Books

'Investigating Lois Lane' Is as Smart as, Well, Lois Lane Herself

Tim Hanley's book is a compelling read that reveals the ways in which Lois Lane has reflected cultural assumptions about gender.


Investigating Lois Lane: The Turbulent History of The Daily Planet's Ace Reporter

Publisher: Chicago Review Press
Length: 303 pages
Author: Tim Hanley
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2016-03
Amazon

In many ways, the very concept of Lois Lane is anachronistic. Both her major roles -- the hero's girlfriend and the intrepid investigative reporter -- seem like quaint holdovers from an earlier age, an age when the purveyors of pop culture thought that a woman's role in any adventure story was to be rescued by the hero and an age when reporting was a more noble profession whose practitioners' work appeared in black ink and revealed the truth in a way that helped to make the world a better place.

The character of Lois Lane has changed through the decades since she first appeared as a reporter for the Daily Star. She began as a "sob sister", whose job was to answer letters from the paper's female readers about problems with their love lives, one of the few roles open to female reporters in the years before World War II. Even then, however, Lois clearly wanted more.

Tim Hanley describes her early ambition in his history of the character, Investigating Lois Lane: The Turbulent History of the Daily Planet's Ace Reporter. He writes that Lois "fought for every assignment she got, even stealing tips when she had to, and over the years she endured kidnappings, fires, and explosions all in the pursuit of a good story."

Investigating Lois Lane traces the history of Lois Lane from her brave beginnings in 1938 in the pages of Action Comics #1 through the rise of a decidedly domestic culture in the post-war years and the feminist revolution that followed. The story of Lois Lane has played out through the years in the pages of comic books and newspaper strips, on radio and television broadcasts, and on the silver screen, and Hanley's book covers it all.

Hanley's story of Lois is at its most evocative when he describes her place in the comic books of the post-war years, a time when Lois was arguably at her most popular. In March of 1958 Lois debuted her own title at DC Comics, Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane. Headlining her own magazine placed Lois Lane in the same league as Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman's book, however, had a majority female readership, while Lois' was read predominantly by boys. (Hanley bases his numbers on the percentage of female writers published in the letters columns of the respective magazines.)

Perhaps as a consequence of this, Lois' role in her own book was often as a foil for the hero, a silly woman who was endlessly scheming to trick Superman into marrying her. In these stories, Superman spent a lot of time playing tricks on Lois in order to teach her a lesson. According to Hanley, "(M)any stories ended with Superman breaking the fourth wall and winking at the readers as he explained his clever machinations with a thought bubble... (B)y winking at the reader and revealing the details that Lois didn't know, he was bringing the reader in on his plan. Instead of being on the side of Lois, the series' supposed protagonist, the readers became coconspirators with Superman in his many lessons."

Lois Lane, the smart, brave and ambitious reporter, was overwhelmed by blatant misogyny, and Superman, hero to millions, was turned into a super-powered jerk.

The history of Lois Lane that followed has, in many ways, been an attempt to shake-off the burden of those cruel stories and create a different kind of relationship between Lois and Superman.

DC Comics wiped the slate clean with the 1985 series, Crisis on Infinite Earths, effectively recreating their fictional universe in such a way that those, now embarrassing, Lois Lane stories never really happened. A new Lois, along with a new Superman, was introduced. The new Lois was no longer the butt of Superman's cruel "lessons" and was treated with more humanity and grace.

Influenced, perhaps, by Margot Kidder's version of the character in 1978's Superman, the post-Crisis Lois has generally been presented as a strong, liberated, and modern career woman. The tenacity and fearless ambition of the early Lois, elements of her character that were played for laughs and cruelty in her mid-century stories, have now once again become central to her appeal.

Investigating Lois Lane is a compelling read that reveals the ways in which Lois Lane has reflected cultural assumptions about gender. Hanley's account is incredibly thorough, and he gives the distinct impression that he has really been immersed in all things Lois Lane, and that he may have even read most of those old Silver Age stories. His approach is smart and informed, but refreshingly free of the heavy-handed theory that often turns a discussion of something as fun as comic book history into a bore.

Hanley covers practically everything you need to know about the multi-media phenomenon that is Lois Lane and does so in a way that illustrates how the complexities of our culture's past assumptions about gender continue to shape our popular entertainment.

7


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.