half a century before Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
or The Matrix, George Reeves was the "Mac Daddy"
of wire work.
Starring in the immortal "Adventures of Superman"
TV show, Reeves spent six years in harness (literally) as
the Man of Steel, convincing millions of young viewers that
a man could fly before any PR experts conceived of that
tag line for the 1978 motion picture.
The show was a bonafide phenomenon in its day, and even
now it remains one of the very few shows from the era still
on the air ("I Love Lucy" and "The Lone Ranger"
are two others), appealing to modern audiences despite extremely
low budgets and prehistoric "special effects."
The key, of course, was Reeves himself, a talented and telegenic
actor who transmitted his own charisma and gentle humor
through the screen to create a hero that made every kid
in America feel like "Superman's Pal." Patient,
wise, protective and all-powerful, Reeve's Superman was
the ultimate 50s authority figure, the very embodiment of
benevolent paternalism. And for many fans, his portrayal
has never been surpassed.
Like any series, the show had strong episodes and weak
ones, but most fans agree a highpoint was "Panic
In the Sky." For one thing, in a series that continually
re-played the same stock "flying" footage, "Panic"
had a plethora of special effects that appeared nowhere
else. Furthermore, the plot expanded the action into outer
space for the only time in the series (except the origin
story, of course) and gave Superman a threat worthy of his
powers...a threat to the safety of everyone on Earth!
In his excellent book "Superman:
Serial to Cereal," Gary Grossman calls this episode
"science fiction at its 1950s best." Story-wise, it represents
a high point of the series, for once handing the Man of
Steel a challenge bigger than gangsters and mad scientists.
"In all the 104 episodes," Grossman writes, "Superman never
stares his maker more squarely in the eyes."
logs more flying time in "Panic" than ever before.
At one point the story calls for him to fly with a bomb
under one arm, finally leaving the Earth's atmosphere for
the inky blackness of space. Obviously this called for new
footage, making "Panic" one of the most expensive
episodes of the entire series. Grossman spots recycled footage
from the 1950 Sci-Fi classic Rocketship X-M in the
explosion that climaxes this episode, and quotes director
Tommy Carr as saying that Reeves outdid himself in his takeoff
from Metropolis Observatory. Reeves bounded off his springboard,
flying up and over the camera and turning a somersault to
land on a padded mat behind the camera.
To add "Panic In the Sky" to my "favorite
adventures" section, I made the decision to recreate
the episode in comic book format. All the images and dialog
on the following pages are taken directly from the episode.
In some cases, I've added captions or sound effects to clarify
things and add to the "comic book" feel. However,
I decided to forego adding "thought balloons"
since I didn't want to guess at what was going on the character's
heads. The dialog here is all from the original.
not quite the same as seeing it all on the screen, of course,
but I think you'll get the gist of it. The good news is
you'll also miss the way the asteroid wiggles on the end
of the string it's hanging from, and the obvious wires and
matte lines that appeared around Reeves in the flying scences.
If this all seems familiar, you may be remembering the
classic Superman comic book story, "Menace From Outer
Space," as drawn by Wayne Boring and featured in the
recent collection, "Superman in the 1950s." In
it, Superman is left an amnesia victim after colliding with
a massive asteroid, just as he is here. After that, though,
the two versions go in decidedly different directions.
I hope you'll enjoy reading this story as much as I enjoyed
putting it together. Consider it my tribute to George Reeves,
still the best actor to play Superman after all these years.