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Superman on Earth
by Chris Brockow

The following is an examination of Superman's first days on Earth as presented on radio, on television, and in the 1978 feature film.

“Superman On Earth” was the first televised episode of “The Man of Steel”. When the radio show ended, Robert Maxwell moved Superman from the air waves to the small screen. Tom Mankiewicz said that the origin story is a three act play, and in the television series, this 3 act play was done in thirty minutes. Not only is this a review of the George Reeves series but also a comparison of other media telling of the origin story.

Act One: The Destruction of Krypton

In the far reaches of space, Krypton burned like a green star. Jor-el, a respected scientist, explained to the council that their planet was being pulled towards their sun and it would explode like a gigantic bomb. The elders of Krypton scoffed at Jor-El, even when he told them about Earth and its atmosphere. Jor-El went back to his laboratory to work more on his model rocket ship. This rocket was only a test to see if it would reach Earth. If it was successful, then Jor-El would work on a bigger craft to carry his wife Lara and his son Kal-El to safety. But before he was able to complete the ship, the sun continued to pull Krypton closer and closer, causing more urgency on Jor-El’s part. Jor-El wanted Lara to go to Earth but she refused to leave him, telling him if only one could go, it should be the baby. Lara wrapped Kal-El in a blanket and Jor-El placed him gently in the ship and sent him to Earth. After the ship was safely in space, we witness Krypton explode.

The above scene is almost verbatim to that of the radio series, but it is slightly different from the 1948 movie serial with Kirk Alyn. In the serial, Krypton burned like a blue star rather than a green star. Jor-El was working on the space ship before approaching the counsel and last we see the destruction of Krypton. In the 1978 Christopher Reeve movie, Lara did not want her son to grow up on Earth (and because the movie had a bigger budget, the whole scene of Krypton and its destruction was much more lavish).

In the radio show, Kal-El was already an adult when he landed on Earth. In both the movie serial and the TV show he was a baby. But in the 1978 movie, he was a three year old toddler by the time he landed on Earth. In all the screen media, the Kent’s found Kal-El, but the names were different. In the George Reeves’ series, Ma and Pa Kent’s names were Eben and Sara. In the Kirk Alyn serial, we learn only Eben’s name so I am going to speculate that Mrs. Kent’s name was Sara. In the Christopher Reeve movie, the Kent’s names were Martha and Jonathan; as it was in Superboy, Lois and Clark and also in Smallville. In all the series, it was the Kent’s who gave Clark his name and his sense of morality. This theme followed in the Superboy series and also in the Lois and Clark series.

Act Two: Clark Kent as a boy

In the “Superman On Earth” TV episode, we see Clark as a young boy asking his mother why he was different from the rest of the boys. We see the love and compassion of Sara when she explains to him how she and his father found him. Clark was twelve years old when his mother told him the story and the clock rolled by from 1926-1951. The year that the Kent’s found Clark was not defined in the 1948 serial or the 1978 movie, but it was 1966 in Lois and Clark and it was 1986 in Smallville.

Clark Kent becomes Superman

Going back to this scene where Sara was planning Clark’s party, we see Clark’s father come in and Sara scolding him about tracking dirt into her just cleaned house. She told him to get cleaned up for the party and as he heads out of the room, he collapses. We then see the doctor telling them there was nothing he could do. Clark’s father died of a heart attack and Clark and his mother console each other with the knowledge that he was a good man, a good husband and a good father. The scene changes to Clark and Sara at the Smallville bus depot where he departed to Metropolis with the costume that Sara made for him. Sara reminded him that it was meant for him to use his powers to help mankind.

In the Kirk Alyn serial, it was Eben Kent who told Clark to use his powers to help others and his mother told him about the costume she made for him and Clark gave himself the name of Superman. Both of the Kent’s died and Clark moved to Metropolis.

The story is a little longer in the 1978 movie. When Jonathan died, Clark took a long trek north to have his Fortress of Solitude built. In his Fortress, Clark learned of his Kryptonian heritage from Jor-El and it was at the Fortress where Clark received his costume. Also in the 1978 movie, Lois gave him the name of Superman.

In Lois and Clark, Jonathan and Martha live. Martha made Clark his costume and Lois gave Superman his name.

Act Three: Clark is hired at the Daily Planet

When Clark reached Metropolis we were introduced to Perry White, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olson. In this episode, Clark waited two hours and forty minutes to see Perry White. I found it interesting in this scene that Clark was holding his hat when talking to the receptionist, but we see him taking off his hat running into the storeroom (where he usually changed into Superman) but he only went in there to walk out onto a ledge (wearing his hat) to enter Perry’s office to ask for a job. Inside Perry’s office, Jimmy barged in with a news wire that a man was hanging from a blimp a thousand feet in the air. Perry ordered Lois and Jimmy to go down to the air field and cover the story. Clark asked Perry if he got the exclusive would Perry give him a job. Perry agreed that he would hire Clark if he indeed got an exclusive. Clark changed into Superman, caught the man when he lost his grip from the blimp and got the exclusive. Perry kept his word and hired Clark, who then became known as the “Mild Manner Reporter.” Lois wanted to know how Clark got the story when all the other experienced reporters were breaking their necks to get that story. Clark replied that maybe he was a Superman.

In the Kirk Alyn serial, the situation was a little different. Clark used his super hearing to listen in on a mine disaster that was being reported to Perry over the phone. Clark asked Perry if he got the exclusive on that story would he get a job, Perry agreed.

In the radio series, Clark heard of a character named the Wolfe who was sabotaging railroads and he asked Perry if he got that story would he get a job and, of course, Perry agreed.

In the 1978 movie Perry hired Clark because he had a “snappy profile”, knew how to treat his editor in chief with proper respect, and also because he was the fastest typist he had ever seen in forty years.

With Lois and Clark, Perry did not want to hire Clark because he had no experience reporting for a “Great Metropolitan Newspaper” so Clark wrote a story of an older actress who wanted to say good-bye to a theater that was being demolished. This Perry hired Clark because he valued initiative over experience.

“Superman on Earth” on television did a wonderful job portraying the origin of Superman in only thirty minutes. The special effects were not the greatest by today’s standard, but the acting and the storytelling still stands the test of time and I hope no one will ever get tired watching this episode.


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