Book Review: Investigating Lois Lane by Time Hanley

This was a fascinating read. Lois Lane “embodies the progress and struggles of American women, an ongoing cycle of advances and setbacks.”

The first paragraph of the book talks about Action Comics #1: “…inside was the debut story of a character who would go down in history as a tireless crusader for truth and justice. The hero was fearless and brave, quick to stand up to evildoers when no one else would, and unflappable in the face of danger. Her name was Lois Lane.”

But it’s disappointing to see that early on, Superman was a giant jerk. Lois would investigate something and figure it out (maybe she should be the World’s Greatest Detective) and when she got into a jam, Superman would swoop in and save her then swoop out and steal her story because he could get back, type it up with his super speed, and turn it in before she could. What a dick!

This book follows Lois’s many lives. So often she was merely a damsel in distress for Superman to rescue. But sometimes it was worse.

In the 50s Mort Weisenberg started the comic Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane in which Superman would be a condescending ass to Lois in just about every issue, deciding that Lois needed to be taught some sort of lesson. Yay, Patriarchy! *sigh* She also broke down sobbing in practically every issue. Sometimes several times. ‘Cause, you know – “Women! Even a Superman can’t understand them!” (As Superman himself said in one of these issues.) But these chapters refer to Superman as “patriarchy in blue tights”! Perfect.

And so often, Lois was merely there for the romantic angle.

“Over the 15 years that Julius Schwartz edited the Super-books, more than 20 women won Pulitzer Prizes, but in Action Comics and Superman, the female reporters were wrapped up in their love lives.”

I’m glad that the author spent some time talking about women as props in comics on more modern times and even mentioned Gail Simone’s website Women in Refrigerators.

But there were times when Lois was a stronger journalist, when:

Lois investigated a story, got into a dangerous predicament, saved herself, and got a front page story, all without the help of Superman.

I knew that in the radio show, they introduced elements that made it into the comics (Jimmy Olsen, Kryptonite…), but I didn’t realize that Lois was much more of a badass and less a damsel in distress. And I didn’t know that they treated Superman as more of an urban legend and he didn’t interact much with the rest of the characters.

For a brief period starting in 1970, Dorothy Woolfolk took the reins, and Lois became a stronger personality as feminism worked its way into the comic. Of course Ms. Woolfolk didn’t last very long in this man’s world and soon she and her feminism was gone – from the company as well as from the comic.

I really loved getting chills as the book described Lois’s moments in the Superman movie. I’ll have to go back and watch that.

The author spends a good amount of time on the more modern animated versions of Lois. He dedicated a whole paragraph to Superman: Doomsday, and I was surprised to see that he didn’t make mention of the fact that the opening scene implies they’ve been in bed together.

This was a great discussion of the character – all within the framework that “…both in the real world and in entertainment, men’s stories are dominant…” Too true.

I’m glad to hear that the number of female writers and artists has grown at DC as of late.

And I can’t believe I still haven’t read Lois Lane: Fallout.

I did find it odd that the author included so much info about George Reeves’s death. An interesting aside, maybe, but it didn’t have much to do with the character of Lois Lane – except for the impact it may have had on the women that played her in the series he starred in.

Highly recommended. But be warned – don’t read the chapters on movies and animation if you don’t want movies or TV series spoiled. I’m still trying to get the ending of Smallville out of my head since I haven’t seen the last few seasons. (To be fair, all of this info was relevant to Lois’s characterization in these media; and these shows have been out for years.)

Thanks to NetGalley and Chicago Review Press for a copy in return for an honest review. (less)

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