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DC Women Kicking Ass

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Feb 14 '13

Favorite DC Couples Finals: The Case for Superman and Lois Lane

As usual during these tournaments, I requested guest posts to provide the case for why the finalists for in the matches to decide your favorite DC couple should win today. Here’s the post I received for Lois Lane and Clark Kent/Superman. I had no volunteers for Dick and Babs so I’ll link later to one written two years ago.

This essay is by reader Amelia Faulks. Her thoughts follow.

At its very heart, at its very core, this is a story about one of the greatest double acts in popular culture. It’s a story about friendship, loyalty, love. It’s a story about contrasts and similarities, and a relationship that while currently marginalized, sidelined, and largely absent from the New 52- in a way that fundamentally damages the Superman mythos- has stood the test of time. But enough yabbering about Jimmy and Perry; I’m here to talk about Lois and Clark.

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At this point I think I would do well to insert a full disclaimer- not only am I a hardcore fan of Lois and Clark, I am also a fan fic writer, of Lois and Clark. I mention this not to advertize my geek credentials or to offer myself as an omniscient and encyclopedic knower of all things Clois, but simply as context. I’ve thought about and considered and obsessed over this relationship A LOT. And for nothing but the simple fun and joy of it, sat quietly alone and, you know, spent hours and hours with nothing but their make-believe company.

I care about them, is what I’m saying. I’m interested in holding them up to the light, and turning them this way and that and squinting and discovering just what it is that captures the imagination. Strange then, that in sitting down to write this, it’s difficult to articulate precisely what ‘that’ is?

A part of the difficulty is related, I’m sure, to their pre-eminence and familiarity as a fixture within the cultural landscape. Not only are they an institution but in many ways, they’re the obvious choice. Lois and Clark are shorthand now for a romantic ideal, with a reach that extends beyond comics and into song lyrics and onto t shirts. They’re so much a shared touchstone that somehow it becomes easy to label them ‘soulmates’, and ‘meant for each other’, take them for granted and leave it at that.

What makes them work? Trying to pin that down, to pick it apart and put it back together again is where the difficulty- and the fun- lies. There is much to consider. 75 years-worth. 75 years. Lois and Clark are older than the start of the second world war. They’re older than the Grapes of Wrath. They’re older than Batman, Judy Garland in the Wizard of Oz, the ballpoint pen, Thailand and Sir Ian McKellan. That’s right, readers, Lois and Clark are older than Gandalf

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On one level their love story is straightforward. Superman is the quintessential tall, dark and handsome stranger. In Gail Simone’s words, a “dark-haired, blue-eyed hunk with abs you could grate cheese on…” He is the ultimate fantasy, the ultimate wish fulfilment, the ultimate romantic hero and he arrives, always, just in time, all quivering muscle and dashing smile and gleaming spitcurl to sweep our heroine off her feet.

Dig a little deeper and there is something deeply enduring and attractive about them as characters in their own right. Clark is the all-american, door-holding, milk-drinking boy scout. But he is also a journalist, a published author, an intellectual. He is kind, and intelligent, and self-possessed. Lois is the damsel in distress. But, importantly, quite often, she isn’t. She’s tough and smart and just as likely to be winning a Pulitzer as she is delivering a well aimed right hook to the nearest mob boss. While wearing heels. Her moral compass is arrow straight. There is no ambivalence about either of them. They share a mutual and unshakable sense of doing the right thing and a strong belief in self-sacrifice if that is what is required to achieve it. I love them separately and like all good romantic foils sometimes all I actually want in the story is for them to spend time in the same room together.

Dig a little deeper than that and this becomes not only a story of two like-minded people coming together but of two lonely souls finding within the other what they didn’t know they were searching for in the first place. Clark worries his powers isolate him. Lois needs someone who can keep up with her. Perfect then that it is she who becomes his greatest champion and that he has superspeed.

Underpinning all of this is the Lois and Clark relationship as a unique piece of pop culture. So many different versions, iterations, eras exist. On the comic page alone we have the Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, the Modern Age, the modern Modern age. Branching out on their own particular tangents are elseworld stories, imaginary tales, the multiverse. Away from comics there’re radio serials, the Fleischer cartoons, live action tv shows, the Timmverse, dvd adaptations, the movies, and even a live action tv show that is now a comic.

The sheer breadth and depth of material speaks to the strength of Siegel and Shuster’s original ideas, and the fantastic elasticity of the comicbook form as a medium means that the relationship is re-made, re-informed, re-interpreted, constantly, as an unbroken line of narrative evolution. As each new iteration plays off against a previous version, another layer is added, then another, then another. Comics couples are unique in the way this ongoing influence can shape their future. In terms of the wealth of material available for this process, Lois and Clark are more unique than most.

With each version, and with each writer, creator and artist within that version we get a slightly altered approach. Backstories, family histories, timelines are changed. Societal mores, audience demographic and current trends all contribute to shifts in emphasis. Sometimes Clark is the klutz, other times it’s Superman who is the mask. As fans we all have own preferences for the kind of relationship we want to see. But the bottom line is this; whether it’s when he’s wearing tights or glasses, Lois is always always attracted to the‘real’ Clark.

Whichever the version, it is influenced by the particular stage of the relationship. Over the years the full range of a relationship, from first meeting to marriage, has been presented to us. Each stage has its own storytelling brilliances- for simplicity’s rather than comprehensiveness’s sake, I shall break these stages down to three- the first of which we’ll call, ‘Lois Doesn’t Know’.

This stage sees the employment of the famous triangle built for two. It is full of yearning and longing and double-meaning. There are resonances here with other archetypes and stories; The 1001 Nights, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, The Ugly Duckling. This idea that humble circumstances can conceal something extraordinary, that something extraordinary can hide in plain sight. When asked to name his favorite hero Steven Moffat, Dr Who’s showrunner, said, “Clark Kent. And I say Clark Kent because I just think the coolest idea in the world is that he disguises himself just with his glasses and that’s he’s mild-mannered and meek but he’s really Superman. That really is the most fundamental thing about a superhero. You should be a wimp but you know that secretly, you’re brilliant.”

‘Secretly’ is the key word. Here, Lois is our cipher. She offers a point of focus for the audience’s frustration that no one knows. Right beside him, right on the brink, just one pair of glasses and shirt rip away but she CAN’T SEE IT. Tension hangs over them and it’s delicious.

The second stage I’ll term; ‘Lois Nearly Knows’. At this point in the story Lois is falling in love, usually in two different directions. There is the UST of her relationship with Clark, the UST of her relationship with Superman and the genuine conflict of trying to navigate a way to be a best friend, a colleague and a confidante with two different men who are in fact the same person. This stage is interesting because there’s an emotional toll and an emotional cost on both of them. Often it’s an examination of where lust ends and love begins- and it’s both excruciating and wonderful for us is in the knowing that, for Lois, that’s actually the same place.

This period of the story culminates in the transformative moment of epiphany and realization that Aristotle, in the Greek classics, would’ve called Anagnorisis. Or what Clois fans the world over know as ‘the Reveal’. This leads into our third and final stage; ‘Lois Knows’.

Here Lois and Clark, finally, are allowed to be a true partnership, a team, cohorts. No secret identity shenanigans, no misdirection. Just as no one can know what it’s like to be Superman, no one can know what it’s like to be the significant other of Superman. They are each other’s co-conspirators and secret-keepers. It is cosy and intimate and sexy. The relationship is healthy, and playful, serious and grown up. They offer each other a sounding board, or another point of view, a challenge, a sympathetic ear. They are funny. When the weight of the world lies heavy on Clark’s shoulders, when a plot risks becoming too po-faced, Lois can undercut it with a quip. Also? At this point of the story they are at it like rabbits. Usually in the newsroom’s janitor closet. Or the copy room. Or the elevator. And all before a 5pm deadline.

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As well as the usual ups and downs of any loving couple- who cleans up after dinner, who lets the dog out, who takes out the trash- during this stage of their relationship Lois and Clark are often subject to a variety of adventure and mishap. Sometimes this is by virtue of storytelling bravura. Sometimes, not so much. Let’s see; he’s been killed, she’s been killed, old flames have suddenly appeared up, she’s been killed, she’s been shot, he’s lost his powers, she’s been killed, they’ve both been impersonated, become parents, lost a child, she’s been killed, Clark left to partake in a very long walk, has been infused with Kryptonite, stranded in another dimension, stranded in another time, stranded on Watchtower, stranded on another planet. She’s been killed… as well as her unborn child… at the hands of Clark.

As you can see from the above, thankfully, it’s been mainly a smooth ride. Alongside the complexity of the characters’ history and the complications of who-knows-what-when are all kinds of ideas and subtle notes and mischievous counterpoints liberally thrown in; Lois and Clark represent the dewy-eyed idealist versus the arch cynic, the midwest farm hick versus the city slicker woman of the world, the last resort only pacifist versus the army brat, the bespectacled geek versus the writer who can’t accurately spell bespectacled…and there’s probably a question mark over ‘geek’. The last word in politeness, tact, and graciousness versus Mad Dog Lane. A Pulitzer prize winner versus the notion that she can’t see that the biggest story in the history of the world is standing right in front of her.

Implicitly and explicitly the relationship offers thoughtful new ways to look at wider issues; the pen versus the sword, an alpha female versus an alpha male, equality, feminism. But it is never that straightforward and Lois and Clark don’t necessarily fall on opposite sides. As a woman who was forging a career in a male-dominated workplace in 1939 Lois is an obvious role model. Yet she is also allowed to be vulnerable, to swoon in the hero’s arms, to take pride in ironing his cape. Their story is so important because it’s always been so way way ahead of its time. An alien and an Earthling, they’re not even the same species and sometimes they don’t know if they can have kids but it doesn’t even matter because it’s love. What a wonderful progressive and inspiring message.

As characters, across versions, they compliment each other. Not in a contrived way- in an organic way borne out of the fact their story has been hewn and honed over 75 years of writers and creators looking at them, and seeing something different and seeing something special. The Lois and Clark love story is sophisticated and complex and grown up. Married or not, together or not, it’s incidental. There is a purity about them and about their romance that imbues it with a sense of rightness, of steadfastness, of something to hang your hat on.

Now, more than ever, like many, I feel incredibly protective of them. I write fan fic, for God’s sake! I am ALL FOR creative freedoms, just not at the expense of the characters. I have no issue with Lois and Clark’s new status quo in principle- only with its execution. I had hoped these early nascent beginnings of the reboot would be artfully sprinkled with little nods to past continuity, cheeky Smallville-style moments of foreshadowing, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them storybeats to tug at the heartstrings. It could have been heartbreaking, and wry, and beautiful. But no. Not yet. Nevermind a meet cute, they’ve not even had the first meet.

We live in hope and my hope is that it is dawning on Editorial that when you remove Lois as the love interest you are removing something essential. That is why I ask you to consider a vote for Lois and Clark. I hope you consider it a vote for character over spectacle, a vote for characterization over titillation. A vote that says it’s grossly patronizing to be told in the first instance that women don’t have to be defined by their relationships (thanks, Scott Lobdell, for alerting me to  this state of affairs- and only about three full waves of feminism behind the curve) and in the very next instance watch as Lois Lane is intro-ed  into the story and IMMEDIATELY defined by her relationships AND THEN, stand by, aghast, as DC veers wildly off into parody territory, compounding the hypocrisy by killing off pregnant Lois to justify Superman going dark.

This vote can’t right DC’s wrongs, but, right now, it can recognize that one time DC got it so, so right.

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