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Saturday, July 9, 2016

Cover Story - Top 15 Lois Lane Covers

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Earlier in the week the geek world lost a true legend when Noel Neill, the first Lois Lane, passed away at the age of 95.  I already wrote a whole other piece surrounding this issue and talking about the history of Lois Lane but this is still very much the story of the moment in the world of nerd media and frankly I’d rather write another Lois Lane article than another Captain America one.  As such, I’m going to be looking today at the comic Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane, one of the hottest selling comics of the 1960s. 

Seriously, this was one of DC’s biggest success stories for an entire decade and lest you get the wrong idea, that success was BECAUSE of the romantic elements rather than in spite of them.  The book plays like a blend of sci-fi weirdness and romcom wackiness, allowing it to skew very moderately older and appeal to young girls as well as boys. Seriously, this is one of the definitive comics of the ‘60s, right there alongside Fantastic Four and Spider-Man.  With that said, let’s dive into the shallow end and get the cover story on the top 15 Lois Lane covers. 

For the opening entry I thought I’d showcase the typical kind of covers that informed this series, going all the way back to its inception.  Yes, in case you can’t tell the cover on the left is actually the very first issue of this comic, and it very much set the tone going forward.  

Though there was a wide range of stories to emerge from this book one of the most popular formats was to have Lois gain bizarre powers that basically let her dress up in a silly costume for the adventure.  Sometimes it was witch themed, other times jungle, always it befuddled Superman and was eventually reversed by the end of the issue but the joy was in seeing these whacky transformations play out and the trouble they’d cause.

Something people tend to misconceive about the very idea of Superman and stories including him is that his powers negating tension somehow makes the story uninteresting.  The thing is that stories reverting to a status quo are at the heart of episodic storytelling, especially in terms of comedy and that’s what these comics were meant to be: comedy.  

The reason the writers had Lois dress up in crazy costumes or gain some random super power was because they thought it was silly and fantastical and they knew that they could have pretty much anything happen to her because Superman could just hit the undo button.  With that kind of freedom comes truly unbridled creativity, which is what this age in comics really was.

Speaking of completely unlimited creativity, look no further than this incredibly bizarre hodgepodge of cover elements.  Firstly that visual of characters getting giant foreheads because they were “evolved” was incredibly popular in the Silver Age of comics, it happened to the Flash on like 3 separate occasions.  

I’m not really sure that “more brain means more smart” would really work but it’s a fun image that does instantly convey the idea that someone is super intelligent.  In any event, circumstances beyond my meager comprehension seem to have brought Lois to Las Vegas were she zapped herself with a smart ray that made her a cone head.  At which point, her ugliness was so incredible that it summoned Bizarro from out of the ether to proclaim marriage. 

In case you’re new to this, Bizarro is Superman’s backwards duplicate who does the opposite of everything, to him up is down, left is right, and ugliness is beauty.  I’m not sure what force drew Bizarro out of nowhere to come and propose to Lois but at the same time he’s got super sense so maybe he’s able to register ugliness on a level we can only dream of.  

I actually thought this was meant to Bizarro World, the square planet on which Bizarro and his race of fellow backwards monsters reside, until I noticed the Las Vegas sign on the side of that building.  Something interesting actually about this design, and most of the Lois Lane covers is the way they jumped on the growing trend of character centric image, with a tight scope that focused on the people and their actions as opposed to vast fields of action and imagery. 

As I said, the Lois Lane comic was all about injecting elements of romance into the superhero mythos and this is one of the best examples of that.  Lois and Batman have always had a peculiar relationship, in that authors have lingered on the idea that, if not for Superman, Batman and Lois might’ve gotten together.  This particular story is a big part of where that idea comes from (though Batman did try to marry Lois in a later cover that didn’t make the cut for this list.)

In case Lois’ costume seems bizarre in this cover, she’s dressing up in the costume of the Silver Age Batwoman.  Batwoman was an older woman who became a superhero in the ‘50s to prove that women could do anything men could do only better and also to hit on Batman some as well.  She was moderately popular in her time, though her initially conception was meant to allay fears that Batman and Robin were meant to be a gay couple.  By the ‘60s Batwoman had somewhat faded away.  She was still around and appeared in several adventures in the Batman Family era but she wasn’t as big a part of the mythos at the time as Robin or Batgirl. 

Lois throwing on the Batwoman get-up to seduce Batman is actually a pretty good indicator of how much Lois’ love hijinks were actually unique.  Rather than being passive with love as something men to for her Lois is incredibly proactive, constantly seeking out a relationship both with Superman and other men.  She actually tends to reject Superman a lot in these comics in attempts to make him jealous and was actually allowed to be pretty petty and callous about it.  I mean, the plot of this issue is that, since Lois can’t be with Superman she’s going to hook up with his best friend: that’s cold. 

From getting together with Batman to literally marrying Satan in the midst of a black mass, oh Lois you are incorrigible.  This kind of cover is actually pretty rare and the content totally dates this as a product of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s (specifically 1970.)  See, for about a decade or so comics were basically banned from depicting satans, devils, or demons of any kind.  

This all came up in the ‘50s when the same kind of moralizing that convinced people Batman and Robin were gay convinced parents that depictions of crime and horror in comics would be a bad influence on the youth of America.  Rather than having the government choose to censor the medium, DC and a few other major publishers of the era joined together to impose the comics code.  This was basically a seal of security for concerned parents that books wouldn’t feature anything lewd, crude, or occult oriented. 

This all got a lot more relaxed after Marvel broke on the scene in the ‘60s and decided they didn’t want to abide by the code.  By the time the ‘70s hit in earnest Marvel was launching all kinds of horror books including Ghost Rider, who encountered Satan all the time, and the Son of Satan.  What’s more, Satan in popular culture was just really big in the ‘70s.  So, Lois Lane deciding to up and marry the lord of darkness because she can’t find a man fits right in with the loosening restrictions on comic content and the growing demand for infernal fiction that would eventually give way to the satanic panic later in the decade. 

Jesus this one’s even more horrific than the last one though I seriously doubt it was meant to be.  That’s one of the glorious things about the Silver Age, so many of the ideas that were just meant as harmless whimsy at the time have morphed into this horrific or terrible offensive concepts now.  For instance, if you’re expecting to see that one cover where Lois jumps into a machine and hops out a black woman because she wants to spend 24 hours as a black lady prepare to be very disappointed.  That one’s not fun bizarre just uncomfortable bizarre, unlike this cover which is an incredible delight. 

I think my favorite thing about Lois’ terrifying “box on head” look is how much it resembles the safe head monster from the video game The Evil Within from a couple years ago.  It’s an inherently terrifying image, going all the way back to the headgear briefly used in insane asylums to keep orderlies safe from the patients.  There’s just something about forcing the human form into a geometric shape and the completely subverted and denied identity that’s really creepy.  The heart of a lot of horror is robbing people of their humanity and this is a great, unintended example of that.  Also, I’m really not sure that wearing a giant led safe on your head is the best way to hide your face, certainly not if you’re also hoping to avoid severe spinal injuries. 

Now here’s an absolutely classic cover and it allows me to address a very bizarre trick they liked to pull in the Silver Age: the Imaginary Story.  Imaginary Stories were one-off adventures meant to just tell a very straightforward story that couldn’t exist within the confines of continuity and the status quo.  In this case that story is “what if Superman and Lois got married and had super babies,” though we’ll get to a few more before we’re done.  

The idea was also picked up by Marvel and even led to a whole comic series from them entitled Marvel’s What If… that explored possible twist stories could’ve taken.  Later, the idea spawned a whole imprint of comics at DC called Elseworlds, prestige graphic novels telling longer stories in altered continuities and strange circumstances like what if Superman landed in Soviet Russia or what if Batman operated in Victorian England.

As for this cover, it’s become an iconic image of the Silver Age, embodying the bizarre fantasy of the era and very much the Superman Family era of DC’s success.  This was the same time when Supergirl and Jimmy Olsen got their own spin-off comics and DC was riding high on the success of their first family so the visual of two super babies in Superman garb is a great embodiment of that metric.  What’s more, it’s just a really funny image with how sedate the parents are as the kids play catch with a boulder.  It’s such a fundamental visual of the time that Batman: The Brave and the Bold actually adapted it to animation for their Superman/Batman episode. 

Believe it or not this kind of “hero becomes a baby” thing was pretty common to this era.  Batman became a baby once, Superman once became a giant baby, Wonder Woman would routinely have adventures with her self as a baby named Wonder Tot, it was pretty much inevitable that Lois Lane would ultimately undergo the same fate.  Aside from indulging in that brilliant slice of Silver Age obsession this cover also introduces us to another major component of Lois Lane’s mythos: Lana Lang, the red head flirting with Superman on her giant purple couch.  Actually I have no idea where this is so for all I know Lana and Superman are just planning to screw in Lois’ apartment after they broke in and assumed Lane had kidnapped that random small child for reasons unknown.

But back to Lana, she was a retcon character that emerged out of DC’s very popular Super Boy comics of the day.  The Super Boy books focused on Superman’s adventures as a pre-teen in Smallville prior to moving to Metropolis and ended up introducing a pretty broad number of Superman supporting characters from his early days.  Lana was Superman’s high school sweet heart and the girl he left behind to come to the big city and start his life at the Daily Planet.  

So, when she came blowing into Metropolis she became Lois’ perfect rival for Superman’s affections.  The whole thing ended up a pretty clever recreation of the Betty/Veronica set-up form the popular Archie Comics of the time only combined with insane shenanigans like Lois getting turned into a baby.  Incidentally, as far as “villainous schemes” go “stealing your rivals eternal love then raising your rival as your own child” has to rank somewhere near the top or the bottom of the list, certainly no middle ground on this scheme. 

Another imaginary story cover, this time revolving around the idea of swapping Clark Kent and Lois’ situations.  This goes back to that whole concept of Lois putting on a lot of costumes and gaining random abilities throughout the series, though the idea of she and Clark trading places as a perennial favorite.  The authors just really loved exploring the idea of Lois Lane as a super woman in her own right, to the point it’s come to infest the whole mythos of Super Woman as a character.  Seriously there are 3 Super Women and 2 of them are Lois Lana and the 3rd is her sister Lucy. 

In any event, I love how goofy this body swap set up seems to be.  Rather than just having Lois dawn a Superman costume of her own she’s got that bizarre black and green number with a giant K on her chest for no apparent reason.  I also like that Clark somehow exposed her to Red Kryptonite, which made her into a super ogre.  I can only assume the Red K incident that led to this scene was the result of some elaborate Clark scheme to reveal Lois Lane and Super-Woman were the same person.  I also really wonder how Clark is just floating in the air in this scene but I’ll chock that up to Phantom Zone radiation or something.  What isn’t getting a pass is that in this terrifying alternate reality mail boxes seem to be blue, white, and pink: that’s just nonsense. 

This cover is just the most ridiculous thing of all time.  Like, the visual of Lois Lane in prison is a great starting point for this era, it makes total sense as the kind of weird and whacky shake-up they loved to pull in these issues.  Granted I’d have expected her to be dressed in an old timey convict uniform and I’m really not sure how secure that slice of fencing is but whatever, the basic concept still stacks up as a great idea.  Where things get really weird is in the context.  When I first saw this cover I had assumed the license plates on the desk were ones Lois had made as, in most old cartoons and comics, convicts are shown making license plates for some reason. 

However, that’s not actually the case, instead the plates are a key piece of evidence that Superman has collected up to bring to this meeting for…reasons, I guess.  Seriously, I have no idea why Superman decided he needed to bring the smoking gun evidence with him here to Lois’ jail cell to confront her about her charges, or how he’s only getting to this now given she’s already been convicted, but her real crime, it turns out, is making fake license plates.  I have no idea why Lois Lane, star reporter, would make fake license plates but I’m more than certain the word “scoop” is involved heavily in the explanation. 

At this point it should be pretty obvious how much the ‘60s writers loved their imaginary stories.  The whole idea was a great big get out of jail free card for the issue of Superman being too powerful as the ‘imaginary’ nature of the story meant they didn’t need to revert to the status quo by story’s end.  In this case, the idea is a twist on Superman and Lois getting married only now, rather than having super children, Superman has gone stark raving mad and imprisoned his wife inside the funniest vehicle imaginable.  Seriously, this is the great car design since the Homermobile, mainly because it so clearly doesn’t have any doors.  I can only assume Superman built that giant bubble around Lois and just assumed she’d never leave, oh and that she’d just magically have enough air to last forever. 

Honestly the design of this car is pretty much going to be the entire reason why I love this cover, it’s just so beautifully, instantly hilarious.  Like, did you notice that the car is visibly too small for Lois?  It’s like Superman specifically built the car to make her hunch over till her spine was a twisted useless mess and then just refused to build her a better model even though the damn thing’s basically a little rascal scooter inside a giant acrylic bubble.  I also really love Lana in the background mocking Lois’ misfortune, that’s some serious “be careful what you wish for” stuff right there. 

Here’s one last imaginary story before the end of the list, this time where Lois Lane goes evil and decides to hook up with Lex Luthor to kill Superman with their deadly combination of xylophone and harpsichord.  This is easily the cartooniest cover they’ve ever put together for this comic, right down to the musical notes actually drifting off of Lois evil xylophone.  

It’s all decidedly whacky and that’s very much by intent, despite featuring Superman’s gruesome death by music this is still intended as a joke, hence the hilarious manner of death.  Like I said, imaginary stories existed so that the creators could just do whatever, even stuff like kill Superman, without any need to figure a way out of their decisions next month and this is about as unrestrained as you can get. 

I think my favorite aspect of the story is the idea that Lois somehow ended up marrying Lex Luthor.  I really can’t imagine how that came to pass, though she also married Satan in a previous cover so I guess maybe I’m ignoring the signs.  But yeah, the idea of Lois becoming Mrs. Luthor and then immediately perfecting Luthor’s plans to the level of assassinating Superman right out of the gate is incredible.  

Superman should count his lucky stars in the main universe Lois isn’t a super villain, she’d rule the world by Tuesday.  Also, I like that the Luthors are allegedly playing “Kryptonian” instruments here, assumedly because Krypton had both the xylophone and the harpsichord for some unexplainable reason.  Also, it’s pretty sad that Kryptonian physiology can just implode under the right musical frequencies. 

Do me a quick favor here and read Superman’s dialogue aloud.  That is one of the most stilted and wooden statements ever conceived by man and committed to the printed word.  It’s so wonderfully unnatural I absolutely love it.  Incidentally, if you don’t know, that guy Pat Boone is a real person.  He was apparently a big folk country music star for a time before transitioning to make the whitest, safest rock ‘n’ roll of the early rock era.  Later, his daughter Debby Boone would go on to record ‘You Light Up My Life,’ one of the biggest hit songs of all time.  I’m not exactly sure why the creators decided Pat Boone needed to be in this Lois Lane comic but I’m sure they had their reasons. 

This kind of thing was actually super rare at the time.  Remember, this issue came out in the late ‘50s, well before the Marvel Universe as even in its infancy.  Later, when Marvel was established, they started the tradition of their heroes meeting up with celebrities like John Letterman and John Belushi, which prompted DC to feature folk like JFK and the Beatles, but back in 1958 this idea was completely ludicrous.  The big thing was that comic creators assumed their audience of children wasn’t really familiar with most popular musicians or celebrities so why bother jamming them into the story.  Pat Boone being here speaks to how much Lois Lane was banking on a slightly older audience of readers than the standard comic demographic at the time. 

For the sake of context: this is the cover of the 4th issue of this series, just incase you thought it took this comic awhile for Lois to more or less get over the man of steel.  She still looked to marry him all the time but by the earliest days she was more willing to throw Superman to the side for any number of reasons.  Seriously, even though here she seems to be turning him down because he’s trying to buy his way into her heart she would just as easily decided he wasn’t worth it because there were scoops to get or the like. 

This was more or less the book’s way of showing how much they were willing to have Lois be a flawed hero.  This is something that runs through a lot of the Superman supporting books of the time but the real problem with Superman of the era is that Superman is just too good.  The stories are fun, surrealist comedy but we’re always following the straight man of the comedy routine, rarely jumping into the viewpoint of the more selfish and hedonistic characters that actually make characters funny.  

With this kind of story the book showed off how much Lois was going to be that way, that she wasn’t meant as a perfect role model but rather an impetuous woman with a selfish streak backed up by a good amount of pettiness.  That might seem harsh but it’s key to what makes her funny, allowing her to embody the audience’s unrestrained id in an incredibly comedic fashion.  Seriously, the key to a ton of super popular comedies like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Veep, Black Books, Blackadder, and Seinfeld is just letting the characters be as awful as they like. 

I seriously have no idea what is happening in this image.  I mean I can tell that Superman and Lois Lane are bother running for a senate seat, though I have no idea what parties they both represent or how Superman could even hold elected office given he has no official proof of his identity.  

What’s more, I have no idea why they’ve both assembled massive mobs of supporters or why Lois seems to adopting the pose of a violent dictator and seems to be about two shakes away from ordering her followers to violent mob Superman’s fans in an act of petty tyranny.  Finally, I have no idea why Superman chose to set himself on fire to promote what a good Senator he’d be, I mean there isn’t even a catchy slogan attached to it like “burning down the spending” or some nonsense.  

Obviously, this bizarre hodgepodge of completely unrelated elements is a masterwork of comedy that really manages to present everyone at their absolute worst but the real reason I love this is the bizarre idea of Superman running for any elected office.  Something that DC has always been great at is elevating the mundane to the super, like how superhero fandom is an actual culture in the DC universe.  

The idea of Superman splitting himself between normal duties and being a Senator, perhaps engaging in some beltway political skullduggery, is just the perfect iteration of that, topped only by the fact he’d probably lose the election to his intermittent girlfriend. 


Confession time: the entire reason I did this article was to talk about this amazing cover.  This is easily the best Lois Lane cover but, in addition to that, it’s easily one of the great comic covers of all time; full stop.  The design, the set-up, it’s all pure perfection.  A big part of this is the style and that incredibly meta-visual of Lois actually ripping a chunk of the cover out of itself.  

That’s a brilliant idea and the motion of her body as she hurls it to the ground is wonderfully rendered.  They even got the little extra mile of having Superman and Perry White staring out the hole she’s left in the cover, that’s damn funny.  Plus, this is a cover with speech balloons and a big inter-title that uses the word “splitsville,” which makes it the greatest thing ever.  

What really sells it though is the sheer look of frustration, hatred, and contempt from Lois on this cover.  She is just done, to an insane level, she looks like the exaggerated physical comedy of Andy Samberg in the ‘Throw It On The Ground’ video and I love it.  It’s the perfect image to sum up how Lois probably would feel about Superman if she was aware of her own nature as a comic book character.  

Lois Lane is one of the most important women in the comics medium, standing tall alongside Wonder Woman and Black Canary as the original female superheroes.  She’s been a continually great aspect of this universe and stands on her own as a powerful an compelling character and in the midst of all that she still gets saddled with the “Superman’s girlfriend” nickname: you’d be angry to. 

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