Who is Lois Lane?
Anyone who’s ever encountered a Superman story in any medium has an answer to that question. But as the character returns to the big screen as part of Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, one book takes a look back at all the incarnations of the character who haves battled corruption, undergone countless bizarre transformations, and might hold the world record for falling out of windows.
Investigating Lois Lane: The Turbulent History of the Daily Planet’s Ace Reporter takes a look at all Lois-es across major media from the first issue of Action Comics to the modern age of Man of Steel and the “New 52” stories. Wonder Woman Unbound writer Tim Hanley chronicles not only the evolving (and occasionally devolving) characterization of Lois, but also many of the behind-the scenes stories about the character’s inspiration, her portrayers in film and TV, and some of the creators who shaped her stories.
We got up with Hanley to talk about his book, the history of Lois Lane, what makes her such an enduring character, and more.
Newsarama: Tim, what first made you interested in doing this book? What drew you to the subject of Lois Lane?
Tim Hanley: In my first book, Wonder Woman Unbound, I looked at Lois as a “woman on the street” comparison to the superpowered Wonder Woman. I became fascinated with the early decades of her history, from her Golden Age damsel in distress years to the bizarre lessons Superman inflicted on her in the Silver Age to her feminist revolution at the start of the Bronze Age, and I knew she would be my next book.
And the rest of her history has proven to be just as interesting and fun. She's had a bizarre and eventful 78 years.
Nrama: How long did it take to put the book together – that is, how much research did you wind up doing? It seems a few thousand comic books and a few hundred hours of TV/movies were watched for this...
Hanley: It took about a year to research and write the first draft of the book, and then intermittently over the course of another year I worked with my publisher on edits and all of the other steps that go into publishing a book. The research was pretty extensive, but entertaining. I read all of the comics; if Lois was in it, I read it.
And yeah, all of the TV shows and movies. I did skimp a bit on Smallville, because it's 10 seasons long and Clark's drama gets a little old, so I just flicked through the episodes to watch all of the bits with Lois in them. And I'll admit that I didn't listen to all 2,000 episodes of the Superman radio show, and instead sampled some from each year along with listening to the key storylines because otherwise I'd still be listening to them now!
Nrama: What was the strangest or most intriguing thing you came across in your research? Though I knew a number of those 1960s Lois stories from reprints and such, and how horrifying Superman was in many of them, I did not know about the letter-column demands for Lois to get a super-spanking...
Hanley: The kids writing in to demand Lois get a super-spanking to teach her a lesson for bothering Superman was certainly strange. The first letter seemed like an amusing oddity, and then other kids piled on and the debate raged in Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane's letter column for a full year before the editor had enough.
Another letter column really intrigued me as well: When Lois got into women's lib in the early 1970s, her book featured a new column written by a mysterious figure named “Alexander the Great,” who trashed feminism and anyone who wrote in to say nice things about Lois. The juxtaposition made no sense at all, and I spent a lot of time getting to the bottom of how and why that column existed.
Nrama: It was also fascinating to read about the possible real-life inspiration for Lois – and how that might have been part of the passive-aggressive stabs in Joe Schuster's, um, kinkier work. How did this affect your perception of the character's history and personality, knowing what happened outside the comics with the original creators?
Hanley: Yeah, Shuster brought in a model, Jolan Kovacs, to pose for his Lois artwork when Siegel added her to their Superman pitch, and she and Shuster dated for a while. After she moved away a few years later, all of the women Shuster drew from then on looked like Lois, which suggested a degree of pining on his part. Shuster and Kovacs later reconnected and attended a cartoonist's party together, but then she left with Siegel and soon married him, and Siegel and Shuster didn't speak for years.
When a down on his luck Shuster ended up drawing fetish art a decade later, the vast majority of the women were dead ringers for Lois. I don't know that any of it had much influence on Lois' personality since most of the drama happened after Siegel and Shuster left DC, but it's a weird little corner of her history, to be sure.
Nrama: I also admit I had never heard of Dorothy Woolfolk before this – she is quite an unappreciated female creator in comics. How much had you known about her prior to your research, and why do you think Woolfolk is not better-known?
Hanley: I knew a fair bit about Woolfolk from Wonder Woman Unbound; she was an assistant editor on Wonder Woman in the Golden Age, and was poised to return to edit the book decades later after the character's mod era before those plans fell through. She did some great work in her time, but I think she's not better known because that time was so short.
Her Golden Age work lasted just a few years before she left and had kids, and her return to DC in the early 1970s only lasted a couple of years. She also spent most of her time on the romance comics, which are generally underappreciated in comic book history. She singlehandedly brought women's lib to DC Comics, though, and deserves to be remembered for that.
Nrama: Which Lois Lane story or stories, in any media, do you think more people should be aware of?
Hanley: A lot of great Lois stories have been forgotten, and really the entirety of Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane deserves to be collected, but a favorite of mine that more people should be aware of are the “Lois Lane, Girl Reporter” stories from Superman in the mid-1940s.
After years of damsel in distress hijinks, Lois got her own feature where she stopped bad guys and got headlines without any help from Superman.
There were 13 installments over two years, and they're all great. In one, Lois throws watermelons at pirates to stop them, and in another she stops a gang of swindlers with a candy gun. A few were collected in Lois's recent 75th anniversary book, but I'd love to see all of them available somewhere.
Nrama: Also, who is “your” Lois, either the version of the character you most knew growing up, or the version that is your favorite depiction? I have a fondness for Dana Delany in Superman: The Animated Series myself.
Hanley: Growing up, “my” Lois was Teri Hatcher on Lois & Clark. Dana Delany was a close second and is a spectacular Lois, but I watched a lot of Lois & Clark as a kid and Hatcher was my first introduction to the character. She holds up, too. Having gone back and rewatched the show for the book, Hatcher is great as Lois.
My favorite depiction overall, though, is probably Phyllis Coates in the first season of Adventures of Superman in 1952. She's so tough and fearless in the midst of what was a really dark series initially, and I love her Lois.
Nrama: The book really examines the appeal and contradiction of Lois Lane – on the one hand, she's a proactive, socially-aware career woman who willingly puts herself in danger to bring about justice, but she's also frequently portrayed as victimized, marriage-crazed, and used to reinforce a number of stereotypes about “traditional” male-female relationship roles. What do you feel is the root of Lois' appeal, even at times when the character is depicted as a childish or destructively impulsive?
Hanley: I think that the root of Lois's appeal dates back to her first appearance, when she slapped a guy for getting fresh with her, got kidnapped, interrogated Superman after he rescued her, and then pitched the whole story to her editor right after Superman told her not to do so. That fearlessness, defiance, and drive has been the core of the character from the get-go, and has never been fully squashed, even in her more cringeworthy moments.
For example, when the bulk of her own series in the late 1950s was Superman teaching her lessons for being too impetuous, he was doing so because Lois was going to great lengths to get front-page scoops. She's an unstoppable force, and no matter how heavily the romance element was pushed or harsh stereotypes were portrayed, Lois always had her eye on the front page. Her best qualities get buried sometimes, but they never fully go away.
Nrama: You note toward the end how Lois has been marginalized a bit in the “New 52” and looks like she won't have a much of a role in the upcoming Superman films. What do you feel is the greatest strength of the character, and the thing that most creators in different media don't always recognize? If she were to take a larger profile in current Superman stories, what would you want her role to be?
Hanley: Creators often forget that Lois is a superhero too. She doesn't have powers or a cape, but she's always saving people, running towards trouble, and taking down villains in a variety of ways. Lois should be an active part of every story she's in, not cheering from the sidelines or looking on with concern. She's at her best when she's right in the thick of everything.
Ideally, rather than a bigger role in current Superman stories, Lois should get her own series with her own adventures. It's been more than forty years since Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane ended; she's overdue for another comic series. But in the Superman books, it would be nice to see her involved and working with Superman, a key part of the team rather than an occasional pop in.
Nrama: Batman Vs. Superman – looking forward or not?
Hanley: Not so much for the bro angst and their brawling, but Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman looks pretty amazing. I'm excited to see Wonder Woman on the big screen; she seems poised to steal the show.
And I'm curious to see what they do with Lois. The first half of Man of Steel did something very cool by having Lois figure out that Clark Kent had superpowers before he even emerged as Superman, so I'd like to see the smart reporter side of Lois on full display again. I'm hoping that she's key to the plot and has a big role, and that she doesn't get lost in the fray
Nrama: And the big fanboy question: Superman and Lois together -- yay or nay?
Hanley: I like them together, so long as it's an equal partnership and Lois is more than just the gal Superman comes home to at the end of the day. Shows like Lois & Clark and Smallville have been particularly good at having them work together in ways the comics often haven't. I think they're a great couple when they're written well, and they work best when they're both smart, capable, well rounded characters.