For a few years, I've been under the impression that Superman was my favorite character in comics, ever since I went from feeling like an unlucky underdog (a la Spider-man) to an adult who wanted to use his position in the world to make a difference. Upon closer examination of these feelings, however, I recently realized it wasn't Superman I was relating to, no, it was actually Lois Lane.
In retrospect, I now believe Lois has been my favorite for some time; it just took a jarring threat for me to realize it.
This threat came in DC’s June solicitations. Soon, Brian Michael Bendis will take over the Superman line. Bendis has been (arguably) Marvel’s defining writer for two decades, and so him writing Superman is a huge deal and a source of much speculation. Recent Superman books have had Clark settled down with a family, with his wife Lois and son Jon, and a prevailing fear among many fans is that Bendis will undo all of the domestic happiness.
And the solicitations played right into that. Just look:
THE MAN OF STEEL #1
- Written by BRIAN MICHAEL BENDIS • Art by IVAN REIS and JOE PRADO
- A new era begins for Superman as a threat from his earliest origins reemerges to destroy the Last Son of Krypton. As Superman struggles to come to grips with what has happened to his wife and son, he must also face a new threat that’s determined to burn down Metropolis!
Read that again: As Superman struggles to come to grips with what has happened to his wife and son…
Awful. Now, smart money says nobody would tip such a major plot point in a preview, and this is simply a means of playing with our anxieties (for better or worse), but I was still shook, so shook I began to deeply contemplate what Lois Lane means to me. And the answer is an awful lot.
The reason why comes down to three main points...
Lois Lane is Human
Superman’s appeal is that of the idealized man, a pinnacle of “the American way,” but that’s not quite right. Superman is alien, and try as we might, we’ll never have his power. Lois, however, is one of us, and her best characterizations embrace this without making her meek or powerless. In fact, Lois done well is one of the most talented figures in comics, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who does as much good with her pen as others do with freak abilities.
Lois’ power comes from hard work, fearlessness, and deep desire to make a difference. Who would I like to emulate? Superman, sure, but that’s impossible. The better answer is Lois. She isn't perfect—she’s a bit reckless at times, her dad is a cog in the military industrial machine, for years she was blind to Clark’s identity (I blame the writers), and she’s always falling off buildings (ditto)—but Lois still contributes to society in meaningful ways, both through writing and, more recently, through pushing Clark to be a better guy.
Lois is what we can be at our best, more than Superman, by virtue of her humanity.
Lois has a Rich History Rooted in Reality
Lois Lane has been around from the start, appearing in 1938’s Action Comics #1, but even before that the character was accruing a rich and compelling history. See, Lois Lane is based on a real reporter named Nellie Bly (RIP).
And Bly’s story is amazing. Like Lois Lane, Bly was a fearless reporter, and she worked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, racking up some incredible journalistic accomplishments, including:
- Earning her job by writing an impassioned response to a newspaper column suggesting women were only good for having kids and keeping house.
- As a foreign correspondent in Mexico, writing about a dictator imprisoning protesters so effectively that he forced her to flee the country. She was 21.
- Going undercover to investigate brutality and neglect in the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island, later writing a book that sparked outrage and forced reform.
- Traveling alone around the world in 72 days, beating a fictional record set by Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg (she also stopped in France to meet Verne en route).
- Eventually becoming a powerful industrialist who patented a stackable garbage can.
It's a credit to Superman's creators that way back in 1938 they had the good sense to form a character that was his equal, and, given the archaic social mores of the time, to also make this character a woman. The invention of Superman and Batman are impressive, of course, given their originality and lasting legacies, and Superman in particular was a response to societal ills, but creating Lois Lane was downright bold, and her having an actual historical basis in a figure as important as Nellie Bly endears Lois to me even further.
My Wife is a Reporter
Speaking of ways Lois endears herself to me, I should note my wife is a reporter for one of the biggest newspapers in the country, The Los Angeles Times, and that like Lois, she’s been fearless with her work from a young age. In high school, my wife reported on the disappearances of local women in the dangerous Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez. You can’t see my face right now (obviously) but I’m beaming.
Anyway, indulge me as I draw similarities between my marriage and Lois and Clark's.
- Lois is a fearless and successful reporter; while Clark is a sometimes above average writer who could be better if not for his life as a comic book hero.
- My wife is a fearless and successful reporter; while I am a sometimes above average writer (I said indulge me!) who could be better if not for my life reading about comic book heroes.
Joking aside, we have a connection, one that makes stories about Superman's family life deeply meaningful to me.
And now Lois and Clark's marriage in the Superman books seems to be at risk. I’ve loved recent Superman, in which Lois and Clark work together to handle all the challenges that come at them, be they cosmic or domestic. All of us who have grown up and coupled can surely relate, and robust sales numbers suggest I’m far from alone here.
This recent version of Lois has had agency, participating in action sequences in extreme locales like Apokolips all while continuing to work at the Daily Planet. She’s as human and hardworking and determined to improve the world as ever.
In closing, I should note that I know this piece is a bit solipsistic and many readers have personal connections to Lois, especially young girls who didn’t have the luxury of viscerally identifying with Superman. I’m also aware many of my impressions of Lois come from the best-written versions of her, and that her depiction has at times oscillated wildly between empowered and distressed.
I get that, but I’d still like to close on an optimistic note. Bendis’ recent work at Marvel has largely been respectful in its treatment of female characters. Just look at Invincible Iron Man. Bendis has shifted the focus of that book to characters like Mary Jane Watson, Tony’s long-lost biological mother, and a young Chicago super genius named Riri Williams. Here’s hoping he writes Lois Lane the same way, the way she deserves.
Zack Quaintance is a career journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.