Pretty in the Past: Lois Lane

Throughout her series, Lois was depicted as both incredibly smart, highly capable, enormously kind and generous. She was also depicted as mind-bogglingly stupid, incompetent, mean-spirited and petty and seemingly unable to read.

Dec 5, 2012 at 11:00am | Leave a comment

Today’s subject is more than just a pretty face. She’s the best reporter journalism has ever known. How good is she? So good she’s the only one she trusts to tell her own final tale:

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Luckily for Lois Lane, her end isn’t going to come anytime soon. She first came to the world’s attention all the way back in 1938 and has showed no signs of slowing down (or even aging) in the 74 years that have passed since.

She’s working harder than ever these days, but for the purposes of this post I’m going to focus on the period between 1958 and 1974 when her exciting adventures were chronicled for our entertainment via her own comic magazine.

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As superhero obsessed as our culture may seem today, there was a period in the past where Superman was so popular that not only did he star in several different comics, even his supporting cast of characters got their own series.

Supposedly aimed at younger female readers (but written mostly by middle-aged men and read by boys), Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane did its best to transcend the limitations of its heroine by featuring her in stories that were completely fucking insane.

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Reading the series today you’d expect it to be a hilarious time capsule of outdated attitudes towards women—and it mostly is—but what struck me as I revisited my personal collection for this article (I have managed to get my hands on just over half of its 138 issues) is how with just a few slight alterations many of the stories could be used as the basis of your typical present-day Kate Hudson movie.

That’s because like the busy career women found in most modern romcoms, Lois’ true passion wasn’t the profession she excelled at, but rather her desire to find a perfect man to put on a ring on her marryin’ finger. In her case, though, that man had been found—she just couldn’t get him to seal the deal.

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Lois’ dream of being the Man of Steel’s bride was presented as being less an idle fancy than the kind of all-consuming obsession the modern day restraining order and anti-stalking laws are made of. Such was the level of her derangement she continually made choices that could only be properly described as highly questionable.

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Eventually though, the then growing women’s liberation movement did begin to have an effect on her.

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But in her case this mostly meant she started dressing in sexier, more fashionable clothes.

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And she did also eventually start taking her career more seriously; going to the kind of extremes she once only employed to get Superman’s attention.

The most famous example of this came in 1970 when—in an attempt to understand the unrest at the root of black Americans’ struggle for civil rights—she underwent what would be considered today as the ultimate act of cultural appropriation.

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As a black woman Lois learned a lot:

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But not enough to avoid making the same somewhat insensitive mistake again:

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Throughout her series, Lois was depicted as both incredibly smart, highly capable, enormously kind and generous and the best at what she did. She was also depicted as mind-bogglingly stupid, incompetent, mean-spirited and petty and seemingly unable to read, much less win a Pulitzer.

It would be unfair to ascribe this inconsistent characterization purely to sexism, since it was equally true of all of the male characters in her comic as well (especially Superman). But in a weird way this may be the most authentic aspect of Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane.

While it took her character to the furthest possible extremes, the reality is that most people are complicated enough to be all of the things described above—the best and the worst, the smartest and the dumbest.

As silly as the stories are, they serve as tribute to a kind of pure unharnessed imagination that you rarely find these days. Their refusal to be burdened by consistency and logic is by far their most endearing trait. And as flawed as she is, Lois remained a hero, which was important in an era where female heroes were few and far between.

Plus who else do you know could have ever pulled this outfit off? 

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