Spotlight Sunday 3.22.20

Deciding that it was time for me to get my hands on a copy of the comic that has what may be my favorite cover of all time means that there are 52 year old spoilers for…

Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #80
Writer: Leo Dorfman
Artist: Kurt Schaffenberger
Cover: Curt Swan and Neal Adams

“Thanks for offering to drive me home, Perry…But I’ll stick around! I’m sure Superman will show up!”

It’s no secret to regular readers of these irregular Spotlight posts that there is a special place in my heart for The Daily Planet’s prize-winning intrepid reporter, and it’s also no secret that I think that throughout her 80+ year history she hasn’t always – or even often – been treated fairly.

In her earliest appearances, Lois was a bold, ingenious, unflappable, and capable character, who in another time could have been an adventurous star in her own right, with no need to share a magazine with Superman. By the time she did get own series, she got second-billing in her own title, and while most of those adjectives I used above still applied, her characterization had degenerated considerably, with Lois becoming something of a marriage-obsessed nuisance. A pest. A thorn in Superman’s invulnerable side, and a mess that he often had to clean up. A child in need of constant “lessons” from the condescending and patriarchal Man of Steel.

I don’t think this was malicious – or at least consciously malicious – on the part of the people behind the comics, it was just the natural consequence of the internalized misogyny of our patriarchal society. After all, while they didn’t always treat her that way, DC generally tried to emphasize that even though Lois could be a pain sometimes, her heart was in the right place, and she was smart and capable.

You know, for a girl.

Consider the answer to a letter that appears in this issue:

Certainly, it’s not a perfect answer, and it is condescending, but it does demonstrate a clear affection for our intrepid reporter.

(Of course, it’s worth noting that not only does Lois not get solo billing on her own book’s cover, she doesn’t get it on the letter page either, as the page is titled “Letters to Lois and Lana.”)

By the time I became familiar with – and fell for – Lois, things had swung back a bit, and, as a reflection of the times, she had become something of a modern “liberated” woman, a sister who could do it for herself (although Superman was still around just in case).

This issue marks the start of that transition, however haltingly, by, as the cover indicates, having Lois make a break from Superman and her life in Metropolis, and making wardrobe choices – dig that groovy outfit on the cover! – that are more in keeping with the a-changing times.

Our story begins with Lois heading to a specific room at a specific hotel where Perry White has assured her she’ll find an exciting new story to report on.

While she has no idea what she might find in the dark room, Lois, being Lois, is undaunted, though she’s not prepared for the surprise (party) that awaits.

Perry White informs her that everyone is there to celebrate her special day, except Clark Kent, who apparently hasn’t made it back from reporting on an earthquake in South America.

Lois doesn’t care about that drip, as she’s only concerned about the absence of a certain Last Son of Krypton. Everyone assures her that he must be on some mission of vital importance, otherwise he wouldn’t miss this party, and Jimmy tries to smooth things over by forging Superman’s signature on a spare gift he brought (for just such an eventuality), and telling her that Superman gave it to him just in case something came up and he couldn’t make it.

Lois is satisfied that at least he was thinking of her…until she opens the present – little statuettes of Superman and some of his other hero friends – and realizes it can’t be from Superman, as it’s almost identical to the gift Superman gave her for Christmas (though the statuettes from Superman were made of gold).

Was…was that really a saying? Yeesh.

After the party breaks up, Lois holds out hope that Superman will show, but eventually she’s ousted by a custodian who needs to clean up the place, and so she begins a sad walk home in the rain, but she soon makes a terrible discovery.

Yep, Superman was a mere two blocks away engaged in a task that was considerably less important than saving some planet from disaster, and his only excuse – despite having a so-called “super-memory” – is that her birthday slipped his mind.

After spending the night thinking about how much of her life she’s wasted on the vain hope of becoming Mrs. Superman, Lois calls in sick the next day, and Perry suggests that she’s been working too hard and should take a leave of absence.

“Live it up! Go to Hawaii…Alaska! What you need is a change!

Lois agrees, though Perry has no idea how big a change she has in mind. While we never get the angry confrontation between Lois and Superman that we see on the cover, we do get a shopping montage after Lois closes out all of her bank accounts.

She tells her sister Lucy that she’s leaving Metropolis forever, and even changing her name to Lois Lorne. Lucy isn’t convinced that Lois won’t eventually change her mind, but she agrees to take all of the souvenirs from Superman that Lois has packed up, secretly resolving to hold on to them rather than donating them to charity as Lois requests.

Next up is figuring out where she’s going to go, which she does via blindly stabbing at a map at a train station with a pin and landing on Coral City, which appears to be somewhere in Florida.

However, her actions do not go unobserved by a certain super-voyeur.

Lois gets to work on finding work, and notices a Help Wanted ad for a job that her training as a “volunteer nurse” makes her a prime candidate for, but unfortunately, the line to apply stretches around the block, so she’s less than optimistic about her chances.

While she waits in line, a young boy loses his ball down a storm drain, and Lois finds a clever way to retrieve it for him. This act of kindness just happens to be observed by the doctor who’s doing the hiring for the job Lois is there to apply for, and he decides to hire her on the spot because she’s exactly the kind of quick-thinking and resourceful woman he’s looking for.

In due course, Lois finds herself moving on with her new life.

Back in Metropolis, however, Superman finds himself thinking about Lois more and more. There is, it seems, always something there to remind him.

Of course, it would probably help if he weren’t always on the lookout for every dark-haired woman in peril he can find.

GET IT? It’s funny ’cause she’s UGLY!

Fate has a reunion in store, however, as Lois has begun dating a handsome astronaut who was injured after a failed launch from the nearby Cape Coral space center, where they’re preparing for next year’s moonshot, and whose life was saved by some standard quick-thinking from Lois, who volunteered to provide him a necessary blood transfusion after some mishap prevents the staff from getting into the blood bank.

Perry assigns Clark to travel to Coral City to do a series of features on the space program, and shortly after he arrives he bumps into Lois, who swears him to secrecy, and introduces him to her new beau.

Clark soon finds himself in the unhappy role of Third Wheel, and is steaming over the way Lois can’t take her eyes off of her “space jockey.”

While the three of them are at the beach, Clark notices a surfer girl who’s in danger of being attacked by sharks, and decides that this looks like a job for Superman…to show off in front of Lois. As Clark, he excuses himself by saying he wants to take a dip – neither of the lovebirds notices, or cares – and then makes a big showy rescue of the surfer girl.

Unfortunately, after changing back into Clark and swimming back to shore in hopes of seeing Lois gushing over Superman’s heroic act he gets bumped on the noggin by a big piece of driftwood. Obviously, it doesn’t hurt him, but it hits hard enough that it would knock a normal man out, and people saw it happen, so he has to play along, ending up being rescued by his rival.

OF COURSE he swims with his glasses on. And has a belt on his trunks.

Knowing that he’s beaten, Clark decides to head back to Metropolis, though he still can’t bring himself to believe that Lois is over Superman.

Lois isn’t so sure herself, but things are getting serious with Rand, and the two inspect the home that they’re having built in which they will start their lives together, only to discover that one of the “workmen” on site is a foreign spy!

After creasing Rand’s skull with a bullet, the spy makes a break for it, and Lois suggests that Superman could help with finding where on the base the spy is hiding, and Rand has the authorities contact him.

Superman arrives and makes quick work of capturing the spy, who is brought to the hospital where Lois works, as he was injured in his scuffle with Rand.

This leads to a confrontation between Lois and Superman, albeit one that’s not so dynamic – or fashionable – as the one on the cover.

First, do no what now?

This ultimately leads to Lois hatching a scheme in which she pretends to “accidentally” inject herself with the truth serum, knowing that Superman won’t pass up the opportunity to ask her if she really means it when she says that she no longer wants him in her life.

She tells him that she really does mean it.

Superman knows – eventually, anyway – when he’s not wanted, and so he leaves, unaware that what Lois injected herself with was just water.

…even though I haven’t been injected with truth serum either, I’m not going to lie: even by 1968 standards, this story isn’t great. This is clearly a case in which you can’t judge a book by its cover.

But in fairness, that is a fantastic cover, and one that it would be hard to live up to, and even with its many shortcomings and regressive ideas – I’m particularly annoyed that the key for Lois to even hope to move on is finding happiness with another man – it is a rather startling shake-up of the status quo, and a first step towards telling the more complex and respectful takes that were yet-to-come. I haven’t read enough stories from this period to say for certain, but I think this arc, with Lois off on her own outside of Metropolis, continued for a bit.

And, as noted, once she was back in Metropolis, things had changed for the better, though really, there was nowhere to go but up.

By the time I started reading comics, Lois no longer had her own series, but she did have a continuing feature in Superman Family, which was then continued as a back-up feature in Supergirl after that series ended.

Still, I can’t help but like the story, and it does have an interesting – if too convenient and poorly-executed – plot, and like I said, it was kind of a daring experiment in shaking up the status quo.

Plus, the lovely, familiar, and comforting art by Kurt Schaffenberger earns it a lot of points, along with that cover that I love so much.

Also, it’s a great reminder of just how dense comics were back before the era of decompression. There’s so much story packed into a slim 23 pages. Kids in 1968 definitely got a lot for their twelve cents.

As something of an aside, I’m currently making my way through a book about the early days of Marvel and the eventual split that took place between Stan and Jack, and I can’t help but wonder about the last name of Lois’s new beau. From what I’ve read, things were already pretty rocky between Stan and Jack at this point, and DC was making some direct and indirect overtures to the King.

Ditko was already doing some books for DC at this time, and it would only be a couple of years before Kirby would make the move to DC. This wasn’t much after Jack Schiff, towards whom Kirby held considerable animosity and whose presence at the company kept Kirby away, had retired, clearing the path for that eventual move.

Given that DC at the time was sneaking in occasional digs at Stan and appeals to Jack, is it possible that Rand Kirby’s name was a nod to the King? It’s a fun thing to speculate about, especially since one of the titles Kirby would take over when he did arrive at DC was another book in the Superman Family of titles, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen.

In any case, while this story didn’t live up to its potential, I can’t help but love that cover, and getting my hands on a copy of it was a bright spot in a very dark time, so I had no choice but to turn on the Spotlight and do what I could to help brighten things up a little more.

I hope everyone is staying safe, staying home, and staying healthy.

And if, while you’re social distancing, this helped you feel a little less isolated, as a reminder…

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