Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Love Square: Superman in Action #5 (Cover Date October 1938)

Continuing my writings on the earliest comic book stories I have:


Main Heroes: Superman, Lois Lane


The newspaper gets a report that the Valleyho dam is cracking following a storm and is about to give way. The editor wants to send Kent, but he's not in the office.

Editor: Well, look for his, Lois -- And have him report before I lose my mind!

Lois Lane: But why not have me hand the assignment?

Editor: Can't! It's too important! -- This is no job for a girl!

Lois Lane heads off Clark outside the Daily Star office and sends him off on a phony lead that a women in the hospital is about to give birth to septuplets. By the time he realizes he's been duped, Lane is on the last train to Valleyho, and Kent is fired.

Changing into Superman garb, Kent races and leaps to Valleyho, passing Lois's train just in time to support the bridge that is about to be washed away until the train is over. Everyone is fleeing Valleyho except Lois, who is given a taxi by a cabbie who is leaving on the next train. Superman, meanwhile, tries to keep the dam from bursting long enough for the people to escape. When it finally crumbles around his hands, only one car is in the path of rushing water -- Lois's cab. Superman saves Lois from drowning and then creates an avalanche, knocking down a mountain top that diverts the flow of water away from Valleyho, saving the town.

Kent calls in to the editor, saying that he took an airplane to Valleyho and agrees to report on the story if he is re-hired.


If I can psycho-analyze Lois Lane for a moment, the general impression of Golden Age Lois is as caught between Superman on one hand and Clark Kent on the other. Here is Lois with Superman, after he has rescued her and she has kissed him:

Superman: Enough of that! -- I've got to brink you back to safety -- Where I'll be safe from you!

Lois: The first time you carried me like this I was frightened -- Just as I was frightened of you. But now I love it -- Just as I love you! Don't go! Stay with me -- always.

And two frames later, with Clark.

Clark: Lois! That wasn't a nice stunt you pulled on me! But I still like you.

Lois: Who cares! ("--The spineless worm! I can hardly bear looking at him. After having been in the arms of a real He Man--")

So, we've got essentially the same conversation played out with the same people, with role reversal. A perfect love triangle, right? Except that it's not really a triangle -- not because there are only two people, but because there are really four. Does Lois really hate Clark because he's a "spineless worm"? Or does she hate him because of the conversation she had with the editor at the beginning of the story?

So, as I see it, this isn't a story about Lois loving Superman, or about Lois hating Clark. It's really a story about Lois hating her editor, who refused to assign a big story to her because she was a woman. Compared to the editor, Superman is stronger, has more power, and doesn't chastise her for taking on a big story. Compared to the editor, Clark has less power, less experienced, but is favored as a reporter because he's a man. If Clark were gone, the editor would have had no choice but assign the Valleyho story to her. Of course she is going to hate him!

Action #5 is the first story without a "bad guy." There is no corrupt Senator, or evil employer, or slimy football coach. In the global scheme, "bad guy" is the Valleyho dam, which threatens to wash out the town. But in the interpersonal scheme, the "bad guy" is really the editor. The sexist power imbalance is what is pushing Lois toward Superman, and away from Clark. With an egalitarian editor, Lois would have no reason to fear Clark, and therefore would not hate him as she does. As such, while the sexism obviously has the biggest negative impact on Lois, it also hurts Clark quite a bit. On an even playing field, he would be able to compete just fine with Lois as a report, and wouldn't have to be fighting such as uphill battle to befriend her.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you think they emphasized that point within the text, or is this your impression looking at it now, because I know that Lois didn't really like Clark from the start.

Either way, that's a really interesting point.

11:07 AM  
Blogger Ragtime said...

I think it depends on how you define "emphasized". I think it was definitely there to be seen, although I don't think you were dragged from the nose from the sexist editor to the hatred of Clark.

I agree that she hated Clark from the start, but I also think she was getting stuck with the "girl assignments" and Clark was getting the more "meaty jobs" from the start.

It's like, if you've been working at a place for years, and the boss decides to hire his brother and give him a better office and more responsibilities and higher pay right from the start, there's a good chance you are going to hate your boss's brother -- even if he's a nice enough guy outside of the nepotism.

12:13 PM  

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