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DC Women Kicking Ass

Thoughts, pictures, reviews and other stuff about the women in comics who kick ass. This is a feminist site. Deal with it.
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May 21 '13

Revealed for the First Time: The Early Shuster and Siegel Comics that Led to Lois Lane

Do I have a treat for you today. As you know, this year is the 75th anniversary of Superman and Lois Lane. In April I ran a series of posts from some of the creators who wrote Lois to celebrate the character. Brad Ricca is a well known authority on the history of the creation of Superman and Lois and we discussed his doing a guest post for the series. The result is this post which discusses and shows for the first time in many decades some some of the early, non-Superman comics by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel that led to the creation of Lois Lane. 

Brad Ricca (shown below) takes it from here.

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So when Sue approached me about writing a guest post for the 75th anniversary of Lois Lane, I jumped at the chance. I love the character, like DC Women Kicking Ass (especially on Twitter), and oh yeah, I have a book coming out called Super Boys (June 4, St. Martin’s Press) that is all about the creation of Superman. But I had one request: I didn’t want to write about Lois.

And not because I don’t like her or don’t think she is important. For one, I am fairly/mostly confident that we wouldn’t still have Superman kicking around popular culture if it wasn’t for Lois Lane.  And I don’t mean that in a condescending “she’s his rock” kind of way. I’m not going to roll out the old “she’s a gutsy reporter!” or “she’s a scrappy gal whose super-power is the printed word, Jack!” or any of that stuff.  I’m going to be more practical. When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created Superman they literally did it to impress a real-life girl. And that comes through in the early stories. The cape, freezy breath, and mighty strength gets old – kids liked that stuff just fine, but those first customers really kept buying Superman because they understood what it felt like when you were around someone you liked but couldn’t tell them. Comics and genre fans have somehow always understood that a little bit better than most, if we’re being honest with ourselves. That’s  what Lois brought to the narrative. Lois added real-life honesty to a story about an invulnerable alien from an exploded planet. That’s where the truth in the story lies, if you ask me. She threatened him in the biggest way imaginable: what if she doesn’t like me?  And threats are important because they make a story real.

So back to me not wanting to write about Lois Lane, because apparently I already am. In the book, I go into a brand new, detailed history of where the character came from. Yes, she was a real person, and yes, I have proof. A book about two guys who create a guy wearing tights isn’t really important to anything real about the world, but I am proud of the Lois stuff in there because it gives us all another perspective to a story we all think we know already. The story of the genesis of Lois is a really crazy one, and really heartbreaking too, with a twist ending to the whole thing.

But go buy the book or get it at the library for that stuff. What I want to talk about here is how Jerry and Joe got to Lois in the comics – she didn’t just spring out, fully-formed, after all – she evolved, changed, and transformed through a series of characters that Jerry and Joe did in their early, pre-Superman comics.  Lois took her time. And because these early comics have never really been reprinted since the thirties, no one has seen them for a long time. Until now. 

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Jerry Siegel (w), Joe Shuster (a), New Fun #5, October 1935.

One of the very first Loii was the character of Lois Amster in “Doctor Occult” from New Fun Comics in 1935. Lois Amster (named after a high school crush of Jerry’s), is a straight-up damsel in distress – running from vampires, of all things. She is later used as bait.

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Jerry Siegel (w), Joe Shuster (a), New Comics 2, January 1936.

That early stereotype (“Save me, First Ever Mystical Noir Trenchcoat Magician!”) changed dramatically a year later with “Federal Men,” another short comic that Jerry and Joe were doing in New Comics, starring the appropriately named “Steve Carson.”  Here, in a case meant to evoke the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, Carson goes up against a hard-as-nails woman wanted in several states. Her name is (wait for it) Kate Lane. She kicks all kinds of stereotypical authority – she is confident, sexy, and has a permanent wave as she repeatedly shoots at Steve – but she’s a criminal, so she doesn’t last.

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Jerry Siegel (w), Joe Shuster (a), Detective Comics 13, March 1938.

Kate Lane was tough, but she was also a sociopath. But there was something in her character that Jerry and Joe wanted to save. The Lois character we know really began to come together in “Spy,” another Jerry and Joe serial that ran in Detective Comics. The main protagonists were a team of intelligence officers named Bart Regan and Sally Norris. Sally looks just like Lois Lane, who by this time was just a month away. In fact, Bart and Sally are really Lois and Clark without Superman – they get into terrible situations, but get themselves out with their own wits. It was kind of like Remington Steele or Hart to Hart, only way earlier, and infinitely better. They go on secret missions for FDR, question their sometimes violent orders, gamble repeatedly, and square off against real-life groups that were actually risky for Jerry to write about (see the book). It is great, great stuff and has never been reprinted. 

They also flirt constantly. 

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Jerry Siegel (w), Joe Shuster (a), Detective Comics 16, June 1938.

Note: in the thirties, this was some pretty serious tension.  When Sally later wins the bet, it is only because she has killed the bad guy and not Bart.

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Jerry Siegel (w), Joe Shuster (a), Detective Comics 16, June 1938.

Two months later, Sally, who is sick of waiting for Bart to make a move, even decides to propose to him herself.

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Jerry Siegel (w), Joe Shuster (a), Detective Comics 18, August 1938.

Their wedding is, of course, broken up by spies, but it ends well. They continue to go on adventures and Sally continues to be smart, witty, and relevant to the narrative.  Just like Lois, only married. She had the romantic draw of Amster, but the chops of Kate Lane. But there was still one more important step.

Also appearing in Detective Comics at the time was Jerry and Joe’s longest-running feature before Superman – “Slam Bradley.” Slam was a private investigator who essentially just beat up bad guys.  And at the end of every episode, he kissed some new girl he saved.

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Jerry Siegel (w), Joe Shuster (a), Detective Comics 5, July 1937.

Slam literally just punched people across rooms for pages and pages as his sidekick Shorty tried to keep up. But there were limitations to such a story: they could change locations, but there was never anything really different. That changed with issue #16.

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Jerry Siegel (w), Joe Shuster (a), Detective Comics 16, June 1938.

In this issue, Slam and Shorty meet a rival private investigator who is competing with them to solve a case with a $5,000 reward. That’s her giving Shorty the vicious uppercut. She is tenacious, smarter than her heroic rivals, and drawn like a Hollywood starlet. She is also named for the real person, Joan Carter, who was the original model for Lois Lane. She’s the one you will meet in the book. She was not only the physical model, but the model for something else, too – one of the key hooks of the Superman mythology. You’ll see. What matters here is that the missing link in this evolution of characters was the element of realism. Throughout their whole creative lives, Jerry and Joe put real people into their comics. And that is why Lois is so successful, I think. She’s not fiction, not really. And we somehow know that when we see her. That’s why we like her so much.

Jerry and Joe’s characterizations of women were indebted to the times and their own adolescent mindsets, to be sure. But when we see these early DC (more or less) characters kicking grainy 1930s ass, it’s really interested to consider that the same guys who literally invented the costumed superhero were also committed to developing female characters who resisted easier stereotypes; characters who would, over time, be leaps and bounds from running from vampires.

Wonder why that changed?

Brad Ricca is a SAGES Fellow at Case Western Reserve University. He is the author of Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster – The Creators of Superman, out June 4 from St. Martin’s Press. Visit www.super-boys.com and @BradJRicca. Pre-order the book here.

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