By Zack Quaintance — I’ve always appreciated a good Lois Lane story. Moreover, I’ve long considered Lois Lane my favorite character in comics. I wrote a longer piece about this some time in the past, but both my wife and I are reporters. My wife is also considerably better at being a reporter than I am. As silly as it sounds, reading about Superman (himself a reporter, of course) and his wife, Lois Lane, the world’s greatest reporter, is a big kick for me.Read More
By Taylor Pechter — Lois Lane #1 by writer Greg Rucka and artist Mike Perkins is dropping in a couple short weeks (July 3!), and I could not be more excited. Not only is this the first solo series she has had since the Silver Age—granted, this one is in a more limited capacity being only a twelve-issue maxiseries compared to an ongoing—but this new book is being written by Greg Rucka. I have sung Rucka’s praises many a time on this site, whether for his work on mainstream projects like Wonder Woman or Checkmate, or for his indie projects like Lazarus or Queen and Country.Read More
By Maya Kesh — Since Lois Lane first debuted in 1938’s Action Comics #1, right alongside Superman and Clark Kent, she has been a lightning rod for how society views strong women. Through the years, this significance has been a double-edged sword, with Lois’ characterization reflecting both progress and limitations in various eras. As the Superman comics pass to a new writer this summer amid much media coverage and fanfare, I think it’s important to look at how Lois has been written historically, what it means to write her well, and why her depiction is so important for Superman stories.
Lois Lane Through History
In the early Golden Age comics (1938 - 1955), we see Lois Lane very much steeped in the working dame mode of that era. This is familiar to us through old movies like His Girl Friday.
In the Silver Age (1956 - 1970), Lois becomes a caricature of this idea, a desperate career woman who needs to marry to be happy. Lois having an end goal of marriage isn’t a problem, but it is a problem how that end goal is defined, as if when she marries Superman, she will have achieved the sum of all her ambitions. Marriage basically became an obsessive goal, one that wasn’t portrayed sympathetically at all.
Next came the Bronze Age (1970 - 1985) and the women’s liberation movement. During this time, Lois was seen through those changing progressive attitudes. Groovy, right? I am woman hear me roar. She was navigating slowly-evolving attitudes toward women in those years.
Wife/Mother vs. Career Woman
In the Modern Age, we’ve come to another turning point for Lois. She’s currently married to Clark, and they have a son, Jon. There has been a lot of discussion lately about what this means for Lois Lane, and it often comes back to this idea that being married to Clark and raising a child somehow limits her character.
This begs a question: Why? I think it goes back to the Silver Age idea that marriage is somehow an end for her. If she’s married, she can’t be everything she could be. That notion, however, brings us to another question: Are husbands and dads primarily defined by those roles, too? Or, are they written as multifaceted complex characters who are able to be many things to many people? The answer to the second question is decidedly yes. They can be career men (which isn’t even something men are called), as well as husbands and fathers. Women, however, are still often defined by stereotypes within labels, as if Lois Lane being a career woman means that she can’t also be a mother and a wife.
When Lois is written as a mom, for example, there is this idealized version of who mom is. And usually in the Superman-verse, this means Martha Kent, the stay-at-home mom who kept house and baked pies. Trying to fit Lois into that mold means writing her in an inorganic way that belies her personality. One’s personality doesn’t change after you have kids—my own teenagers can attest to that. Do priorities change, though? Of course.
Being a mother, however, shouldn’t turn Lois into Martha Kent. They’re entirely different people, and Lois doesn’t have the same skillset Martha does, nor does she need it to be a good mother. Basically, Lois might not be able to bake a perfect pie (although Clark probably can because he grew up with Martha as his mother), but she may be better-able to show her son how to pick a lock or hotwire a car if he ever loses his keys. This doesn’t make Lois any less of a mom. The definition of mother/wife should broaden to include all types of people. Just as dads are not inept stereotypes, neither are moms an idealized throwback to Leave it to Beaver.
In general, I think Lois often suffers from baggage writers bring when they think of her character throughout history. Some remember her as the abrasive pest she sometimes devolved into in the Silver Age, never mind that Superman was just as culpable at that time (so much so a site was dedicated to his Superdickery). Some seem to remember her as a man-hungry husband hunter, or as somebody who only loves Clark’s powers (I’d argue she always loved the man behind the disguise, no matter which persona that was).
How to Write Lois Lane Well
It sounds simple, but I think this bears emphasizing: to write Lois Lane, it is important to know who she is and the traits that have long defined her. Lois is strong, tenacious, compassionate, and ethical. She also wears her own masks. She’s vulnerable but doesn’t want the world to see it. Lois is fiercely dedicated to truth and justice, using journalism as her own superpower. She also understands there are shades of gray. Truth isn’t binary. There are some truths worth protecting from the public.
Clark’s identity, for example, isn’t for public consumption, as it doesn’t have any bearing on public welfare. There are, however, lies that exist to destroy people (ahem, most of what Lex Luthor does), and she is out to expose people who hurt others as they quest for power.
There are recent examples of Lois being written this way. This scene from Mark Waid’s Birthright shows us a Lois who stands up for injustice no matter where she sees it.
And this scene from Kurt Busiek’s Action Comics #850 shows us Lois’s early days with Clark. It’s a great example of how to write the triangle for two while giving empathy to both players, rather than turning Lois into an unsympathetic person only interested in Superman and his powers.
These are just two examples. Teenage Lois in Gwenda Bond’s young adult Lois Lane prose trilogy also gives us a multifaceted portrayal. In live action, for all of Smallville’s ups and downs, the TV show ultimately captures Lois’s complexity pretty well.
In the end, I think it’s important to remember Lois Lane was originally created alongside Clark Kent and Superman for a reason: she provides the audience with a narrative bridge between his identities. Through Lois, we as readers see the wonder that is Superman, while we also see the everyday life of Clark Kent—a dichotomy filtered through one character to create a consistent perspective.
This all speaks to why I believe it is so important for Lois to be written well, because it is through her that we gain access to all that is Superman. When Lois is allowed to reach her potential? Superman stories truly soar.
Maya Kesh is a lifetime comic reader and a writer whose articles often focus on how women are portrayed in comics. You can follow her on Twitter at @mayak46.
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.