Book Review: “Investigating Lois Lane: The Turbulent History of the Daily Planet’s Ace Reporter”

I’m obsessed with Lois Lane.

…There’s really nothing else I can say to qualify that statement. I nearly cried when I didn’t get Gwenda Bond’s Lois Lane: Fallout the day it came out. I complained about Man of Steel for weeks after seeing the movie, not because of the ridiculous amount of destruction Superman caused nor the (HIGHLY PROBLEMATIC) murder of General Zod, but because Amy Adams as Lois Lane just irked my nerves (Disney princesses are simply not made to also be Lois Lane.) I refused to finish reading the Injustice comic because (SPOILER) Lois died within the first 15 pages.

I also published a rather lengthy defense of my favorite character on this very blog not to long ago.

So, you can imagine my excitement at discovering Tim Hanley’s Investigating Lois Lane was slotted for publishing.

The fact is, I think Lois is an incredible character that gets the short end of the stick a lot due to limited role of women during the times she’s been written and also because of poor writing. What I love about this book is that it is a comprehensive history; it narrates Lois’ story, from beginning to end, showcasing her best moments, but also bringing her pitfalls to light. The book encourages us to think critically about Lois before critiquing her: she’s often the prime example of American gender roles, and thus some of her story arcs reflect that rather than the core of her character.

I’ll be real: I don’t read a lot of Superman comics. This book reminds me why I don’t. Hanley takes us through almost 50 years of comic history before Superman finally stops treating Lois like a child and more like the grown woman that she is. He’s emotionally manipulative for most of their relationship and yet Lois is blindly in love with him. Who wants to read stories about the great American hero treating her heroine like crap?

Not I.

Hanley’s coverage spans the entire canon of Superman comics, but also branches out to other mediums as well. Generally speaking, Lois’ character is treated better in almost every other version outside of the comics. In the radio show “her damsel-in-distress role was less pronounced” (p. 27) and the Flesicher Studios cartoons of the 1940s were “a great showcase for Lois Lane” (p. 30). Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane of the 1970s is the Lois by which all others are compared, and The New Adventures of Superman: Lois and Clark and Smallville, eventually allowed Lois to be a teammate, a real member of Team Superman, instead of his romantic lapdog. This is not to say that Lois doesn’t get some great comic coverage though. Hanley takes us through some of Lois’ best comic runs, including an exclusive interview she does with Wonder Woman. Overall though, her best depictions are in other media.

Full of riveting history about my favorite character, Investigating Lois Lane also takes a close look at the writers who have handled her, the editors, the producers on different TV and film depictions, even the actors and actresses of Superman lore. Very much in a Lois-like fashion, Hanley includes a chapter on the mysterious death of George Reeves, the Superman of the 1950s The Adventures of Superman, which may or may not have included his lover Leonore Lemmon. (Note the L.L.) I could just imagine Lois investigating the death for an article.

Best of all, this book is simply an incredibly fun read. Lois Lane fans will love seeing their heroine get the merit she deserves, haters will gain a new appreciation for her, and newbies to the comic world will put the book down to see if they can find Superman: The Movie on Netflix. (Let me save you some trouble: it’s not.) The prose is detailed and objective when it comes to fact, but footnotes keep the reader laughing and on their toes: “To this latest version of Lois, a liberated lady got her man by strapping on a frilly apron and cooking him a meal.” Hanley takes a lot of digs at Superman writers in his footnotes, making modern commentary on archaic ideas of femininity that limited Lois’ growth as a character for decades.

As a Black Woman, I was particularly impressed with Hanley’s description of Superman writers trying to deal with matters of diversity. Open, honest, and blunt, Hanley is very careful to show that, yes, Superman’s writers did deal with their sexism and racism, but they did so fairly grudgingly and not very successfully. He says, “While the message of Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #106 wasn’t particularly enlightening, a Super-book that explored black characters at all was a long-overdue change of pace.” (p. 100) I admire his commitment to revealing the problematic nature of the comics, while at least giving them credit for trying. I am very aware that I love a group of stories and characters that involve almost no Black characters. Even if it isn’t for many pages, I appreciate Hanley acknowledging this absence.

Hanley successfully deconstructions, challenges and builds a new, more comprehensive view of an iconic figure in American history. It’s enjoyable to read, shows us the troublesome side of Lois’ history, while also showing us why we should be rooting for her. In his conclusion Hanley says:

One of the keys to Lois’s long-term appeal is the solid base at the core of her character. Lois has been the same woman since her very first appearance in Action Comics #1 in 1938.  She was tough, she was ambitious, she was fearless, and she had very little respect for authority. Through every reboot and adaptation, these basic facts have remained the same.

However, the history of Lois Lane is a tumultuous tale about the degree to which this core of her character was buried. (p. 233)

Part of my love for Lois stems from the fact that no matter how she’s written, I can find those characteristics in her, mostly because they’re the traits that dominate my personality. No matter whether she’s a love sick puppy, an almost arrogant, no nonsense reporter for the Planet or a lost teenager looking for a purpose in life like Lois is in Smallville, I always find a part of myself in her.

(Including Teri Hatcher’s beautiful performance of a kick ass reporter in the office that dissolves into a puddle of mush while watching a romance movie in her pjs and eating ice cream later that very night.)

Yup, also me.

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