Over the weekend
Submitted by CalamityJon on July 21, 2009 - 16:01
Over the weekend, our dear friend Mickie attended a costume party dressed at the Silver Age Lois Lane, only with bigger boobs (I pause here for a well-deserved round of applause). This got me thinking about some pages I clipped from an old Lois Lane comic some time ago, and which were odd ... for a pretty specific reason, and lemme explain why ...
The relationship between Lois Lane and Superman in the Silver Age* was, in a few words, massively effed up. Times being what they were (the late Fifties and early Sixties, a hotbed of I Love Lucyism), Lois spent about a third of her time trying to prove that Clark Kent was Superman, another third of her time falling out of windows or out of airplanes, and the remaining third trying to trick Superman into marrying her. Mind you, it wasn't that she was trying to win his heart - it was tacitly understood that Superman and Lois Lane loved one another, thus the "Superman's Girlfriend" sobriquet, despite all other appearances - she was trying to TRAP him. Trick him, fool him, rig a wedding out of which he could not wriggle free. You know, girl stuff.
For his part, Superman responded to these overtures by consistently "teaching Lois a lesson", or more explicitly, flat-out humiliating her over and over. You know, guy stuff. Fandom diehard Fred Hembeck once famously retold, for instance, a specific story in which Superman actually arranges with good friend Bruce Wayne to embroil Lois in a fake wedding, where she is ultimately dumped at the altar in front of all her friends, coworkers and family, to riotous laughter. Surprisingly - especially as the "Let's have Lois dumped at the altar" gag was played a couple other times as well - Lois never went all Sylvia Plath on herself, and in fact persisted in her matrimonial schemes for a couple of decades.
When you read these stories individually, it's hard to see past this conceit simply being gross, absurd and insulting. On the other hand, when you look at them as an arc or a pathology, you can't shake the feeling that Superman and Lois were one of those couples who got off on tormenting each other. I'm sure you've known a couple like this, who were really sarcastic with one another to the point of meanness, but overtly affectionate, and basically made you feel kind of uncomfortable because you never knew if a fight was about to break out (For instance, you may have been to dinner with my wife and me). You can understand how Lois might get a thrill out of keeping the most powerful living man on the planet dangling at the end of her line or making him squirm under her thumb, and you can imagine that Superman, like many of us, takes advantage of the fact that you can be far more cruel to the people who love you than you could ever be to your greatest enemy.
In fact, looking at these stories as a subliminal body of work rather than the individual episodes which they were written to be, you can answer an age-old question: What does Superman see in Lois Lane? You can guess what Lois sees in Superman - he's literally the most powerful man in the world, influential, goes to amazing places, does amazing things, knows amazing people, has an important job, cares deeply for people, is considerate (except when he's making you get fake married for belly laughs), handsome, thoughtful, good and kind, probably has a super-sense that can give you multiple orgasms and have you tasting swiss chocolate at the end - sure he's occasionally a jerk, but let's have anyone here pretend that ladies don't date jerks. Face it, he's a catch.
But why does Superman love Lois? My guess is because she's the only woman on Earth who can make him squirm, and he loves that. If you think about it, there must be hundreds of women working at the Daily Planet building, but only one of them has ever stopped to realize that Superman is slumming it up as Clark Kent, or if she isn't the only one to realize it, she's at least the only one who won't stop teasing him about it. You have to assume that all this talk of her "suspecting" that Clark and Superman are the same person aside - if she only suspected, she probably wouldn't keep trying to expose the guy after the first twelve or thirteen times her plans backfired- so she knows that this guy she works with is really her boyfriend, and she will not let up on him. Why the hell would he stick around if he didn't like it? Superman likes the attention. He likes brassy dames, and that's why he likes Lois Lane.
This is how they flirt. Gross.
BUT ANYWAY, I was mentioning at the beginning how all of this pondering was in service of some clippings from an old Lois Lane comic, and it was a segment I found odd because, frankly, this was the one occasion in the Silver Age where I've ever seen Superman do something sweet and romantic for Lois**.
The backstory is that Lois is running a small diner out of charity for the owner, who'd recently fallen ill. In order to drum up some publicity and bring in some star-struck customers, she convinces Superman to take meals at the diner (to which he gladly agrees). Of course, Lois has an ulterior motive - to so dazzle Superman with the promises of domestic bliss that he can't resist but make her his own ...
Things, naturally, do not go smoothly for Lois' plan, as Superman ends up interrupting her carefully constructed dinners on repeated occasions in order to avert assorted disasters - and unthinkingly manages to ruin Lois' efforts in the process (This is a tried-and-true fallback for writers when they don't feel like putting any effort into Superman; they either make him a closet crypto-fascist or, as in this case, a sawed-off nitwit. Or if you're Dawyne McDuffie, you do both).
So, I'm already a little charmed by this story - that panel in the first page where Superman leans with his chin on his hand, sitting at the counter, gazing up at Lois ... that's actually sweet. Or where Lois looks back eagerly over her shoulder ... it's so charming, in such a sappy way.
BUT! After inadvertently wrecking her cooking and then realizing that he damn near gave away his secret identity (and making things even worse in the process of saving it), check out the ending (Ignore that last panel, just drink in that reveal) ...
Let's leave out that last panel, which is your de facto product of the editorial edict to "leave it up in the air" (bah, so who'd be fooled by that?) ... I mean, for the first time in a lifetime of reading Superman comics ... Awwwwwwwwww.
So yeah, the one time Superman didn't make Lois feel like a dumb whore. Drink it in, folks!
*For you non-comic folks, the "Silver Age" refers to a period of time during the 1950s and 1960s when comics were undergoing both a creative and popular revival, and therefore only about 98% of them were irredeemably godawful. This was preceded by the "Golden Age", which was an unparalleled generative period in comics history following which comics have never been as popular or so energetically imaginative, and also only about 1% of them were utterly unreadable. These ages were followed by the particularly un-precious "Bronze Age", which is generally derided by comic fans, possibly because that was the period when writers acknowledged that fictional characters should have sympathetic motivation, realistic reactions to stress and crises, and possess individual voices and emotional ranges, plus that morality was a gray concept worth deeply examining and that the mysteries of humanity and the universe deserved serious exploration, rather than merely exploiting them as plot devices to give people super-powers. Comics of this era were about 10% readable, and nowadays comics are about 40% readable-to-quite-excellent, and if you check some blogs, you can see how miserable this makes the fans. Some day, comics will be 100% excellent, and fans will call this era "The Crappy Crappy Shit Age".
** He actually used to do these enormous, grand romantic gestures all the time ("Superman painted my portrait on the moon, that must mean he really loves me") but they'd always turn out to have been caused by Red Kryptonite or an evil witch or Mxyzptlk using their tremendous powers to make Lois Lane feel small and unloved ("He's drawing a mustache over my moon portrait! So this is what he really thinks of me! *sob*")