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She Has No Head! – Giving Lois Lane A Second Look, For The First Time

It’s confession time.

I’ve never been a fan of Lois Lane.

I know…it’s pretty shameful to be all ‘go women!’ and not be a fan of one of the longest running female characters in superhero comics…even if she isn’t a superhero.  But Lois just always seemed to me the ‘damsel in distress’ and the girlfriend to our star, and I suppose, perhaps particularly as a woman, I kind of naturally bristle at such a limiting role defined by others (in this case, men).  However, it is only recently that I realized that I never gave Lois Lane the actual character much of a chance – rather I just decided that I didn’t love the idea of her and moved on.Lois Lane Covers

Well, I wouldn’t normally rush so quickly to rectify my long term premature judgment of a fictional character, since I’ve been doing it for nearly fifteen years, there’s really no hurry to fix it, right?  But there is, because I have a novel that I’m in the (hopefully) final stages of revising with an agent, and I have a character that I have long privately referred to as my ‘Lois Lane character’ – and he’s just never quite worked on the page.  As I started to examine my pre-judging of Lois Lane the problem became obvious – I didn’t think much of Lois Lane, so on some level I must not think much of my character that fills the “Lois Lane” space in my novel.

So that put me on a path to learning about Lois Lane for real, and hopefully solving my two problems at once – fixing my novel and giving Lois Lane the chance she never got with me.

I decided to start with Mindy Newell’s Lois Lane Miniseries When It Rains, God Is Crying, that was recommended to me by commenter Dean in the She Has No Head! – Your Context Is Showing post comments a few weeks ago.  Newell is notable for her work on Legion of Super-Heroes, Action Comics, Legionnaires, and also for being the first woman credited with writing Wonder Woman.  Though her experience on Wonder Woman was short lived (you can read an exceptional interview with Gail Simone and Newell on CBR here) she was (and still is) clearly a woman well ahead of her time…and her Lois Lane miniseries further solidifies it.

I was shocked by how well these books held up more than 20 years after publication.  Not that 1986 was the Stone Age or anything, but often when I read older stuff, I can’t help but cringe (what was up with exclamation points at the end of every single sentence in so many Marvel comics anyway?!).  Without the nostalgia factor, I find a lot of the older stuff I read doesn’t hold up well, certainly not under a microscope for a review.  However, with Newell’s story I felt it was so well done that with a few exceptions you could do the same story today with little modification.

Newell’s story follows Lois Lane as she gets involved in the case of child’s body being discovered in the East River and her subsequent realization of the massive problem of missing children in the United States (of course the problem is actually a world problem, but the story here focuses on the U.S.).  The message is very after-school special, but Newell’s handling of the material is anything but.  The story is nuanced and well considered as Lois digs deeper into the story – from interviewing professionals and sitting in on runaways counseling sessions to talking with parents of both still missing, and returned children – and Lois’ reaction to these emotional revelations is both obsessive and real.  Lois becomes nearly maniacal about the story, pushing away her friends, family, and colleagues as she delves into the peeling onion of tragedy that she had never been aware of until now.  Particularly potent, for me, is when Lois interviews the mother of a three year old that had been missing for a year and found and returned to her home.  Having suffered unimaginable trauma in that year missing, it’s clear from Newell’s heartbreaking pages that the child will never be the same again in frightening ways.

LL Page 1

LL Page 2

To Newell’s credit she continues that realism and focus through to the end, not pulling any punches with her ending, and opting not to go for some happy Hollywood tied with a bow bullshit.  There are also, in both issues, large editorials from Newell about the ongoing problem of missing children.  The editorials include Newell’s personal experience, as well as helpful information about what to do, signs to look out for, and how you can become involved with missing child organizations.

As for Lois Lane specifically, I’m impressed.  As written by Newell, Lois is a layered complicated woman, with a hell of a lot of flaws, but they work well towards making her feel like any number of real women that exist outside of comic pages.  Lois is capable and smart, but she’s not some flawless untouchable badass.  Lois has of course long been well established (even for those of us that only saw her in movies and cartoons) as the ‘ace-reporter’ with a drive for success unmatched by nearly anyone else, and that portrayal is in full effect here, however Newell also shows us a Lois that has recently been taken down a notch professionally (some Mid-East interview screw up) and personally (she’s recently had a high profile break up with Superman) making her more vulnerable and as such, more defensive.  She’s a Lois trying desperately to prove herself and also one that is beginning to see the cracks in her plans of all work and no play.  Her dedication to her career advancement in lieu of romantic entanglements in particular is insightful and also sad – certainly a feeling many can relate to.

Newell’s portrayal of Lois a far more complicated depiction than I expected to see, and while I feel like Lois is hard to love in ways (it is a story in part about obsession and burning out), it’s also impossible to hate her as she’s infinitely relatable and sympathetic in Newell’s deft hands.

Though I’m focusing on Newell here, I should note that Gray Morrow’s art is particularly fantastic.  His storytelling is excellent and superior to so much of today’s beautiful but less coherent storytelling.  It’s also notable that the characters, particularly the women (as there are many featured here), all look different, and not just by their hair color.  They all have different faces, hairstyles, body types, and styles unique to who they are and it’s an attention to detail that I often feel has been lost in all but the best modern comics.  Morrow is also wonderfully consistent in his portrayals – Lois always looks like Lois – and that consistency allows me as a reader to relax and pay attention to what’s important, rather than struggling to figure out what is going on or who is who.

LL Page 3

I think my only complaint is that while Lois’ increasingly fragile state of mind ratchets up nicely throughout and is paced expertly, it comes to a head (and resolves) rather quickly and not with the same attention to detail that Newell gives to the rest of the arc.  The result is a rushed feeling at the end that slightly undermines the overall power of the mini-series.  Additionally I had some confusion about a subplot in which Lucy Lane works with Jimmy Olson on a story that they intend to publish under Lois’ name in an effort to help her.  I was never quite clear about what exactly they were trying to do, or in how it turned out.  While I think that’s a bit of failing in the text, it’s certainly far less important than the heart of the story – one woman’s obsession with a new cause, and her manic attempt to solve a problem that ultimately cannot be solved – at least not by her.  So on the whole, despite a little confusion, it’s an excellent work that really transcends the average comic book and leaves me intent on seeking out more of Newell’s work.

The result of reading When It Rains, God Is Crying, is the realiazation that Lois, despite being a reporter (an occupation that I have a fair amount of possibly misplaced disdain for) seems like a hell of a woman.  She’s far more interesting and important that I ever gave her credit for – certainly she’s well beyond just a girlfriend or frequent damsel in distress.  And if half of what’s out there for Lois is half this good – well, then, I’ve been missing out.

As for my novel – exploring Lois has really helped me clarify some of the weaknesses and unexplored depths for my character in question –and I owe Ms. Newell a bit of thanks for the new evolution I hope to take him in.

137 Comments

I feel like Lois Lane is one of the few characters who suffers at the hands of nostalgia. Most characters in comics are, I think, mostly unimproved over the years in terms of dramatic reinventions. They’ve accreted some good stories that have complexified them, but for the most part they work best when you let them be the characters they were originally designed as.

A handful, though, do not, and Lois Lane is one of those. Her legacy as a brilliant reporter too oblivious to see that Clark is Superman, and helplessly doting on Superman is, frankly, a pathetically weak female character of the worst type. The marriage to Superman and resultant establishing her as someone who is worthy of being his equal, albeit on her own terms, has helped the character dramatically, and she more than holds her own in stories where she’s allowed focus these days. (Although as I think about it, I realize somewhat depressingly that most of her best moments in the last seven years have been written by Rucka. And they’re great moments, but man, why does nobody else write female characters that well.)

But making her a good character requires a lot of actively ignoring her past in a way that is rarely true for a comics character.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

January 25, 2010 at 10:22 am

Of course, the original portrayal of Lois Lane was not only savvier than the Wesinger-model doter that displaced it in popular memory, but apparently Joe Siegel wanted her to learn Clark’s secret early on.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

January 25, 2010 at 10:23 am

Guh! Jerry Siegel….brain fart.

Now you’ll just have to hate on Steve Trevor ;)

Whenever I think of Lois Lane I think of Superdickery.com and all of the horrible things Superman has done to Lois just for his own amusement. The 50s (up till WHENEVER Superman decided to quit being a bully to his weaker friends) were not kind to Lois.

i will have to check out when it rains god is cryingeven though i have never liked Lois lane. never figured out what superman saw in her though she was too much of a witch or a damsel in distress who could not figured out she does not need to be rescued all the time. though mostly because Lois was too stupid to figure out that clark was super man for the glasses is what makes people not figure out its super man in disquise but mostly never liked Lois Lane.

This sounds interesting (apart from the terrible title) Has it ever been reprinted? I might try and get hold of it.

I always had an idea for a Superman animated film where Loi was the lead character, in a Disney Princess style way. Everything would be from her eyes, even to the point where the third act twist is that the geeky new reporter from Smallville is actually Superman. I thought it would be a lot more interesting than the inevitable re-boot of Superman’s original we’ll get in the next film.

sorry, origin, not original

Man, wish more artists had this dude’s chops with ‘talking heads’ action.

Thanks for the mention. I am glad you liked it.

Mindy Newell had abnormally bad timing with this project. It featured the pre-COIE Lois Lane and hit the stands immediately before the release of MAN OF STEEL. It was nearly certain to be ignored. However, it was a great read and Newell really “got” Lois in a way that has been pretty rare over the years.

To be honest, conversations about Lois Lane are often uncomfortable. She is a feel character with three defining traits: competitiveness, curiosity and a romantic attachment to the ultimate uber-jock. For some reason, those qualities in a woman make people kind of angry.

Awww, but WHY do we have to have a second look at Lois Lane?

She’s so under-used, and so over-rated in any decade and form (print or media).

I’ve always thought that she held Superman back and kept him from achieving his full potential. ;-)

Nice piece, nice comic!

I have to admit being yet another who found Lois to be an odd choice for Superman’s other half…

Particularly with how she has been portrayed on film and TV…

Margot Kidder presented (at least I thought at the time) quite a strong, independent figure, yet Teri Hatcher came across as really annoying and Kate Bosworth as weak AND annoying…

The comics that I’ve read with her in haven’t been very many (I’m not a fan of Superman, to be honest) but she has generally (post-Crisis, anyway) seemed strong, confident and intelligent.

I think it comes down, yet again, to needing to have a good writer attached to the book that she’s in. A writer who knows how to portray her well and write scenes which actually involve her as a character rather than just a supporting actor with the same amount (or less) “screentime” as Perry White or Jimmy Olsen…

If DC and Marvel had the guts to follow Erik Larsen’s suggestion and produce a bunch of 2000AD-style weekly books (http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=24545) the Superman title could easily run a Lois Lane story following her investigations… That, surely would be a great way to give her her own showcase?

@ Chad:

… though mostly because Lois was too stupid to figure out that clark was Superman for the glasses is what makes people not figure out its super man in disquise but mostly never liked Lois Lane.

This is a classic bias against the character and it is built upon the incorrect assumption that we are much more sophisticated than mid-20th century audiences.

However, that bias really does not hold up when you actually look at the old material. Watch “Night of Terror” from the first season of ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN sometime. It is pretty apparent in that story Lois knows exactly who Clark really is. Apparently, that was a convention from the radio show. Siegel and Shuster had planned to reveal Superman’s identity to Lois as early as 1940: http://superman.nu/k-metal/index.php?page=21&w=1920

The double identity business became a simple metaphor under Weisinger for Lois’ desire for commitment from her boyfriend and Superman’s reluctance to give it. Lois saw past the glasses, but Clark lied to her anyway. Her belief was that if only she could catch him, then he would change and marry her. I don’t know about you, but I know actual human beings that think an awful lot like that.

What I think Newell was trying to do with her mini-series was start to pull apart the metaphors and make things more literal and character-driven. Byrne did a wonderful job with his revamp, but his Lois was a step backward from this mini IMO.

"O" the Humanatee!

January 25, 2010 at 12:38 pm

A few things:

– It’s worth noting that this came out in a period when DC was trying to experiment with a wider range of titles. If you look at what DC books were on sale at the same time as these two issues (http://www.dcindexes.com/timemachine/releasedate.php?year=1986&month=5 and http://www.dcindexes.com/timemachine/releasedate.php?year=1986&month=6), you’ll see, among other things, Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Watchmen #1, and “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” (as Dean mentioned, this Lois Lane mini-series happened just before Byrne’s Superman reboot); Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns; Chaykin’s Shadow mini-series; the charming Blue Devil (way back before the title character was revamped to be more “mature”) and ‘Mazing Man; an Ambush Bug mini-series; and three other comics targeted largely at female readers: Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld, Legend of Wonder Woman, and the awful, awful Angel Love. The latter two were both written and drawn by women (Trina Robbins and Barbara Slate, respectively). I suspect some of these books hold up well after more than 20 years.

– In the current context it’s interesting to point out that Gray Morrow was well-known for drawing sexy women, often in very revealing or sheer clothing. Their anatomy, however, was not outlandish – especially by today’s standards. (A Google search will readily turn up examples.)

– The reason Marvel – and DC too – long had exclamation points after every line of dialogue was that the poor printing on newsprint made it possible that a small period would not show up. Printing an exclamation point guaranteed that the ends of sentences would be clearly marked. (I thought every comics fan knew this!)

It funny though, I hate some of the things that has been done with Lois Lane throughout her history, but her archtype from this series has seemingly led to 3 or 4 of my favorite women in comics over the past 10-12 years:

Noble Causes’ Liz Donnelly-Noble for the naive “in love wife of a superhero” who grows into a strong woman within the family after seeing past their heroic images.

Dynamo 5’s Maddie Warner for the same archtype with a twist which I won’t reveal here in case someone is interested in reading the series…

Jenny Sparks from the Stormwatch/Authority. Check out her origin story she told to Jackson King during Warren Ellis’ run. The black orphanage burning and the baby stealing stories could have come right from the mind of Mrs. Newell

Finally, and I know Kelly knows the “lois” part of this character: Jessica Jones from Alias. If that didn’t have the essence of a “independent Lois with superpowers” I don’t who else is….

I always thought Superman was hindered by the worst supporting characters in comics. I was watching cartoon network once. They were showing a recent Superman cartoon movie involving Braniac. Lois climbs a tower and gets in trouble. During the break they showed an old Max Fletcher Superman cartoon with Lois climbing into a flying robot and getting into trouble. Her role in comics is the damsel in distress, but sometimes I think about how many times she should have been killed trying to get a story.

Of course she isn’t a real person.

I also don’t understand why Clark would fall in love with her. In any medium there never really seems to be a chemistry between them. It’s an interesting love triangle to have originally, two people of it being the same person, but I just don’t see why Lois appeals to Clark at all.

Like many of Superman’s friends and enemies, Lois is so iconic that it’s too easy for her to become uninteresting, more of a symbol than a person. But I like Byrne’s version (that is also more or less the one that appears in Smallville, Lois & Clark, Superman the Animated Series, and anywhere outside the comics except the movies).

I like her because modern Lois came to represent an interesting, progressive idea: the city. Clark Kent is the small town boy, with values that are a bit old-fashioned. He is staid, dependable, naive (to a point). Lois Lane is the big city girl, cosmopolitan, cynical, passionate, worldly. It makes total sense that Clark would be attracted to her, because she challenges him, while Lana Lang is too much like him.

Either from Kansas or Krypton, Superman springs from the world of the past; Lois Lane is a woman for today. Superman needs her, perhaps more than she needs Superman. I like this metaphor a lot more than shit like “Avatar,” where civilization is evil and let’s all return to the little village. It’s cool that Superman goes from the village to the Metropolis, and Lois Lane is Metropolis.

I’ve never liked the statement that Lois was too stupid to notice that Superman and Clark were the same person. Why can’t people say that Clark was clever enough to keep his identity as Superman secret, even from Lois?

Oh, and slightly off topic, but I read that the reason Marvel had so many “!” at the end of sentences in the 80s was because someone was afraid that the printer would think that a period was an art blemish and “correct” it, but an explanation point or question mark was clearly intentional.

Theno

I’m almost positive Thenodrin is right about the exclamation marks in Marvel comics. I’m not sure where I heard that explanation originally (it was like 25 years ago), but I was always under the impression every sentence in old Marvel comics end in an ! because they are easier to see/print than a .

(Also, to my young mind, I alwasy figured that since Stan Lee pretty much always talks in exclamation points, especially when he’s promoting Marvel comics, it makes sense that he would write dialogue in exclamation points as well, starting this Marvel tradition)

This is my favorite version of Lois ever – so I loved the column. :)

This was the first time (for me at least) that the cast of the Daily Planet really came alive as people. They weren’t dealing with aliens or bottled cities, they were dealing with work and family issues. I could relate to them so much better here. I also liked how Lois seemed to know Clark was Superman, but she didn’t really come out and say so. The Jimmy-Lucy subplot always felt truncated, as if an issue had been cut after the script was approved, but that’s a minor quibble. As you say, it doesn’t detract from the series as a whole. And the art is beautiful.

Glad you brought this series up. I think I’ll dig it out and do a reread tonight. :)

FYI, the exclamation points at the end of every sentence were to make sure readers could clearly make out the end of a sentence, as a period was more likely to get lost in the printing process back then.

(Finally, reading every letters page in the Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus has paid off!)

@ Black Manta:

I always thought Superman was hindered by the worst supporting characters in comics. I was watching cartoon network once. They were showing a recent Superman cartoon movie involving Braniac. Lois climbs a tower and gets in trouble. During the break they showed an old Max Fletcher Superman cartoon with Lois climbing into a flying robot and getting into trouble. Her role in comics is the damsel in distress, but sometimes I think about how many times she should have been killed trying to get a story.

I certainly understand if the Superman cast is not your taste, but calling “the worst supporting cast in comics” is objectively wrong.

Lois Lane was spun off into a solo series that ran 137 issues, which is more than any female starring comic other than Wonder Woman and maybe one of the Archies. At one point during the Silver Age, it was the #2 selling comic. Jimmy Olsen also got spun off around the same time and ran 163 issues. Among solo properties spun out of major comic franchises, only Wolverine, the Tim Drake version of Robin and Nightwing have done that well.

As to Lois Lane’s propensity to run afoul of Giant Robots … ummm … it is comics.

How many millions of rounds have been fired at the Punisher without lodging in his brain? How does Spider-Man generate so much webbing from a dozen canisters that about the size of Tic-Tac boxes? Where does all the mass come from that allows Reed Richards to stretch across a room? Or where does the mass go when Ray Palmer shrinks? Why doesn’t the Hulk have foot and lower leg problems like real people over 7 feet tall?

Too much literal minded thinking breaks the spell. All (repeat: all) superheroes have some dream logic at their core. Genuine change almost invariably results in disaster. Superhero comics can (and should) grow up in a lot of ways. However, trying to conform them too closely to literal reality has proven to be a huge mistake.

Lois Lane chases news stories. That is her defining trait. She chases them fearlessly and she lives in a world where those stories often involve Giant Robots, Unfrozen Dinosaurs and Gorillas with Jet-Packs. Luckily, her boyfriend is the most powerful man in the world. I am really not sure what is supposed to be wrong with that basic formula.

If Captain America (or Batman) fights a Giant Robot (or an Unfrozen Dinosaur, or a Gorrila with a Jet-Pack), then they are brave and awesome for doing it without real superpowers. If Thor (or Green Lantern) bails them out, then it is a sign of their good sense in joining the JLA. So, why is Lois Lane doing the essentially the exact same thing not brave and/or awesome?

I am blown away by this revelation of exclamation points that a few of you have pointed out. They should certainly add that kind of historical detail to the program at SCAD because I know another SCAD alum that didn’t know this either – and apparently we’re walking around like uninformed idiots!

That said, ridiculous. I’d think I’d rather have sentences with no punctuation than to have to read all those exclamations.

@Trebbers: I couldn’t agree more!

@Wil: It has not been reprinted to my knowledge. I got it fairly cheaply on ebay. It’s two issues – but they are each 48 pages.

@Dean: I agree that Lois’ qualities on paper are something that kept me away from her. She’s got some qualities that immediately tick off boxes for ‘characters I’m not interested in’ – including the fact that she’s a reporter – an occupation I’m not particularly fond of. Which is why I was so impressed with this take on her. I suspect as I eventually dig into more Lois over the coming years, I’ll not be terribly impressed with what I see there…and that what I find will definitely be influenced by the quality of writer, as with this mini. Even All Star Superman (which I like) show’s a Lois that I’m not terribly interested in – it’s just so second fiddle to Superman (perhaps rightly so, but it makes her less interesting to me). I think Newell’s take here is particularly wonderful because it is a LOIS story…so it works, while Lois as sidekick/girlfriend/damsel in distress in stories that feature Superman, highlights only her least likable qualities and aspects…her starring in her own book and story…with the great writing that Newell gave her highlights none of those same weak qualities.

I agree with a lot of you out there about not really getting the appeal of Lois Lane to someone like Superman…and I think sadly in the places I’ve seen her portrayed (television, film, cartoons, and a small handful of comics) I still don’t get it…but in these pages…with Newell’s take on her…I could kind of see it…for the first time really. I mean in our world I can see why Superman would be so taken with her, but in a world where Wonder Woman exists and is your best friend…how are you falling all over yourself for Lois Lane, y’know?

@Rene. I think you’ve actually got a great take on why LL is appealing to Clark…that’s a new way to look at it. And…if you extrapolate even further it helps undo what I just said above about Wonder Woman…Lois is also incredibly human…so she would not only represent the modern, cosmopolitan, progressive life he is seeking when he leaves Smallville, but she is also human and helps him tie himself to his humanity…and everything that he had growing up in his very normal human life with his parents. I’m still not sure I totally get the attraction and it being the be all end all for Clark…but it’s an interesting take and makes a lot more sense to me now than before.

I should also note (and probably should have in the article in retrospect), for anyone that hasn’t read these issues that they were nicely self-contained. Though as a comics fan I am familiar with all these characters and to a degree with what’s gone on with them over the past years, I’ve never really been a reader of Superman comics, so it was nice to be able to read this as a relative newbie and still be able to easily follow along. I did have some confusion over what the larger picture was with Lois and Clark (and Superman) and Lana – in this story Clark is with Lana and Lois and Superman have recently had a public break up…but also in this story Clark and Lana are also news anchors together…which I’d never heard of before. But it didn’t harm the effectiveness of the story.

As Kiki said above, as Newell writes it I definitely got the feeling that Lois knew that Clark was Superman. Which I like. Perhaps that’s reading too much between the lines of the text, but I definitely got that Newell was playing with that aspect and suggesting that she knew.

I also liked how Lois seemed to know Clark was Superman, but she didn’t really come out and say so.

No doubt. Newell and Morrow did a fantastic job handling the Lois-Clark-Lana triangle. I love the idea that Lois basically knows Clark and Superman are the same person, but can just barely tolerate playing along when Clark shows up with Lana in the role of his new girlfriend.

Thanks, Kelly!

Yeah, I think Wonder Woman isn’t that attractive to Superman, because she is even more otherworldy as he is, even more virginal, and in a way she is even more a creature of the past. It makes more sense that they would be friends. While Lois Lane is humanity.

Out of curiosity, is there a reason for your dislike of reporters? :)

Rene: I think some of it comes from the evolution of journalism and its seeming merge with entertainment reporting and to a degree even paparazzi. I’m willing to totally upfront admit that I do not personally know one single serious journalist (or paparazzi for that matter) and so I’m basing these “feelings” of mine on how I see them portrayed in in other media (real and fictional) which is why I tend to couch my dislike (by saying things like “possibly misplaced disdain” for). Additionally, these days, my newspaper reading is nearly nil (hello, internet) which means that my exposure to hardcore “real” journalism is limited these days. However, based on those portrayals, I usually don’t like what I see. I think an example of seeing journalism that seems appealing to me would be on a show like The West Wing, with serious good journalists with a high moral code (however you want to judge moral codes), but that seems to be the exception to the rule. More often it seems to be an ambitious person tearing at a story that that doesn’t actually benefit anyone or make a difference, except to the people whose privacy they’re invading…and it’s usually for the sole benefit of the reporter and advancing their own career…despite all protests to the contrary.

Again, perhaps a largely superficial judgment of an entire group of people and career that cannot be so simply lumped together…but I can only admit that my first reaction to hearing reporter is a knee jerk and a cringe. At least I’m aware of my bias and trying to learn? :)

Also of note is that I now write columns for a well read popular website…which is…um…reporting…to a degree. Yikes! I’ve come undone!

@ Kelly

Clark and Lana as news anchors started in the late seventies and lasted until Superman got “Byrned.” Clark and Lana as a couple happened right aound the time “Superman III” came out, and also lasted until the Byrne reboot.

I loved this story, makes me wish I still had my old comics for a re-read. I would also recommend the Lois Lane and Batman team-up from an issue of “The Brave And The Bold.” Don’t remember the issue number, but I’m thinking it wasn’t more than two years older than this comic.

I remember when these two issues came out, and I vaguely recall talk in and around the industry that it was supposed to be a four issue mini-series but DC didn’t have faith in people sticking around that long so they made it two issues, which is why it was 48 pages and $1.50 for each issue.

“competitiveness, curiosity and a romantic attachment to the ultimate uber-jock. For some reason, those qualities in a woman make people kind of angry.”

Not “people” so much as woman-fearing nerds.

The thing with Lois is, there are as many different versions of her as there are of Superman (meaning at least three in the comics, and plenty more in the adaptations). So, you always have to evaluate her in the context of a response to the current Superman, as well as the female lead role in whatever type of story that Superman is telling that day. As a result, she can be all over the map, while also remaining frustratingly similar and flawed in a number of versions (again, just like Superman).

But when she’s done right, she’s a great character.

One thing you can say for the ’50s Lois is that she didn’t let a man tell her what to do, even a Superman.

Unfortunately, that particular Lois probably should have let him tell her what to do, or SOMEONE, because she was terrible at making decisions for herself. But this is what happens when you have middle-aged suburban men in the 1950s trying to write a career woman…

"O" the Humanatee!

January 25, 2010 at 4:56 pm

I pulled out some late-Silver-Age DC Showcase volumes that I have. Yup, exclamation points all over the place. This is not a Marvel thing; it’s a comics-printed-on-newsprint thing.

Although I like Rene’s explanation(s), I’m not sure how much we have to understand why Superman is attracted to Lois. I admittedly don’t get it either, but I certainly know couples in real life where I can’t understand what they see in each other. Don’t you? Sure, this is fiction, but does everything have to be spelled out? I often think that comics writers, like actors, should prepare a back story for their characters but then not show it _directly_: that way the character will be consistent without being obvious. (Of course this is a problem when writers change, but isn’t that always a problem?) Superman and Lois should certainly be shown as having a “spark,” though, which hasn’t always been the case.

For those of you who complain that of course Lois should know that Clark is Superman, I have three words for you: suspension of disbelief (which is basically what Dean’s saying above). Besides, in that case why shouldn’t Jimmy, Lana, maybe Perry, etc. know his secret identity?

I agree that Lois’s damsel-in-distress thing got old (it’s rarely used anymore to my knowledge). But I wonder how sexist it was, compared with the roles of some other supporting cast members in comics. How often was Jimmy Olsen rescued by Superman? (I can think of other examples characters-in-distress, but they’re mostly comical characters like Plastic Man’s pal Woozy Winks.) I’m not saying that there isn’t sexism there, just genuinely asking if there’s evidence to the contrary.

Kelly: Would you like someone to judge comics fans by how they’re portrayed in the media? I suggest you start (or resume) looking at some serious journalism – NY Times, Washington Post, etc. – and then see how you feel about reporters. There’s also serious on-line stuff as well. Do you think reporters in Iraq and Afghanistan are putting themselves at risk to life and limb just to advance their own careers?

@”O” the Humanatee!: I think I’ve already well answered how I feel about reporters and acknowledged my bias, my awareness of it, and my attempts to correct this view. I’m not going to swing at some pitch in the dirt about reporters in war zones. If you want to take shots at me though, go ahead, enjoy yourself. I’ll not be replying beyond what I’ve already said which I think was an honest and fair answer to a fair question.

I’ve gotten a bit more interested in Lois in the past few years, since I’ve stumbled into a career in tech journalism. Generally reporting isn’t half so serious business as it is in comics, but Lois is a bit spot-on in that you do need to be pretty competitive and meticulous in order to get the assignments you want.

I think the commenter who said she’s as insanely variable as Superman is dead-on. Her entire role in the mythos changes depending on the current revamp. Pre-Crisis she was only one of many different women in Superman’s life. Post-Crisis she is Clark’s One True Love, which I think has done a bit of a disservice to the franchise and character both.

Generally I find the Daily Planet stuff most interesting when it feels like all of the reporters are of a different “type” you tend to encounter in the business, which has held true for some iterations. Steve Lombard, for example, was a very good reflection of this in his day.

I would argue the only totally really problematic– that is, wholly unbelievable– characters relative to the modern journalism business is Perry White and Clark Kent himself. (Jimmy Olsen, if anything, gets more plausible with every passing year.) Actually, I really hate the way post-Crisis Clark Kent is depicted as a reporter, but that’s neither here nor there….

That said, I dearly wish they’d update the Planet’s output a bit. Given the original reason why most of these people opted to become reporters, they should be hardbitten strapped-for-cash bloggers in today’s world. The tendency is to keep everything old-fashioned for appearance’s sake, which just makes it less relatable to me.

Regarding the “paparazzi” angle, Kelly, are you familiar with the Cat Grant character? I’ve always found she was one of the best post-Crisis additions to Superman, since she provides an interesting contrast to oh-so-serious Lois. Cat Grant is a straight-up entertainment and gossip reporter who seems quite nasty on the outside, but can be very compelling in the right hands.

She’s honestly not too far off the mark. Most journalists who make it to the top of their fields have to be extremely motivated and competitive if they want to cover

Lynxara: I’m sad to say that I think my only knowledge of Cat Grant comes from early episodes of Lois and Clark (cringe). But I’ll keep my eye out for her as I slowly begin reading more Lois/Superman stuff. Anything particular to recommend (a point in time or specific writer?).

@ Kelly Thompson:

I have a take on the attraction between Superman and Lois that is (as far as I know) totally my own, so take it for what it is worth.

To me, the core of that attraction is that she is a better reporter than he is. Think about being Superman for a second. The Olympic record for weightlifting is 1,038 lbs., but you could lift more than that as a child. The record for the 100 meter dash is 9.58 seconds, but you can travel over 51 miles in that time. Going to Vegas? You don’t need your X-Ray vision to win at Blackjack, because you can just count the cards while holding down a conversation about nuclear physics. Without really trying, you are better at just about everything than anyone else in the world.

However, (as Mark Waid once pointed out in a podcast with Marv Wolfman) none of that really translates to your chosen profession. Typing really fast does not help your prose. Being able to lift a tank does not help you convince a source to go on record. It is as near to competing straight up with normal people as Superman would ever be capable of. Even then, it comes easily enough to him that you get a pretty lofty perch at a great paper very early in your career. It is just in this one context, there is someone better than you are: Lois Lane

As mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, you reach up for the first time in your life and she rejects you.

To me , it is an inversion of the Luthor story. Luthor sees someone above him and feels hate. Superman sees someone above him and feels love.

@Kelly: I’m quite fond of the way Marv Wolfman wrote her in Action Comics (I think), just after the Post-Crisis revamp. Wolfman’s idea was to introduce a love interest into the books who didn’t care about Superman but was very interested in Clark Kent– an anti-Lois, essentially. The issues where we find out why she likes Clark Kent so much are a powerful reminder that everyone’s got a heart.

Morrison also writes a pretty fun Cat Grant in All-Star Superman, though she’s not at the center of any of the ongoing plots. I don’t care much for the current versions of her, which have jettisoned a lot of the backstory that gave her extra dimensions as a character.

Also of note is that I now write columns for a well read popular website…which is…um…reporting…to a degree. Yikes! I’ve come undone!

The house defense for this is, “blogging is not journalism,” but that never stops me from obsessing over keeping factual errors out of the things I write. When I miss one it eats at me for days, even silly things like the one Brian mentioned on Friday.

Speaking to the larger point, I’d suggest that ‘disliking journalists’ is a bit like disliking ‘writers’ or ‘artists.’ The profession itself has such widely varying subcategories that it’s a meaningless thing to say. Mike Royko, Bob Woodward, Mary Hart, and Barbara Walters are all ‘journalists,’ but you can’t compare them to each other. It would be ludicrous.

There’s people that work hard and do a good job, and people that don’t, and there’s outlets that take it seriously, and then there’s E! or The View. I daresay there are still people in the profession out there that would meet the standard you laid out.

@ Lynxara:

Any good Cat Grant story suggestions would be welcome. My understanding is that Marv Wolfman was trying to set her up as a genuine rival to Lois. It seems like she could have been played in much that same way Mindy Newell is playing Lana here. Then, Wolfman was (essentially) fired for signing on to a creator’s rights declaration.

Since then, I have always though that she was without a creative patron. *shudder* LOIS & CLARK played her as a pretty generic man-eater type, which appears to be what Geoff Johns played off of when he re-introduced her. However, there are a lot of Superman stories that I have not read. I’d love to see Cat Grant written as a semi-plausible character.

@Dean: I think that is fantastic. And a way I never looked at it before. I think it’s similar to what Rene was saying above, but even more involved (or evolved perhaps).

I particularly love the idea that it’s an inversion of the Luthor aspect. Really nice insight Dean. Thanks!

@Dean: That gels with what I know of Wolfman and Cat Grant. To be honest, even in her “glory days,” only Wolfman tended to be able to make her sympathetic, because he wasn’t willing to just forget about a particular very important bit of her backstory. Everyone else tended to treat her as an enemy or obstacle.

What has really neutered Cat Grant in modern takes on Superman is that the comics have had Lois and Clark married for going on twenty years now. Cat Grant was designed to be one of many love interests competing for the main character’s attention, but the main character made his choice and that’s over now.

So if Cat pursues Clark now, even taking her full motivations into account, she’s a homewrecker and audiences won’t like her. Chuck Austin tried to bring the “romantic competition” element back into Superman when he was on the comics and it pretty much ended his career. Now that Lois and Clark are married, people do not want to see either character in romantic scenes involving others.

This is quite a frustration to me, because in going to back to pre-Crisis Superman– the stories about his love life are often the most interesting. Lois is rarely his most interesting love interest or portrayed as a woman destined to be Superman’s wife. Superman becomes more human when you see him torn between competing affections for Lois, Lana, Lori Lemaris, whoever he’s fallen in love with from Krypton this week, etc.

The romance stories were really a whole dominant genre of Superman story that, much like the “comedy” stories driven by characters like the Prankster and Mxyzptlk, are simply dead in the water these days. I can see why you’d kill the comedy stories, but killing the romantic tension is just tearing an extremely marketable and relevant aspect of the concept out. It leaves you with less to do with the character and fewer avenues to explore.

"O" the Humanatee!

January 25, 2010 at 6:46 pm

Kelly: Sorry. I admit I wrote (in part) out of anger; I’ve worked in journalism and do know a fair number of reporters, and have even met some who reported from Iraq. So this is not an impersonal issue to me. I know you acknowledged your bias, but when you wrote, “More often it seems to be an ambitious person tearing at a story that that doesn’t actually benefit anyone or make a difference…,” it was my impression you were talking about real-life reporters rather than fictional ones – or at least not excluding the former. I wanted to point out a real-life counterexample. Perhaps I could have done it less emotionally, more along the lines of Greg Hatcher’s comments.

@ Kelly Thompson:

Thanks.

@ Lynxara:

I would take it a step further. To me, removing the romantic-sexual tension from Superman removes the mainspring of the title. It takes all the energy out of the premise.

The central, unique thing about Superman is that he is the Last Son of Krypton. I know that is not literally true right now with WONK, but look at the sales of the Superman titles and I would say his status as “youngest male survivor of an advanced alien race” is pretty key to the appeal of the character. Siegel and Shuster made it very clear that the Kryptonians had evolved to their advanced state.

Well … Biology 101 will tell you that evolution is driven by sexual selection. Isn’t that his central problem? He is on a planet with six billion less evolved people. He is the last survivor of his race. Wouldn’t the question of with whom he is going to have children weigh on him abnormally heavily?

It is also important to note that the period when Lois had the widest array of plausible rivals for Superman’s affections was the period when the title and its spin-offs utterly dominated comic book sales. My personal preference was always Lois, but the biggest mistake of the post-Byrne period was to have her win Superman essentially uncontested. Lana was moved quickly into the ‘friend zone’. Cat Grant became unattractive. They briefly teased Wonder Woman, but never really followed up on it. DC cleared the field for Lois to marry Clark so utterly that they had to briefly kill off Superman to delay the nuptials long enough for the TV show to catch up.

It was the world’s dullest soap opera.

As I recall, Wolfman’s impetus for creating Cat Grant was to examine what kind of woman would be interested in Clark (although the post-Byrne, kinda-hunky Clark as opposed to the classic “Superman-pretending-to-be-a-bumbling-nerd” version), as opposed to Superman.

I’m sure there’s an interesting behind-the-scenes story about why the Lois Lane mini got pushed out in early ’86– it was 2 double sized issues (meaning a 4 issue mini-series compressed into 2). All the stuff with Superman and Lois splitting up and Clark and Lana getting together was all a part of the Superman continuity in ’83-’84. It might well have been a series where other delays held it up before it was dumped on the market before its sell-by date happened with The Man of Steel. Which, if true, would be an even bigger shame.

This has been fascinating. I never really read the series when it came out. Gray Morrow’s art, while perfectly serviceable, wasn’t what it was in the ’60s and the ’70s and I think that biased me towards not reading it at the time. But everything you said interests me a great deal I should give it another look.

I’ve never had Dean’s sense that Lois was in on Clark’s identity (though I think agree with the Phyllis Coates Lois of the TV series) but I’ve never been bothered by her not knowing either, since no one else, male or female, has figured it out. Like someone else said, it’s part of the dream logic that the mythos is built upon. I don’t think it makes Lois look any dumber than Perry White. That said, one of my favourite things about Richard Donner’s version of Superman II is that Lois *does* figure it out, but at the same time it’s done in a way that doesn’t make her look dumb to have not noticed the previous film– the whole big idea of Superman is that a demi-god has managed to completely blend in with the rest of us without anyone noticing and Donner made that work.

Well, one of the advantages of having the main villain (Lex) to be a corrupt businessman/politician instead of a mad scientist is that it’s easier to make the reporters from the Daily Planet really heroic and idealistic. In that way Lois can be less of a busybody trying to discover whether Clark is Superman, and more of a hero as she tries to bring Lex’s schemes down with her investigative reporting.

As for who should Superman hook up with, I’m in the camp that thinks it’s Lois Lane, and should have always been Lois Lane. Sorry, Dean. Whenever Superman is paired with Wonder Woman (Kingdom Come, Dark Knight Strikes Again, Alan Moore’s Twilight of the Superheroes) Superman becomes a god-like dick. As for Lana Lang, whenever I picture the two of them together, it’s to live in a farm in Smallville and spend the rest of their lives doing nothing (I suppose Smallville has influenced me, as Lana is shown there as “holding Clark back from his full potential”).

I find it odd that everyone is praising the Newell Lois Lane series so much, since my memory of it back in the day was that it was almost universally panned. When I read it as a kid, I thought it was awful, so I went back and reread it a year or so ago while I was putting together a gift for a friend- and I still thought it was a not-very-good book. The subject matter is noble, but the storyline is heavy handed. More importantly, I think the characterization of all the main characters is WAY off. If you keep in mind that this was still the pre-Crisis version of the characters, there’s stuff in there that just does not fundamentally make any sense and which has no relation to anything that went before it.

For example, I like Lois Lane as a crusading reporter. But she is Lois Lane- a crusading reporter- who has been in war zones, who has dealt with human interest stories, who is supposedly a veteran and hard-bitten.But, in order to squeeze in statistics about child abduction, she is portrayed as being somehow completely unaware of the fact that children get abducted. She is so shocked by everything she learns that she basically becomes unhinged and repellently nasty (remember, this was before the slightly bitchier Byrne-version had come out.) Her “conversion” to the cause just rings completely false and out of character.

Then throw in the subplot of her vicious relationship with Lucy (which, to my knowledge, was brand new and had nothing to do with anything that came before it), including her catty comments implying that Lucy is some sort of stereotypical stewardess slut. Then throw in the revelation that Lana Lang had a heretofore never mentioned baby who was abducted and mutilated (and the truly bizarre thing that Lana did with the kid’s remains.) Then throw in the fact that Lois is incapable of actually getting the story written and filed and is seen as so unhinged that her bosses insist she work with a partner. The whole thing just didn’t make sense. It’s like a Very Special episode of a typically lightweight sitcom where every character has to act completely OUT-of-character because the information being pushed is more important than actually telling a decent story.

I can understand, however, why a person who didn’t actually know about or care about the characters in the book would think this was a more “deep” version of the characters than he or she had previously assumed. I wonder if I would have felt any differently about the book if the characters were named Mary Sue, Donna, Jane, etc. I’m not sure- I still seem to remember the dialog and plotting to be all “tell” and little “show.” Newell was a great writer, but I think this was a weak book.

@Rene: I tend to be of the opinion that Superman should somehow manage to have all these women interested in him and yet end up with none of them, through either his own fault or simple twists of fate. That goes back to the “super-loneliness” that I think is the defining and most interesting conflict of the character.

The moment you give him true emotional fulfillment of any sort– be it a dog, or a cousin, or a best friend, or a wife– you’ve resolved the most urgent and interesting problem of a character who is never going to have very many problems that are relatable.

@ Graeme Burk:

I am sorry if implied that I thought Lois always knew about the double identity. That was not my intent as a certain number of the cliched “Lois trying to figure out who Superman is” stories certainly were published. My point was that there were more sophisticated stories as well.

To me, the George Reeve-Phyllis Coates version of the relationship is both interesting and sophisticated. One aspect of that was the treatment of the double identity.

@ Christopher Stansfield:

Did you actually just say that the only way a person could possibly enjoy Newell and Morrow’s LOIS LANE is if they had no prior exposure to the characters? Seriously?

There are (at minimum) ten major versions of those characters between the comics, radio, TV, the movies and everything else. Each version differs wildly from the others in at least one respect and often several. There was not one canonical take on Superman even back in ’86. Newell and Morrow presented theirs and, personally, I liked it. And trust me when I say this, I also know my Superman pretty darn well.

@Dean

“Did you actually just say that the only way a person could possibly enjoy Newell and Morrow’s LOIS LANE is if they had no prior exposure to the characters? Seriously?”

Um, no. I didn’t. Seriously. But thanks for asking.

I said, “I can understand, however, why a person who didn’t actually know about or care about the characters in the book would think this was a more “deep” version of the characters than he or she had previously assumed.” Which does not mean anything you just said unless you believe in some sort of universal symmetric property rule of the English language. I can also understand why someone who is into Public Service Announcements would enjoy the book. Or why fans of Gray Morrow’s art would enjoy the book. Notice that there’s no exclusivity in any of those statements. But again, thanks for asking.

As I pointed out, none of the major revelations or depictions of relationships jibed with anything we’d ever seen before. (“Lana, you were married, pregnant, had a kid , and then lost him to abduction, and now keep his ear as a souvenir? Oh.” “Lucy, I can’t stand you and think you’re a slut now. Why? Who knows?”) If this was meant to be the beginning of a bold new direction, fine- but for a two issue standalone series? Hard to see the rationale. I simply stated why I didn’t like the book and its depictions and what I found wrong with it, the same reason the original blogger said she didn’t care for other depictions of the character. I didn’t say there was any universal (negative or positive) quality about anyone who did. Sorry you saw it that way.

I haven’t read this since it was new and I don’t remember having the impression that Lois knew Clark’s “secret,” but reading this post her attitude toward Clark and Lana only makes sense if she knows.

@Christopher: I seem to recall Lois thinking Lucy was a hussy, in a code-approved sense, back when the character was introduced in Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen.

I always thought Superman was hindered by the worst supporting characters in comics.

Shut your mouth.

Ever since Gotham Central came out, I’ve been waiting for a Daily Planet series starring Lois, Jimmy, and Perry. Because they’re all cooler than Superman.

"O" the Humanatee!

January 25, 2010 at 11:56 pm

The discussion here, especially though not exclusively the comments from Dean and Rene, has given me a lot of fascinating things to chew on. Like some of you, I prefer a version of Superman where he’s an isolated alien who values his contact with human beings – in my view, because, among other things, it makes him less lonely and maintains the humanity he grew up with with Ma and Pa Kent. I thought it was a mistake in the Byrne and post-Byrne era to keep the Kents alive and to cement the relationship with Lois. A twice-orphaned Kal-el has a lonelier and more interesting road to travel than one in which he’s surrounded by loving friends and family. (That said, having grown up in the Silver Age, I can’t help but have an affection for the original Supergirl, Krypto, and even Beppo, Streaky, and Comet.) You wouldn’t want to beat readers over the head with it, but IMO it would work well as a continuing undercurrent that occasionally broke the surface. There was an interesting story by Gerry Conway and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez in Superman 307-308 (with covers by Neal Adams, which may have been the main reason I bought the books), which involved Superman dealing with discovering that he was a human mutant rather than an alien (which of course turned out to be false). It may have provoked certain ideas that led me to think that if I were given the reins on Superman I would have as underlying themes the questions of “How does it feel to be a superpowered alien among ‘weak’ humans (and what temptations would it breed)?” and “Why does Superman need his secret identity? What does Clark give him that he couldn’t get as Superman?” Without themes like that he’s just a superstrong nice guy who fights bad guys because he’s good. Then again, I’m more of a “Batman guy,” so maybe I just don’t get Superman – less of a tragic sensibility.

Christopher Stansfield: My recollection of my reaction to the Lois Lane mini-series is much the same as yours. While I don’t remember many of the story details you mentioned (I haven’t read it in many years, probably since it came out), I thought it was obviously well-intentioned but didactic and heavy-handed. I don’t think I was bothered the way you were by character inconsistencies.

Oh, and Dean: I really liked the relationship between Clark/Superman and Lois in the George Reeves TV series. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen any of it, though I remember the “Great Caesar’s Ghost” episode, which I found quite scary as a child. However, my recollection of the show is that Clark was no schlub, Lois was generally smart and capable – and it was probably Jimmy who more filled the role of needing to be rescued. There was a nice “winking” quality to Clark, not quite as obvious as directly winking to the viewer, but he clearly enjoyed his dual-identity games.

@Rob Schmidt: I MUST remember the initialism “ONISGS” for the future. Brilliant.

I may be in the minority but two people made Lois Lane interesting for me: John Byrne and Teri Hatcher.

I always thought Superman was attracted to (post-Crisis) Lois because she can keep up with him, challenge him, and even surpass him. She’s strong, smart, attractive, and independent. I get the feeling that she would leave him if he ever messed up bad enough.

I haven’t read tons of Superman comics, but I liked Lois in the Gail Simone and Kurt Busiek issues. Both runs are relatively recent (Simone wrote the book during Infinite Crisis, Busiek both before and after IIRC), and chunks of them have been released in trades.

Not to be a disonant note, but I never cared for this miniseries; still don’t.

First, let’s establish something: the whiny, helpless Lois Lane of the Silver Age was long gone by this time. She had already been reinterpreted as more modern woman, more competent. Oh sure, she still got kidnapped by bad guys on occasion, but when you’re publicly known to be Superman’s love interest, it wouldn’t make sense if it DIDN’T happen from time to time. But Lois was no longer obsessed with discovering Superman’s identity, was more cautious when investigating stories, actually *escaped* from her kidnappers sometimes, and had plenty of adventures on her own that didn’t involve Superman or anything supernatural in any way. She no longer had her own series, but otherwise, she was, in her own way, more competent than Wonder Woman. So to me, this mini (or the Byrne reboot) doesn’t present anything new.

Second, I have a problem with comics that try to deal with real-life issues. Either they come across as too easy to solve, or they are shown as impossible for the heroes to deal with, which makes them look pathetic.

Finally, I just plain don’t like Lois’ portrayal here. OK, so she realizes there is more stuff to report than Superman’s adventures (though as I said that was already the case) and is shocked by the horror of child abuse and killing; that makes sense. But (as shown in the panels above) she lashes out at those who are trying to help her during this period? I think was done to show how deeply it had affected her, but to me it felt like a step back, to the Lois who was wrapped up all in herself.

While I understand that the point of the series was to bring awareness to a terrible reality, I cannot see why some other character wasn’t used (or made) for this. Perhaps DC was hoping the title star would attract attention that it would otherwise not get. I hope it did, but as someone who was already aware of it, and who feels the function superhero comics should be to escape reality rather than dig into it, it just didn’t work.

Forgot to sign my post above. :p

Wow, Kelly, you are a comment lightning rod regardless of topic!

I don’t have a lot to say on the subject of Ms Lane, as I’m not a big Superman fan and my main impression of her is based on the Dana Delaney/Bruce Timm/Paul Dini portrayal from Superman: The Animated Series. (In fact, I was really gearing up for the teased Wonder Woman column!) Great discussion, though, particularly in giving me some new insights into the character dynamics of Metropolis that I had never considered – Dean’s theory of Lois as the inversion of Luthor being the best example.

To the journalism tangent that this thread has veered to, I do think that is valid and important to question a journalist’s motives – especially in our present celebrity-obsessed times. I was just listening to an NPR report the other day where journalists, doctors and ethicists were discussing the reportage of Sanjay Gupta and other medical correspondents in Haiti. Are they doing important work? Yes. Are they walking a fine ethical line of creating their own stories, making themselves the story, promoting instead of informing? Yes. Examining the aspects of today’s journalism that cause people to “dislike reporters” is critical if the fourth estate is to remain the important check on government, power and the baser instincts of humanity we all want to believe it is.

Anyway, even further off topic that, Life Sucks is exactly the book that caused me to wonder about my own opinion of Jessica Abel! And Cecil and Jordan in New York is really strong work.

You’re not alone, Rusty. I also came to like Lois Lane on account of Byrne and Teri Hatcher.

But Sijo is right too. I’ve re-read recently the first Silver Age crossover between Superman and Spider-Man, and Lois was every bit the hard-edged, ruthless reporter. Actually she was more of a “bitch” in this story than the Byrne version. Gerry Conway loved to write angry, bickering characters.

I just want to say a couple things. First, and certainly anyone that has read the series on their own has their right to their own impression here, and may not agree, but I did not at all get the feeling that the text depicted Lois as ‘too stupid to know that missing children was a problem that exists’.

The same way that I am a person that lives in a world where third world hunger and poverty, genocide, unjust wars, sex trafficking, child abduction, animal experimentation, and countless other horrific things exist as problems that I am aware of, there is a huge difference between being aware of these things and knowing they are horrible and becoming personally involved and invested in them.

I feel like (according to this mini) Lois was certainly always aware of missing children in the broad way that we all are, but that she came to be personally involved – by seeing the body of a child being taken out of the river, by talking to the people who have lost children, and people that have had them returned, etc. And once becoming personally involved, better understanding the scope of the problem, and worse (for her) her realization that ultimately she could do little to nothing about the problem – as opposed to how I think Lois often feels – i.e. like she can really make a difference by ‘breaking the big story’ or ‘uncovering some massive coverup’ or whatever – is what set her on a path to becoming so obsessed and nearly crashing.

As I said in the review, I think Newell handled this aspect of the story very well (with the exception of the ending feeling rushed).

As to the point of Lois’ treatment of Lucy Lane – it did seem unnecessarily harsh to me, but since I’m not (and wasn’t) a reader of Lois/Superman comics, I assumed I was just seeing part of a larger picture – and in that context it did not bother me too much. In addition, if I understood the subplot correctly – that Lana Lane with Jimmy’s help wrote and turned in a story under Lois’ name all in an “effort to help”…then I’m not surprised the sisters would have problems…because that would be wholly unacceptable and deceptive to me (regardless of intentions) and considering what I do know of Lois, I can’t imagine SHE would appreciate it. So I can easily see how Lois and Lucy might have some differences as characters. Here, that subplot is easily resolved and as I said, I had a problem with it and I didn’t think it quite gelled with the rest of the work.

The same was true of the depiction of Lana’s odd revelations at the end. Again, something I felt was a little rushed, but because of my lack of extensive knowledge of the characters, I thought perhaps there was a little more to that story than just what I was seeing.

Bernard the Poet

January 26, 2010 at 10:53 am

I just wanted to second a few comments that I’ve read of here.

I’ve got to agree with Christopher Stansfield that the mini series was very preachy and tailed off without any resolution. I found it hard to believe that the Daily Planet’s top reporter would be quite so ill informed about child abductions or so unprofessional that she would allow it make such an impact on her personal life. She can’t have got to the top of the tree without reporting on some pretty disturbing stories, prior to this.

Like Sijo, I’m surprised by the praise for Byrne’s Lois. Personally, she did not seem to be any different from Cary Bates’ depiction, which immediately preceded it.

Margot Kidder’s chain-smoking balls-breaking Lois Lane was my first love. All other depictions of the character seem quite callow in comparison.

@Bernard: It’s of course fine that you don’t agree with me on the depiction, but I guess I felt like Newell was presenting a Lois that was at a critical vulnerable moment (having been taken down a notch professionally for some screw up she had, and having recently had a high profile break up with Superman…and having the news anchor team of “Clark and Lana!” thrust constantly in her face) and that vulnerable moment, combined with a child’s deformed body being pulled out of the river, got to her.

Lois does not strike me (even in my shallow knowledge of her) as someone prone to be all “OH BUT THE CHILDREN!” but that doesn’t mean that in a particularly vulnerable moment that seeing something horrible might get under your skin a little more than usual.

I think that is what I liked so much about Newell’s portrayal…rather than just showing Lois doing any other story and doing it as the consummate professional that she is (boooring) we see a vulnerable Lois at a really weird moment in her life, stumble upon an upsetting story that then challenges some her ideas about things…and a Lois so alone and feeling it that she pushes away anyone that tries to help her, because she doesn’t want to feel and acknowledge that vulnerability…that she still WANTS to be the cold hard professional, but because of a perfect storm of reasons, she’s suddenly not, and finds herself hurting and reaching for something she suddenly realizes she doesn’t have (love, companionship, real friendships and family) and thus pushes everything kind away from her in an effort to convince herself that she doesn’t need it. I thought it was pretty wonderful…but to each his/her own.

@ Christopher Stansfield:

I do not care where stories by one creator fit within continuity with other stories by other creators that they may (or may not) have ever met. If a new creative rolled on to Superman and said “we have a 24 issue run plotted out and in it Lois and Clark never got married”, then that is enough for me. That goes double for DC continuity prior to COIE, when the company itself pretty clearly did not care.

@ “O” the Humanatee:

My perspective on the ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN is pretty fresh.

I watched the Reeves-Coates season of AOS for probably the first time about six months ago. My memory of George Reeves was much like yours, the goofy guy from the color years. It turns out that the fifties TV series did not start in that place at all. It plays more like a fifties version of LAW & ORDER than anything else. They play the secret identity business in such a way that neither Lois, nor Inspector Henderson, come off as idiots that miss the obvious. Most of it is subtle. “Night of Terror” is pretty direct. She escapes some gangsters that plan to assassinate her, calls the Daily Planet and says “tell Clark that I am in trouble”. Not “send the police”, but “tell Clark …”. Most of the first season plays that way.

Apparently, the show was deliberately softened in the second season by its new producer. Noel Neill replaced Phyllis Coates. That changed the dynamic considerably. Reeves and Coates were great friends and evidently spent their evenings carousing together with their respective partners. That comes across on-screen. Neill had been married to her husband for husband for 9 years by the time she showed up on the AOS set. Whatever her virtues in the part, Neill never had nearly the same chemistry with Reeves. By the time color shows up in Season 3, the show has a positively wholesome vibe.

I don’t really like Lois, she falls into the generic love interest role that Iris, Sue and Carol used to. She seems equally unremarkable with women like Huntress and Batgirl around who have no superpowers but who make more of a difference.

I’ll be… just when I think I have every single Post Crisis Superman comic, I learn of the existence of another one.

Is this mini series Pre or Post Crisis? Does anyone know?

[…] She Has No Head! – Giving Lois Lane A Second Look, For The First Time (goodcomics.comicbookresources.com) Share and Enjoy: […]

It falls in that brief period of time that was Post-Crisis but still Pre-Byrne.

Ah, so it’s still set in the WGBS-era continuity, before the reboot? Good… thanks.

Your welcome. I can understand the confusion given how Clark is dressed. It was rare that Silver-Age Clark was seen wearing anything other than a blue suit with white shirt and red tie. Because of some silly explaination involving anti-friction chemicals only working on those colors entire Silver-Age stories were actually dedicated to the consequences of Clark trying to shake up his wardrobe!

Heh.

It was partly the art style that made me wonder.

I keep reading this silly idea that Lois came off as stupid for not knowing Clark and Superman were the same. AS OPPOSED TO THE ENTIRE DCU!?! NO ONE COULD TELL, PEOPLE! These are the rules of secret identities! Clearly some sort of double standard is being applied to her that’s not being applied to say, Editor-In-Chief, Perry White or Police Commissioner Jim Gordon in regards to Bruce Wayne and Batman.

While I’d agree with you WorstThingUS that it’s a bit of double standard to call Lois stupid for not knowing Clark is Superman if you’re not also going to call out Perry White, I think there’s probably a difference between your lover/partner/husband/co-worker/bff not knowing and your boss not knowing.

But the real point where your argument kind of falls apart for me is that Jim Gordon would put together Bruce Wayne and Batman…Jim Gordon is not nearly as closely connected to Bruce Wayne as Clark is to Lois or Perry White, and even if he was, Batman goes to great lengths (even beyond the costume) to keep his identity a secret…while Superman just does the…um…glasses thing.

Jimmy Olsen is in a much closer position to both Clark and Superman than Perry second only to Lois.

The problem with this particular secret id is that Superman tends to surround himself with the same people that Clark does (i.e. he dates Lois, Clark’s co-worker, and his best friend is Jimmy, Clark’s best friend).

Were he to keep his distance from them, then the secret id wouldn’t be as much of an issue.

Then again, this is only a problem in Silver Age and Silver Age-derivative stories. This wasn’t a problem for the 20 years before the nostalgia-driven Silver Age revival of the last decade or so, in which no one thought twice about Clark and Superman being the same guy because the status quo was that people had no reason to suspect that Superman had something to hide.

I’m very curious to see what ultimate solution Smallville comes up with for this dilemma.

I’ve made that same point myself. People who know Clark but have only seen Superman in action from afar have no reason to think there might be a connection. Same for people who have been rescued by Superman but have never had so much as a conversation with Clark. If Superman didn’t befriend the Daily Planet staff while in costume then at most people would tell Clark “Anyone ever tell you that you look like Superman?” and that would be that.

And Gordon does know that Bruce Wayne is Batman. He just doesn’t call him out or dig up proof because he trusts Batman and finds him useful. But if Batman ever crosses the line further than Gordon can ignore it’s all over.

Indeed. The question of how Clark keeps his identity secret really only applies to the people he interacts with in both identities, not the world at large. That’s why the “Clark is a mentally retarded moron who falls on his ass and bumps into people” act is unncessary.

Superman hanging out with reporters and Clark as an anchorman must be two of the most idiotic ideas ever put down to paper in regard to this character.

Clark as an anchor man was bad because he could find himself stuck behind the camera covering events that Superman really needed to help out with. Otherwise it was fine as long he kept Clark and Superman’s relationships separate.

People tell me I look like Richard Gere all the time but no one thinks I’m holding down a double identity.

Clark as anchorman is bad because then all anyone needs to figure out that he is Superman is compare a video of the two of the.

Taking it back to Lois for a second, in Donner’s cut of Superman 2 she figured out the secret by drawing Clark’s clothes and glasses over a picture of Superman on the front cover of the Planet.

Figuring it out is really that simple is one knows what to look for or that there is anything to look for in the first place.

Byrne did a great job of addressing this in his second issue of Superman, in which Luthor in effect learned Clark’s secret but simply refused to believe it while the scientist he hired to learn it refused to let it go until the day she died.

And yeah, today more than ever Clark’s passing appearance to Superman can be easily dismissed as in the example you bring up, hence downplaying the necessity for the moron act, which writers like Waid, Morrison, and Johns have brought back into use solely out of nostalgia.

Right. She only drew over the picture because she already suspected. She suspected because she spent enough with both to pick up on it.

For me the bigger issue is the danger he brings to Lois, Lana, and Jimmy by letting the world see them as Superman’s friends. How many times have one or more of them been used against Superman by people who had no idea that Supes is really Clark Kent? Who is he protecting by keeping his secret? Sometimes I think he only does it so he can two-time Lois and Lana.

Indeed.

Back then the whole point of the Clark as a moron act was, according to those who support it, indicative of the sacrifice he made to be Superman. That is, he had to hide his true self from the people he loved.

How is he doing that when he spends time with them both romantically and as friends when he is in costume? Where is the sacrifice?

The interesting thing there is that by pretending to be an idiot while he is Clark and hanging out with these people while he is Superman all he is doing is diminishing them as individuals and as professionals, as well as, like you say, putting their lives in danger.

"O" the Humanatee!

January 31, 2010 at 5:34 pm

MichaelSacal and some others: Please repeat after me:

Why don’t lots of people figure out Superman’s secret identity? Suspension of disbelief.

Why don’t lots of people figure out Green Arrow’s secret identity (esp. with that distinctive goatee)? Suspension of disbelief.

Why isn’t Batman dead after all this time? (OK, he “is” – but just temporarily.) Suspension of disbelief.

Why doesn’t Batman’s arm rip off when he swings on a long line from high buildings? Suspension of disbelief.

Why isn’t the Hulk hunted down as a mass murderer rather than just as a “threat”? Is it because Bruce Banner has always secretly been in control, calculating the physical forces behind every move the Hulk has ever made? (At least that’s what I’ve heard the explanation now is.) That’s silly. The answer is suspension of disbelief.

(I believe the Hulk is treated as a mass murderer in the Ultimates, but that’s not the version I’m talking about – and besides, in many ways, the Ultimates is a meta-commentary on the superhero genre.)

And so on and so on.

These stories aren’t about reality. They’re not science-fiction. They belong to a genre with its own conventions. If you start picking them apart, they fall apart. That doesn’t mean anything goes, just that some things that don’t “go” in reality do go in superhero stories. If you can’t accept this, you shouldn’t be reading superhero stories (especially those of characters invented long before anyone was taking comics as anything other than disposable entertainment.)

"O" the Humanatee!

January 31, 2010 at 5:37 pm

Since several additional comments have come in since I wrote my long one, I think I should say that I think the “moron act” is not an essential part of the Superman mythos. In fact, I think it originally arose as a “solution” to the very problem some people here are worrying about: why don’t people know Clark is Superman? If you look at early Superman stories, Clark is not a clumsy oaf.

On your first post, I disagree with the notion that suspention of belief has anything to do with this. The problem with the examples you site is bad writing, pure and simple.

Your Hulk example is a rather interesting one. The answer is not suspension of disblief, the answer is that there is no reason why he shoulnd’t be hunted a down as a mass murderer. The TV show used just that formula in he form of McGee, who hunted down Bruce Banner for “a murder he didn’t commit”, which lead to some very fine stories.

I don’t know if it has been done before in the comics, but wouldn’t it be interesting to see a Hulk hunter introduced into the story? Someone whose mission, like McGee’s on the TV show, is to find Banner and capture him for his crimes?

The reason that doesn’t happen is because the writers haven’t written that story (at least as far as I know. Someone very well might have. I haven’t read Hulk in a long time and I only read about 12 issues or so about a decade ago).

As for your second post, I agree that Clark was not an oaf in those early stories, particularly Action Comics #1, in which the EiC of the Planet (Star?) assigned him to find out who Superman really was (which he called the story of the century).

You don’t give that kind of assignment to the reporter who falls on his ass.

I like to compare the SA/Morrison/Waid/Johns version of Clark to Michael Scott in The Office. They are both the kind of person who instead of reflect attention from himself seems to draw it in by acting like an idiot (though in Michael’s case he IS an idiot).

I’m reminded of an episode of The Office in which Michael is giving a deposition in the lawsuit Jan filled against Dundler Miffling in which her lawyer reads a statement their boss made about Michael in regards to giving him Jan’s old job.

If you’ve seen the episode in question you must know what I’m getting at.

Just like Scott in The Office is considered too incompetent and stupid to be promoted, so should Clark the moron be assigned to less important stories, not those that the editor considers to be the story of the century, like Superman.

That was a good read, Kelly, ta – that’s one of my favourite Lois stories ever. To me it didn’t feel heavy handed, more like Lois was stepping into a slightly grittier, Hill Street Blues/Lou Grant world for awhile. In the early Seventies Lois spent a short period as a freelance reporter and tackled harder-edged stories, and this was a nice throwback to that.

Regarding Christopher Stansfield’s complaint about Lana’s revelation, that was fine by me – she had spent some years in Europe, then reappeared in Metropolis suddenly; a marriage followed by tragedy made sense to me, and I liked the drama, and poignancy it added to Lana.

I’d like to echo Lynxara in recommending Marv Wolfman’s pre-Crisis Action Comics work for good Daily Planet stuff, and Gavin in agreeing that this Lois mini was a truncated four-issue mini – I think I read that in the dear departed Amazing Heroes magazine.

For good Cat Grant (anyone remember her pre-Crisis predecessor, Lola-Barnet -not-Rona-Barratt?), try Superman #84 and #85 (Dec 1993-Jan 1994); powerful stuff.

Oh, and journalists are terrific . . . but I would say that, as Clark Kent inspired me to become one. I figured that if I couldn’t be Superman, I’d be Clark. And I think Dean’s theory about Clark being attracted to Lois because she’s the better hack is spot-on. Plus, as a breed women reporters are fascinating – bright, funny and driven.

Men even more so ;)

"O" the Humanatee!

January 31, 2010 at 6:51 pm

MichaelSacal: I can see how you might prefer certain kinds of stories, but I don’t see how that’s a counterargument to my assertion that there are some conventions in superhero comics that one just has to accept. The inability of people to recognize that a superhero is someone they know well is one such convention, and with Superman you really just have to turn off your logic about this. (This convention can of course be violated: Silver St. Cloud’s recognition that Batman was Bruce Wayne during Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers’s tenure on Detective was an excellent example. But it worked so well precisely _because_ it went against the usual convention.)

The Hulk TV show example is, to borrow your wording, an interesting one. First, on TV (especially in that era, with its limited special effects), not all of the comic book superhero conventions work well. The realism of the medium highlights them too much. More important, the TV Hulk was far less strong and dangerous than the comic book one. As you say, the reporter hunted him down for a _single_ murder, and it was one Banner/the Hulk didn’t even commit. With the amount of physical damage the comic book Hulk has caused over the years, he must have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds, at least. At least, he would be, if this were the real world. And if he were that destructive, then there wouldn’t be a single “Hulk hunter” going after him. It would be the moral responsibility not just of the Armed Forces (some of whom, under General Ross, we’ve seen going after the Hulk time and again), but of the FF, the Avengers, and virtually every other superhero with any chance of helping out to track him down, capture him, and do everything in their power to nullify him. But in the past they’ve often been shown to let their compassion for Bruce Banner override their concern for humanity at large.

Recently, yes, there was an entire saga in which the “Illuminati” sent the Hulk into space for just this reason. I didn’t read it myself, in part because it seems to me to miss the point. Here I admit that I just may be stating my personal tastes, but I find stories about lonely men (Banner) struggling with their emotional demons (Hulk) and the people who try to help them far more compelling than stories that address the “practical” issues surrounding a dangerous, super-powerful being. For me superhero comics, when they’re not just being entertaining romps, are ways of portraying internal struggles in external terms. (That’s probably oversimplifying my stance, but I don’t have the energy to fully flesh it out now.) They’re not “what if” stories about what is, if looked at too closely, a ludicrous fictional world.

“I can see how you might prefer certain kinds of stories, but I don’t see how that’s a counterargument to my assertion that there are some conventions in superhero comics that one just has to accept. The inability of people to recognize that a superhero is someone they know well is one such convention, and with Superman you really just have to turn off your logic about this. (This convention can of course be violated: Silver St. Cloud’s recognition that Batman was Bruce Wayne during Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers’s tenure on Detective was an excellent example. But it worked so well precisely _because_ it went against the usual convention.)”

But that is not a convention of the medium, it is a convention of an era or a writer’s preference to write stories that require that one turn off his brain.

In Supreme Power, Mark Milton tried to convince his handlers that he could hide his face behind a pair of glasses like Clark Kent does (he doesn’t mention Clark, we the audience figure out the connection on our own), but his handlers rightly so dismiss the idea as silly.

If the convention was part of the super hero genre or comic book medium in general then Mark’s idea wouldn”t have been used as the joke it was meant to, but would have been an useful tool for him to carry out his plan without any downside.

In contrast to Mark, for whom the gimmick didn’t work, for someone like Clark when writen by writers who are beholden to the past (Morrison, Waid, Buiske, Johns, Loeb, etc), or works that are derivative of Superman written by writers who are beholden to the past (Moore’s Supreme) the gimmick magically works. Not because it’s a smart gimmick or because any of these writers have found the magic trick to make it work (in fact none of them can agree on the single way to make the gimmick work, they all change it to something different), but because, for the most, part, they expect the reader to turn his brain off and not question the gimmick in the same manner as Mark Milton’s handlers did.

For instance, Mark Waid’s reasoning for the glasses was that Clark has exceptionally bright blue eyes, yet when put under scrutiny his take on the gimmick comes appart. To enjoy it, one needs to turn his brain off and not question it, because if you do then it doesn’t work.

This isn’t because it’s a comic book or because it’s a super hero comic book, but because the writer doesn’t respect the reader’s intelligence any more than he does his characters’.

“The Hulk TV show example is, to borrow your wording, an interesting one. First, on TV (especially in that era, with its limited special effects), not all of the comic book superhero conventions work well. The realism of the medium highlights them too much. More important, the TV Hulk was far less strong and dangerous than the comic book one. As you say, the reporter hunted him down for a _single_ murder, and it was one Banner/the Hulk didn’t even commit. With the amount of physical damage the comic book Hulk has caused over the years, he must have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds, at least. At least, he would be, if this were the real world. And if he were that destructive, then there wouldn’t be a single “Hulk hunter” going after him. It would be the moral responsibility not just of the Armed Forces (some of whom, under General Ross, we’ve seen going after the Hulk time and again), but of the FF, the Avengers, and virtually every other superhero with any chance of helping out to track him down, capture him, and do everything in their power to nullify him. But in the past they’ve often been shown to let their compassion for Bruce Banner override their concern for humanity at large.”

Which is bad writing, not a limitation impossed on the concept because it’s a super hero comic book.

What you bring up is what the Avengers movie has been rumored to tackle, the hunt for the Hulk for the crimes he has commited.

There is no reason whatsover why that shouldn’t be explored in the comic, other than the writers themselves not wanting to explore it.

Then again, didn’t the original Thunderbolts make their first appearance by going after the Hulk?

There is no reason why the heroes in general shouldn’t hunt the Hulk down, it only takes a writer who wants to write that.

“Recently, yes, there was an entire saga in which the “Illuminati” sent the Hulk into space for just this reason. I didn’t read it myself, in part because it seems to me to miss the point. Here I admit that I just may be stating my personal tastes, but I find stories about lonely men (Banner) struggling with their emotional demons (Hulk) and the people who try to help them far more compelling than stories that address the “practical” issues surrounding a dangerous, super-powerful being. For me superhero comics, when they’re not just being entertaining romps, are ways of portraying internal struggles in external terms. (That’s probably oversimplifying my stance, but I don’t have the energy to fully flesh it out now.) They’re not “what if” stories about what is, if looked at too closely, a ludicrous fictional world.”

The world is only ludicrous if the writers fail at their job.

There are basically two kinds of writers, those who created the genre and those who grew up comics and became comic book writers.

Those who created the genre would be people like Siegel, Kane (Finger?), Moulston, and other DC Golden Age creators.

The stories they told were not as ludicrous as the ones produced during the 60s by the second wave of creators and those from the 70s to the present created by the fans who became writers.

The original Superman stories were far more grounded thna those found in the 60s or today in the 60s-derivative stories.

"O" the Humanatee!

January 31, 2010 at 7:26 pm

“In Supreme Power, Mark Milton tried to convince his handlers that he could hide his face behind a pair of glasses like Clark Kent does (he doesn’t mention Clark, we the audience figure out the connection on our own), but his handlers rightly so dismiss the idea as silly.”

I haven’t read Supreme Power, but as you acknowledge, this is clearly meta-commentary on Clark Kent – and by implication, the conventions of superhero comics. It’s a way of flattering the readers by saying, “You see? We’re not your father’s silly superhero comics. We’re _modern_ and _mature_.” Is the character of Mark Milton portrayed throughout the series as an idiot? Because in a “real” world only an idiot would even make that suggestion.

But Supreme Power still, I believe, shows characters with superpowers (ludicrous in the light of real-world science) dressing in garish costumes (silly by real-world standards). These are conventions, and apparently ones you’re willing to accept. You’re willing to accept characters whose bodies mutate from sickly pink men to huge green men without apparently gaining mass from anywhere “realistic.” You’re willing to accept stretchy men, and flying burning men, and giant rock men, and so on. I’ll say it again: Superhero comics fall apart if looked at too closely.

I do think we’re in agreement on some things. You don’t like explaining the failure of Clark’s friends and colleagues to recognize that he’s Superman by having Clark adopt a buffoonish personality. Neither do I. But my problem is that I don’t think you have to explain it in the first place, because the undetectability of secret identities is a comic book convention (or at least the greater difficulty of detecting them than there would be in the real world is). It would seem to me that you’d like a more realistic explanation, like Superman doesn’t interact with the same people as Clark does. But IMO then we’d lose all kinds of potentially interesting stories about human interaction for the sake of “realism,” just as the Spider-Man world would function very differently if Spider-Man didn’t interact sometimes with Aunt May, Mary Jane, and so on. I’m in favor of good writing; I just think good writing in the context of superhero comics focuses on different things than you do.

I’m going to drop it here. I feel like we’re talking past each other, or at least have such different positions that we won’t make much headway with each other.

Again, the secret ID doesn’t work only when Supes and Clark maintain the same circle of friends. To everyone else, even co-workers who are not close friends, Clark would just be a guy who kinda looks like Superman. Have you never met someone who looks remarkably like a particular celebrity? It’s really not that unusual. But Clark’s posture and voice seem different enough enough that Joe Average who simply note the resemblance and not give it anymore thought than that.

There’s your suspension of disbelief without suspending logic.

Exactly.

When Clark acts like a clown who falls on his ass and bumps into people, however, he is calling attention to himself and daring people to look at him.

I’ll give you that. I’ve always preferred depictions of Clark where he acts like an ordinary guy.

Same here.

It is Clark who creates Superman to use his powers, not Superman who creates Clark to pretend to be human. Clark doesn’t have to pretend to be human, he was raised as one.

I recall reading not long ago, on Wikipedia, about an actor who effectively used the Clark Kent disguise so he could go out without being noticed. According to the article, the “disguise” actually worked 99% of the time despite the actor being extremely famous at the time. Either people simply pay any attention to his face once they saw the glasses, or he could get them to accept his denials without much difficulty. I can’t remember the actor’s name but I recall it being someone quite famous in the 50s.

Anyway, once I read about this, the Clark disguise’s “implausibility” bothered me a lot less. At least back when the character was conceived, it clearly could work!

But we’re not living in that time anymore.

It used to be that almost every single super hero wore his underwear over his pants, but that trend ended awhile ago and now it’s only the minority that do that,. At certain times over the last 20 years only Superman has continued that trend.

Over the last decade half a dozen writers have tried to come up with a reason to justify the glasses and none of them can agree on one, meaning that there is not one single justification behind them other than to keep them as a gimmick.

At this point the glasses are a joke, like Eddie Murphy in Bowfinger.

Yes, we aren’t living in that time. But there’s a problem with that defense: it begs the much bigger question of why supposedly-sophisticated modern people still insist on trotting Superman’s rotting corpse out on a monthly basis, when his creators and his entire initial social context are dismissed as irrelevant.

If the character is a fossil, why do we clever modern people still care? Why are we all here having this conversation? Why aren’t we talking about a sophisticated modern successor to Superman’s media niche? Why isn’t Superman like Doc Savage, a relic trotted out on occasion for novelty’s sake alone?

Most people really don’t like the answers to those questions. If you can’t accept the a core storytelling conceit as simple as “Superman needs little more than glasses to blend in with ordinary humans,” you will find yourself staring down the barrel of those fundamental questions sooner or later.

But why are the glasses a joke now? Because we all know about it, that’s why.

How often do we miss something that is right in front of us but once we are made aware of it it becomes the most obvious thing in the world?

How often do we struggle with a repair or assembly or equation or our taxes and when we finally ask for and recieve help it turns out to have been so simple that we feel stupid for not having got it?

If there had never been a fictional Clark/Superman but there did exist a real one, would the glasses really be so flimsy a disguise? Or does it only seem that way because we already know?

Michael, the Hulk in the standard continuity has been hunted. A lot. An awful lot. There were dozens and dozens of issues dedicated to superheroes and the Army hunting the Hulk down. The idea is not new. But one of the reasons they kept the Hulk as just a threat to property and not a mass murderer is that it would beg the question of how Banner would live with himself if he regularly turned into a monster that killed thousands every week. The Ultimates does it by making Banner far more pathetic than he is in the standard continuity, but would the public stomach a Banner of this kind for decades in his own comic (as opposed to a couple of 13-issue maxi-series focusing on a group)?

But if you really are interested in a very realistic depiction of a Hulk that kills I recommend you find a mini called “Banner” written by Brian Azzarello. I think it makes a better and more thought-provocking job of the concept than Ultimates ever did (and I like Ultimates too). And it makes me convinced that a mass murdering Hulk “realistically” would not live long in a world with other superhumans. Eventually someone would kill him.

As for the wider issue of realism x genre conventions, why can’t we enjoy both? I like stories that take a couple of fantastical elements (like individuals with superhuman abilities) and imagine how that would work out in a world more or less like our own – except for the above-mentioned fantastical powers – like “Supreme Power.” I see what you mean, we don’t have to accept all sort of absurdities in the plot just because we accept a few (or a lot) breaks in the laws of physics to account for superpowers.

But, on the other hand, I also enjoy the standard superhero stories with secret identities, heroes and villains using super-technology while the rest of the world never benefits of their technology, and the Justice League fighting cosmic threats and indulging in soap opera instead of spending half the issues adressing socio-political problems (anyone believes a guy with the powers and morals of Superman “realistically” would do nothing to address the problem of children soldiers in Africa, for instance?)

I think there is a place for both kinds of stories, there is a place for the whole spectrum of realism, from the most realistic of speculative science fiction to the most “escapist” superhero romp. The problem only comes when a story from one corner of the spectrum is judged harshly only because it doesn’t belong in the other corner.

I think we are being a little hard on Lois. She is the love interest and the love interest is always the least important character in a superhero book IMHO. Marvel has the same problem with Mary Jane. I always find it funny that important male characters are chained to someone and the important female characters are allowed to hit the dating scene like NORMAL PEOPLE.

Superman has only had three relationships, Lana Lang, Lori Lemaris and Lois Lane. Why didn’t Clark go on one single date when he came to Metropolis? He had a great job at a top newspaper and was in great shape. Instead he just chases after Lois until she marries him. Can he only date chicks whose first and last names begin with an L? Does that seem normal to anyone? Moving to a city and swearing off all others for five to six years until that one person your obsessed with changes her mind about you?

Lois Lane has the same problem Mary Jane does. Both characters only have one story left in them and no one wants to see them have a kid. If comic fans feel that she is really such a great character then give her some superpowers and then kick her out of the book.

Look a Wonder Woman, she avoided the ball and chain thing and she is doing just fine. If she happens to ditch her current love interest no one is going to care and it’s not going to hurt the character in the least.

"O" the Humanatee!

January 31, 2010 at 11:20 pm

Rene, I really appreciate the way you have of finding – and describing – a sensible position when some folks (like myself) go to extremes. I was all prepared to say that your first type of stories – how the fantastical would work in a realistic world – were science-fiction, not superheroes. But then you pointed out that they’re just one end of a spectrum, and I’m not a great believer in drawing artificial lines on a continuum. My only quibble with your comment is that you make the “standard” superhero stories sound rather light and fluffy. As I tried to say above, I think that those stories can (they don’t always) carry a lot of psychological and metaphorical weight even when they stay well within genre conventions. I think the “literalism” of the more science-fiction approach often works against those virtues. But it would be foolish of me to claim that that approach can never be psychologically or metaphorically deep.

"O" the Humanatee!

January 31, 2010 at 11:35 pm

Also, Lynxara: I obviously agree, and you put it very well.

I haven’t read Supreme Power, but as you acknowledge, this is clearly meta-commentary on Clark Kent – and by implication, the conventions of superhero comics. It’s a way of flattering the readers by saying, “You see? We’re not your father’s silly superhero comics. We’re _modern_ and _mature_.” Is the character of Mark Milton portrayed throughout the series as an idiot? Because in a “real” world only an idiot would even make that suggestion.

But Supreme Power still, I believe, shows characters with superpowers (ludicrous in the light of real-world science) dressing in garish costumes (silly by real-world standards). These are conventions, and apparently ones you’re willing to accept. You’re willing to accept characters whose bodies mutate from sickly pink men to huge green men without apparently gaining mass from anywhere “realistic.” You’re willing to accept stretchy men, and flying burning men, and giant rock men, and so on. I’ll say it again: Superhero comics fall apart if looked at too closely.

I skimmed SUPRME POWER. Despite some lovely Gary Frank art, I was not moved to buy it.

Bottom line is that superhero stories are a genre that by definition have the protagonist and the antagonist defying the most of the laws of physics and all the laws of fashion. Having a tough CIA agent, or a ninja, being the co-worker of the person in tights does not make that stuff any more plausible for me. Often, that narrow literal-mindedness makes it less plausible. When a story gives me cue after cue that this very serious business and ultra-realistic makes the standard genre tropes borderline comical.

It destroys the spell.

To me, psychological realism is the big thing. I need to believe that the civilian identity would want or need to express themselves to the world as the heroic identity. The Clark Kent/Superman dynamic meets that threshold for me. The glasses are just a device.

FWIW – Supreme Power was absolutely amazing…until it wasn’t. It quickly went (in the span of maybe two issues) from being just about the best book I was reading to by far the worst. A real shame.

O The Humanatee:

I don’t think suspension of disbelief should cover implausible characterization, or was ever meant to. Rubber physics is one thing; cardboard characters and formulaic writing are quite another. So, please, don’t presume that you’re the arbiter of what one “has to accept” about super-hero comics, or of who should be reading them.

IMHO Clark’s core supporting cast *should* know who he is. In fact, Lana’s known ever since the Crisis reboot, and Lois has known since their engagement (c. 1992). Plenty of stories have suggested that Perry knows, too, but keeps it to himself (a la Jim Gordon with Batman). And a year or so back Kurt Busiek wrote a story in which Jimmy discovered the secret as well, IMHO a positive step for any character billed as Superman’s “pal,” although for some reason the current creative team seems to be willfully disregarding that development.

All that said, I’ve never much cared for Lois as a character. Part of it is just that she’s usually just badly written — brash, foolhardy, and self-centered. Part of it is that I honestly don’t see much chemistry between her and Clark. I can understand the rationales offered for his attraction to her, both the urban-sophistication thing and the better-reporter thing, and they make sense… at least insofar as explaining an initial attraction. Explaining her as the One True Love Of His Life, though, even when she still mostly comes across as a pretty unlikable person? Not so much.

There have been exceptions. As noted upthread, Greg Rucka did a pretty good job with Clark’s supporting cast, and I thought a real high point of Kurt Busiek’s recent Superman run was his humanizing treatment of Lois.

(FWIW, I don’t think Clark needs any sort of “tragic sensibility” either. What works for Batman isn’t what works for Superman. What keeps him grounded is, quite simply, that he’s a nice guy who wants to do the right thing. Such people really do exist. One of the things l liked most about the post-Crisis shift to Luthor-as-CEO was that it made the two characters a point/counterpoint study in how people go about dealing with power.)


Dean and Llynxara-

Notwithstanding my general dislike for Lois, I honestly can’t agree that the romantic-tension thing was central to the character, or even useful. IMHO it was a cliché element that had worn out its welcome long before they ushered it out the door. (However, Dean, you clearly have a very different attitude toward continuity than I do. It’s a *shared* fictional reality. If you can’t play nicely with the other kids in the sandbox, you shouldn’t be in it. The characters are married now, and that’s how it is, and I’d really, really not like to see that undone, especially with no rationale.)

What I’d prefer is to have the characters written better so that their relationship is emotionally convincing. It can be done (I just cited two examples), so there’s no excuse for not doing it.

For that matter, I’d like to see Lois and Clark’s shared (and competitive) role as *reporters* drive more of the *plots* once in a while, too. I’ve seen enough super-powered punch-ups to last a lifetime; there’s room for a wider range of stories. Journalism is a career in which one can achieve real public good (notwithstanding that it’s also a career when you can just be a self-promoting scandalmonger, as noted upthread). It’s a huge lost opportunity that back when Luthor was still a tycoon, what brought him down was *not* an investigative expose by Lois and/or Clark in the style of Woodward and Bernstein (with, okay, a few action scenes thrown in for balance). I really thought that after DC made him president that was the direction they’d be going, but no… and what finally brought down the Luthor administration was IMHO contrived and unsatisfactory in the extreme.

Someone else already hit the nail on the head:

The point of those 1950s stories in which Superman/Clark so terribly abused Lois in every psychological sense was that she DID know who he was and he refused to own up to it and resorted to every trick to make HER feel like she might be wrong.

That said, Lois Lane CAN be a terribly difficult character to like.

Some years ago, in a run that incited much hate mail, Chuck Austen portrayed Lois as a driven career woman whose marriage and family were clearly a second priority. She loved her husband, but she thought of him AFTER she thought of her career. Fans accused Austen of turning Lois into a bitch, of hating her, all kinds of things. He was even accused by a few fans of hating women… yet the way he portrayed Lois, a career-driven professional whose professional live always trumps the personal, is exactly the image that the American male was supposed to embody for generations.

Being a man, I can’t claim any special ‘feminist’ cred, but it does seem to me that we all have attitudes and prejudices of which we are aware and more of which we are unaware. We respond to Betty Banner or Mary Jane in one way and to Lois Lane in another. When portrayed true to form as a tough, ruthless reporter who puts career first then Lois becomes unpalatable to those who want a classical leading lady for their hero to play off of. When portrayed as a damsel in distress making cow eyes at Superman, it becomes difficult for many to respect her in the role of strong, aggressive woman. There is a delicate balance that isn’t easy to find and many writers don’t even try… and when someone like Austen portrays the character in a way more designed to inspire the reader’s respect, she is a ‘bitch’ and he is evil for so portraying her.

It is possible that we SHOULDN’T ‘like’ Lois on a personal level when she is really written well. How many of us like the men who usually fill her shoes in the real world? Usually we resent them, we’re jealous of them, or we think they are arses. But Lois can be someone worthy of our respect in a way that Mary Jane can’t (which is not to say there aren’t other reasons one can respect her), even if one can’t help but love MJ.

@ChrisM: Even a genuinely emotionally convincing Clark/Lois or Clark/Lana relationship that goes on for years and years is no replacement for the tension of simply not knowing who Superman ends up with. The “chosen” female will end up edging “competing” female characters out of the book entirely, making the book blander.

I hope you don’t think it’s coincidental that Lana Lang and Cat Grant disappeared from the books for years at a time after the Clark/Lois marriage, contracting the supporting cast. For a long stretch the only interesting non-Lois recurring female in the supporting cast is Maggie Sawyer, probably because fans could understand that she wasn’t a competing love interest!

The romantic tension was a recurring theme of Superman comics during the franchise’s sales peaks in both the 50s and 80s. During both periods of time the book had large, vibrant casts of female characters whose presence in the book required a single Superman. I just don’t think that’s coincidental– I think a Superman whose future is in doubt is much more interesting than one who is settled down but is otherwise unchanging.

Lynxara-

Your interpretation of the romantic tension(s) has some interesting presuppositions. For one thing, you seem to feel that it’s not only permissible but desirable to string readers along for years at a time with suspense over something that isn’t intended ever actually to be resolved. For another, perhaps more problematic, you seem to think that female supporting characters serve no constructive purpose other than as potential romantic partners for the lead. I hope I’m misinterpreting you here, but that’s how it comes across.

I think comparing this or *any* comic today to what it was in the 1950s or ’60s is an exercise in futility. The readership and its demands are very, *very* different from what they were then. (As is also true for TV and movies, I hasten to add — though arguably even more so where comics are concerned.)

Your reasoning here is similar to the reasoning Marvel put forth to justify its OMD/BND retcon with Spider-Man, a move that quite a lot of fans (myself included) think rendered the character completely unreadable. Among other problems: if you know that the editorial PTB think it’s unacceptable for the character to be married (for reasons of sales/marketing or whatever), then the character’s future isn’t “in doubt” at all — it’s frozen in amber — and you haven’t generated suspense and curiosity about future developments, you’ve killed it.

I like serial fiction that keeps me on my toes and keeps moving forward, presenting me with interesting *new* developments and sources of conflict, not endlessly replaying old ones. Give me LOST, not CSI (much less GUNSMOKE). And give me the comics of today, not the ones of 50 years ago.

‘I always find it funny that important male characters are chained to someone and the important female characters are allowed to hit the dating scene like NORMAL PEOPLE.’

This was a core element of Peter Parker’s life for ages. Or, more accurately, the fact that he couldn’t get a date. Or perhaps, even more accurately, his perception that he could not get a date regardless of the actual reality that a couple of girls were hot for him.

I question the idea that supporting characters only have so much story in them. I certainly agree many writers think so. This is the reason that we see ‘Women In Refrigerators’ syndrome so often in the comic book industry… an author without a lot of time to come up with the next ‘Season of Mists’ kills Gwen Stacy all over again because they think the supporting cast redundant.

But as ‘sexist’ as this may be in the case of MJ and Lois, one does not need to drive all the story through the supporting cast every issue/arc/episode in a serial fiction format. The point of the supporting cast is how they play off the lead character and vice versa. There is a reason the book is ‘Superman’ or ‘Wonder Woman’ and not ‘Lois Lane’ or ‘Nemesis.’ Great stories revolving around the supporting cast are wonderful… Spider-Man played beautifully with the supporting cast and the tiny trials and tragedies of their lives from about the late Silver/Early Bronze Age amd into the 80s. But the focus of the story is the hero and the hero, either proactively or reactively, drives the story.

So the idea that Lois or MJ (or, for that matter, Wyatt Wingfoot… to pick one of their few male equivalents) can ‘run their course’ as characters is a bit silly. Especially in serial fiction, where the emphasis is as much on those things that stay the same as it is on those things that change. There are going to be long periods where the supporting cast’s job is to ‘support’ (whether literally or literarily) and not much more and this is not a huge loss to the story.

I do think that it is somewhat bad for the medium that ALL the heroes are guys (or nearly so) and thus the ‘significant others’ are mostly female. I think that if we saw a higher percentage of female leads carrying their own books, we’d see a broader mix of ‘the dating game’ vs committed relationships among female leads. I don’t think that would be a bad thing either.

‘Among other problems: if you know that the editorial PTB think it’s unacceptable for the character to be married (for reasons of sales/marketing or whatever), then the character’s future isn’t “in doubt” at all — it’s frozen in amber — and you haven’t generated suspense and curiosity about future developments, you’ve killed it.’

Bingo. I think this says it better than anything I’ve tried to vaguely articulate myself. And I’ve been bitching about OMD/BND for a little bit now.

On a note of pure romantic tension, if ‘romantic tension’ is a definite storytelling goal, consider: how much more romantic tension is implicit in the concept of a somewhat nebbishy and only moderately successful ex-nerd being married to a woman most would consider ‘out of his league’? This allows a great deal of play and, while something like this can be overplayed, more beautiful men and more intellectual girls can be introduced to create quite a bit of tension in the dynamic.

That beats knowing the editorial staff doesn’t want Peter in a stable relationship no matter what, so it won’t happen with anyone.

Or the notion of the superhero in love with another superhero, while the regular supporting cast member is in love with the real guy. This may have been overplayed to death in comic books over the years, but even with so much overplay it’s still better than the alternative knowledge that there is no consummation so all romantic plot elements are predictable.

Now, in the case of OMD/BND, it’s a little different than in the case of Clark/Lois or Bruce/Betty or the horribly mistreated Clint/Bobbie and Wanda/Vision… an editor who happens to be an arrested adolescent believes the appeal of Spider-Man is in arrested adolescence and thinks giving the book back a feeling of arrested adolescence will recapture something that a decade and a half, or so, of ‘All Spider Man All the Time’ writing has lost from a book that used to be built on the relationships between Peter and the supporting cast. That is a whole different argument. Maybe someone will get to it elsewhere.

Hey, O.

I didn’t mean to imply “standard” superhero stories can’t be deep. Astro City, just to mention one example, is incredibly deep metaphorically, while adhering to most superhero conventions. Perhaps I just lacked the vocabulary. I’m sorry that I even used the term “escapism” to refer to them. I don’t think “escapism” is a bad thing, but…

Ironically, one of the things I liked the most about “realistic” superheroes like Supreme Power is the escapism of the notion. :) I find it easier to imagine myself in the shoes of those flawed characters and “escape” into their stories than I do when reading, say, Superman.

I think my point was simply that the more variety we have, the better. The presence of superhuman abilities in a story shouldn’t dictate or rule out anything else about mood or morality or world-building. Just like, say, the presence of a time machine or space travel. I never liked that kind of movie critic that thinks all movies with fantastical elements should be light-hearted and whimsical. Or, on the opposite corner, that kind of fanboy that thinks darkness and cynicism in movies he enjoys somehow validates him and make him more mature and everything else is cheesy.

Hey, Kelly, Dean, and everybody here!

And, btw, a big thanks to Glenn Greenberg (my former colleague at DC Comics) for letting me know about this!

It was extremely gratifying to read your column, Kelly, as you would guess. And so surprising that it would garner so many comments! Who knew? :-)

As someone noted above in the comments, there was a lot of behind the scenes stuff going on at DC at the time, i.e., the Superman MAN OF STEEL reboot by Byrne*–which, btw, I was not privy to–and my timing, did indeed, uh, SUCK BIG TIME. My intention at the time was to “reboot” Lois, to do a series featuring her not only as a reporter on “real-world” stories–which some have translated to mean PSA’s–but to also explore the character’s life, motivations, psyche–y’know, all that stuff that fascinate writers. :-)

As I said, I wasn’t really privy to the Byrne thing–oh, I knew he had “switched allegiances” and was coming to DC to work on THE flagship character of DC, and of comics in general. I DIDN’T know that he had been given carte blanche, and that it spelled certain doom for my take on Lois. As I found out later, one of Byrne’s, uh, commandments for coming on board at DC was that he, and he alone, would be able to touch the Superman universe. And Jennifer Kahn, then President of DC, who was slobbering like Pavlov’s dog at the prospect of having Byrne at DC, rolled over–in my opinion–like a bitch in heat to get him.

(Ms. Kahn, who liked to portray herself as a feminist, was–again, in my opinion–was anything BUT.**)

I have to point out here that Dick Giordano and Robert Greenberger (and Glenn Greenberger, who was Rob’s assistant editor) were absolutely wonderful and terrific to work with, and whole-heartedly always supported me. I believe it was they who enlisted the unique, wondrous and beautiful talents of Gray Morrow as the artist–and the comics world (and the world) lost a true gentleman when he died. I remember looking at the pencils as they came in with my jaw hanging loosely in awe as the pictures in my head seemed to be plucked right out of my brain and transported onto the boards…

Of course, this was 20 years ago–some people, like Gail Simone (bless her!) have called me a ground-breaker, a glass-ceiling smasher. Maybe I was. I don’t remember it that way. Mostly I remember being a wide-eyed kid (okay, I was 30) who couldn’t believe I was actually writing the characters I avidly read and fell in love with back when I was truly a kid. (I truly “fell” into the biz, people, although that’s a story for another time.) I wasn’t exactly naive, but I was somewhat “as corny as Kansas in August” when it came to comics–

My point is, some people said WHEN IT RAINS, GOD IS CRYING is too preachy, too much a PSA–and y’know, in some ways they are right. Even I cringe a bit at some of it. But I was still learning my craft–a writer never stops learning, btw–and I think, that if LOIS had gotten her due, the “preachiness” would have calmed down a bit. My aim in writing has always been, aside from fulfilling a characters’ full potential, to make readers T-H-I-N-K, to finish a story, and, hopefully, have it stay with them a while. If that’s PSA, well, then, so be it.

Oh, and as for Lana and the marriage in Italy and the mailed ear. I didn’t make up the marriage. Lana had disappeared for a while from the pages of the Superman universe, and her absence was explained as having married met and married an Italian count(!). Those of you old enough to remember a Italian terrorist group that called themselves The Red Hand might also remember that they would kidnap family members of the upper class and send the victim’s ear back to the family as a, uh, momento. I thought at the time it would give weight to Lana, who had always been the “Cat Grant” of her time, to have had this happened to her. Perhaps it was too heavy-handed. Personally, I think it works within the scope of the story and explains why Lana would be behind Lois on this story.

Gotta get dressed and get to work, now.

Thanks, again!!!!!!

Mindy

*Of course, even back then, I understood the business aspects of hiring John Byrne away from Marvel. But a LOT of people were hurt by Kahn’s, uh, drooling, not just me.

**There was never any love lost between me and Kahn.

Kelly, it’s utterly ridiculous that people want to refuse the suspension of disbelief solely so they can lobby “stupid” grenades at Lois. All secret ID’s are dumb. No one you know can leave the room, put on a mask and come out a completely different person. You don’t have to be a lover or a family member. A good friend or co-worker who’s seen you every day for years can tell. Years ago in the Star Brand comic over at Marvel they did a meta-textual dissection of the utter improbability of the superhero secret ID working. You either accept it as part of the genre or you need a new hobby.

Not to mention, pre-crisis when this took place, it was established that Superman used sub-conscious “super-hypnotism” thanks to the Kryptonian glass in his glasses to prevent anyone from seeing Clark as they saw Superman, even if they were watching him on TV. When asked to draw Clark, they saw someone, smaller and with a bit of a receding hairline, so suck it, you haters! No one is stupid, they’re hypnotized!

Mindy Newell: I’m so glad you were alerted to the column, stopped by, and approved. Please consider me a full time fan. Any chance we’ll get to see more of you in comics in the future?

Thanks for some insight to what was going on behind the scenes regarding timing and reboots etc., and what your intentions were, as you can imagine that kind of information is exceptionally valuable…especially when a dissection and speculation of sorts is going on in the comics. So thanks again. I hope our paths will cross again in the future! :)

Lois lost her credibility the moment she started pursuing Superman using her reporter status to get stories and Pulitzers off him and then married him. It’s one thing being stupid not to see through the guise it is another to have no ethics in getting stories from a man who she has the hots for. And the idiot gives them to her cause he wants to get in her pants too. It doesn’t matter about the Clark persona etc. The fact of the matter is it is NOT a challenge to love Clark or Superman for her. He is easy to love. Most women would love him. Lana, Cat, Maxima…all very different women.. even Wonder Woman has a soft spot for him. He is tall handsome alpha male that can do no wrong. How does that challenge her? As a woman? It does not. Even in comics now she is just there.

She is also the “human” girlfriend. How many times we have seen that one? They either a reporter or cop.

Hey maybe DC can make us respect Lois by showing she can get into a real relationship with a normal human man that hasn’t a cape or isn’t hiding secrets etc. A normal joe. We’ve seen Clark do it. Can she?

I think Lois like any other non hero love interest is there for us the audience to get a peek into the hero’s world. To see how it must be to relate to this god that is Superman. That’s all well and good but she is not unique here. She is no better or worse than Iris, Linda, Mj etc etc. And that is what she is. A supporting character. She use to be more interesting as a woman in her own right. Now she is just Mrs Superman and that has done nothing for Superman or her in my opinion.

He is more vanilla that ever despite being married to her and what does she do?She has to be the the damsel in distress cause unless you want to undermine who she really is by giving her powers, then that is her role in Clark’s life. He lives to save her apparently. In every story even when they try to write her strong…She has to be kidnapped or held ransom or near dead. No thanks. I prefer to read a woman who offers more of a challenge to my heroes than just the save.

Lois might have been better off as Superman’s friend. Their relationship is built on nostalgia and tradition than anything else if you look at comics and tv and the movies. In the real world Lois would probably be with a tough no nonsense detective who can challenge her too.

fm: For what it’s worth, in Newell’s story, as featured in the article, Lois is written very strong and there is nary a kidnapper, ransom note, or near death experience to be seen. So it CAN be done. Whether DC (etc) has any interest in doing it, or in letting her be that character is another story entirely.

I don’t know if anyone mentioned this to you. Though it was a cameo, Gail Simone wrote a good Lois Lane in Birds of Prey #102 i believe. She was written elegantly with a presence that made me wish she was a member of the team :)

"O" the Humanatee!

February 1, 2010 at 2:44 pm

First, thanks to Ms. Newell for so graciously supplying us with more background on her Lois Lane mini-series.

Chris M: “I don’t think suspension of disbelief should cover implausible characterization, or was ever meant to. Rubber physics is one thing; cardboard characters and formulaic writing are quite another. So, please, don’t presume that you’re the arbiter of what one “has to accept” about super-hero comics, or of who should be reading them.”

You’re right, I did act too much like an arbiter. I should have spoken more in terms of my tastes. But it seems to me that the implausibility of characterization is somewhat relative to genre (and this goes for other genres as well). To me the implausibility of characters not figuring out a superhero’s secret identity is not particularly bothersome, because it plays within what I see as the “rules.” But there are other kinds of implausibility that would bother me. YMMV (and clearly does).

“FWIW, I don’t think Clark needs any sort of “tragic sensibility” either. What works for Batman isn’t what works for Superman. What keeps him grounded is, quite simply, that he’s a nice guy who wants to do the right thing. Such people really do exist.”

As I stated, the tragic sensibility may not be the right way to approach Superman. Are you just agreeing with me here?

I’m not sure, however, that that fact that nice guys really exist provides enough of a “center” for Superman. (In hindsight, I think it was wrong of me to say we shouldn’t be bothered by Superman’s relationship with Lois because we encounter hard-to-comprehend relationships in real life. [Mary Matalin and James Carville come to mind.] For narrative purposes, comics, and fiction generally, don’t always play by the rules of real life.) Nice people are great in real life, but not necessarily the best sources of drama. But here again, maybe my lack of affinity with the character is affecting me.

“I think comparing this or *any* comic today to what it was in the 1950s or ’60s is an exercise in futility. The readership and its demands are very, *very* different from what they were then.”

I agree, but I think it’s a bit of a false dichotomy, at least as far as the issues I was discussing are concerned. Some things change with the times, while others stay the same; otherwise you’re not talking about the same genre anymore.

[Tangentially, one of the changes I’m most fascinated by is the shift in the role of secret identities in superhero comics. It used to be that the secret identity was a core aspect of superhero stories. (An exception was books like the FF, the X-Men, and the Doom Patrol, where the superhero team served as a kind of family.) Stories very often began with the lead character in his or her civilian identity, only to change into the superhero as circumstances required. The superhero was often concerned with protecting the secrecy of the civilian identity. This was carried to an extreme in the Weisinger-era Superman stories, possibly because writers had trouble finding things to do with a character as powerful as the Silver Age Superman, who could push planets around. (This was also the golden age of kryptonite.) Moreover, the characters’ personal lives were largely confined to their civilian identities. Nowadays characters seem to spend more and more time in their superhero identities, and to have their personal relationships in those identities. Hence all the stories in which, for example, members of the JLA address each other by their real first names. Personally I’m not crazy about this shift, but I think it’s true even if one likes it.]

“I like serial fiction that keeps me on my toes and keeps moving forward, presenting me with interesting *new* developments and sources of conflict, not endlessly replaying old ones. Give me LOST, not CSI (much less GUNSMOKE). And give me the comics of today, not the ones of 50 years ago.”

That works OK for serial fiction (LOST is in the very unusual situation of having been allowed a specific end date), but it’s problematic for in-principle-infinitely-extended serial fiction, which is how superhero comics generally are done, even today. That’s why in discussing superhero comics, people often talk about the “illusion of change” – which, when skillfully done, doesn’t bother a lot of readers.

This entire discussion has raised a question for me that I’m seriously curious about: For those who place such high value on the _total_ realism of human relationships in superhero comics, what is the appeal for you of the superheroes themselves? Realistic human relationships can be found in other comics genres and in other media: novels, films, plays, etc.

To be fair, I’m not sure I could explain why superheroes appeal to me. I’m not even sure how much “super” heroes appeal to me: My favorite characters have always been extreme versions of normal humans, like Batman and Captain America, who, despite the super-soldier serum, seems to have about the same strength and abilities as Batman. And my favorite comics nowadays are Scalped, which features realistic if dark human relationships, and the Hellboy titles, which are not superhero comics in the usual sense. (And a lot of my love for the Hellboy stories in particular – as opposed to, e.g., BPRD – is due to the art. I often say I love the Mignola-drawn stories, in particular, because they’re “pure comics” – that is, the pleasure lies in the way images and words are laid out on the page to create a story.)

What is the appeal of superheroes to me? Wish-fulfillment, of course! I’d love to have superpowers. But here is the tricky thing: the more “realistic” a superhero setting is, the more I feel able to identify myself with the superhero, the greater the wish-fulfillment. Makes sense? The less realistic superhero stories also can be great to me, but I always feel a little more removed.

Actually, I would like to see a version of OMD/BND come to Superman. As far as romantic relationships go there’s really nothing more to do with Superman.

The Atom can get divorced after catching Jean with another man. Superman cannot. Nor could Spider-man. That is the curse of them having started out “childrens characters.” Even the adult readers of today consider Superman and Spider-man to be “family” characters that shouldn’t get divorced or be involved in extra-marital scandal. If Green Arrow should step out on Black Canary with a civilian or even another heroine some fans will certainly gripe but there would not be anything like the total outrage that would occur if Superman or Spider-man did it. Hell, that would make real-life news that would get parent and religious groups calling for boycotts!

So for the big guys the options are start having super- and spider-babies, let the characters become completely stale, or do a OMD/BND.

@ Mindy Newell:

Thanks for the clarification on the continuity.

Brian from Canada

February 1, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Kelly:

I am completely surprised that no one — NO ONE! — has mentioned the direct relationship between Lois’ portrayal in comics to how women were portrayed on screen. If you look at films of the 30s, particularly His Girl Friday, you get representations of very smart and capable women who were often lured by the prospect of romance away from their career path. In Lois’ case, when first introduced, that romantic prospect is spurned by the male character instead of lured, but that only reinforces the stereotype.

As for the robots, well… Superman *did* need some motivation.

When film changes, so does Lois. By the mid-fifties, when the dominant women on television were Lucy and June Cleaver, Lois becomes concerned about domestic issues and that’s played up for comedy. It doesn’t work well with what came before, and — thankfully — that changed in the seventies as the portrayal of women did. By the end of the seventies, you had many real women defining how female reporters could be strong, and many movie roles where women could be smart, savvy and making it up the line on their own characteristics.

That is where I place this story. It fits perfectly with the Margot Kidder-era portrayal on film. The idea of the modern, complicated woman fits perfectly with everything around it.

Had that vision continued throughout the DC Universe, I don’t think there would be so much dislike of Lois Lane. However, as has been pointed out a lot already, Byrne “burned” the character by resetting her to a stereotype that was atypical for the time.

Teri Hatcher’s Lois, on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures — a series that INTENTIONALLY pushed forward the romance over action — hammered Byrne’s version more because Lois doesn’t appear driven enough to compete with Clark. Kate Bosworth’s mooning Lois in Superman: Returns uses that interpretation too.

But there is hope. Erica Durance’s Lois Lane, while certainly suffering from problems, goes back to presenting Lois as someone a lot more complicated than simply reporter. Lois has her own problems but she also has her own charms. It’s now stated that Lois controls the relationship because of her awful past experiences, and that sometimes his proximity to her can change her reaction to him. It’s also stated that past is what makes her want to control the speed and not screw up what is now recognized as a very real attraction. On most televised dramas, it’s a decently explored relationship.

[That Smallville’s Lois demands high romance and monster truck rallies is also a fun perspective.]

More importantly, Smallville (the tv show) brings one key factor into perspective that hasn’t been done before: who Clark’s role model is as a reporter. Most portrayals have him as passive rather than aggressive, and to get the story, you need to be a bit aggressive. Lois’ ability to get the story but still keep her perspective is the model for Clark, and he admires and loves her for that because that’s the type of person he wants to be as Superman. Superman has the power, but not the direction of how to use it without harming ordinary people. (Yes, the Kents taught him, but for the most part he’s still not familiar with the real world when coming out of Smallville.)

Dean suggested Lois is Metropolis to Clark’s Smallville. I’d go one step further and say Lois is the one adult he’s really had to deal with consistently; all other characters have singularly definable goals, but not Lois. I’d also posit that what makes Lois so interesting as a character to explore — whether in the example you cite or in other books — is that her existence has gone so far beyond merely romantic interest that she has become a character in her own right, with a world vision that reflects the attitudes in the DCU far more than any other character has done.

In other words, Superman sits above us as a god, but it’s Lois that tells him how the real people are. And that comes over and over again: nobody is willing to stand up to Clark or Kal-El and tell them what’s really on their mind if only to make him a better person… with the exception, perhaps, of Batman, because it’s now written that Bruce is the real conscience of the trinity and Diana the compassion.

Once you put Lois into that kind of role, and mirror her against other representations of women, you find someone who is quite complex as a character that can be used at all different levels. She can be the woman fearing in a Lifetime Movie or the one to be feared like the DAs we have on TV. And, no matter what you do with her, Superman has to reflect HER because he has no influence over her; she has it on him.

@ Brian from Canada:

Once you put Lois into that kind of role, and mirror her against other representations of women, you find someone who is quite complex as a character that can be used at all different levels. She can be the woman fearing in a Lifetime Movie or the one to be feared like the DAs we have on TV. And, no matter what you do with her, Superman has to reflect HER because he has no influence over her; she has it on him.

I think this is very close to the core of the Superman story at least for me, but I think you are over-stating just a bit.

It is not that Superman has no influence over Lois. They have a relationship and, therefore, the influence flows both ways. It is that he has no control. Superman has all the power in the world over most things. He can change the course of mighty rivers and bend steel in his bare hands, but when it comes to the woman he loves … nothing.

Lois Lane does exactly what she wants. If she is curious about something, then she chases after it. Period. To me, that is a great comic book character.

‘Teri Hatcher’s Lois, on Lois & Clark: The New Adventures — a series that INTENTIONALLY pushed forward the romance over action — hammered Byrne’s version more because Lois doesn’t appear driven enough to compete with Clark. Kate Bosworth’s mooning Lois in Superman: Returns uses that interpretation too.’

I don’t totally agree. L&C very intentionally pushed the romance, but the show’s creator was fired and replaced after the first season because (despite high ratings) the network wanted more superhero action (especially more scenes with Superman in costume) and a bit less character drama.

The initial establishment of the Lois/Clark dynamic was highly competitive and stayed that way for most of the entire first season. Their pairing as a team was very much against Lois’s will and she strained against the professional partnership until she came to accept that it was professionally fruitful and came to professionally respect Clark. Direct romantic aspects between Lois and Clark did not come into play until later in the show: Lois was attracted to Superman and Lex for the first season. I am more than happy to agree that the professional partnership reached a synthesis fairly quickly and that partnership, rather than the traditional competitive dynamic, came to dominate the show… but it wasn’t because of the Lois/Clark romance. It was because of the creator’s desire to get that professional relationship into gear in order to establish Lois’s growing regard for Clark as Clark before engaging that aspect of the romance more directly.

Teri Hatcher’s performance was a bit schizoid because of the change in tone when the second season began. As the series began, she was ‘Power Woman’ and the change in tone to ‘more Superman’ as the second season began made her more ‘Superman’s Girlfriend.’ This was entirely (in my opinion) because of the change from a female creator controlling the creative direction to a male creator being put in charge and given a directive to shift in a more traditional superhero direction.

I, personally, thought Hatcher was the best on-screen Lois. Erica Durance’s Smallville Lois is clearly very much influenced by the Hatcher Lois and one can see how the younger Lois on Smallville could have grown into the older Lois on Lois and Clark very easily.

I can’t help but make one observation, however, since Smallville did come up. The writers of that show clearly have their own issues with Lois and their Lois can sometimes be very hard to like OR respect. The way she blundered into success, slept with the boss, and then strutted around as if she had genuinely accomplished something and the constant attention given to her basic insecurity is not flattering at all. I think it says something about how that creative team sees Lois Lane. My best friend, who denies being a feminist but always asks me to buy my wife a yellow rose for her on ‘International Woman’s Day’, can’t stand the Smallville Lois and considers her an insulting, revolting stereotype. While I think that Durance (whose acting I like a lot) has played her with enough sympathy that I can like the character and feel for her, I do understand why my friend feels that way when simply looking at the character as a plot element and ignoring the perforamce of the actress. It shows a lot of the antipathy and ambiguity that the column describes.

‘The Atom can get divorced after catching Jean with another man.’

Waaaaay off topic, but I can’t help but make the observation:

The reason the Atom can divorce Jean Loring has nothing to do with not being a ‘children’s character.’ He was a Silver Age creation whose solo stories were written entirely for children.

Part of it is because no one outside the hardcore comic book readership knows who the Atom IS. It doesn’t make the scandal pages when Bob Miles of Kansas City gets divorced, because nobody cares. When Tom Cruise or Bradd Pitt trades in the old wife for a younger or hotter model yet again, it makes the news because people care about it. Even inside the comic book readership, Ray Palmer is no Tom Cruise. Outside it, he may as well be Bob Miles of Kansas City. Nothing to see here.

Inside the comic book world, however, Ray and Jean can get divorced because their relationship has always been about Ray wanting family and commitment and Jean wanting her independence and personal security. I don’t want to call the Ray and Jean relationship ‘feminist’, because it was created by middle aged failed male sci-fi writers who fell back on comic books when ‘Astounding’ stopped returning their calls. What we might consider ‘feminism’ was not something that would even show up on their radar screen. However, they were people who didn’t believe in simple culturally defined roles and the relationship was tremendously atypical in the pop culture of the day. Ray Palmer’s desire for family, commitment, and a comfortable home life was very ‘feminine’ in terms of the pop-culture stereotypes of the day. Jean Loring’s desire to spend her own money, drive nice cars, and date more than one guy rather than ‘tie herself down’ was very ‘masculine’ by those same pop culture stereotypes. Ray was always pressing for marriage, Jean always putting him off, and after she finally said yes they had a long and uncomfortable engagement as she was unwilling to make the final commitment.

So even among the hardest of hardcore Atom fans (is there such a subculture?), Ray and Jean can get divorced because their relationship was always strained and difficult in the first place. Jean can have an affair because she was always shy of commitment. Ray can be hurt and leave her because it hits him in the heart of his illusions about their relationship. Such an event flows naturally and easily from the pre-established context of their relationship. It’s ‘them.’

Of course, it would have been far more natural to the existing flow of their relationship for him to have a change of heart and forgive her and take her back before the final bang of the judge’s gavel than for her to go insane, kill one of his work-buddies’ wives, and become an omnipotent supervillain… but that’s just more ‘Women in Refrigerators’ syndrome. It’s just sort of disappointing that it was done to one of the first quasi-feminist supporting girls in comics, if you think about it.

I may not have expressed my point well. The topic I was on involved OMD/BND and whether characters can remain interesting married.

The only way fictional serialized characters remain interesting after marriage is if there is conflict within the marriage. Look at soap operas(I bring up soaps because they’re continuing serialized form of storytelling is the closest thing in visual entertainment to mainstream comic books.); “perfect couples” get together on soaps all the time. but as soon as they’re married someones old flame comes to town or someone betrays the other in some way and then covers it up. The same couples will get divorced and remarried multiple times. All because happily maaried couples are boring to those of us wathing from the outside.

Should Peter and Mary Jane have taken cues from the soaps to keep things interesting? Should Peter have had a fling with the Gwen Stacy clone and begged MJ’s forgiveness later? Should MJ have hidden from Peter that Harry was the Green Goblin again, only for Peter to find her in Harry’s secret lair? Such scenarios would have been fine for Ray and Jean, but imagine the real world scandal if Peter and MJ had even flirted with the idea of divorce. Same goes for Clark Kent and Lois Lane.

So, since real-world public opinion will never allow Superman’s or Spider-man’s respective marriages to be shaken up in any meaningful or interesting way the only thing left for the writers to do is kill off the wife(which will never happen with Lois) or bring thier story to some sort of happy ending(Say, “Whatever Happened To Lois and Clark?”), then reboot the franchise.

Zor-El, if one accepts all of your premises, then you’ve described a catch-22.

First, you posit (alongside Joe Quesada et al.) that married couples (and presumably that includes stable long-term relationships too?) are inherently boring to audiences.

Then, you posit that the only way to make them non-boring is to to introduce conflict and mistrust of some kind within the marriage.

Then, you posit that because certain comics characters are widely known to the public, “real-world public opinion” will create “scandal” if writers ever actually introduce such conflict, and that the fear of such scandal doesn’t “allow” such stories.

Thus, you conclude that the only thing left for writers to do is reboot/retcon and start from scratch.

BUT what if I reject every one of your assumptions here?

First — I reject the notion that stable relationships make for boring stories. This may be true on soaps (I don’t know, I don’t watch them), where the relationships themselves are the main source of story material, but IMHO it’s not true in comics or other adventure fiction.

There’s a *vast* range of stories in which Superman and/or Lois can get involved that have nothing whatsoever to do with the relationship between them per se; that relationship is just a part of the setting, as are the varied relationships with other cast members. (Indeed, your logic isn’t really limited to marriages; it suggests that any stable relationship between characters must lead to audience boredom. Heaven knows how Holmes and Watson maintained a successful friendship/partnership for so many decades!)

Second — if one *does* want tension between romantic partners, there are other ways to do it than infidelity and breakups (as anyone who’s been in a relationship can attest). Where Clark and Lois are concerned, professional competition is one obvious source of story material. There are plenty of others; e.g., awkward relations with in-laws (even before Sam Lane was turned into a full-on villain).

Third — these are not strictly children’s characters any longer, and even if they were, public expectations and mores have shifted in recent generations. If writers *did* want to introduce the kind of tension you suggest, there’s no reason the public should react with outrage over character relationship dynamics that are commonplace in any number of “family friendly” TV shows and movies, not to mention among real-life celebrities of all kinds. Such a move might generate a day’s worth of headlines, if it’s a slow news cycle, but publicity like that is more likely to goose sales than to hurt them, since its main effect is to remind non-fans that the characters are still being published. And it certainly wouldn’t interfere with merchandising any more than does any other of the numerous storylines that conflict with the lunchbox-and-pillowcase images of the characters.

No… overall, I think the problem here isn’t genuine storytelling constraints, nor realistic fear of public outcry. It’s just that a certain subset of fans — including those now working in influential positions in the industry — envisions particular characters A Certain Way, and insists that they don’t work unless they’re presented that way, all logic and evidence to the contrary.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying: I’ve never especially liked Lois Lane. I’m agnostic as to whether it was a good idea to marry her and Clark. But that’s all water under the bridge; she exists; they’re married; and any reasonably talented creative writer *should* be able to tell interesting stories about her in that context. I’ve seen it happen, so excuses to the contrary are unconvincing.

This has been the most insightful exploration int o Lois Lane’s character I have ever read. I wrote a piece on Lois years ago delving into her less as a character and more about what elements her creation provided to the mythos. I spoke of the initial strength of her character, her “I Love Supey” years and new maturity in later years. But you guys have covered a lot of interesting ground. Does anyone mind if I discuss this post on my blog? (with proper link backs)

Glenn Greenberg

February 5, 2010 at 6:40 am

Just a couple of things, with regard to Mindy Newell’s post above (and this is purely for historical accuracy):

* Mindy and I were colleagues at MARVEL Comics, not DC.

* I was never Bob Greenberger’s assistant, though he and I go waaaaay back.

Carry on!

Man, Glenn, I’m getting old!!!!

Don’t get old, guys!!!!

It’s silly to assume that Marvel and DC can’t divorce Superman or Spider-Man because there would be this big backlash from Christian parents. We had a major Hollywood MOVIE with Superman having a kid with Lois Lane out of wedlock. Damn, they weren’t even in a steady relationship in the movie (actually Lois was, but with another man). I don’t remember any boycotting from angry Christians because Superman and Lois had a kid outside of marriage. Is divorce so much more taboo?

And what about Batman? He has a kid outside of wedlock, conceived in a drug-filled orgy in the desert, with the daughter of a terrorist. And he is as much a kiddie’s character as Superman. But no one cares. Superman divorcing would generate a few newspaper and magazine articles for a week or so, and then the world would shrug. With Spider-Man, we’d have even less of a reaction.

Actually, Damien Wayne was created in a laboratory. The child Bruce and Talia created in the, ah, “traditional” manner happened while they were married under the laws of the nation(ruled by Ra’s al Ghul) they were in at the time, though conviently not recognized under US law. That child was given up for adoption without Bruce’s knowledge.

Point taken on the Superman Returns bit, though.

Morrison has been a bit cagey about Damian’s exact history, but the clear implication to me has always been that he’s meant to be (or at least Bruce is meant to understand him as) the progeny of that “natural” encounter. (Which isn’t to say Ra’s might not have subjected him to some sort of prenatal genetic manipulation, as Morrison has also hinted.)

The larger point is quite valid, though: the mass market doesn’t *really* care what’s done with the domestic lives of these characters, and any creative decisions in the comics supposedly based on such concerns are just making something else.

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