All Star Lois Lane: Superman, icons, personhood and love
A look at All Star Superman, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, and Clark’s current date calendar
Before you go back and listen to WWACRadio episode two, let me tell you. I have read a Superman comic now.
I read All Star Superman by Morrison, Quitely and Grant (Jamie Grant, not Morrison, Grant) and it vindicated me; I don’t need to read Superman comics. I know everything I need to. I saw it on TV.
It was half curiosity and half obligation; my friend Stephen listened to said podcast and was horrified I’d never read a full Superman comic. He lent me the ASS trade and it’s not like I hadn’t heard good things or loved the scans of Regan, her absent psychologist and Superman that you see around everywhere-
But I’d be lying if I pretended I didn’t go into it thinking am I done yet? Can I have my opinion on Superman yet? It didn’t help that the weather was humid. I was petulant. Morrison mitigated some of that pretty quickly by patching into a story already in full swing – no time to frown, gotta catch up!
Superman is dying and he’s just like “well, okay”. He gets on with things, super things. We see the fortress of solitude, and his mad scientist friend, and we see how sad he was when his dad died. A superman from the future gets in touch to ask who JLo was, which is a tic I’m pretty much at one with Brandon Graham on. Lex Luthor is the bad guy and the sun’s going to explode. It doesn’t really matter what happened because the book is about Superman calm at the core of a mad world. Whatever happens, it barely bothers him, because Superman has the processing capacities to reduce any crisis to a to-do list. He will immediately begin ticking tasks off. The first item is revealing his full identity to Lois. She doesn’t believe him and I think “no” and “why” and “will this ridiculous ‘secret’ never die”.
None of this is to say it was a bad comic! It was good. I liked reading it a lot. I like remembering that I know stuff, it makes me feel secure. This is all sounding backhanded but what I mean is, if Morrison weren’t so terribly good at entertaining me, if Quitely weren’t so dedicated to implicitly questioning “comic book house style”, if Grant hadn’t cushioned my experience with his long-honed colouring techniques that turn people and environments into those tangy, fruity mallows that I’d eat til I were sick (all good, skilled things), THEN there’d have been no gain in my reading. Because I get it already. Superman is calm. Superman’s a manifesto as well as a manofsteel.
The first Grant Morrison comic I read was his New X-Men and I loved it. Way back before I knew I should look at who wrote a story instead of just ‘is it an X-Men thing’ I was loving Beak and the Special Class, Cassandra Nova etc, and Quentin. No-one draws Quentin Quire like Quitely. His spiteful little stimulated face. Lex Luthor, here, is an older balder less-magic Quentin Quire and I honestly don’t care if that should be the case. I am buying a ticket for that ride. This character has momentum. He has a certain inner freedom. He’s messing it up, he’s an awful dickbag, but his earnest striving allows me to say: I freely choose not to be like that.
It must be hard to be Lois Lane though! I know I’m never satisfied with her. I didn’t care for her character model in All Star Superman; I couldn’t relate to her because she looked like the most basic form of “a magazine-cover woman at the time that this was made” – Lois Lane is a thin white brunette with no distinguishing features or ailments but the savvy to succeed and thrive in a male-dominated newsroom at the top of the town – but so what? Who is she? What is that to me? All Star Superman barely tells me and I don’t think it felt it needed to.
I enjoyed her acknowledgement of complete circumstantial insecurity (literal insecurity, she has more evidence of danger than safety) in the Fortress of Solitude: Superman is acting differently and she’s all alone with him in space. What if he murders her? Well, he could, and I’d certainly think of that too. I like her recognition and eventual casting off of the “whole sick relationship” that David Brothers ignited such an interesting thread about a little while back. But these are behaviours. Not an identity.
Pamela Bodziock wrote an article on Teri Hatcher’s Lois Lane during our LOIS 75 celebrations – I can’t believe I didn’t give it props at the time! Teri Hatcher’s super-smash during Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman was to be just as dissatisfied with her as I’d grow up to be. She played her from the back foot. The New Adventures of Lois Lane were all about pushing herself to live up to her idea of Acceptable Lois– whilst undertaking strenuous R&D re: the new, improved template for tomorrow’s/today’s/yesterday’s acceptable Lois. Wonder Woman could never be stood to express a self of such perpetual motion – Lois is Batman where Wondy is Supes. Even in her original form, Wonder Woman had it all figured out. Subdue through love. She’s the authority figure in her own story. Batman’s the man of the manor but he’s chasing his dead parents. His action comes after suffering injustice, and hers comes from being above it. Flip that – Superman, as one is rarely allowed to forget, could be a tyrant of peace. Lois does absolutely not have this option.
Under the guidance of Deborah Joy Levine, Hatcher’s interpretation fit conveniently with post-80s, shrink-centric, self deprecation. This Lois balanced herself between late-80s stories like Baby Boom – where whether you heard an office is no place for a woman; they have babies or offices should make room for women with babies, there was a women-babies-office-hard echo in the air – and pre-1993 sitcoms that flew the flag for Power Moms Having It All; The Cosby Show, Who’s The Boss, Growing Pains… The Fresh Prince’s Vivian Banks I. Lois can run with the boys, she can outrun and out-write her peers and they don’t think that she can’t. But it’s hard as fuck! She has to try. Then what do you do when you’re at the top of the mountain? “Well, I’m Lois Lane and I’ve finally scaled Everest. There’s no more climbing to do! …Help! Superman!!”
I really love New Adventures’ Lois Lane. I like Clark too but he’s not a driving protagonist in the same way – even during the romantic plot the show hinges on, for Clark it’s all “I love Lois. How do I get her to notice me?” whereas Lois is thinking, “How do I feel about Clark? And what the heck do I do about that?”. When Clark is upset he calls his parents and feels better – of course it helps that Jonathan and Martha are modern humans here, instead of the shawled & dungareed ghosts of an 1857 prairie couple. When Lois is tested the bubbles start collecting under her fixed cap until she’s a river bursting its banks and spreading putrid gunk and nutrients all over the land. I don’t need to be satisfied with Hatcher’s Lois Lane. Nobody’s asking me to. She’s not meant to be an answer. She’s a journalist: they question and reveal.
It was a stroke of luck that the fashions of the time allowed so much reference to the power shrews of the 30s and such madcap whimsy in single outfits. Lois in a boxy ochre tunic with outsize buttons and lace-on sleeves that make her look like the most capable gingerbreadwoman in Metropolis. Lois dressed entirely in silver satin and a patent red belt, interviewing a notorious crime boss who swears he’s gone legit in the name of love. Clark sits next to her offended that she turned down his first proposal, because he neglected to mention that he’s Superman and she guessed it. Let’s get all Carrie Bradshaw and ridiculous for a moment and think about how L&C:NAS Lois takes the name Ultrawoman when she, through mishap, absorbs Clark’s superpowers. Ultra. Woman. Not Superwoman. Not Wonder Woman, like wow, just look at that dame! She’s just, extremely, ‘woman’. Ultra: Far beyond the normal or proper degree of; female archetype pushed to the max. Neurotic bossy loudmouth in a suit with pointed shoulders and a skirt that shows legs she could use if she needed to. Shiny tie and wide-leg pinstripes under her new, waved pixie cut. She’s a voice on the telephone that won’t go away. Unacceptable but present.
Ultrawoman’s from the episode she asks Clark to marry her and he says yes, by the by. Because what’s boy scout farm boy Superman looking for in a partner? And what compliments someone so very? Somebody who exhausts herself?
Contrast what Grant Morrison says of Lois in All Star Superman –
Lois has guessed, but refuses to acknowledge it because it exposes her darkest flaw – she could never love Clark Kent the way she loves Superman.
– With these exchanges from L&C:
Lois Lane: I dreamt about this, spending the night in your arms. First, it was Superman. Then it was Clark.
Lois Lane: Did I ever tell you why I gave up my crush on Superman?
Clark Kent: No.
Lois Lane: It’s because he was a fantasy. And did I ever tell you why I fell in love with Clark? Because he’s real. And that’s what I want.
Clark Kent: You do?
Lois Lane: Clark has problems, insecurities, hat hair.
Clark Kent: I do not have hat hair.
My Lois is a woman who spends hundreds of dollars and an entire day buying and trying new clothes in order to avoid disappointing her beau on their first proper date. They swapped wardrobe fantasies–he wore her imagined charcoal suit. She’s a babe who becomes so overwhelmed by the possibility of failing to meet his ideal that after all that, she changes to an entirely different outfit, in a colour he didn’t ask for, effectively opting out of the stress of failing his perfection by judging herself unsuitable as a dreamgirl. And she wants Clark not despite but because of his HAT HAIR. She’s alive! What does Lois want if she wants Superman? Nothing? A feeling of ‘never enough’?
You just… you just shut up, Grant Morrison. You can tell a Superman story large and well. I like Zibarro’s poetry and Jimmy Olsen: Hipster King, but I’m here writing all about what’s missing because you didn’t tell a Lois story and that’s where the heart of Clark lies. God, who cares what the perfect man is thinking? I KNOW what he’s thinking! I can imagine it. It’s “something nice”.
Oh hey, reader, I’m sorry. I compared Lois and Diana as High Priestess and Empress of the DCU up there without remembering, at all, that Superman and Wonder Woman are dating now. Oversight! Lucky the guys in charge mentioned how Twilight it’s all gonna get.
It’s hard to have a reaction of my own, because the idea of this coupling is so boring. Empty. Dull. Unimpassioned. Obvious. Clark and Diana are such a no-brainer neogenesis couple they’ve been painted in and out of the margins of canon for decades. It’s never stuck because – well, I’d say because it’s so thunderously tiresome it could alter the earth’s weather patterns. But I am but one woman, with one small opinion amongst many. I’m sorry, this romance rears it head and I become Tempus – a villain from Lois & Clark who cares so much about the spice of Superman’s love life he hijacks H. G. Wells (yes) to try to murder Clark as a baby. I care a lot, in the negative. DC cannot complain about this because they want their characters to be icons. Icons reach further than the wallet.
I am so fatigued by Clark and Diana together I want to smash my head into my keyboard and leave you with what dribbles out, but let’s try and do a good deed. They say they want to appeal to romance-reading women, and to averagely socialised teen girls. They say they want this to be star-crossed. What needs to alter to make it so?
The first possibility is incest. Now that Wonder Woman was born of god-loins, lets have Zeus live up to his legendary randiness – Jor-El was secretly Zeus, or Zeus secretly jizzed into the Kyptonian sperm banks, or he visited Krypton way back when and was found to be such a fine specimen that all the top scientists (secretly?) fought for first dibs on the introduction of his information into their gene pool. Incest is a good romangst page-turner – see Flowers in the Attic, see Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, see the early Supernatural fandom and a whole lot of pan-franchise fanfiction. They’d have to split up, though, because once you put your top guys in an acknowledged brother-sister liaison you may as well bulldoze your whole cathedral. So that’s no good, in the long run.
The second is a love triangle. Oh no, how will the romance stand it! This is not for all readers, but as a publisher one must take risks. Superman is so devoted to Wonder Woman, but there’s this woman at the office.. she’s got such a spark! They seemed to share a moment in that lift… and the way she looked at him when he saved her from that fifty-tonne mechanoshark… He knows he shouldn’t feel this. He knows he’d hate himself if he strayed. He knows Diana doesn’t deserve this. She’s so beautiful, etc. The readers cry, they rail. They ship Clois, they ship Cliana, they launch warheads at each other, everyone dies. We are all dead. This is no good, in the long run.
At this point I must consider the possibility that DC has introduced Superman/Wonder Woman at the very beginning of their relaunch in the hope it can run its short course, that they might never have to worry about it again. This is admirable, almost, but oddly naive! Once someone’s gone on a date in comics it is written.
Superman and Wonder Woman alone are statements. They’re endings. To our suffering, to our moral dilemmas. They catch us when we fall and save us from disasters. They have powers in all directions! Invulnerable, apart, and together either a closed metal sphere of ~peace~ that raises into the air and beams nirvana unending into the universe (great story)… or the source of each other’s weakness. Ouch!
Goodness knows there was enough market for Harry/Hermione fic that some shiver of an echo of it made it into the last film adaptation. Wonder Woman Loves Superman will probably sell well enough.
Wake me when it’s over (and my avatar in the DCU slept forever).