Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Month of... Celebrities in Comics, Day 28: Supertruth or Superconsequences

I've been featuring a lot of stories in which real-life celebrities make cameo appearances in comic book stories, but I kinda miss the days when entire stories were built around guest appearances. If that celeb was popular enough, he or she could appear again and again until they finally deserved an entire full-page entry in Who's Who in the DC Universe or Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. Remember that extended period in the 1970s when Cher was a member of the Defenders?

With this concept, though, you frequently get a fluffy and inconsequential story that merely consists of the celeb and the protagonist playing silly tricks on each other one after another. It's all fun and games, yes, until somebody loses an eye due to horsing around with a giant doorknob. Or to choose another example: the real-life game show host Ralph Edwards bedeviling the Man of Steel, who surely must have better things to do, on Edwards' popular radio (and later TV) show Truth or Consequences!

Cover of Action Comics (1938 series) #127 (December 1948), pencils and inks by Al Plastino

Yes, Truth or Consequences, the only entertainment show that inspired an entire American town to change its name (aside from the borough of Charlie's Angels, Arizona). Sounds exciting after that intriguing cover, huh? Let's see what follow-up splash page image will be compelling us to read the rest of the story and FOR PETE'S SAKE COMICS YOU JUST RE-USED THE SAME IMAGE.

Splash page of "Superman Takes the Consequences" in Action Comics (1938 series) #127 (December 1948), pencils and inks by Al Plastino

Man, Superman is really fond of that sexy French feather duster from Beauty and the Beast.

Truth or Consequences is a show in which contestants are asked questions, often with a ridiculous hook so they can't be answered. Getting the question wrong means you had to perform an embarrassing or ridiculous stunt. Oh, like Meet the Press, then. Here's a YouTube of the TV version to let you get a taste of the fun. Sorry, I couldn't find a video of the episode with Superman, and the rare episode with guest-star Lobo has been completely censored for language and extreme violence.

Here's Ralph Edwards, invoking his Satanic power to trick hapless contestant Jones, using pedantic semantics. Then he sentences Jones to be smothered beneath live sheep. It's utter hilarity for the audience — "Ralph Edwards has a great sense of humor!" declares one — but total terror for a flock of squirming, bleating, pooping sheep crowded onto a radio show stage. It was considered the most heinous animal-related abuse on a network radio show until that episode of CBS Radio Mystery Theater titled "The Death of One Thousand Hogs."

Yes, you may find today's Alex Trebek or Drew Carey cold and uncaring to their hapless contestants, but they are nothing like Ralph Edwards, who regularly sentences his guests into life-threatening situations.

All of which is just a preface for the radio appearance of The Most Interesting Man in the World™, Superman! And Edwards regally commands that Superman doth bring him some water, then confides to the studio audience that he's lying about the premise of the request. Good thing that Superman don't have no super-hearing then, right? And luckily he's able to make computations in his head with his amazing-for-its-time brainpower of 5K RAM!

Hey, Ralph Edwards, Imma let you finish, but you don't spit into the wind, you don't pull the mask off a park ranger at a fancy-dress party, and you don't try to trick Superman with a geometry problem. Sucker!

Then, Lois Lane gets in on the fun, no doubt to get back at Superman for all those nasty tricks learning experiences the Man of Steel subjected her to throughout the year. Superman gets out of the conundrum by being a big cheaty-pants. Yes, along with Kryptonite and magic, Superman's weaknesses include that he cannot literally tell a lie. No wonder he did so poorly when he appeared on another game show, To Tell the Truth. And just to let you know, it was Clark's lawyer who later dealt with the hundreds of lawsuits against Superman for deafening them.

YOU JERK SUPERMAN YOU RUINED AN ENTIRELY GOOD CHALKBOARD. Really wasteful, especially considering that in those post-War years chalkboards were still heavily rationed. Despite fulfilling the challenge and filling the studio with noxious melting chalkboard fumes, the tyranny of Ralph Edwards knows no boundaries. He sentences Superman to the horrific task of having to clean Lois Lane's apartment! That would soon be the cleanest lingerie closet in the world.

Please note how willfully Superman agrees with the crowd shouting unison. Jeepers, Kal, that's not majority rules, that's mob rules. Why doncha just go move to Springfield USA, huh?

If there is any doubt that Ralph Edwards is Lex Luthor in disguise, it's made even clearer when Edwards hires some professional thugs to "rough up" Lois's apartment. Wow, now who's the big cheaty-pants, Ralph Edwards?

Boo-yah! The tables are turned and Superman sentences Ralph Edwards to the life of an orphan bootblack! Wait, when did this stop being Truth or Consequences and become The People's Kangaroo Court?

Then Ralph Edwards gets roughed up by some Jack Kirby-style tough kid bootblacks. You know, during all this, Brainiac has destroyed Washington and has drained the Atlantic Ocean, but it's all okay because Superman's busy trading japes and tricks with a game show host!

So yadda yadda yadda, Superman helps out Ralph Edwards in the usual manner these puzzle-box stories are played out, with a bending of the literal definitions of "shoe." The moment you remember that Superman could just say "I was only kidding, get back to your show, Mr. Edwards," is the time you say to yourself "Why am I reading this? Why isn't Superman punching anything? JUST PUNCH RALPH EDWARDS ALREADY, SUPERMAN!"

More to the point, Superman's doing all the work for Ralph Edwards. What a wonderful lesson to the youth of America, Supes! Hey, c'mon over and do my homework, Superman! And whitewash this fence! Meanwhile, Lex Luthor destroys the moon.

And so another crazy Kryptonite-infused episode of Truth or Consequences and one of those crazy nutty vintage Superman stories both draw to an end, and the moral of the story is...well, don't put sheep in your bed, I guess.

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Terrence O'Malley said...

Well, Bully, you certainly have me conditioned. I was expecting, "He's got plenty of mutton, AND a green suit!"

Bully said...

D'oh! I've gotten so used to comic book green suits that I totally missed that one!

Warren Burstein said...

They re-used the shout too loud to hear and super-speed writing on blackboard in "Superman's Day of Truth" in Superman 176.

Blam said...

First, and these aren't necessarily in order, I was totally expecting Superman's out to be that his real identity was Kal-El of Krypton. That's certainly happened before somewhere. Second, Ralph Edwards' own pedantry should dictate that Superman didn't even have to bring that square acre of rainwater to the studio. The question was "Do you think you can ... ?" and Superman answered in the affirmative, which if Superman never lies couldn't possibly be disproven. Third, I can't help but think that this cover was Fredric Wertham's greatest dream and/or worst nightmare.

Dean said...

Nothing says light-hearted hijinks like child labour!