SuperFact No. 2: Lois Must Be Awesome

Posted: April 28, 2011 in Action Movies, comic books, Jeff Holland, Threat Quality
Tags: , , , ,

I’ve been on a bit of a Superman walkabout. Mostly, I’ve been trying to find the essential components – precisely what makes a Superman story feel “right.”

That Clark gets to enjoy being “Metropolis-Clark” so much is part of the second most Important Thing of a a Good Superman Story: He falls in love with Lois Lane immediately.

And when done right, the reader is pretty much next in line.

Because Lois Lane is unlike anything he could ever imagine. Going to Mark Waid’s Birthright notes:

“What does Superman love about Lois? Her compassion. Her intense dedication to a job that, when done right, makes the world a better place. The way she constantly surprises him, a man who is almost impossible to surprise. And in no small part, that when he’s Clark, she’s hard to get.”

Superman writers, generally, get Lois. Particularly since she’s a writer’s fantasy – a reporter who’s stylish, stubborn, capable, quick-witted and above all else principled. She’s considered the best writer at the Planet, with her distant second competitor being…Clark Kent.

If you can’t write Lois Lane as an immediately engaging woman, then I don’t know what to do with you. 

Take a look at how Lois is introduced in the most successful origin stories, and she’s a damned hurricane. Take Man of Steel. She’s quick-witted, constantly moving – she doesn’t break step while turning down an invitation for a date with Lex Luthor via his driver – and only cares about telling stories that will allow justice and rightness to prevail.

And she gets in her own way a lot, thanks to her principles. Upon realizing an expensive dress was actually a gift from Lex, she immediately yanks it off in a fury over the misrepresentation – without any backup clothing options. That Clark happens to be around, and happens to have a big coat she can cover up in, is just good timing.

Couple that with her entrance in Birthright, where she reads the Daily Planet publisher the riot act after he mistreats Jimmy Olsen, and…well – who wouldn’t fall in love with her?

Man of Steel, meanwhile, sets up the Great Romantic Obstacle in a modern context that mostly stuck over the last couple decades: it isn’t her infatuation with Superman, so much as her intense professional hatred of Clark Kent for scooping her on the Superman story.

Which is just a wonderfully simple way to update the Superman-Lois-Clark love triangle.

None of which was ruined once he finally revealed his identity and they got married. Because as we’ll discuss next time, Clark Kent really is a great disguise.

  1. Erin says:

    I can definitely get behind this rule. I can think of counter examples to “Superman must smile,” but I think this one’s 100% right.

  2. Jeff Holland says:

    This is one more thing that completely bugged me about JMS’s “Earth One” – Lois is a non-entity in the story. She could be ANYBODY on staff at the Planet, really. You could have Ron Troupe fill her role and there would be no difference. Clark barely pays her a second glance, for pete’s sakes.

    (And yes, I do feel bad picking on Ron Troupe sometimes.)

    As for the counter-examples to “Superman must smile,” well…yeah. I mean, he’s not Captain Marvel (another post for another day…).

    But the fact that Jim Lee’s frowny, red-eyed Superman seems to be the go-to visual these days seems so counter-intuitive, I figured Christopher Reeve’s smile needed to be trotted out as a balance.

  3. braak says:

    Is it an interesting thing to note that, because these characters have been drawn by so many people over the years, for most of them I don’t have a sense of what they look like? Like if you showed me a picture of Lois Lane — out of context, and not holding a little tape recorder or something — I would have basically no idea who she is.

    This is not withstanding the cartoons, obviously, which represented many years of very consistent costume and character design (though, interesting also: how come Lois Lane basically doesn’t feature at all in Justice League?).

    And even without costumes, I could probably recognize Jim Lee’s Superman or Batman, but without costumes I’m not actually sure I could tell them apart.

    Also interesting: the fact that all Jim Lee men look identical is pretty much a plot point in that Superman-Batman comic where Batman disguises himself as Hawkman, because sure! That makes a lot of sense!

  4. braak says:

    That seventies pantsuit does a lot, though. For some reason, I feel like the most natural style of clothing for Lois Lane to wear is women’s business attire from the 1970s.

  5. braak says:

    (Also: “he’s got to smile” doesn’t mean the same thing as “he should always be smiling.”)

  6. Erin says:

    Regarding smiling: I’m actually objecting to the rule as stated in the article; i.e.: that Superman should enjoy being Superman; that he should generally be a happy person.

    I can think of several great stories where this isn’t the case. More significantly, I think there are some great stories that can still be told that focus on Superman as an outsider. The “Superman should smile” seems like it was reverse engineered from Morrison’s take on the golden-age “sun god” approach in All-Star Superman, certainly a solid version, but hardly the only one out there (the Christ-archetype, as depicted in the Donner movie, being the obvious counter; i.e. the Superman who suffers for us, rather than the father figure who looks down and smiles).

    Lois being awesome, on the other hand, I think works as a requirement for greatness, at least going forward. I think she works as a “litmus test,” after a fashion. I don’t think the smile does.

  7. Erin says:

    Regarding Superman and Batman looking the same without costumes: Ignore hair cuts, and you can toss in Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and almost every other “classic” superhero.

    I try to remember this every time I catch myself irritated at a casting decision in one of these movies when the actor doesn’t look much like the character.

  8. Jeff Holland says:

    “The ‘Superman should smile’ seems like it was reverse engineered from Morrison’s take on the golden-age “sun god” approach in All-Star Superman, certainly a solid version, but hardly the only one out there.”

    Erin, these posts are actually built on my reading of dozens of Superman books from all points of history (with a focus on the “new origin” stories by Byrne, Waid and Johns), and finding which bits work best – granted, they work best FOR ME, but since all the things I liked ended up mirrored in the Superman animated series and the “Superman 2000” pitch, I don’t think I’m too far off-base.

    But again: These are my rules As Far As I’m Concerned. If you have counter-examples, please share the stories you’re thinking of. There’s a possibility I haven’t read them yet. Unless you’re gonna bring up the Brian Azzarrello/Jim Lee run, in which case YOU GO TO HELL! YOU GO TO HELL AND YOU DIE!

    (No, sorry, that was rude. But every issue of that I read was just excruciating.)

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