091. Superman and Murder Mirage

NOVEMBER 1940 – Action Comics #30 provides a Superman adventure that is surely based on the Doc Savage story, “Murder Mirage,” which was first published in the January 1936 issue of Doc Savage Magazine.

The Superman story starts out with an unusual weather phenomenon. Even thought it is midsummer, the inhabitants of Metropolis are dealing with a bitter snowstorm rather than the normal summertime hot weather. Strangely dress Arabs use a bright globe to kill the woman.  She is completely disintegrated leaving on a shadow on the snow like a photograph.  Superman follows the Arabs and ends up in an unexplored region of the Sahara desert.  There he faces a villain named Zolar who wants to conquer a lost city that controls the supply of a powerful radioactive element. This is the secret of the disintegrations and strange weather.

The first time I read this Superman story I shook my head in amazement. The overall gist of this story is one very familiar to the Man of Bronze’s readers.  The descriptions below come from the Doc Savage story with some panels from the Superman story that are strikingly similar in nature.

The Doc Savage story begins on July 4th in New York City. Strangely, an inexplicable midsummer snowstorm holds the city in an icy grip.

Action Comics 30

Doc Savage’s aids, Long Tom and Renny discuss the impossible weather New York City is having.  The weather data indicates it should not be snowing. 

“Look at that night map,” he growled. “We are directly in the area of high pressure extending a couple of hundred miles into the Atlantic. So it couldn’t be possible!”

Action Comics 30

A little yellow coupe attracts our attention as it cautiously moves down the snow-covered street. A blown-out tire disables the car. This development alarms the vehicle’s two occupants.

Action Comics 30

They become even more upset when two vehicles, which had been following them, appear on the scene. As they decide to continue on separately, we learn that the pair seeks to deliver a message to Doc Savage but they are thwarted.

In short order, one of the women leaves the car only to be attacked by strange men who roll a large metal globe at her. The woman disappears as the globe stops beside her.

Action Comics 30

“With the one soul-chilling scream, the young woman who was attempting to reach the elevated, vanished from before the tall plate-glass window.”

“Vanished” is the word used, but “disintegrated” would be more appropriate. Like the shadowy impression left on the snow in Action Comics #30, all that remains of the young woman mention above is a photographic image left on the plate glass window.

Action Comics 30

While the above action transpires, the woman left in the car makes her escape. The attacking men carry long tongs, which they use to retrieve the globe and put it back into the car, leaving quickly after doing so.

By this time the altercation has attracted the attention of the local police patrolman. He comes upon the scene and is henceforth mortally wounded by the two men from the second sedan, which has not yet left. The driver of this car quickly pulls away leaving his companions who have been shot and killed by the police officer.

Action Comics 30

A second telegram had followed with a warning to beware of dark skinned visitors and imploring Doc to go to the Syrian desert. The missive also urges the reader to watch for changes in the weather. We quickly learn that Sathyra Fotheran is the sister of Denton Cartheris who has disappeared in the Syrian wilderness and is believed dead.

Action Comics 30

A phone call interrupts the discussion. It is from the second woman who was in the coupe. Doc and his men trace the call back and head for the booth. It is near the site where the yellow car had a flat. The body of the policeman and his assailants are discovered. More interesting is the discovery at the site where the young woman stood near the globe. The shadow of a woman is etched into the plate glass of a store window. The ground in front is littered with metallic items –a purse, some diamond earrings, and pistol with the initials S. F. These items appear to be the sole remains of Lady Fotheran.

The next interesting item is a run-in Doc has with some Syrian Arabs. Doc rescues a young woman whom we quickly learn is Sathyra Fotheran. She reveals that the dead woman, the woman whose mortal image is etched into the storefront glass, is her secretary, Marian.

Doc converses with the woman, learning of a legend from the Syrian desert about a mystic sect having the power to control the weather and change men and horses into shadows. The woman produces a letter from her brother Ranyon Cartheris, who is seeking Denton in the wilds of Syria. Ranyon’s letter declares that the welfare of a hidden city is at risk and warns of sudden weather changes. Carson Dernall, who was recently Denton’s assistant, also appears on the scene and confirms Lady Fotheran’s identity.

Doc and his crew travel by dirigible to Syria. Following the kidnapper’s caravan as it travels across the nighttime desert, Doc watches from above in his airship as Bedouins attack the caravan. The caravan counter-attacks and the raiders quickly become only shadows in the desert.

Action Comics 30

Skipping over events not pertinent to our story comparison, we find Doc and his men in Syria in the Valley of Tasus. They are coming upon the hidden city of Tasunan.

There is a nice little climax with the villains meeting their usual fate and we learn the identity of the villainous mastermind, the All-Wise One. It is Carson Dernall’s wife, Marian Le Gorde. She is the woman who has masquerading all this time as Lady Sathyra. The real Lady Sathyra was killed back in New York. It was her image that was forever captured on the glass window. Marian had simply assumed Lady Sathyra’s identity and Carson Dernall had conveniently confirmed it. The All-Wise One had sought to control the supply of tasunite, the highly radioactive element found in the tunnels beneath the city.

Action Comics 30

Comparing the two stories, their similarities are remarkable.

  • There is a strange midsummer snowstorm.
  • The hero receives an appeal from help with an emphasis on the unusual weather.
  • A globe that emits powerful radiation disintegrates a woman burning her photographic image onto the background.
  • There is a second woman who is not killed. She is actually an agent of the enemy and masquerades as the dead woman.
  • A policeman who arrives on the scene is killed.
  • Arabs are the principal agents in both stories.
  • The main female character’s brother, who is an archeologist, searches for a hidden desert city to warn them of impending danger.
  • The villain’s goal is control of the lost city, which is the center of a supply of a powerful radioactive element.
  • These same radioactive materials power the disintegration weapons used in the story.
  • The mastermind is killed in the story’s conclusion.

In any story there may often be similarities to prior stories. It has been argued that there only a few basic story types and all stories derive from these basic types. But details such those cited above are too similar and too specific to be mere happenstance. There has always been some question just how much of the Superman character was derived from Doc Savage. The evidence appears irrefutable that someone at DC was very much aware of Doc Savage. The parallels in the two stories are simply too similar to be explained away as mere happenstance.

The complete Superman story is available in the DC Archives edition: Superman The Action Comics Archives Volume 2