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Yesterday, Noel Neill tragically passed away at the age of 95. Though Ms. Neill enjoyed a long and storied career, her most famous role was as the very first actor to play Lois Lane, appearing initially in a pair of serials and on the Superman radio program. Later, Neill would continue her role on the first live action Superman television series The Adventures of Superman and cement her place as one of the most iconic figures in comic adaptations.
Seriously, alongside Dana Delany on Superman the animated series and Margot Kidder in the 1978 film series Noel Neill is one of the three women who define Lois Lane as a character and helped shape her history in the comics and the public eye. Given that, and the fact I haven’t seen The Adventures of Superman, I thought I’d focus in on that history and break down the strange evolution of Lois Lane from girl reporter to the wife of Superman.
Lois Lane has been a part of the Superman mythos since the very beginning, debuting right alongside him in the pages of Action Comics #1 in 1938. During what’s referred to as the “golden age” of comics, lasting through most of the ‘40s Lois was a major supporting character and romantic foil for Superman.
I’ve mentioned previously that, in terms of representation, the split between DC and Marvel is that Marvel has always been more inclined towards racial diversity while DC has always had a stronger collection of complex and engaging women characters. Lois Lane is right at the forefront of that divide, being depicted as an aggressive and career minded reporter from her very inception. Remember, this is in 1938, well before feminism was a major social movement or the migration of women into male spaces during the upcoming war.
Most of the core elements of Lois’ character emerged at this time; her romantic interest in Superman, her dogged determination to get scoops, her completely apathy towards milk-toast Clark Kent, and her suspicions that Clark and Superman were the same leading to multiple failed schemes to expose his identity.
By 1944 she had proved popular enough to earn a series of solo stories running in the Superman comics under the title ‘Lois Lane, Girl Reporter.’ The stories revolved around Lois busting crooks and getting headlines completely on her own, making her one of the first solo women in the Golden Age of comics after Wonder Woman and Miss America.
By the time the ‘50s rolled around the kind of plots involving Superman and Lois began to change quite a bit. While the ‘40s was an era of vast development for comics it was still pretty limited development, mostly shaped by the popularity of the pulp genres of the ‘30s. Most stories being told tended to revolve around crooks and mobsters with the occasional super villain only being slotted in very rarely.
Remember, most of the characters we consider essential super villains for both Superman and Batman didn’t come about till well after the Golden Age had ended. In the ‘50s the focus shifted from the crime centric ‘30s style stories to the weird science and strange fantasy yarns that would come to dominate the B-movie scene for that entire decade. Remember, comics have, for the longest time, existed as part of Pulp media; low end consumable stories produced to check-off specific genre boxes so as to cater to an underserved market. And in the ‘50s the DC hero most catering to a major growing market was Lois Lane.
See, in the middle of all that sci-fi and fantasy focus the writers decided that Lois Lane would blend those genre elements with her romantic shenanigans from the previous decade. As a result, Lois’ stories started all revolving around fighting with her rival Lana Lang over Superman’s affections using increasingly complex means.
The bizarre result of this was that her stories ended up romance stories that boys enjoyed, blending together the high concept nature of superhero comics with the blossoming melodramatics of teen romance comics like Archie. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko would pull this same basic blend a decade later when they invented Spider-Man. However, give Lois’ appeal to older readers and girls she got so popular DC decided, in 1958, to give Lois’ her own comic: Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane.
The Lois Lane book is much the same as the other ‘50s stories and was one of DC’s biggest hits of the ‘60s. Come the ‘70s the comic did change to reflect growing feminist ideals in the popular culture, with fewer romantic plots and more stories about Lois solving problems on her own in the vein of the ‘Lois Lane, Girl Reporter’ stuff of the Golden Age.
This is the era when most of Lois’ backstory was fleshed out, her father got established as a major general and her sister Lucy, who had previously just been Jimmy Olsen’s girlfriend, got a bit more development. We also see how she first met Superboy when she was younger and how she eventually came to work at the Daily Planet. Really though, a lot of the big, bizarre, interesting stuff to befall Lois in the ‘70s and ‘80s came from the Lois Lane of Earth-Two.
In the early ‘60s DC had introduced the idea of a Multiverse, a collection of parallel universe co-existing together, each Earth with its own heroes and history. The idea popped up as a way t explain the incongruities between the ‘40s Golden Age stories and the ‘60s Silver Age stories that were the being published, like why the Flash and Green Lantern were now different heroes or why Superman’s paper changed from the Daily Star to the Daily Planet. The answer became that all those ‘40s stories took place on a parallel Earth; Earth-2.
Introducing Earth-2 gave the writers a chance to revisit this other world and even develop it free from the burdens of maintaining a status quo and that’s exactly what they did. In the late ‘70s the idea was introduced that on that other Earth Superman briefly had his memory wiped and become a much more powerful and assertive Clark Kent. Lois ended up falling for this Clark, marrying him, discovering his true identity, and returning his identity thus making her the wife of Superman on this world. Also the two adopted Superman’s cousin of that Earth Power Girl as their daughter.
All of this ended up more important than you’d think in 1986 when DC decided to do away with the entire Multiverse and restart all of their comics in the event Crisis on Infinite Earths. The crux of the shake up was that things were too complicated and that starting over would allow the writers to get rid of the junk stuff but keep the most popular parts of the old universe. As it turns out, the marriage of Lois and Clark was a pretty popular element of that old universe so plans got underway pretty quickly to hitch the to back together.
The idea sprung out of a revised status quo for Lois and Clark as people. In the post-crisis universe Clark Kent was made to be a lot more competent and intelligent rather than the classical milksop bungler of previous comics and Lois’ relationship with him evolved from antagonistic to friendly to actively romantic. Clark and Lois eventually ended up together and after awhile Clark proposed marriage, eventually revealing his identity to Lois shortly after proposing.
The marriage didn’t happen immediately though. By this point we’ve entered the early ‘90s and WB was working to revitalize their Superman media property in the wake of their recent successful Batman franchise. As such, they were scrambling to get Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman off the ground and didn’t want to create confusion by having Clark and Lois married in the comics but unmarried onscreen.
For this reason (and several others) DC decided to pull the trigger on a major event comic and actually have Superman die, beaten to death by the super menace Doomsday. In the wake of Superman’s death, the Reign of the Supermen follow up series, and Superman’s eventual return to normalcy, the two didn’t actually get married to fall 1996; the same time when Lois and Clark also got married in the live action TV show.
From this point on Lois got a lot less vital to Superman and his attendant mythos. She sat out the rest of the decade and most of the 2000s as well, she was still around she was just never as important as she had been in previous decades. She only really returned to any kind of prominence in the late 2000s during the long build-up to the mega-event New Krypton. As part of the long road to that series Superman and Lois briefly adopted the son of General Zod, naming him Chris Kent and raising him as their own.
This graduated Lois from wife to mother and gave her a more active role beyond just Superman’s emotional support buttress. Later, when two whole cities of Kryptonians survived and set-up an artificial planet called New Krypton, a wedge was driven between Lois and Clark when Superman chose to stay on New Krypton, helping them build their new world. This was the time when writers were really trying to beef up Lois’ role, sending her on a globetrotting news hunt around the mysterious Earth force Project 7734, an anti-Superman/Kryptonian defense unit.
All of this development got swept away pretty immediately in 2011 during the New 52 reboot, which reverted Lois and Clark to their unmarried position. Most of New 52 Lois’ adventures are pretty standard for her, running around as a Superman supporting character and usually serving as the human perspective on Clark’s adventures. Things do get a little more interesting in the ‘Truth’ storyline, in which Superman’s secret identity became revealed, first to Lois and then to the world, but all of that got blown out by the Convergence event before much could come of any of it.
In the wake of that event, the Lois and Superman prior to the New 52 were reintroduced to continuity, acting as secret superheroes to help this world avoid the mistakes of the previous one. This Lois was a mother once more, managing to have conceived a child with Superman named Jonathan. As for the New 52 Lois Lane, she developed superpowers of her own and took up the name Superwoman, her comic has yet to premiere so I can’t tell you much about what’s happening there.
However, if you needed any indication of Lois Lane’s persisting importance to the DC universe it should tell you a lot that there are currently 2 Lois Lanes in the comic, one working as a mom and undercover journalist and the other acting as a full on superhero in her own right.
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