Over the past 77 years, Superman has made a name for himself in various media, including comics, television, movies and serials. He’s even appeared in a stage play.
What some people— especially younger fans— may not know is that he also appeared on radio. The Adventures of Superman radio show aired from 1940 to 1951. One of the best storylines was the 38-chapter serial “Superman vs. the Atom Man”, which ran in fifteen minute installments, Monday-Friday, from Oct. 11- Dec. 3, 1945. In that adventure, Supes faces off against his deadliest foe: Nazi Heinrich Milch, AKA Henry Miller, the Kryptonite-powered “Atom Man.”
Radio Spirits released that adventure in a digitally restored and remastered format on both cassette and CD (along with a detailed program booklet) in the late 90s as part of the “Smithsonian Historical Performances.” Radio Spirits no longer publishes “Superman vs. the Atom Man” for some odd reason, but you can probably find copies on the secondary market. Or at your local library.
The serial, narrated by Jackson Beck, starred Clayton “Bud” Collyer as Clark Kent/Superman and Mason Adams as the Atom Man. It also featured Joan Alexander as Lois Lane, Jackie Kelk as Jimmy Olsen and Julian Noa as Perry White. The actors also voiced various other characters over the course of the serial.
The storyline opens with Clark Kent investigating a murder and a mysterious fire. He subsequently discovers that a half-mad Nazi scientist named Der Teufel (Matt Crowley) has escaped back to Europe. Kent believes Der Teufel has a sliver of Kryptonite and is concerned that the scientist will make good his boast of creating an “Atom Man” with it. However, Inspector Henderson (also Crowley) dismisses his concerns that anything could harm Supes.
Superman flies to Germany and tries to trace Der Teufel as Clark Kent. However, Allied occupational officers also dismiss his concerns about the urgency. Impatient to see if a scientist friend has succeeded in developing a defense against Kryptonite, Supes returns to the States, just as the military police begin to close in on Der Teufel.
The MPs don’t find him. Instead, they discover a destroyed cave and leveled forest and conclude that the Nazi scientist blew himself up. Which comes as a great relief to Clark Kent. However, no one realizes that Der Teufel succeeded in his plan to inject a solution of Kryptonite into a man’s bloodstream and create his “Atom Man.” Nor do they realize that friendly, outgoing new Daily Planet hire Henry Miller is the man in question.
Kent begins to suspect that Der Teufel may have survived, but both Perry White and Lois Lane dismiss his concerns; and when Kent becomes weak when he first meets “Henry Miller”, Lois takes it upon herself to have him committed to a “rest farm.”
Good old reliable, supportive Lois Lane.
The ever blustery Perry White is so annoyed at these intruders in his office that the attendants almost haul him away.
All because of ever helpful Lois Lane. With friends like her, who needs Lex Luthor (who didn’t actually appear in the radio series)?
Kent doesn’t stay long, of course, but soon has bigger problems. Using the unsuspecting Jimmy Olsen as bait, “Miller” lures Superman to a beach house 50 miles from Metropolis, where he reveals himself as the Atom Man and brings the Man of Steel to his knees with his deadly onslaught of Kryptonite-powered lightning.
Luckily for Superman, The Atom Man refuses to believe Der Teufel’s claim that the fallen Man of Steel still lives and buries him deep beneath the sand of the torn-up beach. Unluckily for Der Teufel, the Atom Man, drunk on his own power, kills him.
Determined to destroy Metropolis, the Atom Man is dismayed to learn that he has exhausted the Kryptonite in his bloodstream. He needs to find more.
Meanwhile, Superman, unrecognized because his uniform has been reduced to rags, has been discovered and taken to a hospital. But he’s believed to be beyond help. He recovers (somewhat) and returns to the Daily Planet, still dazed and weakened, as Clark Kent. And while Henry Miller has been revealed as a Nazi, no one believes he is the Atom Man.
Both men ultimately recover their powers and the stage is set for the rematch. They engage in their final battle high above the Metropolis reservoir, which the Atom Man is determined to destroy.
Ostensibly aimed at children, The Adventures of Superman was by no means childish. It was more of a show for the whole family than one for “kiddies.”
It also tackled more “real-life” issues than Kryptonite powered madmen. For example, in both “Clan of the Fiery Cross” (June 10- July 1, 1946) and “The Knights of the White Carnation” (Feb. 22-March 17, 1947), Supes takes on racist organizations.
Still, the show had its share of amusing moments, such as Clark Kent’s propensity to almost spill the beans by saying things such as how he’ll get to such and such location in a few minutes.
“I mean Superman will,” he hastily rephrases.
And then there’s the time Kent tells Jimmy to go into a courtroom and get Robin (Batman made occasional appearances on the show).
“Robin?” Jimmy asks.
“Er, I mean Dick Grayson.”
Still, Clark Kent’s habit of nearly giving the game up notwithstanding, The Adventures of Superman is enjoyable radio fare.
Copyright 2015 Patrick Keating.