The Children's Hour: I

Brass Tacks

For many years, several public-spirited organizations have been trying to save American kiddies from the insidious influences of comic books, gangster movies, and radio thriller serials. The main attack has centered on the funnies and films, because radio is sexless, and therefore harder to get a generally tolerant public excited about. But the kiddy serials are nevertheless riddled with the same sort of grotesque materials that parents and teachers regard with horror in other mediums. And they are just as fascinating.

Disregarding cowboy and private detective categories, kiddy programs split up roughly into two main groups: the superman variety, where the more imaginative episodes display a complete absence of reality; the non-super but decidedly All-American type, ranging from Jack Armstrong to Spy King, with plots that are basically conceivable.

Despite the muscling-in operations of Captain Marvel and his ilk, Superman remains champion of radio fantastics. He has even reduced a comic-book rival--Batman--to a subordinate position in the Superman show. Batman is permitted to knock off a minor thug once in a while, and occasionally rescue some imperilled citizen, but he is clearly inferior to Superman. In private life--that is, when Superman becomes "mild-mannered Clark Kent," a newspaper reporter--Batman turns out to be the publisher of the newspaper, but this is just a sop.

Superman's activities alternate between the sublime and the petty. He will strain his immortal faculties to save the world (or the universe) from destruction one week, and the next series will find him messing around with a local gambling outfit or solving a murder that any ordinary homicide burean could handle. Strangely enough, these two kinds of adventures consume the same amount of time (two weeks); a fact which tends to confuse the pint-sized audience on the relative values of universe-saving as opposed to the detection of crime.

Recently, for instance, Superman ran up against a mad genius called "Ghost Voice." Like any normal mad genius, Ghost Voice intended to conquer the world, and, through his familiarity with such contrivances as rocket-ships and atomic persuaders, damn near succeeded. But after weathering several molecular blasts, Superman balked the "power-crazed demon," who had had the United Nations eating out of his hand. Immediately following this chilling epic, however, Superman dawdled a whole fortnight, breaking up a dowdy bunch of racketeers engaged in fixing football games.


This incongruous combination of adventures high and low runs through most serials of the fantastic variety. Perhaps this is necessary, for if Superman saved the mankind regularly twice a month, his Hooper rating might fall off. Even so, his sponsors have found it wise to offer trinkets and small prizes to encourage the unseen audience of juvenile consumers.