I tell you, it feels really good that they went all-in on the Golden-Age costume here. Notice, though, that there’s no bullshitting around with a secret identity. Clark doesn’t even seem to have had time to think about such a thing. It’s obvious to Lois who he is and he doesn’t deny it. There’s no time for anyone to coin his moniker either; he’s just Clark Kent for the duration. Or occasionally, “That guy in the pajamas”.
In fact, Lois and Clark meet up with the army on the next page, and Captain who greets them asks whether he’s a foreign agent or with the circus. Which is an interesting combination of possibilities, and even better, Lois vouches for him by saying he’s her photographer. I could kinda see how this might actually carry some weight, with Lois being a general’s daughter, but Sam Lane wouldn’t be introduced until 1959, and it wasn’t until the Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot that he was a military man. As it is, a random woman just told an army captain that the random dude with her in a weird costume is trustworthy. You can’t even suppose that Lois has clout as a famous journalist, since they’ve established that Lois has been stuck writing the agony aunt column waiting for Taylor to give her a break.
The obligatory scene of the army not believing this “Martians” nonsense is cut short with the reveal of the tripod, eliciting a shout of “Holy Crow!” from the captain. I assume this is a golden age comics thing, but all I can think of is Bella Swan. The tripod itself is a letdown after the really creative look we got from the Saddleback version, but it’s certainly consistent with the ’30s comic aesthetic. There’s not anything wrong with it, mind, it’s just the most straightforward interpretation possible; essentially a flying saucer on stilts. In one interesting choice that is true to the novel but rarely carries to adaptations, the heat ray isn’t built into the fuselage but is instead held in the manipulator arms.
When the army is slow to heed Clark’s warning to back off, he throws himself into the path of the heat ray to save them. At such close range, the blast is enough to stun even Clark, causing him to experience pain for the first time in his life. He recovers in time to shove a cannon and its operator out of the way, then lifts the heavy field piece over his head and fires it like a bazooka. When this fails to affect the tripod, Clark grabs the canon by the barrel and just clubs the Martian with it, knocking it over.
He’s able to pry open the fallen tripod, extract the struggling alien, and pitches it. Not all the way back to Mars, mind you; he points out that he’s not strong enough for that.
This is one point where the writing style can get a little annoying, and the artifice can show through a bit. This is Golden Age Superman, so his powers aren’t what they’d creep up to in the silver age: he can’t fly, only “leap tall buildings in a single bound”; he’s not immune to all injury, but only strong enough to withstand “anything less than a bursting shell”. He’s not faster than the speed of light, only as fast as a speeding bullet. And this story stays true to that. But in an actual Golden Age story, they wouldn’t feel the need to remind us of it. The real Golden Age Superman would not, as this Clark Kent does, tell people, “No, I can’t fly, but I can jump really far.” He wouldn’t tell a Martian, “I’m just sorry I’m not strong enough to toss you back [to Mars].” This Clark Kent — on his very first outing in tights — seems unrealistically aware of his limitations.
It’s a similar kind of misstep to when the opening scene of the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie started out inside the TARDIS and spent several minutes there before showing the Police Box: it botched “It’s bigger on the inside” by showing us “It’s smaller on the outside”. Just like here, Clark’s repeated mentions of his limitations changes the message from “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound,” to “Slower than a fighter jet, weaker than an atom bomb, not able to fly.”
Clark arrives at Metropolis not far behind the Martians, just in time to rescue a pilot who’d managed to ditch before his plane was incinerated, but lost his parachute to another heat ray.
But even with Clark’s reassurance that he’s not flying, just jumping, the rescued airman still panics, begging the non-human Clark to keep away from him. This might seem ungrateful, but that airman has had a hell of a day, and in any case, we’re really edging in on our major theme for the piece. Presaging Man of Steel, we see that Pa Kent had been right to warn his son against displaying his powers, that, at least in the context of an alien invasion, humanity’s instinct is to fear Clark rather than idolize him.
Lois makes it back to the train station, but it’s destroyed halfway through her call-in to the office. Lex Luthor knows better than to drive into Metropolis, but offers Lois a ride as far as his laboratory on the outskirts. They have to make the last leg on foot once the roads become impassible, and at this point, Lex and Lois are separated before Lex gets clipped by the outer edge of a heat ray, and I think you know where this is going…
Clark’s luck runs out when the Martians release the black smoke. Though he can hold his breath for minutes, he’s eventually forced to make a blind leap out of the smoke and takes two heat ray hits at close range. His unconscious body is scooped up with the others harvested by the tripods.
George Taylor witnesses the Man of Steel’s defeat via telescope from his office at the Daily Star. Though the height of the building protects them from the black smoke, a heat ray catches the building. Taylor shoves Jimmy Olsen out of the way, but is killed when his office explodes.
The destruction of the Daily Star leads into a kinda mediocre two-page spread showing civilians fleeing before smoke and tripods as the Battle of Metropolis ends in utter rout…