Thursday, August 23, 2012

In Defense of Lois Lane

"Nope. Not bitter. At least
they aren't killing me off."
Geoff Johns has certainly been pulling his weight around DC. First, he manages to keep his own Green Lantern continuity shielded from the The New 52 reboot, and now he's supplanting the most iconic relationship in comic history. Good bye Lois and Clark, hello Wonder Woman and Superman.

A lot of people are reacting to this pair, and I'm definitely in the “Negative” camp. I don't like this pairing. I have never seen any real chemistry between them. At best, it seems like an uncreative impulse to pair your biggest male and biggest female characters. (Not including Batman that is) At worst, it seems like a reactionary need to pair wonder woman with a stronger man.

That said, I don't think it can't work, because there is almost no concept that can't work. I'm sure there's a talented writer could probably come up with a story that makes sense for these characters and that I'd enjoy reading. It all depends on the reason for the pairing.

That's what worries me about this decision: the reasoning that people are using to justify it. Here, I'd like to focus on one in particular, and that is that some people don't like Lois Lane.

I'm not going to tell anyone they're wrong, since not liking a character isn't something you can be right or wrong about, but I can ask that you to consider a few of the points that inform my opinion of Lois Lane.

1. Clark loves Lois

I know, this is kind of a circular argument, saying that the pairing should exist because the pairing exists. Still, I think this is more than just a minor truism. Lois and Clark is the most iconic pairing in comics. Period. It is not just a geek pairing, it is mainstream Americana. It it is a Comic pairing that spawned a mainstream TV series. It dates all the way back to Action Comics #1. It is older than the Daily Planet. Lois and Clark were a pair before Superman could fly.

And this isn't a tangential detail, Superman's love for Lois has been a major trait that has motivated actions, affected how he relates to people, caused him sorrow, happiness, and introspection. Who you love is a major part of your are, and Superman has loved Lois for over 70 years.

As a result, everything Superman has ever done has, on some level, involved Lois Lane. Part of his personality was his love for her. Even if she wasn't related to the event in question, the part of him that loved her was, influencing how he related to people and what he thought was worth protecting. Without it, Superman would need to be an entirely different character in order to make sense.

Lois and Clark is one of the cornerstones on which Superman as a character has been built, and you can't just pull out a cornerstone and expect everything else to still hold up.

2. Lois Loves Clark

This isn't my way of restating point one, here I'm referring to the fact that, post-silver age, Lois was explicitly in love with Clark Kent and not Superman.

Contrary to what Kill Bill will tell you, Clark Kent is not Superman's secret identity. Superman's origin started on Krypton, but it's really important that that is only half the story. It's just as important to his origin that he was found and raised by the Kents and, wherever he was born, that is who he is. Nurture over Nature is a major part of the Superman mythos: He was born with incredible power, but he didn't become a villain and he didn't become a fascist. He was raised with the values of the Kents, to believe in helping others, that powers didn't define you, and that they didn't make you better than others. Clark seeks belonging in “normal” society, because that's where he was raised and that's his identity.

People talk about how Wonder Woman has more in common with Superman because she shares his superhero status, but that's the problem. Under the best writers, Clark Kent doesn't want to lord over the world as King and Queen of the ultrahumans, he wants to belong to the society he was raised in. I think that Superman would honestly prefer a world where he could be Clark all the time, and never need to wear the cape again.

As a geek who's often struggled with feeling different and wanting to belong, that's one of the reasons that Superman speaks to me as a character.

How does that link back to Lois? Well, because she loves that part of him. She not just attracted to him as the ultimate masculine specimen, she loves the good-natured, noble, boy from Smallville, who can fly and punch meteors and yet doesn't consider a 40 hour work-week beneath him.

3. Lois DOES Understand Superman

I mentioned people talking about how Wonder Woman “gets” the hero lifestyle and Lois doesn't, but I disagree with that. Lois totally can understand heroism, why? Because she's a journalist.

Remember the Superman tagline: Truth, Justice, and the American Way? Well, what's more American than the first amendment? (Answer: Bandit Keith)

In addition to being based on the hard-boiled reporter archetype of the 30s, Lois was based more specifically on real-life journalist Nellie Bly, who bravely infiltrated a psychiatric hospital and endured backward treatment in order to bring attention to inhumane conditions there. Truth: Exposed. Justice: Promoted. American Way: FOR AMERICA.

It's no accident that the creators of Superman gave Clark Kent a job at a newspaper, it's because that's a form of heroism that Clark deeply respects. And I'm not just talking about when Lois sneaks into a LexCorp building to steal sensitive documents. Journalists, at least in their ideal, bring knowledge to the public, promoting democracy. They're everyday heroes, like firefighters or schoolteachers.

Under the best writers, Superman doesn't judge heroism by scale. He repairs hydroelectric dams with laser vision because that's what he can do, and that doesn't make him any better than the average person. Superman's concept of heroism is to do your best for others with what you have, like Lois does. (Again, why he speaks to me), and I think Lois understands and has that in common with him.

4. Superhero Comics Need Normals

Here's one area where I'll focus on Lois as a better choice than Wonder Woman and not just as a character on her own merit. Superhero comics, as a whole, tend to suffer from a lack normal humans. And I don't mean de facto superpowered heroes like Batman or Booster Gold or computer experts enabling the heroes via earpiece, I mean normal humans with no powers, tech, or extraordinary martial arts. I'm talking about the parents, the siblings, children, coworkers: people who don't directly aid the superheroes in conflicts but who provide emotional footholds for the stories.
There's actual reasoning for this pairing,
but it's way too close to a healthy
relationship to feature in Batman stories.

These are important characters, and sometimes it seems like all that comics want to do is get them kidnapped, or turn them into macguffins, or kill them off.

I can see the reasoning to this. You want to focus on the heroes because that's what people pay to see. You buy a justice league comic to see superheroes, not boring normal people. Still, though, I think it's necessary to have them.

In superhero comics, you're dealing with a necessarily unfamiliar setting, and its important to have points of familiarity to anchor the audience to what happens. Giving Batman a butler who is a just a normal person gives us a point of reference for seeing who Batman is as a person and not just an absurd concept.

That's another reason I like Lois as a character, she gives us a jumping off point into the Superman/Clark Kent universe. With Wonder Woman.... not so much. That's where you start to lose the relatability, when you have the superhuman man and superhuman woman living in a satellite with powers nobody else can equal. If you don't cultivate a cast of non-superhero characters, you start to lose the emotional core of the series and you end up with something that's almost self-parody, a fight between costumes and other costumes over arbitrary forces of good and evil where all impact on actual humanity is lost.

That works if Alan Moore is doing a satire series, but not for main continuity.

I have more reasons to be against WW/SM, but I'm stopping it here. I just want to focus on the positive reasons for Lois, since I don't want to condemn comics that haven't been actually published yet. And, frankly, as long as Superman doesn't sell his marriage to the Devil we'll know that the story could have been worse.

I don't really expect to change anyone's mind or affect future stories, but I'd just like to put out there some reasons why we shouldn't be so quick to dismiss Lois, and try to demonstrate how a pairing can inform a lot about a character instead of just providing a diverting sideline for shippers.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go put the finishing touches on my 63 page thesis on why Korra-Bo-Lin would make for a better Book 2. (What? I'm not against HAVING or ARGUING FOR the wrong pairings, just against them becoming canon)

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