Sep 1, 2016

Lois Lane in Seven Comics

Lois Lane in Seven Comics
Travis Hedge Coke


Seventy-eight years of Lois Lane appearances in comics, we have a new solo from Phil Jimenez, Superwoman. As of this writing, I know virtually nothing of that series except I have a healthy love for Lois Lane’s potential and for Jimenez’s genius and enthusiasm. Maybe it also has Lana Lang and Donna Troy in it? I’m avoiding spoilers, but I think it does, and I love that too, because… seriously, those three in one comic? Okeh! Hoka-hey awright! even.



The problem, if there’s a problem, is that in seventy-eight years, most of the comics Lois Lane has headlined are fraught with flaws that, as they become systemic elements, just wear on you. Lois starts off cool as hell and over the course of decades, she gets increasingly desperate and manic, and gets punished by Superman a lot. Her role becomes that of “girl” Superman can slap around or humiliate. You can justify it by despising Lois as a childish idiot, but that does not really jibe with her job and her level and reckoning in her job field. It could be desperation on Superman’s case, in the sense that Clark Kent loves Lois, Lois loves Superman, and Superman loves (being) Clark, but that’s not justification, just explanation. Maybe, they both like it? It’s just the Super-couple’s way of keeping things exciting? They’re both morons?

I won’t have it!

There are amazing Lois comics! Not every one is made to look embarrassingly inferior by the inclusion of a Danger Lady short in the same issue. Aside from plenty of great non-starring roles in the Triangle Era or Superman-focused stories, there are solo comics that do kick ass.

Some manage to kick ass and embarrass this reader. Comics, like any medium, can be a mix of quality without it being contradictory.


Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane #4

This 1958 issue starts off with a Curt Sawn cover of Lois blowing Superman off while he lavishes gifts on her, selling us the lead story, wherein Otto Binder and Kurt Schaffenberger have Clark and Superman proposing the Lois Lane, who rejects them both, because reasons. This is a plot by the nefarious, life-ruining Jimmy Olsen? Yes, Jimmy hypnotizes Clark into proposing, because, “If Clark married Lois, Superman would be free of her for life!” No Jimmy, no! Superman will never love you like that just because you marry off any women in his line of sight.



Clark, at the end, winks to the audience, gives us the thumb’s up and/or jerks a thumb back at the weeping, distressed Lois, and thinks to us, that Jimmy confessed to him what happened, “But, I’m afraid Lois will always be confused,” because, apparently, he can’t just explain to her like they’re both adult human beings.

This story finished, the last page is given over to an ad for the upcoming “The Fattest Girl in Metropolis,” a comic that perfectly illustrates the absolute lowest point that Lois stories can get to.

A “Know Your Pet” PSA comic and an unfunny Henry Boltinoff one-pager (with some cute cartooning and one of the worst twisted spine shots of the 50s) later, the very short “Lois Lane, Working Girl” comic is more or less pointless, as Lois tries different jobs, mostly for visual gags, but Superman’s surprisingly kind to her here, and cheerleads her along in her efforts that, for an era-rarity, don’t revolve around trying to marry him.

Another Boltinoff one-pager, a page of sexist and otherwise eyeroll-engaging jokes, and Alvin Schwartz and Wayne Boring give us another mind-warp story, theming out the issue, “Annie Oakley Gets Her (Super)Man”. Lois rides a horse off a cliff, and the resulting concussion gives her amnesia, while an unhelpful poster on a wall convinces her that she’s Annie Oakley, so she goes about shooting at people, while Superman tries to keep her confidence up, prevent people from dying, and steer her along until she’s cured.



Other than the mind-warping theme, the most common element is that women are dopey and inexplicable and Lois Lane is probably the most dopey and inexplicable. And, that man-children in the 1950s are not at all unhealthily homosocial, sexist, and paranoid. Not. At. All.

These aren’t really Lois stories, so much as stories in which Lois (or, Annoying Ditz) is a prop, but Boring and Swan draw her with personality, at least, and verve.

Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane #23

1961, and Lois Lane’s on the (Swan) cover with her hubby, Superman, and two adorable tikes who throw a boulder back and forth, as kids do. “A new imaginary story,” the cover proclaims. But, the opening story is, instead, “The 10 Feats of Elastic Lass”, by Binder and Schaffenberger, in which Lois becomes a superhero and entertains kids at Supergirl’s secret home of Midvale Orphanage, that still ends up with her being humiliated. What’s a Lois Lane comic without her being humiliated and Superman being in on the joke, with us, the happy readers, at how vain and or dumb she is, right? Right?



Schaffenberger does draw some great stuff, from a monster on the set of a science fiction movie, to Lois exploring with her new stretchy superpowers. And, Supergirl gets a few panels of an appearance in, both on costume and wearing her Linda Lee wig and winking at us just like her cousin can. I’m a big sap for the super-wink, and I like the brunette and braid Linda wig. But, the biggest plus for me is that, unlike the bulk of the issue we previously looked at, here Lois is focused not only on hijinks (and not on marrying Superman), but solving a crime and doing real investigative work.

Lois Lane is important to me, largely because she’s an investigative journalist and that’s both an occupation and a mythic job that appeals strongly to me. I want to read about journalists doing serious, justice-minded investigative reporting. I want to read about journalists putting their neck on the line for the truth, for action, for to sell newspapers!

The prerequisite PSA comic is innocuous and informative. The Janie one-pager that follows it is genuinely funny and looks like it was drawn by Colleen Coover (it was not, but nobody seems to know who did draw it, so… maybe Coover has a time machine and it is?). I would pay real money if whoever did Janie came back, now, and did Lois comics in the same style.

The issue, unfortunately, doesn’t just become Lois-in-the-style-of-Janie, but stays Lois-in-the-style-of-Superman’s-Girl-Friend-Lois-Lane. Jerry Siegel writes and our pal, Schaffenberger draws the story of Lena Thorul’s crazy secret, which is not, as I thought, that she’s somehow a crossdressing Lex Luthor, but that she’s Lex’s sister and Luthor is, for reasons I still don’t really grasp other than it helps the plot, protecting her from his own terrible reputation.

This is a Superman story that Lois gets the ball rolling in. It’s not about Lois, Lois doesn’t accomplish much other than being present and getting victimized and bewildered. But, as a Superman story, it’s not too bad. And, it ends with Luthor thanking Superman as he walks calmly off to prison in handcuffs. That’s worth the price of admission, since the rest of the issue wasn’t too bad, either.

So, a few years in, and the Lois solo title is improving. This is a better Lois than we saw in issue four, a better Superman than that issue, and Luthor is better and more believable in his context here than in most of the Post-Crisis 80s and 90s which were my Superman bread and butter as a kid. This is a Luthor who would never be President and would never be allowed, by Superman or Lois Lane to continue to be President for as long as the Post-Crisis Luthor was allowed.

But, what of the cover story? “The Wife of Superman” shows us an unhappy Lois who is living a life much less glamorous than the cover suggested, as her thought balloons on the first page encapsulates. “While I stay here at home, minding babies, cleaning house, Lana Lang steals my job, and now she’s after my husband! This means war!!!”

Superman can’t just tell the world he’s married, because reasons. Also, their kids talk like bizarros and are jerks! And, getting married has inspired Clark Kent to taking a fancy to a newspaper comic strip called Nutsy Monkey, for which he’ll abandon his beloved Daily Planet! But, it does end with Superman promising to reveal their marriage to the world and spend actual time with her once he can find a way to give her permanent super powers, and they are at least smiling and embracing, so… something.

This is how desperate a comics fan can get. I’m accepting this as a step forward, even though it’s an imaginary story, because it is still a story.

C’est la.

Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane #112

“A Tree Grows in Metropolis!” (Cary Bates; Werner Roth) is possibly my favorite Lois Lane comic ever. An alien tree fantasizes of being Lois Lane and losing Superman to an alien tree, as he becomes plant, himself, and then the alien tree dies because their brains are not sophisticated or powerful enough to keep it alive. Lois and Superman are too dumb to keep a tree alive. Lois wears bellbottoms! Superman nerve-pinches Lois into protective unconsciousness! Lois wears a dress made of foliage? Superman grows branches for hands? A giant ladle of lava? This one has everything you’ll ever need!



And, it’s interrupted by an ad for Aurora model kits, that will remind you that once upon a time, along with their various monster figures, they sold Girl Victim to play with. Yes, Girl Victim, that 1971 thrilling action figure of adventure and peril. That heroine many of us may remember from so many tales of amazing and daring horror in… well, no, just a doll you could terrorize with other dolls.



Siegel and Schaffenberger provide “Superman’s Secret Family!” and “The Robot Paradise!”, a two-part tale of a robot Superman and his mermaid wife and doting child on a distant planet. A reprint comic, but thankfully not a reprint of anything we’ve read so far (if you’re reading along with me).



Lois, figuring Superman is two-timing and lying about it, slaps him across his cheek of steel, wags her finger in his face, and kicks him out, when he decides, no, he can’t be told “no” by a woman and ejected from her apartment. That’s just silly! He forces his way back in and lifts her, while she protests, to shove her in a cramped plastic bubble and take her into space, to show her this super-family and their secrets.

So, in one issue, alone, we see how different 1971 Lois stories and those originally from 1962 are, but of course, they’re reprinting the older one, so it’s fresh all over again in ’71.

The end of the issue is a Rose and Thorn story, which is pretty much like all Rose and Thorn stories. Thorn fights crime in cheesecake poses and then she’s not, she’s a shrinking violet named Rose. She’s crazy from trauma and trauma helps her be physically and sexually less restricted. And, stuff.


Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane #129

A snake, Superman, two pairs of projected breasts, two forms of enclosing death; this is DC in the Bronze Age. Lois seems to have developed a sense of humility for “Serpent in Paradise”, the cover story, wondering before we even crack the comic open, if Superman will save her or the other endangered person, even though she is his girlfriend.



John Rosenberger does Maxine Fabe's script no favors at all, opening with an experiment in foreshortening that makes Lois appear to be a toddler - an even that is entirely, in the DCU, with Lois Lane, a possibility. He makes up for it with a variety of other novel techniques, most of which are at least competently executed, if not skillfully. Fabe’s script is slightly more intelligently handled, though there are underlying racial and sociological elements that even in an early-70s Superman comic, I’d like to see handled as more than a heavy-handed allegory. Lois has two roommates, reminiscent of the recent Batgirl of Burnside material, but they function as a uniform chorus instead of coming off like people.

And, Superman doesn’t save everyone every moment, each danger. That’s a big shift from the earlier comics we’ve looked at, and welcome.

I find myself wanting to know if Rosenberger developed more as an artist, later, and what the story is, entirely, with Fabe, on whom I can find virtually nothing online or through the usual conversational channels. They gave us a full-length Lois Lane comic where she isn’t shamed or humiliated at the end and for that, if nothing else, I’m enthused.


When It Rains, God is Crying

I’m not sure anyone has ever come onto “mainstream” comics as such a steamroller and then exited right back out for other work, as Mindy Newell did. This and her Catwoman story, Her Sister’s Keeper are sledgehammer comics. Gray Morrow’s art and Joe Orlando’s colors build a world of surfaces and consequences around Newell’s script, a weight of veracity and depth matching the tenacity and integrity of her dialogue as Lois Lane investigates a series of crimes against children that the police and Superman don’t particularly have time for.



Clark is every bit as much a journalist as Lois is, but Clark is Superman foremost, and Lois is a journalist. Lois Lane is an investigative journalist. Just as Clark does not stop being Superman because he clocks in and picks up a pen, Lois’s journalistic integrity, nose for truth, drive for justice, and fire for her occupation do not switch off because she changes clothes or dependent on the day of the week.

Unlike the two comics we will discuss after this entry, Lois’ face and body language explode with character courtesy of Morrow’s gorgeous linework. His shadows, blocking, and the integrity of his caricaturing give heaviness to the rainfall, personality to his figures, and mortality to every scene. In a comic about death, the ease of death, it’s still rare to see the artist and colorist embrace that energy and portray even their strongest characters are temporary lives, blips in the world.


Girlfrenzy

Lois Lane being mistaken for Lucy Lawless is how very 1998 this oneshot by Barbara Kesel and Amanda Conner is. Kesel writes Lois and the other characters beautifully, from shoot-outs to sneaking around, to attacks by polar bears. The dialogue is emotive and strong, the narration is smooth, and the story never stalls.



Unfortunately, Conner does more expressive work with Superman, throughout, than with the title character. (Though, since the official title is Superman: Lois Lane, maybe they are both title characters.) Lois and Superman in bed for two pages is the highlight for me, particularly one small, exceedingly orange pane of Superman lying with his cape draping off the edge of the mattress, watching Lois as they talk. But, Lois, herself, tends to the same facial expression and sort of generic action badass poses the entire time.

This is a fun comic and one of the stronger of the Gilfrenzy oneshots, each of which focused on a different female character, but sixty years of Lois Lane stories and we still have to have Superman’s name in front of hers in the title? Things like that and Girlfrenzy’s lack of girls or frenzy, being mostly about rational, collected women, it bugs me more than it probably should. And, it bothers me more, because what Conner and Kesel have made is a solid comic.

Superman - Lois & Clark #1 (2015)

It’s the adventures of Superdad and his wife!

I’m unfair to this Dan Jurgens and Lee Weeks comic. I’ll be upfront about this.

It’s a Superman comic that seems almost entirely aimed at people who cry a little whenever the newer versions of Superman, in movies or comics, are even brought up in discussion. It’s a dad comic. A superdad comic.

Lois Lane is co-lead, in the title, and she appears almost immediately in the book, but for the entire first scene in which she appears, the only action she takes is to stand up, while her husband walks around, fusses with his cape, responds to the room around them, and seems much more alive than statue Lois.

I miss the dynamic Lois of the Girlfrenzy comic already. I miss the dynamic Lois of the 1973 issue of Superman’s Girlfriend, already.

The rest of the issue jumps a few years ahead, so that their super-baby is now a super-kid, but Lois is still just standing there, doing pretty much nothing except existing. Everyone in this comic is more mobile and dynamic than she is. And, while Weeks draws standing Lois very nicely, I know he can draw action and even just people interacting with a world much more lively than this. He’s doing it, right here, with other characters.


Wrap Up

So, Lois finally married Superman, had her superbaby, they’re all settled down, and quite like her freak nightmares forty-plus years ago, it seems to have entirely shut down her life, her spirit, and my desire to read about her. Not, that this has to be so. I liked pre-Flashpoint married Lois and Clark in the 90s and 00s. Motherhood doesn’t need to turn Lois into a statue that sometimes says, “Don’t be tardy!”

Ironically - or, just sadly - this issue apparently also establishes that Jimmy Olsen was something of a sideways prophet in Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane #4. By marrying Lois, Superman has made himself free of her influence and Lois has been deprived of her agency. And, I don’t have the heart of the energy to read the seven issues of Lois and Clark that followed the one we just covered, to see if that improves.

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