“She is a fighter to the point of getting in over her head, but she does it to fight for truth and justice the same as Superman does… only she does it without powers.”

Natasha Townsel

This essay was previously published on DC Women Kicking Ass.

I am a huge Superman fan.  No, let’s get something clear: I am a HUGE Superman fan.  I collect comics, memorabilia, DVDs of now-defunct Superman TV series, and any and all Superman movies, both live action and animated.  I love Clark Kent because of who he is, not because of what he can do.  The fact that Clark possesses all those powers, yet remains an incredibly humble man from the Midwest who just wants to do the best he can to help moves me deeply.  I love that his entire purpose is for us as humans to use the abilities that we were born with to benefit humanity.   The ultimate theme of this character is hope, not revenge, fear, or hubris.  Clark believes the best in humans because he was raised by two of humanity’s best representatives.  He believes in second chances (and third and fourth) and that there is good in everyone.  He believes that all life is precious and will do everything he can to preserve it.  Superman is the ideal representation of humanity and inspires us to be our best possible selves.

“It’s not invulnerability or flight or heat vision or super speed that makes him the World’s Greatest Hero. It’s that Superman refuses to despair.  He is a testament to the opposite, in fact.  Superman is hope.” (Adventures of Superman #640)

When a man like this falls in love with a loud, abrasive, ambitious, and yet fearless, intelligent, feisty, and caring human woman like Lois Lane, it sends a powerful message to not only the women reading this book, but also the men.  It combats the message that women have to stand down, shut up, and hide their ambition to be worthy of passionate love with a strong man.  Lois is all of those adjectives and even more, and she is the way she is not only because she was raised as an Army brat and had to be tough as nails growing up in that world, but also because she is a woman in a field dominated by men and she had to prove that she was, not just as good as her colleagues, but better.  Lois will throw herself into a potentially dangerous story (and did so long before Superman showed up in Metropolis), and the kicker is that she wasn’t just doing it for the story.  She does it because she believes, wholeheartedly, in the right for the public to know the truth, she believes in justice, she believes in leaving no wo/man behind, and she is willing to die to make sure of that.

Recently, Grant Morrison reintroduced the public to Earth 23 in Action Comics v2 #9.  I was excited about this book.  This is an Earth inhabited by Black superheroes. Superman is a Black man who is also the President of the United States and his name is Calvin Ellis.  There is a Black Wonder Woman (named Nubia) and a Black Batman; however, a Black Lois equivalent is nowhere to be found. In fact, when Lois does show up, she’s a white Lois from another Earth entirely.

Why is there no Black Lois equivalent on Earth 23? And what would have been so hard about making the alt-Earth Lois that does show up a woman of color? The truth is I don’t think Grant Morrison did this on purpose.  I think he unconsciously assumed that every other Earth had a white!Lois and that he did not intentionally mean to erase the possibility of the human perspective in the Superman mythos as coming from a Black woman.  But his unconscious default button is a problem in and of itself because it’s the definition of white privilege.  This was an opportunity to show a powerful bond between a Black man and a Black woman in an iconic setting—and he missed it.

The reason I’m making a big deal of this is not JUST because I am a woman of color (particularly a Black woman and one who has not made it a secret just how much the Superman narrative means to me), but because of everything that I said above about Lois Lane and what she represents in the Superman mythos.  Because Lois is the human perspective in his story, and more importantly is what she represents to Superman. (And no matter how hard they try, this is something the new 52 cannot kill.  The love story of Lois Lane and Superman is immortal and inevitable.)

Within the Superman narrative, Lois Lane represents the best of humanity and everything Superman loves about humans. Where Lex Luthor is the worst of what humanity has to offer with his arrogance, his avarice, his corruptness, and insistence on believing the worst in people… Lois is the spirit of humanity.  She is incredibly flawed, just as we all are flawed, with her brashness and lack of verbal filter.  But she’s also incredibly loyal and has a vulnerability that she hides behind a ten-foot wall that only a Superman could break down.  She is a fighter to the point of getting in over her head, but she does it to fight for truth and justice the same as Superman does… only she does it without powers.  She is his equal because she shares his ideology and is willing to die for it.  Dean Trippe, the creator of Lois Lane: Girl Reporter (the best comic book that was shamefully never published) said it best: “the love story of Superman and Lois Lane is that of an incorruptible power meeting a fearless mortal.”  Lois will risk her own life and not just for the story, but for everything that makes the Fourth Estate worth anything: freedom of speech, the press, and the right to information. Nothing is more important to her than the truth and the public’s right to it.  She is the strength and integrity of humanity, and she is everything Superman believes human beings can be.  And this is stated IN CANON over and over again and throughout media.  Just as Superman is the symbol of Hope for the world, Lois Lane is Superman’s Hope.  She is his anchor to this world and to humanity.

Now imagine if all of that was represented in a Black woman. It would mean that for (possibly) the first time, a Black woman was the center of a mainstream narrative as more than just the bitch/mammy/best friend/sexpot/token Negro.  It means a Black woman would be the center of a mainstream comic book narrative where she is characterized as having integrity, strength, and sexiness without it being at the expense of her femininity or desirability.  It would mean a Black woman would be the symbol of Hope for one of the most powerful characters ever created. She would for once be an example of everything good about humanity, a character who is worth fighting for, and who is worthy of the erotic love of a godlike figure that has married/will marry her again and again.  She would be a Black woman who can save herself, but is nevertheless worth saving.

And then that mainstream narrative will be read by a mainstream audience that would see this Black woman represented in this way, and who knows, it might actually be a stepping stone to the creation of more Black female characters that also dominate a narrative, have agency and three dimensional characterizations.  It hurt me deeply that Grant Morrison and DC Comics missed this opportunity to showcase a Black Lois Lane on an Earth inhabited by Black superheroes and where Superman was a Black man.  It seemed clear that the issue understood the power of making Superman a Black man on Earth 23.  But they lost the feminist perspective from the point of view of a Black woman and blew a huge opportunity.  It’s possible they weren’t aware of what it would have meant to see a Black Lois Lane share that special iconic connection with a Black Superman.  I’m not even sure they understand what Lois means to Superman’s narrative or to people PERIOD.  So I’m telling them now; I’m raising my voice.  And if you don’t think Lois’ skin color is a big deal in this book, then you might need to examine your privilege.

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Bio:  Natasha Townsel is a graduate of University of South Florida with a Degree in Philosophy.  She is currently working in the criminal justice field in Memphis, TN.  Natasha is also an artist/creator and some of her work can be found at http://natashatownselart.tumblr.com  Specifically, Natasha is the author of an all ages Superman book, personally designed as a gift for the children in her family, to demonstrate that Clark Kent/Superman’s story of love and compassion is an inspiration to people everywhere.  She recently presented her children’s book to comic book legend George Perez at the Superman Celebration in Metropolis, Illinois.

(Bio by therearecertainshadesoflimelight)