In 1938, Action Comics #1 introduced the world to Superman. Of course, the historic issue also gave us the most enduring supporting character in his entourage: Lois Lane. Over the years, the tough-as-nails reporter has served as a friend, a foil, a competitor and a love interest. But no matter where Lois and Clark have stood as a couple, the all-too-human Lois has never taken a back seat to the super-powered Clark. In many ways, she has always been his equal.
From the very beginning, Lois was anything but a pushover. She was modelled after the fictional reporter Torchy Blane—a wisecracking, fast-talking crime-solving crusader who starred in a series of pre-World War II films that debuted in 1937, and the real-world Nelly Bly, the pioneering investigative journalist who faked insanity to expose conditions in a mental institution. Lois wasn’t the typical damsel in distress.
In Action #1, Lois agreed to go on a date with the clumsy Clark, mostly out of pity. Things got out of hand when a gangster named Butch tried to cut in as the pair was dancing, and Clark, in an effort to protect his identity feigned cowardice and weakness. He urged Lois to get it over with, and just offer a single dance to the thug. Predictably, she thought it was a terrible idea, slapped the interloper and stormed out of the roadhouse.
Angered by the snub, Butch and his cronies followed Lois’s cab, rammed into it, and took her prisoner. Superman stopped the abducters as they were driving away. It was Butch’s car that he was lifting on the cover of that historic first issue. Having saved her, Superman grew in her estimation, while Clark was further diminished. Thus began the greatest love triangle between two people in comic book history.
Lois and Clark went through various changes throughout the years, and it took forever for the couple to tie the knot (fifty-eight years to be precise). Along the way Superman died, was resurrected, lost his powers and endured a dreadful haircut inspired by John Stamos. And that was just in the 1990s’ primary DC Universe.
But all that changed when the New 52 rolled around, and Wonder Woman took over as Superman’s new love interest. The rebooted DC Universe had Lois go from being an investigative reporter to running a television news network, with little time for Clark, and a new boyfriend in the form of Jonathan Carroll.
On one level, it made sense to pair up Superman and Wonder Woman. Beyond their powers, both are strangers in the world they fight for. Themyscira, cut off from the rest of the world for Centuries, is as far removed from Metropolis as the doomed planet Krypton. But their respective circumstances couldn’t have been any more different. Diana grew up in her own culture, she was raised—and identifies—as an Amazon. Clark, on the other hand is a farm kid for Kansas, who discovered that he was actually from outer space.
The nature vs. nurture debate looms large in the history of Superman. Is it his powers that make him the Man and of Steel? Or is it his upbringing? Is Clark Kent Superman’s secret identity? Or is it the other way around? The question has been explored throughout the hero’s history. John Byrne’s post-Crisis Man of Steel, most notably, presented a version of the character where Clark Kent stepped to the forefront, while Superman took a back seat, and was more of a sideline.
It was this post-Crisis Superman who married Lois. At the time of their union, Clark had no powers. When he donned the cape and tights, he did so on as an ordinary human being, and relied on his wits, his agility and what strength he could maintain pumping iron. The fiercely independent Lois, who had previously broken off her engagement to Clark, was just back from a year of travelling. She’d wanted some time away from Metropolis, and from being rescued by her super-powered beau.
When they walked down the aisle, Lois and Clark were on a level playing field. Superman: The Wedding Album #1 showed Lane at her feisty best. Written by current Action Comics scribe Dan Jurgens, along with Karl Kesel, David Michelinie, Louise Simonsson and Roger Stern, the oversized 1996 one-shot was drawn by practically every living artist who’d ever worked on Superman or Action Comics.
The issue opened with Lois in a wedding dress. But she wasn’t getting married to Clark. En route to Metropolis on a private jet, she’d tricked Mr. Naga, a drug lord she was investigating, into tying the knot and flying her back home. Thinking he’d cowed the reporter into submission, the criminal arranged for an in-flight wedding complete with a wedding cake and champagne on ice. The resourceful journalist weaponized the bubbly, popping the cork to take out Naga, splashing one of his henchmen with the sparkling wine, and butting another with the bottle. Grabbing a gun and a knife from the men she had downed, Lois forced the pilot to take her side and land the plane as plane as planned.
When Clark proposed anew, Lois—who had gone straight to the offices of the Daily Planet from the airport—was still in the tattered wedding dress that had been forced upon her by the drug dealer. The dress was a bit of a gag, as Clark and Lois had married before in the comics, but within the main continuity, it had always been a fake-out: a dream or some such. However, the Earth-Two version of the pair had married in the June 1978 issue of Action Comics (#484) and had played a part in the retconning the Multiverse in Crisis on Infinite Earths.
Lois was no stranger to this kind of high-flying adventure. Her first series of solo outings appeared in the 1940s. Debuting in Superman #28, Lois Lane, Girl Reporter featured the intrepid journalist taking on bad guys and facing on challenges without the help of the Man of Steel. This inaugural story had her plummeting from an eighth floor ledge as she tried to talk a suicidal man out of jumping. After realizing that help was not on the way, she managed to break her fall by grabbing onto a political banned and tearing through awnings on the side of the building, before landing in a net deployed by the cops.
To be fair it was mostly chance, rather her wits, that saved Lois in that first instalment. But as the stories evolved, Lois gained a little more agency. After pining for Superman to save her, future appearances showed Lois taking matters into her own hands by force of circumstance.
Lois was given a solo title in the late 1950s. A companion to the main Superman and Action Comics titles, Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane ran for 137 issues from 1958 to 1974. Modelled after Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen, which had started four years earlier, the two titles merged to become The Superman Family after both of their runs had concluded.
Superman’s Girlfriend was a hit for DC. It was a top-ten title during much of the 1960s. Although it featured plenty of silly swooning (Lois begged Superman for a signal watch like Jimmy Olsen’s in issue #16), it also had a healthy dose of sleuthing, even though a lot it involved trying to determine whether Clark was in fact Superman.
Although Lois and her title got a feminist make-over in the late 60s, the romance angle remained crucial to the title. The next-to-last issue of the Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane (February, 1974) told the story of an apparent romance between Wonder Woman and Superman, and had Lois using her reporting skills to follow the superhuman couple, in order to confirm whether she’d been truly dumped.
As convincing as it seemed, the romance turned out to be a ruse. Clark and Diana were feigning a relationship to protect Lois from a super villain called The Revenger. As it turned out, the baddie was Marcia Roche, an “unstable mental patient who once threw herself at Superman” and had “begged him to marry her.” She was hellbent on eliminating any competition. After taking Lois prisoner to ensure that the Supes and Diana were really an item, Marcia went after Wonder Woman, whom she had poisoned. In the end it was Lois, along with GBS news anchor Melba Manton, who rescued the Amazon from her assailant.
Written by Cary Bates, and illustrated by John Rosenberger and Vinnie Colletta, “Wonder Woman: Mrs. Superman” is a classic example of the often problematic nature of the Lois Lane title. The three female protagonists—as capable and rounded as they may have been—were engaged in an adventure that basically amounted to dealing with boy trouble. The insensitive and sexist portrayal of the mentally-ill Marcia Roche didn’t help matters, especially as the entire issue devolved into a group of women fighting over a man.
This Bronze Age version of Lois morphed in the much tougher post-Crisis version, which was retconned by New 52, but was brought back by Dan Jurgens in the wake of the Convergence event that re-established the Multiverse.
The pre-Flashpoint Lois and Clark, along with their son Jonathan, went into hiding in the New 52 universe, and lived an anonymous existence, under assumed names, in Hamilton County, California. It was as far as they could get from Metropolis without leaving the continental United States. When their New 52 counterparts were killed, the pair re-emerged, and reintegrated themselves into their new reality. But their old lives in the previous continuity lingered. They were a couple out of time and place, until a battle with Mr. Mxyzptlk resulted in the merging of their pre-Flashpoint and New 52 selves. The result of this merger only rewrote their lives and their memories, but also the entire post-Rebirth DC Universe.
Is it a coincidence that this was all triggered by Mxyzptlk, who had shown up just before Lois and Clark’s wedding to warn the Man of Steel that he’d be making trouble for the couple in the future?
In her Rebirth incarnation, the pre-Flashpoint Lois — as scripted by Dan Jurgens in Action Comics, and by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason in Superman — is once again very much Clark’s equal. A working mom raising a super-powered son, and the wife of one of the world’s most powerful beings, Lois toiled in the shadows as an investigative journalist using a nom-de-plume before re-emerging from the shadows after her New 52 counterpart was killed at the end of Superwoman #1.
Superman #5 saw Lois take on the Eradicator, who had absorbed her husband, and was taking aim at their son. Secreted away on Batman’s secret moon base, the Kents seemed destined for destruction when Lois donned Bruce Wayne’s Hellbat armor—which had almost killed him when he took on Darkseid—to fight for her husband and son.
In Superman #22 she commandeered the Batmobile. In Superman #23, she lost a leg while trying to find her son. She’s also punched out an alien masquerading as the editor of the Hamilton County newspaper, taken on Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E., and stepped into the shoes of the New 52 version of Lois Lane at the Daily Planet, in order to figure out why her other self disappeared. When she’s not crusading for justice as a reporter, or while combatting super-villains, Lois is also tough enough to discipline her super-powered son, and Bruce Wayne’s progeny, too.
Exile and motherhood seem to have strengthened Lois. Although she is a formidable partner, and in many ways a match for her husband, her, her pet name for Clark suggests that she sees things differently. Lois calls him “Smallville,” which is an affectionate jibe at his small town roots, but also connotes protectiveness. An army brat who made a splash in Metropolis, and who can give as good as she takes, the Rebirth version of Lois Lane is very much an echo of that tough reporter who accepted a pity date with Clark in 1938. Time and the times may have softened her mean streak, but her resolve remains intact, and she is just as dazzling to the kid from Kansas as she was, all those years ago.