In a “Kipen on Books” NPR segment from quite some time back now, host David Kipen suggests that his guest, bona fide rock critic and philosopher Greil Marcus, might be suggesting that geography is a metaphor for choice in the American psyche.
The suggestion is made right near the end of the interview, when Kipen quotes a line from “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” which appears as an eleventh hour track on Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, the album which opens with “Like a Rolling Stone.” And although Kipen’s interview is with Marcus, Bob Dylan is at the heart of it. In the late Spring of 2005, Marcus had just released Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads, a commentary and analysis of the tough choices Dylan has had to make at a critical juncture in his career.
Kipen reminds us that Highway 61 Revisited (which references an actual U.S. Route that cuts the country in half, running North-South from Wyoming, MN to New Orleans, LA) is all about choice. And that the grand finale of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” where Dylan belts out “I’m going back to New York City/ I do believe I’ve had enough,” really does seem to underpin Marcus’s point about geography being equated to choice and particularly to courage in the American imagination.
If there’s anything wrong with Kipen’s read of Marcus, it’s that Kipen doesn’t push the envelope far enough. The idea that geography is invariably a geography of choice is certainly a seductive one, but the journey westwards hasn’t been the only American migration. Anybody living in just the right part of Illinois (pretty much Jo Daviess County) at just the right time (prior to the 1982 opening of the Dubuque-Wisconsin Bridge) when US Route 61 still ran through Illinois could tell you the tale of another American migration, the North-South migration that in one form or another even predates the Civil War.
And beyond East-West and North-South, Chris Carter’s piece of ‘90s Conspiracy Theory Americana, The X Files, makes the argument for a Coastal-Flyover migration. One in which the contiguous spaces between Middle America and the East and West Coasts have become broken in a certain sense, and now require mending walls. In the sister volume to Lois Lane: A Celebration of 75 Years, Superman: A Celebration of 75 Years, a fourth Migration was suggested—the generational migrations of stewardship of a shared iconography over time. But it’s with Lois Lane and the anniversary collection’s thematic rather than chronological arrangement of stories, that a fifth Migration is suggested; a Migration outwards, the unleashing of the Idea of America on the stage of world history.
It’s Part V of Lois Lane, “Imaginary Tales,” that proves to be the most tantalizing. Because really, which tales about Lois Lane aren’t imaginary? But it’s in the pages of the “Imaginary Tales” section of the anniversary collected edition that a new view of Lois Lane, but also of Superman begins to emerge. It’s no longer just a question of Lois (or for that matter Superman) as she exists within the confines of her clearly developed fictional world, but of where Lois could potentially be. Possibly dating the mythical strongman Atlas, possibly married to Superman, possibly possessing Superman’s powers herself.
Within the pages of the “Imaginary Tales,” the idea of Lois Lane is given free reign. She becomes more than merely Lois Lane, Intrepid Gal Reporter, and offers the narratives she inhabits a new direction, and a new choice—onwards into anything that is imaginable, and sometimes, just often, beyond even that. It’s in the “Imaginary Tales” that Lois Lane’s flag finally unfurls.
But it doesn’t end there. The “Imaginary Tales” impel you to return to the earlier Parts of the collection, and prompt you to reevaluate them. Just how much of each Lois Lane, all the way back to John Byrne’s Lois in The Man of Steel, and back even further, to Lois being billed as “Superman’s Girl Friend,” just how much of it is Lois conforming to the confines she was written into? And how much of these stories is Lois, testing the limits of iconography and genre?
After having read the “Imaginary Tales,” and by the time you loop back around to the late twentieth, early twenty-first century stories, something magical happens. An argument of a post-feminist, geopolitical consequence is made using Lois. A Gal Reporter, without a biography becomes emblematic of how the Idea of America (America as cultural capital) can expand beyond its own borders. It’s in this way that Wildman escapes the gulag of simply offer a “greatest hits” version of Lois’s publication history. But what makes the anniversary volume all the more attractive, all the more incisive, is that Wildman has leveraged the inherent value of these stories, by presenting them in the most magical arrangement.
More so than its companion edition showcasing Superman, Lois Lane: A Celebration of 75 Years reads like a milestone. And with Wildman’s careful eye, this anniversary edition becomes a circuit of sorts, that can be read one lap after another, leaving enriched for each time you pass Begin.