Tuesday, April 04, 2006

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a logic problem

Some sources say that George Reeves’ birthday is one day this week. Others say it’s in January. How fitting that mystery should shroud even that. George Reeves played Superman in the 1950’s TV series ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN. The circumstances surrounding his death are also cloudy but will soon be cleared up because Hollywood has a movie coming out on the subject. (Murder? Suicide? Kryptonite?)

I must admit I have always loved that show. I know it dates me but I was the target audience when it first came out. I still watch it in reruns (it’s now on cable channels so obscure they don’t even have names) and bought the first season DVD the day it came out. I’ve since given up running around the neighborhood employing a towel as a cape. My wife finds it humiliating.

When I watch the episodes now I am filled with a warm sense of nostalgia. I also am struck by how incredibly STUPID I was as a kid. There are moments in that show that are so preposterous that even as a seven year old I should have said, “Heyyyy, wait a minute.”

Okay, forget that no one can tell the difference between Clark Kent and Superman just from the glasses even though they look alike, have the same voice, and build. (Teri Hatcher had the same problem in the later series although in her case she was probably just too distracted terrorizing the crew because her Perrier was three degrees too cold.) I’m talking about these little gems (and I bet some of you have a few too):

In one episode Superman flies a little girl around the world. In three hours. At that speed with the g-forces I’d guess she’s be vaporized just outside the Metropolis city limits. And she’s just wearing a little sun dress and flimsy sweater. In one scene they’re flying over Mount Everest. He asks if she’s cold and she assures him she’s not. That must be some sweater because at that altitude it must be minus 300 degrees. But I bought it.

Remember the episode in which Superman was frozen? Oh no! How will he pass for Clark Kent? Simple, with some shoe polish and Lois Lane’s make up. Son of a gun, it worked!! No one noticed there was anything different between a normal person and a man wearing pancake makeup on his face and hands and jet black shoe polish in his hair. It worked for me.

The Daily Planet was a great metropolitan newspaper with a staff of three reporters. Yeah, that sounded about right at the time.

They were always quite liberal on their definition of X-Ray vision. Instead of just looking through objects, this Superman was able to see things from miles away. The one catch was that he couldn’t see through lead. There’s no lead anywhere in a straight line between the Daily Planet building and India?

Which brings me to my favorite moment of all. In one episode the bad guys got the brilliant idea that if they wore lead helmets that fitted completely over their heads that Superman could never identify them. Okay, forget fingerprints, they went to so much trouble to have these helmets made. And wasn’t it hot in those things? I guess not.

So in one scene two of these lead heads are going up to Perry White’s office in the Daily Planet. We see them walking down the hall. Picture this: Two men in suits, lead helmets, with fedoras. Two extras (“staff members”) pass them in the hall AND DON’T EVEN NOTICE THEM. Ho hum. Nothing unusual. Just two businessmen in helmets and hats. Now I fall off my chair. Then I thought “those helmets look good with those suits”.

Coming out this summer will be a new movie version of Superman. I’m sure the effects will be dazzling, you won’t even see the strings when he’s flying. The logic holes will not be as large as the galaxy and all seven year olds will buy it. But the issue will still remain – what can Clark Kent do to better disguise himself? I have the answer. Play him gay.


Anonymous said...

i miss that cheesy theme more than anything...:) it always sounded like it was played on a warped 45..and that sound effect when he landed...great memories

Matt said...

LOL. The punchline to that post had me laughing hard for a good five minutes.

Anonymous said...

And then there's the ever-popular moment when the bad guys shoot at Superman and he stands there, unafraid with his arms akimbo, and lets the bullets bounce off of his chest. Then when the crooks run out of bullets, they throw the gun at Superman AND HE DUCKS!

Xavier Cristóbal said...

Hello Ken. I like very must SUperman and its mitology and I liked very much your article. Also I like very your sitcoms: Cheers, M.A.S.H. and THe SImpson. Now I'm writing a script of superheroes. I think in USA is easy to make a film of superheroes but in Spain it's very difficult. I have a blog:
http://1936visiones.blogspot.com/. I have some information of pictures about my project "1936:Sebastián" and another projects. ANd now I say you: "May the FOrce be with you"

Anonymous said...

Flying the little girl around the world: Supes would have been doing about 9000mph. Probably a bit less, but using the distance at the equator for "around the world", call it 9,000.

The g forces involved needn't be a problem. It's only an issue when you're accelerating. Once you're up to cruising speed, no problem. Just don't accelerate much faster than a jet would, and a passenger wouldn't even feel g's.

The real problem would be friction. At 9,000mph, the girl wouldn't be freezing, she'd probably burst into flames. The only possible explanation is that Supes shielded her with his body, and held her in precisely the right way so that she'd neither be too hot (from the heat coming off the leading edge) or too cold (from the atmosphere).

Another problem would be the lack of oxygen at an altitude that would clear Mt. Everest. The answer for this is that Superman stayed at a low altitude until he was up to speed. His body dragged a bubble of high pressure air along with him, enabling the girl to breath.

Has anybody seen a life laying around? I seem to need one.

Tenspeed & Brownshoe said...



Full disclosure.

I'm a superhero geek. So ofcourse I love Superman.

When the 1978 Superman came out, I saw something amazing. Christopher Reeve played Clark Kent as an incredible nerd. Now because this movie was so popular nobody ever realized that this incarnation of Clark Kent never existed anywhere else. Clark Kent, until then, and now way after, has always been played as...mild mannered. Christopher Reeve was the first and only person to play Clark Kent as a total geek. I know this seems ridiculous but with that acting choice you can kind of see how someone may not figure out that Superman and Clark Kent are the same person...at least not for a couple of minutes.

And I think Bryan Singer's Superman is going to BLOW. The casting baffles the mind. Only in this day and age do filmmakers feel the need to make heroic charcters 10-years-old. Does anyone realize that the movie Superman is actually YOUNGER than the guy on Smallville?! Total lunacy. Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. Sorry, not buying it.

And Kevin Spacey? Well, at least they're playing Lex Luthor gay...

Anonymous said...

Come on Ken,

Any real Superman fan knows that he has *telescopic*, microscopic as well as x-ray vision.

No matter what, he's the best superhero.

Anonymous said...


I agree, the casting for the new film is crazy. Not to dish dirt, but a certain director is apparently known for giving certain roles to young male actors that, um, strike his fancy.

WB wanted Jim Caviezel. That would have sucked. No offense, Jesus.

Kate Bosworth is the Bos-worst.
Sorry for that one.

Spacey may be rumored to be gay, but he's got the intellect/cunning/wit to pull of Luthor.

Brandon Routh? Can't say he doesn't wear the suit well.

Ken, who would you have cast?

Anonymous said...

The theme for the Superman radio show was much better than the one for the TV show. The Fleischer cartoons also used the radio theme. And Clark was often portrayed as geeky in the comics, tho that seemed to stop when the Superman series "started over" in the mid 80s. Clark would often have a fainting spell or some sort of swoonage that would allow him to slip off and switch identities. Christopher Reeve just ratcheted up the geekiness, tho the thought that his Clark was more than a little fey occurred to me way back when.

Unknown said...

I seem to recall that in the Christopher Reeeve movies, Superman and Clark Kent parted their hair on opposite sides. Of course I could be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Parted his hair in a different way? Holy shit, how could anyone penetrate an inspired disguise like that?! Also, does this mean that whenever Lex Luther's latest scheme - say, to drop nuke's on Metropolis - was about to kick off, Clark spent valuable nanoseconds restyling his parting before saving the day? It's like he just turned into SuperFonz! Now that's a movie I'd like to see...

Dixon Steele said...

But here's the Real question:

Which Lois do you prefer, the original, and more serious, Phyllis Coates, or her replacement, the perky (and IMHO, preferable) Noel Neille?

MaryAn Batchellor said...

You weren't a stupid seven year old. It only looks that way applying the technology and logic of today to a cruder and more elementary age of television.

Boltron said...

The only possible explanation is that Supes shielded her with his body, and held her in precisely the right way so that she'd neither be too hot (from the heat coming off the leading edge) or too cold (from the atmosphere).

In which case, upon returning the girl safely to her family, Supes could be expected to face some serious jail time and be branded a sex offender for the rest of his life. Sometimes "the right way" is just the wrong way.

Steve K. said...

Ken, I had the pleasure of working with George Reeves in the I Love Lucy epsode "Lucy Meets Superman". (I was Stevie Appleby.) He was very nice to us kids and gave us our own little Superman costumes (which I lost in a house fire). A story that circulated around the set that week was that George had to rush off to some event and didn't have time to change out of his costume. Along the way he had to stop for gas in a bad part of town and he was spotted by a bunch of neighborhood kids. They demanded that he fly if he really was Superman. He got scared and sped off in his car. LOL

The Hopper said...

I heard a podcast about a book called "The science of superheros," written by a physics professor to make his classes more fun.

I think it's up this crowd's alley.

Brent McKee said...

There are lots of explanations for things. Superman is supposed to have "telescopic vision" as well as X-Ray vision, heat vision and microscopic vision, and apparently he can combine X-ray and telescopic.

As for flying the little girl around the world and the effects of friction, the current explanation is that the big guy has a sort of force field that keeps his costume from burning up, so maybe it extends to the little girl. It's about as far fetched as the Lois Lane flying scene in the original movie.

The TV show wasn't that bad. I mean sure there were the lead helmets and Superman ducking when the prop guns were thrown (Superman invincible, George Reeves not so much, and the producers could barely afford rubber guns) but at least they never introduced the oddest power of all (as seen in the comic books) - super-ventriloquism!

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

I remember a fine summer day standing with my playmate pals, all of us about nine or so, when I had my first experience with what I think psychologists call 'cognitive dissonance' - the disparity between what we think is true, compared to new information.

How can Superman be dead??

Didn't even compare with finding out about Santa Claus, Rock Hudson or Milli Vanilli.

I've been heartbroken ever since.

Anonymous said...

I had the pleasure of speaking to Noel Neil on the phone some years ago, shortly after the Chris Reeve movie came out. Lovely gal.

I just found out last week that Jack Larsen (Jimmy Olsen) is gay. That struck me as funny, because Clark was the one with the "secret closet."

I like the TV theme, jangly and awful as it is. Even though it sounds like it was mastered on a wheel of gouda cheese, I still crank it on the stereo when I type flame-mail to clients.

Being the child of a certain era, I guess I know all those episodes by heart, and I can think of a million little oddities to talk about. But the thing that comes to mind right now is the moment I realized that the midget from "High Plains Drifter" (Billy Curtis) was also "Mr. Zero," the Martian-with-no-self-confidence from one of the Superman TV eps. Then I found out he had also been a featured munchkin in "Wizard of Oz."

It struck me as divinely weird that I never made the mental connection that these were all the SAME person.
Then I started to think about how much of my cultural hard-drive is filled with the same 20 or 30 recyclable stock players and character actors. That way lies madness!

ChrisO said...

The episode I clearly remember, because it was so cool yet so puzzling to me, was when some bad guys had holed up behind a wall so thick Superman couldn't penetrate it. I think they may have been waiting out the statute of limitations. (Kind of funny to escape punishment by putting yourself in a cell.)

Anyway, Superman gets into the room by standing in front of the wall, concentrating real hard, and suddenly fading away, only to reappear inside the room! Somehow, when no one was looking, he developed the power to teleport himself. I've never heard of him having that power before or since.

Anonymous said...

Actually, in that episode he... umm, vibrated so that his atoms passed the atoms in the wall and... uh, he walked through the wall.

I assume he never did it again.

Erik M. Keller said...

Maybe this helps to clear things up, there is an actual college course to examine the super-powers:


I'm not sure what to make of it, though. Might spoil my childhood-dreams, you know.


Anonymous said...

didnt they do the vibrating atoms thing in the Lois and Clark series? Sup's was being held hostage and he did that, but it really knocked him silly...plus the floor was wired for explosives and he couldnt touch down...it was crazy, I only watched it to Teri Hatcher...:)

Keith said...

I don't know about anyone else but my dream cast for Superman movie would be:

John Malkovitch as Lex Luthor
Pauley Perrette as Lois Lane and
Bruce Campbell as Superman/ Clark Kent

He has a chin made of steel and could be suffienctly geeky to play Clark and sufficiently stoic enough to play Superman.

rogercarroll said...

Ken, saw your list of the top LA radio people 1991.............
I hope when do your favorites of the early 1900's I make that list.
Also as a retired ABC Network NEWS READER (ten years) not a NEWSMAN who became a BIGTIME DJ, this past week CBS made one of the BIGGEST mistakes in the history of TV...
Re: Katie. Johnny Magnus could do a better job
THE NEWS WITH A BEAT....da da da...Los Angeles, da da da...London... roger carroll


Play him gay.
Spot on.
"He's alien, you know."
"No! Really? I just hought he may be bi. Is there a third sex involved, here?"
"Hmmm, indeed."


Yeah. I'm down with Reeves I.
The scene etched into my psyche is the shower scene where Clark steps through a big pebbled glass door into his shower, not a bath-tub, passes out, falls through glass door and onto thick shards of glass with his full weight...slow fade to blackout? ...cut to...commercial, I guess.

Oh. And he left a criminal on a icey, snowy alpine ledge, at night for a while...long enough for him to die, anyway.

Anonymous said...

George Reeves was a great Superman. His portrayal of Clark Kent was unsurpassed. Only Dean Cain came close. Sure some of the stories were not perfectly scientific, but neither is Superman. And yes Superman has telescopic vision, heat vision, X-Ray vision and microscopic vision as well. He is the greatest superhero ever.