Lois Lane, the intrepid reporter who won the heart of Superman, has endured for decades as not only the leading lady of comic books, but also one of the most iconic characters in pop culture.
Although some people might see her as simply "Superman's girlfriend," the importance of her role has grown over time.
In current comics, her relationship with Superman is more distant than ever, yet Newsarama just pointed out that she's quite possibly the "most important woman in the DCU" after the reboot. This week's release of Superman: Lois Lane #1 is just the first of several important roles she's playing in the DCU in 2014.
Scott Lobdell, who writes the ongoing Superman series, summed up the character with terms that demonstrate how beloved she is among fans and comic creators.
"If humanity ever does 'join him in the sun' as [Superman's father] Jor-El wished for his son, Lois Lane would be the first person there," he said. "She is passionate, brilliant, loving and driven by an overwhelming need to find and report the truth where many other people would have given up along the way. Sure, Clark can do all those things by using his superpowers, but she does it through grit and determination. Is it any wonder they are best friends?"
That's quite a description for a mere human female who's surrounded by super-powerful and intelligent beings. So how does a non-superhero character become one of the most enduring comic book icons in history?
One of the main reasons Lois has endured for the last 75 years is her character's ability to evolve. In the early years of reporter Lois Lane's existence, after being introduced in 1938 in Action Comics #1, she was already equipped with some of the tools that would help her survive into the age of feminism — intelligence, tenacity and a successful life as a professional, single woman.
But other aspects of her personality have evolved with the times — even outside the comics, as Superman and Lois appeared in cartoons, live action TV shows, and movies. "Lois (and her relationship with Superman) has always undergone major changes through the years," said Cary Bates, who's written the character in multiple incarnations, including her hugely successful solo series, Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane, in the late '60s and '70s.
"These days, most people would probably cite the Amy Adams version from the Man of Steel reboot," Bates said, explaining the evolution of the character into modern Lois Lane. "Not only does she use her reporter skills to backtrack Superman’s double-identity to the Kent farm, she plays a pivotal role in helping Superman save Earth from Zod, going beyond the romantic interest role to become the one mortal confidante he trusts with his secrets.
"Contrast this to the far less-proactive, damsel-in-distress image perpetuated by the Margo Kidder version in the 70’s Superman films," Bates said. "While film, TV and animation portrayals of Lois do not always conform to every aspect of the DC Comics Lois being published at the time, they do suggest how far this particular female pop culture icon has evolved over the decades."
Although she's always been depicted as a smart, determined journalist, her role in the comics has often mirrored America's perceptions of women. In comic books, there was a time, Bates admitted, when Lois' prime motivations were marrying Superman and meddling with Superman's secret identity. Eventually, Lois did marry Clark Kent in 1996 and found out definitively that he was Superman, but her more recent incarnation has been decidedly strong without connecting herself to Superman.
"Many Silver Age readers were justifiably weary of the snoopy, infatuated Lois who was always trying to prove Clark Kent was Superman…while many later-generation readers were just as opposed to the Clark-Lois marriage that dominated the ‘90’s," Bates said.
When DC rebooted its universe in 2011, Lois was once again unaware of Superman's secret identity — and she was no longer married to the hero. But this time around, her character's not at all defined by her relationship with him.
"The New 52 era kicked off with Lois being once again unaware that Clark is Superman, although in every other respect she’s far more proactive and formidable than her earlier incarnations.
"And looking ahead, no doubt she and her relationship with Superman will weather more radical changes to come."
Truth, Justice and the American Way
In the last few decades, Lois Lane's role in Superman's life has been less as a victim who needs saving, and more as an authority of truth and justice — to the point of influencing Superman in his heroic quest.
"The reason I think they have such an enduring connection, and she's so important, is because she's like a guiding light for him," said Scott Snyder, who's currently writing Superman: Unchained, a best-selling DC title.
"She's sort of his superhero, in a way," Snyder said. "He looks at her and thinks, that's what I want to do too — always go for the thing that I think is right, find the truth, fight for justice and do the thing that my parents would be proud of, even when it pits me not just against aliens, but against people's perceptions of me, and people's criticism and reaction."
Snyder said that Superman is "just trying to do his best, given the compass that he developed, ethically, from his parents in Smallville. Superman is an extension of Clark, who is just trying to make his way in the world, decision by decision, doing the right thing, and sometimes he makes the wrong [decision].
"I think what he sees in Lois is that exact same mentality — someone who pits herself against any kind of odds, trying to do the right thing. And I honestly think she's more sure of what the right thing is, a lot of the time. She can jump to the conclusion, sometimes, quicker than he can, while he's weighing the options. So much is at stake for Superman, so many lives. He always comes to a decision that he believes is true and right, but for him, I think that's what Lois is too. Lois is just a little bit more headstrong about it."
Marguerite Bennett, who's writing this week's Superman: Lois Lane #1, said two of the most distinguishing features of Lois are her sense of justice and her pursuit of truth.
"Her career is a calling, something she’s meant for, but in the end chose of her own volition," Bennett said. "She pursues the truth with compassion for those the truth affects, concerns herself as much with justice for those who have been harmed as those whose evils have been exposed. The declaration of discovery is not where her duty ends; she follows through the after-effects of what she has brought to light."
Strength of Humanity
Bennett, who recently gave Newsarama readers hope for a new Lois Lane ongoing series, also highlighted the strength of having a character in the DCU that is strong without superpowers — who represents the best of what it is to be human.
"Lois Lane is the voice of humanity in a world of superhumanity," Bennett said. "She rises above all of the cruelty and deceit the world can throw at her — and when she cannot rise above it, she endures it — and if she cannot endure it, then she strives to keep herself whole and uncompromised until she can rise again. She’s flawed and clever and compassionate and scathing — fantastically human, as the world around her becomes increasingly superhuman, metahuman — or inhuman."
Bennett admitted that she discovered the importance of highlighting Lois' uniquely human characteristics in the process of writing her one-shot story for Superman: Lois Lane.
"Originally, I created a story that kept ringing false — I kept raising the stakes, kept trying to make the story the be-all and end-all, but about a week into this tactic, I realized this was a mistake," Bennett said. "This is not a story where Lois wins another three Pulitzers for work in a war-torn country filled with nuclear weapons while she rescues and then marries Superman, right before she punches Darkseid in the throat and scissor-kicks him into the sun. I don’t want Lois buried beneath the pressure to perform as a superhero and for her human identity to be found wanting.
"In the end, I stopped building the story out bigger and bigger, like an explosion — in the end, I made the story deep, like a wound," she said. "This is a story about Lois’s identity, about her convictions and her relationships and her family — the love, bitterness, loyalty, ambition, and regret that comes from living in two worlds."
Woman of Today
The current version of Lois Lane also reflects America's modern priorities. In today's climate of "fighting the bully," both Lois and Superman are portrayed as characters who fight against social injustice.
But Lois also represents the multi-faceted aspects of women in today's society — the professional yet caring woman who can face problems with both strength and serenity.
"I believe one of the great resonant aspects of Lois is her conviction, particularly in the world we live in — how the same woman can maintain such calm and resolve and yet be so invested in the world and all its struggles," Bennett said. "She cares so completely as to plunge into the fray, a war journalist or investigative reporter, because she knows that the truth must be brought to light, no matter how ugly, no matter how terrible."
And just as Snyder called Lois a "beacon of light" for Superman's attempts to do the right thing, Bennett said she also stands for hope in a world where things seem to go wrong.
"She doesn’t permit the darkness, corruption, or trauma of the world she has seen to sully her," she said. "It can try and try and try again to dig its hooks into her, but she is fiercer and filled with more conviction than any human or superhuman foe can break. Within her discipline and self-reliance is, I believe, an inherent compassion —an understanding of our suffering, and a trust that the truth will better us — a trust that we will better ourselves."