Favorite Stories Starring Women: Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane
|March 22, 2012||Posted by Jess under Comics, Ladytexts|
Happy Wednesday! Today’s Favorite Story Starring Women is Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane.
Yeah, I said it.
Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane ran for 137 issues from 1958 to 1974 before being folded into Superman Family, where Lois was a headliner from for another eight years. The creator most associated with Lois Lane was Kurt Schaffenberger, who drew “the definitive Lois” for much of the series. The series itself is strongly associated with the Silver Age, that period from 1955 to 1970 and best known – at DC, at least – for loopy applications of pseudo-science, cheerfully sanitized morality plays, and sadly reductive roles for women.
Guess how many other superhero comics there were starring women in the Silver Age?
One. Wonder Woman.
Sure, there were other comics for and featuring girls in the late 50s and 60s, but they were mostly funny books and romance comics. And while Lois’s stories have a strong element of “wah-wah-waaaaah”-style humor and an infamous preoccupation with romance, they are firmly situated within the greater DCU, with regular appearances from Superman and all of the goofy sci-fi Silver Age DC is known for. Yet she held down her title spot for sixteen years. I can’t think of any other female-led superhero books that have broken 100 issues besides Wonder Woman, Birds of Prey, and Spider-Girl1 – and the latter two are relatively recent titles, while Wonder Woman is, well, Wonder Woman. More importantly, 60 years later the series is still, um…is notorious too strong a word?
Some of that notoriety is deserved, because Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane is nothing if not sexist. The 1960s-style anxiety over a working woman plays out in a couple of ways: First, the book takes pains to reassure us that Lois is only working out of necessity and that her true goal is comforting domesticity; her raison d’être is to marry Superman, by hook or by crook. Then, since the target audience is little boys who don’t want their hero encumbered by an icky girl, Lois is permanently cast in the role of a nuisance and a pest by a determinedly single Superman, thereby punishing her for doing exactly what contemporary society demanded she do. It’s the kind of catch-22 – you must marry Superman/you can’t marry Superman – that is still used in cultural narratives to keep alarmingly independent women in their places. Locked in a struggle against herself, Lois can’t ever threaten the patriarchy.
I’m not going to argue that the book handles this situation subversively. Pesky, marriage-hungry Lois is the reality that we’re dealing with here, along with a slew of other stereotypes against women – she’s jealous, she’s fickle, she’s vain, she’s nosy – and the issues run the gamut from mildly annoying to infuriatingly sexist.
Lois Lane is also endearingly silly. If you like goofy Silver Age nonsense – and I do – you can’t do better than Lois’s various encounters with robots and lookalikes and Superbabies and harmless gangsters with needlessly convoluted schemes. They’re beautifully drawn (Lois’s clothes, oh my God) with memorable stories that are no less engaging for being insane. They have hilarious contemporary cameos (Pat Boone!) and bizarre applications of “science” and Lois taking on ever more ridiculous roles (Lois Lane, gangster’s moll! Lois Lane, sharpshooting cowgirl! Lois Lane, amnesiac jungle princess!). And did I mention the clothes?
And Lois, despite the odds against her, is actually a wonderful character. As much as she wants to marry Superman/find out his secret identity, she has lines she won’t cross – she’ll use his own words to trick him into it (um, yay?) but she won’t accept a proposal when he’s not in his right mind or somehow being forced into it. In fact, that whole “Lois tries to find out Superman’s secret identity” thing is because it will remove an obstacle to matrimony, not because it’s a scoop; even Superman firmly believes that she would never, ever sell him out. She’s endlessly compassionate, even to her rival Lana Lang, to whom she opens her home when Lana needs a place to stay.
Oh, and did I mention she’s brilliant? This blog post wonderfully points out how Lois is basically the smartest person on Earth, at least in the Silver Age2, as the only person who ever saw through Clark’s disguise despite his powers and mind games. She sees through all his other nonsense, too: in my favorite story, “The Amazing Superman Junior” (Lois Lane #6), Clark attempts to “teach Lois a lesson,” yet again, by getting Perry3, Jimmy, Batman, and Robin to convince her she’s slept for decades and is now in the future (don’t ask). Like, they build an island to convince her. And tell her Batman’s dead. It’s ridiculous. Lois sees through the con, plays along with it long enough to completely mess with Superman’s head, then confronts them, demands that they turn their isle o’ deception into an old folks’ resort home, and gets Perry to promise her the front page when she announces the opening of the island. Game, set, and match, Superjerk.
Oh man, and I haven’t even touched on the 70s, when Lois redirected her energies towards reporting and social justice instead of matrimony, and also had possibly even better clothes…
Look. Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane is certainly a product of its time, and its portrayal of women, like that of most media of the time, is deeply flawed. But it’s still a wonderful comic, a great piece of comics history, and the saga of one wickedly smart, endearingly ridiculous woman. Don’t throw the Superbaby out with the bathwater – read this comic.
Where to Buy: There are three volumes of Showcase Presents: Superman Family, each with 500 black-and-white pages of comics in chronological order. The first volume is 90% Jimmy Olsen (which is also surprisingly awesome!), but the other two are divvied up about evenly between the two series.
Related Recs: For more Lois goodness, try, uh, all the Superman? But especially the Golden Age stories in the Superman Chronicles volumes, where she’s a hardboiled journalist with no time for dopey old Clark; John Byrne’s Man of Steel; and Mark Waid’s Birthright. I’m also a big fan of Teri Hatcher’s Lois on Lois and Clark, which combines modern Lois’s feisty independence with a bit of Silver Age “wah-wah-waaaaah”-style romantic tribulations. Or, if you want more kickass Silver Age ladies, try the Doom Patrol Showcases – Rita Farr is amazing. (Plus stay tuned for Sunday’s post!)
- If there are more, let me know! I’m sure I’ll feel very stupid when you tell me. ↩
- Though Supergirl also figured out Clark’s secret identity despite his douchey refusal to tell her (though it was partially because of her powers). And Lana came close to Lois’s cunning in proving Clark’s Superness. Ladies of the Silver Age Superman comics, you rock. ↩
- Don’t you have better things to do than gaslight your employees, Perry? ↩