Thursday, July 20, 2006

Lois Lane

Superman cannon has always included a romantic bond with Daily Planet journalist Lois Lane. Despite a pubescent fascination with Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, it was only last week that I really started thinking about why Superman, the quintessential ubermensch, would appropriately find a soulmate in Lois Lane, and what his fascination with her says about him as a character. Lois Lane is quite possibly the most famous all-human, non-superhero woman of the DCU. She is modeled after the strong, independent career-woman: an ambitious, take-no-nonsense go-getter, perhaps a little too brash for her own good. At her inception, Lois Lane was a romantically single, highly successful, prominent journalist during a time when most women were housewives and this achievement is a fundamental part of her character (she is usually well-established as a journalist when Clark arrives at the Daily Planet for the first time). Yet, Superman is superhuman, and not just any superhuman, but the superhuman. His abilities make him a god amongst men, and it almost seems counter-intuitive that Superman would find companionship with Lois Lane. In many Elseworlds, Superman is matched not with Lois but with Wonder Woman, who represents the perfect woman of the DCU. She has strength and speed, is a skilled martial artist, and is strikingly beautiful -- so much so that in one JLA book, one of the male superheroes remarks that, to some degree, they were all in love with her. Like Superman, Wonder Woman stands for truth and justice, and can relate to his feelings of alienation and dedication to an adopted world. If Superman is a god amongst men, Wonder Woman is a goddess (indeed, she was, for a brief time, an actual goddess atop Mt. Olympus). In other words, not only is Wonder Woman the female ubermensch, matching Superman in powers and abilities, but her life experiences so mirror his, that they should be able to relate emotionally. On the other hand, the relationship between Lois Lane and Superman is remarkable in its emotional distance. Lois is rarely shown relating to Superman on a personal level. They rarely talk about their feelings, their life experiences, or their perspectives on life -- and with both characters, you get the feeling that their professional aspirations (she a journalist, he a superhero) hold almost more importance than their relationship to one another. They are in love, to be sure, but what kind of support do they get from one another? How are they able to build a relationship together? Why are they married? When surrounded by women like Wonder Woman, why is Superman attracted to Lois Lane? It doesn't become apparent what Superman might see in Lois Lane until one considers not the Lois Lane of comics but Margot Kidder's Lois Lane in the Chris Reeve Superman movies. In comics, Lois is more beautiful and more successful than the average woman, as if her writers feel the need to justify her relationship with Superman by rendering her almost superhuman, herself. In many ways, the Lois of comic becomes something greater than mere mortal women, precisely because she has evolved into a woman who leaves normal human women in the dust. But Margot Kidder plays Lois Lane as a distinctly average woman. She is pushy, plain, and flawed. She chain-smokes like a chimney and she can't spell beyond a sixth-grade level. She struggles with short-term memory loss and has terrible fashion sense. This is a Lois Lane who, despite her success and incredible personal achievement, remains human. She retains her humanity and is unapologetic of these flaws. To render Lois human is to furthermore underscore her achievements. She becomes a feminist icon precisely because she appeals to the everywoman, communicating what greatness we can attain in a patriarchal world. She speaks not just of feminine success, but feminist ambition. She says to women not just "what we are" but that "we can become". Superman must find such a woman enticing. Despite being the most powerful metahuman on the planet, Superman is fascinated with humanity. To Superman, though his gifts alienate him from his adopted homeworld, we can better understand Superman's relationship to his powers (and thereby who he is) if he respects not the powers that distinguish him but the ambition that distinguishes humans. We understand why Superman sees humans as a people worth saving if we being to see him recognize the incredible heights which humans, alone, can attain. For Superman, Lois must remind him of why he continues to dedicate his life to being a superhero, that he must be in awe of what Lois can accomplish despite her humanity. Superman is not merely a protector of the innocent, but a protector of humanity's potential -- his role then is to save humans so that they might save themselves. And despite being married to the most powerful man in the world, the flawed Lois is a reminder that what is truly breathtaking is not what Superman can do with his powers, but what humanity, particularly femininity, can do without them.


Blogger Dei Wong said...

I'm I the only one who thinks Lois would problems caring Superman's child.

7/20/2006 04:18:00 PM  
Anonymous sheldiz said...

you and kevin smith.

7/20/2006 04:30:00 PM  
Blogger William said...

You know, I didn't know where you were going with this when it started out, but you landed it nice and smooth. Nice post, JF. You know I love ya when you do comic posts. Oh yes I do...

Gotta go with my heart, though, and say that I always wanted him to end up with Lana. NO, not that WB abomination, but the cute, sweet girl next door...who goes on to marry the vice-president who is framed as Superman's new mysterious foe. Wow, comics sure can ruin a character!

But that's why comics give us choices; we can all have someone to root for, be it hero vs. villain, MJ vs. Gwen, or Lois vs. Lana.

And I think a lot of what you mentioned is why fans go all "fanboy" on comic movies. Comic MJ and Comic Lois scare me. Too brazen and pushy. Movie MJ is snaggletoothed and braless, while Movie Lois (the good one) is flawed as well. I can accept Movie MJ & Lois. Hell, I might even ask them to Warriors to have a shake with me.

It's funny, though, because I wonder if creators were living out their fantasies on the page, or if they really were making a statement. Stan Lee loves to do the whole "There's a part of me and my life in all of my characters" bit. So, did he create a feminist character, or did he simply give Peter the girl of his dreams since he couldn't approach her in real life? Yeah, I went all "Marvel", but I think the same question could be posed in the Superman case...

7/20/2006 05:21:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

I dunno. I think everything in comics can be read as intentional and making a political statement of some sort... but whether that was the creator's original intention I'm not sure.

I think to some extent, if Superman is an immigrant fantasy, then it was intended that he fall for an all-American girl and have that romance reciprocated. But I don't think Lois was originally intended to be as flawed as she was portrayed by Kidder -- Lois in comics has really evolved into the kind of woman born with a silver spoon. I think it's a detriment to who she could be.

As for MJ, I honestly didn't read enough 616 Spidey to get a good feel for her or her personality. Never really liked her though -- she always seemed to be on a bit of a pedestal (ironically)

7/20/2006 05:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Gandalf Mantooth said...

The whole idea of someone who has committed him or herself to a lifetime of saving humanity day in and day out having a long term relationship is ridiculous. Most people in relationships barely have time for themselves, let alone engaging in the work it takes to make a relationship putter along (if you have kids, fuggedaboutdit). To me it doesn't matter if it is Lois or (my favorite, cuz I'm old old school) Mary Jane Watson, all of the situations are stretching it even within the comic fantasy universe. At least a Super/Super partnership makes more sense because the two people are on the same trip, have an understanding of what it takes, both know how to fly, etc.

OTOH, everyone has to take a moment for themselves, and if a superhero can live with letting a few petty crimes go on while he/she is having dinner at the in-laws, well, guess that's okay, too.

7/21/2006 02:16:00 AM  
Blogger William said...

And the idea of an angry Super pubescent changing history by punching a wall is also riduculous. We kinda have to shy away from such absolute terms like "ridiculous" when discussing comics, Gandalf.

Ys, relationships are hard, and I think they've done a pretty decent job conveying that. Hell, I've been waiting for the Clark/Lois divorce since '98. But they've found a way to fit each other into their busy schedules. And they're both busy. He's saving some South American orphans while she's getting shot in the Middle East.

But the MJ thing always got to me. Spidey's getting knocked off of a building, while worrying that MJ might cheat on him at her lingerie shoot that day. Forget the Super/Super. Why the hell does a lingerie model/soap opera star marry a photographer/high school teacher? Call me cynical, but that's harder to believe than the idea of a kid getting powers from being bitten by a spider. Sure, "it takes all kinds", come on...

7/21/2006 02:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Gandalf Mantooth said...

Well, we don't have to forget those terms, William. Any fictional work creates a universe where they ask us to suspend our disbelief for a moment or two, and one of those ways is making the world they create relate to the world we live in. It's easier for us to accept Supes making time go backwards by reversing the Earth's spin if we have Lois presented as a realistic working professional in NYC.

Lingere models marry high school teachers all the time. They usually divorce when said model becomes famous, though. I don't remember MJ being a "star" though.

7/21/2006 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger Jenn said...

I think MJ was a pretty big fashion name -- I just always thought she was a little too self-centered for Peter.

7/21/2006 02:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Jay said...

I'm not up to my spider-man recently, but isn't he unmasked right now, making him "famous"? (actually, he's changed a lot nowadays, but I suspect he'll be changed back since change is scary to a lot of comic fans.) Besides, she knew of his identity before they got married, there's possibly a thrill factor there.

But I think it's true; she tended towards self-centredness from the first line she uttered. (But that could be an artifact from old cliche writing.) It makes no sense that MJ or Peter was never followed by tabloid camerapeople though. She was famous, just not on a grand scale.

It matters little; as silly as the pairing seems, most fans actually think it's one of the most central comic pairings.

7/22/2006 01:31:00 AM  
Anonymous Gandalf Mantooth said...

Well I haven't been keeping up with any books for years, usually just getting the urge to sneak into the local shop and catch up whenever Marvel gets something made into a movie. So, MJ is famous, eh? I miss the OG Gwen Stacy . . . lol

7/23/2006 10:03:00 AM  
Blogger alau said...

This is a great post on exactly why Lois Lane is so important to Superman, or more accurately, Clark Kent as a character.

7/31/2006 03:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Lyle said...

Interesting anaylsis, Jen. I hadn't looked at the characters that way.

One take I got out of Gail Simone's short run on Action was that their bond was based on their idealism and that she had the emotional strength that Kal didn't. He's been raised to doubt himself constantly or else risk developing a god complex and that she can be a moral anchor for him, a source of clarity and perspective. I guess that makes her a different kind of goddess, but its one take that works for me. Your interpretation of the Margot Kidder Lois also works nicely for me, too.

8/06/2006 02:40:00 PM  

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