Comics Ate My Brain

August 23, 2007

Thursday Night Thinking

Filed under: justice league, lois lane, meme, thursday night thinking — Tom Bondurant @ 11:27 pm
Even in the late ’50s, when she was known more for chasing Superman, Lois Lane did some formidable THINKING!

The mystery man is a familiar Silver Age hero — have you figured out his identity, dear reader?

(We’re flashing back with Diamondrock tonight!)

[From “The Origin Of The Justice League — Minus One!,” Justice League of America #144, July 1977. Written by Steve Englehart, pencilled by Dick Dillin, inked by Frank McLaughlin.]

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March 9, 2007

Is She Really Going Out With Him?

Filed under: lois lane, superman — Tom Bondurant @ 3:20 pm
Here’s the Lois Lane-centered follow-up to my earlier Clark Kent post.

In the traditional setup, Lois sees Superman as a perfect specimen of … well, anything; and Clark is just some nebbish she works with. Back in the day, the stories tacitly affirmed her behavior, because why wouldn’t she have gravitated towards Superman and brushed off Clark? Today she tends to look pretty superficial, which in turn gets countered with the notion that Superman must have seen something pretty special in her. That then might make her something of a trophy for him, so I’ll try not to dwell on his perspective.

Just about every iteration has Clark deciding to become a reporter before he meets Lois. The Byrne origin changes the sequence, with Clark meeting Lois first (while saving the shuttle) and then getting the Daily Planet gig; but even then I don’t think Byrne had Lois being the reason Clark works specifically at the Planet. That would be creepy. Besides, the point of “Clark” is not to get closer to Lois, it’s to hide Superman. Getting close to Lois is just a bonus. The irony is that Clark can’t get too close, or Lois might catch on — so Clark’s job is to stay unobtrusive. We know what Lois sees in Superman, so the question then becomes, “what would Lois see in Clark?”

In this respect, I think Superman Returns might have artificially distorted the traditional Clark/Lois dynamic, producing atypical, but understandable, results. In the first two Christopher Reeve movies, Lois and Clark aren’t all that close, not even by the time of their Niagara Falls trip in Superman II.

Movie Lois’ indifference to Clark is played mostly for laughs. Oh sure, she’s worried about him when she thinks the mugger’s shot him, but the rest of the time, zip. When, on the terrace with Superman, she mentions Clark, Superman asks “Is that your boyfriend…?” and she responds, “Oh, no, he’s nothing.” Accordingly, Superman eclipses Clark completely, just as he hopes — good news for the secret identity! They work together for a couple of years, at most (i.e., the time between movies), but Lois is also interacting with Superman, and Superman definitely leaves a bigger impression … uh, so to speak. Giving birth to their child can’t help but remind her of him, and the fact that he’s not there. (I didn’t read the “Lois” installment of the Superman Returns comics, so I don’t know how much it might have addressed this.)

So when Superman and Clark both come back into her life, naturally she focuses on Superman, because he’s made the biggest difference. Clark’s just some guy. We’ve all known someone, whether at work or school, who we see every day, to whom we are friendly and vice versa, but whose 5-year trip to Outer Mongolia wouldn’t make a ripple in our daily lives. That’s Clark to Lois in the Reeve/Donner/Singerverse.

In the comics, and even on “Lois & Clark,” the week-to-week schedule can show the relationship(s) growing and developing. This was the approach when they started dating in the late ’80s and early ’90s (they got engaged in late 1990, and he “came out” to her in early ’91). Otherwise, a static take on the triangle just reinforces the extremes of Lois cuckoo for Superman and just friendly to Clark. Therefore, when no gradual development is (or can be) shown, it’s not unreasonable to think that Lois sees very little in Clark beyond the stereotypical nice guy, and we all know where nice guys finish.

Also, Movie Lois’ indifference sets up her learning the secret in Superman II. In the original release, Lois’ suspicions appear to be quashed, but dumb luck intervenes and Clark falls into a fireplace. She’s vindicated, but her still-fresh humiliation takes some of the triumph out of it. Not so in the “Donner cut,” where Lois shoots a freaked-out Clark and gets additional pwnage by revealing she was shooting blanks. In both instances Lois pursued Superman with an investigator’s zeal, and doesn’t look shallow or petty; but I think the Donner version lets her keep more of her dignity.

Speaking of which, one take on the relationship holds that, upon learning the truth, Lois should reject Clark/Superman for, essentially, lying to her all those years. In the Mad parody “Superduperman!”, Bark Bent (right?) grovels along behind a completely oblivious Lois Pain, who calls him a creep; but when Superduperman tells Lois his secret at the end, she stuffs him in a trash can and stalks off: “Yer still a creep!” Again, without some development in the relationship, Superman/Clark continues to look like a tool for stringing Lois along.

Thus, it seems that for Lois and Clark to work as a couple, Lois must overcome her perceived superficiality in the reader/viewer’s eyes, and Clark must convince the reader/viewer that he’s not just making her look stupid. Again, the movies make Lois appealing through a few deft strokes (including pounding that champagne bottle on Perry’s desk, which facilitates Clark’s perfectly innocent line “Why would anyone want to make a total stranger look like a fool?”). We can see why Clark/Supes falls for Lois, because we like Lois ourselves. When she learns the truth in Superman II, I suppose she’s already made peace with his secret identity, and therefore worked through the desire to reject him. It’s similar to her being starstruck on the terrace in the first movie. She mentions Clark’s dismissal of Superman as a figment of someone’s imagination, like Peter Pan; and Superman replies, “Peter Pan flew with children, Lois, in a fairy tale.” In other words, the revelation of Superman’s secret is just another impossible thing to assimilate.

Therefore, his SR absence makes her less charitable towards him. She’s dealt with you-know-what pretty well, and I would even say that their roles are reversed, with him caught off-guard and her in command of their relationship. I do think SR adopts the notion that their relationship is the bellwether for his relationship with humanity at large. Accordingly, by the end, he’s comfortable enough to assure her (and us) that he’s not going anywhere.

Of course, this brings up the reason he left in the first place; namely, to verify that Krypton is, like Generalissimo Francisco Franco, still dead. When he left, apparently he was confident enough that their relationship could survive, and there was also the possibility that he’d find more Kryptonians. (They’d likely be good Kryptonians, because they wouldn’t be in the Phantom Zone.) Discovering a completely dead Krypton was one thing, but coming back to a significantly changed Earth (personified by Lois) was a double whammy.

Getting back to Superman’s point of view for a bit, though, there is a strong thread running through all the iterations that Superman not only feels a responsibility to use his powers, he has a need to use them. Superman needs to be able to relate to Lois not just because she represents humanity, but also because he doesn’t know how to relate to her solely as “normal” Clark. (SR never really puts forth the Milhouse-like Jimmy Olsen as a substitute, which is both a missed opportunity for comedy gold and further support for my Lois theory.) In fact, one of the film’s most exultant moments is the Smallville flashback, where Young Clark apparently goes from simple super-leaps to actual flight. This is before Clark became responsible, of course (remember the first movie’s “is a bird showing off when it flies?”), and also before he meets Lois. I don’t know if there is much of a connection, but perhaps she does inspire him to be more responsible. She probably does now, at any rate.

Today, with the two married and Lois fully able to participate in Clark’s life, it seems like the relationship is as healthy as it’s going to get. Not only is the marriage the product of a steady progression of stories, the characters’ relationships don’t have to deal with the artifice of a “fictionalized” Clark Kent. Having Clark be the real person and Superman the persona makes it easier for Lois to relate to both of them, because it’s less of a learning curve. Not that Lois is an idiot, but her Earth-1 and movie counterparts had to deal with a Superman a lot more steeped in Kryptonian culture than the current version (at least so far). Both the Alan Moore Supreme stories and Grant Morrison’s All-Star Superman gave Superman a big home-court advantage, to an almost sinister degree, and this tended to keep Lois off-balance whenever she visited the Fortress of Solitude or got too involved in the Kryptonian side of things.

In other words, if Clark is the disguise, it seems like a Lois who learns the secret has a lot more issues to work through in order to have a healthy relationship. That Lois can have a pretty normal relationship with Superman, because Superman is a purer expression of Kal-El’s true nature than Clark is (and, of course, she still has to come to terms with having a relationship with Kal-El). However, making Superman the disguise and Clark the “real person” seems more conducive to a relationship with Lois, because falling in love with Clark should make it easier for her to understand his role as Superman.

It probably didn’t hurt that the early days of the Byrne/Wolfman reboot saw Lois and Clark both pursuing, and pursued by, other people. Clark went on a few dates with Cat Grant and had that brief infatuation with Wonder Woman. Meanwhile, Lois’ relationship with Luthor was in its last throes, after which she dated Jose “Gangbuster” Delgado for a little while. (Personally, my favorite Lois/non-Kryptonian relationship is the all-too-short fling Animated Lois had with Animated Bruce Wayne….)

However, it seems like we fans can either have Clark-the-disguise or a well-adjusted, full-disclosure Lois & Clark, but not both. I’m still not sure which I’d prefer. Probably the latter, because I think it makes everyone look a little better, but I still have a lot of affection for the old Clark.

February 23, 2007

Kent State

Filed under: lois lane, superman — Tom Bondurant @ 3:48 am
Oh, here we go again, another lamentation about the loss of the Earth-1 Clark, a guy literally too good to be true. Let’s call him the Maggin Clark, after Elliot S! Maggin, chief architect of the 1970s Superman, who most prominently described the differences between Kal-El and his alter ego.

Here’s an excerpt from Maggin’s second Superman novel, Miracle Monday (available to read on Superman Through The Ages):

Superman loved Clark Kent as much as he loved anyone or anything else. He loved his alter ego as he loved the memory of the two good people who had taken him as their son; as he loved this adopted world that had accepted him as its hero; as he loved Lois Lane. Clark Kent was a person as real and individual as any man ever created by the mind of man. Superman even gave Clark a demon: Clark videotaped television commercials that particularly amused him, and showed them to friends who were polite enough to sit through them. Superman spent appreciably more time creating the reality of Clark Kent than he spent doing anything else. Clark Kent spent more time walking the Earth than Superman spent flying above it. Superman valued his creation as he valued a human life.

The Maggin Clark follows decades of Superman tradition, going back at least as far as the ‘40s radio-show narration (“And who, disguised as Clark Kent…”). Superman encumbers himself with Clark, donning a bulky suit and clunky glasses over his skintight costume and super-powered eyes. Clark isn’t quite a Harrison Bergeron-like burden, but he does personify Superman’s voluntary acquiescence to the necessities of human life. On Earth-1, Clark was Superman’s connection to humanity, and had been since childhood. Later in Miracle Monday, Maggin indicates that if something ever happened to Clark, Superman would have to re-establish that connection almost from scratch.

The Maggin Clark fits pretty well with a Superboy career. On Earth-1, Kal-El’s powers developed fairly quickly, so he knew (and was constantly reminded) early in life about the responsibilities of using them. His foster parents taught him how to fit in, but were his only confidants (outside of the Legion of Super-Heroes, but he didn’t need to be Clark Kent with them). Thus, when they died, “Clark” was a way to remember them. No wonder Superman was so attentive to Clark.

Does it follow, then, that if we change a whole slew of those elements, we can flip the characterization so that “Superman” is the disguise? I wonder, and my hesitancy comes straight from the first Christopher Reeve movie. Superman (1978) eliminated Superboy, withheld knowledge of Krypton from Clark until adulthood, and allowed Martha Kent to survive. Clark had to hide his powers, of course, but the weird, emasculated teen of the movie’s Smallville scenes wasn’t the formal “I don’t watch television; I was reading Dickens” alter ego who showed up in Metropolis. Does this mean that, at some point during Clark’s twelve years (!!) with Jor-El’s Giant Floating Holographic Head, one of them came up with the glasses-and-slouching idea? I suppose if you’re going to learn Acting!, you could do worse than Brando, just post-Godfather (and pre-Apocalypse Now…).

So Movie Clark, as much as I really love him, now seems like even more of a construct than Maggin Clark, because Movie Clark doesn’t have all of Maggin Clark’s underpinnings. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, it does make the developments of the 1986 revamp more understandable.

That revamp went a little further than the movie did. Both Ma and Pa Kent are alive today (All-Star Superman notwithstanding), there was still no Superboy career, Clark’s powers developed slowly (no lifting pickup trucks for baby Kal-El), and he didn’t learn about Krypton until well into his Superman career. (I’m going by Man of Steel here; I’m pretty sure Birthright is different with regard to the Krypton revelation, and who knows what it’s all supposed to be now.) The point was, Clark got to grow up more as a human and not as Kal-El. Man of Steel doesn’t touch on this significantly, but Clark also got to grow up discovering his powers in a world that was used to super-people — another change from Earth-1, which had no explosion of superheroics a la the Justice Society until Superman came along. The Kents might have had a bit of “we have to hide him because the JSA got forced underground,” but the flip side of that might also have been “hey! everyone loves superheroes!”

In this respect, it’s almost inevitable that Clark would end up hiding in plain sight as Superman, even going without a mask (and thereby tacitly recalling the Congressional demands that stymied the JSA). As a disguise, “Superman” thus has the potential to become such a … flamboyant isn’t the right word, I know — how about “distracting?” — superhero parody that it lets Clark be himself. Naturally, as it turns out, Clark and Superman are both pretty decent guys, so the Superman performance seems like a pretty thin tightrope. To be sure, in comics we don’t get to hear the different voices.

Anyway, all of this reinforces the notion, dropped anvilliciously by Byrne in Man of Steel #6, that Revamped Clark is practically hardwired to feel human by the circumstances of his upbringing. He might think he’s the last Kryptonian, but that’s just an explanation for his powers.

Where does Lois Lane come into all of this? After Lana Lang, not to put too fine a point on it. Earth-1 Lana was more of a plot device than a girlfriend; in fact, she wasn’t Clark’s girlfriend at all, was she? Revamped Lana was saddled with the knowledge of Clark’s powers, and she got to be his first love, but the necessity of getting her out of the picture made her Missed-Opportunity Woman. Today Kurt Busiek has made her head of LexCorp, which is a lot better than some other writers (I”m looking at you, Chuck “Amuck” Austen) have treated her.

Lois’ portrayals are many and varied, of course, from the nosy obsessive of the ’50s to the tough career woman of the ’70s and ’80s. However, for our purposes the biggest Lois innovation may be her role as Superman’s anchor to humanity. Whenever something happens to Lois, Superman ends up going nuts: mad enough to change history in the first Reeve movie; despondent enough in an alt-future to go into exile (Kingdom Come) or even commit suicide (JLA‘s “Rock Of Ages”); and restoring Lois to the mix was part of the resolutions of “For Tomorrow,” DC One Million, and the “King of the World” storyline from about 10 years ago. Still, in light of Maggin Clark being the anchor on Earth-1, and Revamped Clark being his own anchor, does Lois really play as big a part as we think?

I say she does, and I think it’s because Lois validates both Clark and Superman. Lois — I’m tempted to say regardless of iteration, but I’m more comfortable saying it in the ’70s and more recently — confirms that Superman, in whatever guise, can relate to humanity successfully. The combination of skepticism and idealism that makes Lois a great reporter serves as an acid test for Superman: if he can relate to her as “normal” Clark and extraordinary Superman, all is right with his world.

This, I think, helps explain the lack of Clark in Superman Returns. Superman needs to reconnect with Lois, because she represents the degree to which he’s successfully connected with humanity. However, all of his business with her concerns Superman, not Clark. Indeed, the Clark of the movies is apparently such a non-entity that his return barely registers with Lois. This is not entirely surprising — in fact, it suggests that the Clark disguise works a little too well. Besides, Lois is clearly more concerned with the aforementioned unfinished business with Superman than she is with getting reacquainted with some random guy she used to work with.

Naturally, this is not optimal for Superman, so just like in Miracle Monday, he has to learn to reconnect with the world when the world’s relationship to Clark isn’t what it used to be. Moreover, “Superman” is the public expression of the powers, and one of the missions of Superman Returns was to show off the powers using the latest technology, so not much room for Clark. I agree with plok and his commenters that Clark could have helped Supes deal with his Lois issues, but it’s nice to see that he can adapt otherwise.

Man, this has gone on too long, and there’s probably still another post in my Lois notes and my thoughts on Clark getting pushed aside … so if any of you are still awake at this point, that’s certainly something to look forward to, huh?

April 13, 2005

Cue the Patsy Cline …

Filed under: lois lane, superman — Tom Bondurant @ 3:54 am
… as in “Cra-zy, I’m crazy for fee-lin’ so lone-lyyy….”

No, it’s not just me, although it’s hard being in Lexington while the Best Wife Ever is in Virginia. I’ve been rereading the Steven T. Seagle/Scott McDaniel Superman issues in preparation for a potential Great Curve story, and at the risk of SPOILING any of you, it ends with a potential future where Supes fails to save Lois Lane.

While this future is scary enough on its own terms, it got me thinking — has it just been a recent innovation that the loss of Lois would send Supes over the edge? She was gone at the beginning of the current “For Tomorrow” arc; and her death caused Superman to exile himself (or worse) in the alt-future backstories of both Kingdom Come and JLA‘s “Rock of Ages.” Conversely, restoring the Superman/Lois relationship was critical to the endings of both DC One Million and the “Superman Rex” arc from a few years ago. I’m sure I’m missing other examples (that 1991 Annual where a dead Lois leads to Supes leaving Earth and hooking up with Maxima, for example).

Here’s what I want to know: did we see these kinds of stories before Clark and Lois got engaged? I’m thinking that the pre-Crisis Superman wasn’t as emotionally attached to Lois as the current one is. Has Lois replaced Clark as Superman’s main connection to humanity?

Discuss, if you will.

July 16, 2004

Who needed the glasses here…?

Filed under: lois lane, superman — Tom Bondurant @ 1:56 am

“Superman Takes A Wife!”, from Action Comics #484 (June 1978), is one of my favorite Superman stories, odd quasi-Biblical title and all. I got the Superman in the Seventies paperback mostly because it reprinted that story. I love its retro, mature, cusp-of-the-’50s feel. I love that Curt Swan really tried to ape the period style of Wayne Boring, even though Swan’s style is iconic.

However…

Lois marries Clark never having learned that he was Superman. (Clark is still super, he’s just magically forgotten his other identity, and Superman’s been missing for a year.) Lois’ old suspicions come back when Clark survives a machine-gun attack while swimming.

Now, Lois has spent the better part of 15 years or so analyzing the differences between Clark and Superman. In fact, after Supes disappeared, Lois grew more attracted to Clark because Clark became less of a pushover. When Clark is attacked, Lois sees him swimming without his glasses. That night they sleep together, and she finally catches on — by trying to cut his invulnerable hair. Never mind that when he’s sleeping, he doesn’t have his glasses, and darn if he doesn’t look like Superman!

Because the story takes place in the ’50s, I can accept that this particular day was the first time she’d seen him au naturale, as it were. I’m just a little amazed that she doesn’t notice a resemblance when he first comes out of the water. He’s completely unscathed, and her reaction is not a shouted “HOLY ****!” but a thought of “Could it be…?”

Anyway, still a good story.

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