There is no Lois Lane without Superman. Okay. But is there no Superman without Lois Lane? That makes sense too but it’s more complicated than that, as Tim Hanley points out in his new book, “Investigating Lois Lane: The Turbulent History of the Daily Planet’s Ace Reporter.” Lois Lane. Who is she? What Hanley concludes is that the general public has got a good handle on this: Lois Lane is a smart, capable, and determined journalist. But it took DC Comics a very long time to come around and understand this.
In a book that is brimming with facts, Tim Hanley provides a highly accessible read on an iconic character that has been put through the wringer. Hanley’s 2014 book, “Wonder Woman Unbound” was highly insightful and entertaining. With this new book focusing on Lois Lane, I think he’s really hit the nail on the head. Here is a female character who has been a part of DC Comics right from the start and holds a unique position as the key partner to Superman, the most celebrated superhero of all time. As a significant female character in pop culture, we have in Lois Lane an informative gauge of how women have been depicted and treated in media and society in close to a century in America.
Lois Lane began as a “sob sister” on The Daily Planet in 1938. As a woman, she was initially relegated to answering letters from women readers seeking advice on love and relationships. But Lois was persistent and it wasn’t long before she was holding her own with other newspapermen. She had to not only be tough, she had to be exceedingly single-minded. No fiancé for her. Along comes Superman and he sort of spoils things for Lois since she now finds herself more often the damsel in distress than the self-controlled ace reporter. This is a holding pattern that Lois will not break free from for the next thirty years. And, when she does, Lois is subjected to some pretty cringe-worthy attempts to revamp her character as a new feminist seeking justice for women, minorities, and any and all causes.
The jumping the shark moment for Lois comes when she decides to go undercover as an African-American woman in 1971. This is a story I was not aware of by any means. Hanley, I’m sure, does not expect readers to be familiar with this. Instead, I’m sure, he relishes in revealing these gold nuggets that have been lost to time. We come to see just how ill-conceived this story was and just how desperate DC Comics was to catch up with Marvel Comics that seemed to effortlessly keep up with the times. This particular story was entitled, “I Am Curious (Black)!” It is referring to a popular subversive Swedish film, “I Am Curious (Yellow).” That is provocative but decidedly tone deaf too as that film’s greatest notoriety was as pornography. Hanley goes on to say that the whole idea of having Lois Lane in blackface is bizarre and repugnant. I can see where this story might have worked had it attached itself to “Black Like Me,” the 1961 true account of journalist John Howard Griffin, a white man going undercover as a black man.
Hanley’s strength is in enthusiastically retelling each Lois Lane story as it rolls out. In Hanley’s hands, even the most popular stuff feels fresh and alive. With clarity and nuance, he brings to life the behind-the-scenes aspects to “Superman: The Movie” and how Margot Kidder would go on to provide the definitive template for Lois Lane. We come to see that, when it comes to Lois Lane, every step in the right direction is highly significant since they happen sporadically. What does the future hold for Lois Lane? Well, from what I found in this book, Margot Kidder remains a viable model to follow. Lois Lane can be as brash, and relevant, as writers can make her. Perhaps she’d be a bit like Tina Fey in “Whisky Tango Foxtrot,” which is an imperfect example at best, but the point is that we have barely scratched the surface on the character of Lois Lane after nearly a century. It’s time to pick up the pace. As Hanley’s book makes clear, Lois Lane remains a character full of potential who continues to resonate with potential fans.
“Investigating Lois Lane: The Turbulent History of the Daily Planet’s Ace Reporter” is a 288-page trade paperback, published by Chicago Review Press. For more details, visit Chicago Review Press right here.