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Stephen L. Brooks

Who was the first man rescued by Superman?

Of course, it depends largely upon the medium in which Superman appears. The first person he rescues in Action # 1 in June, 1938, is different from the first person rescued in the daily newspaper strip in January, 1939. And both of these are different from the first person rescued in Superman # 1 in June, 1939; though this story is related to the Action #1 story. The first few pages of Superman # 1 act as prelude to the rest of the story, reprinted from Action # 1.

Now, if you're talking about the Adventures of Superman (as we all prefer to do) the first man rescued was an unnamed airport mechanic who is hanging from the tether rope of a dirigible that has slipped its moorings. This anonymous character, as we all know, was played by beloved character actor Dabbs Greer. We will soon see how this first rescue on the television series, and indeed Mr. Greer himself, tie in to Superman's first rescue in his own magazine.

(Illustration by Randy Garrett)

In referring to Superman's first comic book rescue, we will confine ourselves to the story as related in Superman #1. As far as the comic books are concerned, this was the first full presentation of Superman's origins. It is also the one that pertains to the thesis promoted here.

In the first issue of Superman, on page 3, we see Clark Kent applying to editor George Taylor of The Daily Star for a reporter job. Taylor turns him down. Superman ensconces himself just outside Taylor's window and overhears a telephone call that a mob is attacking the county jail. Superman decides this is his opportunity to impress the editor.

Now, some of you may be shaking your heads in puzzlement at this point. George Taylor? Daily Star? For those not familiar with the early history of the Superman comics stories, some of the details of the milieu of Superman underwent several sea changes during the formative years; roughly 1934 - 1941. This period covers the time between Superman's inception by Siegel and Shuster and the solidification of most of the elements of the mythos.

The details we are dealing with here are the names of the paper for which Clark Kent works, and the name of his editor. Let's investigate the former first. In Superman # 1, Clark Kent is shown reporting to the offices of the Daily Star, and being called in by the unnamed editor. In the second story of that issue, he is shown dispatching a picture and story to The Evening News, in Cleveland. Now, as we all know, Siegel and Shuster lived in Cleveland. When they sold Superman, they had to do a hurried paste-up job creating comic book pages out of goodness knows how many weeks of comic strip continuity. This story obviously is part of that serialized story. Judging from the art style, this appears to be very early; much earlier than the 4-pages at the beginning of the story. In fact, since Clark Kent reports to the editor of The Daily Star in the first part of the story we may even assume that the latter pages were written and drawn before the events of the earlier installment.

Now, what this means in the evolution of Clark Kent's career as a journalist is probably this. When Siegel and Shuster first made Kent a reporter, they probably grafted him onto the staff of their own local evening paper. Or, at least, a fictional one that was based in their hometown. The Daily Star was a later creation. By the time they wrote and drew the story that was finally published, the Cleveland Evening News had been replaced by The Daily Star.

Clark Kent then, for all intents and purposes, worked for The Daily Star under editor George Taylor. The editor isn't named until the second story in Superman # 2, "Superman Champions Universal Peace!" For the remainder of 1939 and 1940, George Taylor is the editor; even after The Daily Star becomes The Daily Planet, in Spring of 1940 (Action # 23 and Superman # 4). In the November 1940 issue of Superman, # 7, the editor of The Daily Planet is now Perry White.

Why the change in names? This is the most interesting part of all. Perry White and The Daily Planet are both so much a part of the Superman mythos that we think they were always there. Actually, both debuted in the Superman radio show, which was first syndicated by transcription and then began on the Mutual network in February of 1940. The radio show, with its competing editor and newspaper, were reaching so many homes it was decided at National Comics to bow to its popularity, and the necessary changes were made by the end of 1940. I apologize for this long digression, but it is essential for this article.

Returning to our original topic, Clark Kent obtains his job as reporter for The Daily Star by covering the rescue by Superman of a man named Sims who is about to be lynched. Sims explains to Superman that both he and Evelyn Curry are being held for the murder of Jack Kennedy (!) and Evelyn is due to be executed for it by electric chair that night. Apparently Sims' execution is scheduled for some time later, and some of the townspeople got impatient. Superman forces a confession out of the real murderer, Bea Carroll, and takes her and the confession to the governor. The governor, on the basis of the confession, calls in a reprieve to the penitentiary, and Evelyn is saved. By extension, this saves Sims as well. So the first rescue by Superman in the comics is an innocent man who is to be executed for murder.

In the Adventures of Superman, as we all know, Superman's first rescue is of the aforementioned airline mechanic played by Dabbs Greer. Mr. Greer had the honor to appear therefore in the first TAOS episode to be aired.

Two years later, in the opening episode of the 1953 season, Dabbs Greer appeared again; this time as Joe Winters --- an innocent man who is to be executed for murder. Sound familiar? Clark/Superman, with a little help from Jimmy Olsen, solves the mystery, flies to the governor's house, obtains a reprieve, and bursts through the prison wall

(Illustration by Randy Garrett)

to insert his arm between the switch and the contacts, just as Joe is about to be electrocuted.

(Illustration by Randy Garrett)

There is no way to tell if the television episode is intentionally based upon this first published Superman story, but the essentials are there. A man is unjustly imprisoned and sentenced to be executed for a murder he did not commit. Superman uncovers the truth, and goes to the governor to save him. The television episode has a decidedly more dramatic climax than the comic book story. In the original, the rescuing act is a mere phone call by the governor. In the television episode, the phone lines have been disabled by a storm and Superman crashes through to the rescue.

So, in a way, Dabbs Greer holds the distinction of being the first person rescued by Superman in the Adventures of Superman, and the man rescued in a loose adaptation of Superman's first adventure in his own magazine. This makes him an even more integral part of Superman history.

In 1953, the Adventures of Superman was under new leadership. Robert Maxwell, who had helmed the 1951 season, was gone. Whitney Ellsworth took his place, and stayed in the producer's chair for the remainder of the run. There was also a new Lois Lane, as Noel Neill replaced Phyllis Coates. A feeling of a new start was probably in the air. Did Ellsworth, inspired by this new start, consciously hark back to the lead story in Superman #1, simplifying it into the one man, falsely accused, and purposely cast Dabbs Greer for the role to tie in to the 1951 premier episode? These are questions to which we may never know the answers. But isn't it fun to speculate over the possibilities?

 "Like The Only Real Magic -- The Magic Of Knowledge" 

September 9, 2003