somewhat questionable judgment including Jimmy in the adventure — but having a companion to talk to makes for much better radio than relying on a narrator to fill in the gaps.

As usual for these early stories, the mystery plot is on a human scale, with Kent’s superhuman powers only coming into play when necessary — often to save Jimmy or Lois Lane (who is absent from this story), while Kent pursues a news story that turns into an adventure. Kent’s being a reporter “frames” the tale more than his being Superman. In the process he shows the usual journalistic skills with nautical charts and small engines, as well as a certain amount of luck, not all of it good.

At the end of this six-parter,  there’s no mention of the story Clark plans to file about the adventure. After the mystery is solved (no spoilers here; listen for yourself), Kent and Jimmy don’t even fly home. They head back to Metropolis by boat, where they find a message waiting from Perry White to return home because they are needed for another big story.

It’s the life of a reporter — or so young listeners were taught in 1940.

About Bob Stepno

mild-mannered reporter who fell deeper into computers and the Web during three trips through graduate school in the 1980s and 1990s, then began teaching journalism, media studies and Web production, most recently as a faculty member at Radford University.
This entry was posted in 1940s, adventure, Clark Kent, Jimmy Olsen, Superman. Bookmark the permalink.

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