After 78 years of being rescued by Superman, Lois Lane is finally doing the rescuing in her own title as Superwoman.
As usual, in a year when a woman is finally running for president, the funhouse mirror of American popular culture is reflecting an exaggerated but vivid and telling image of the reality. From victim to victor. Women’s empowerment made super-powered.
Ironically, Margot Kidder, the actress who played Lois in the four Christopher Reeve Superman movies, predicted this turn of events when I interviewed her almost 20 years ago. She was unaware that the characters had become engaged and then married in the comic books, and subsequently had no secrets from each other. But she wasn’t unappreciative of the changes.
“She’ll have to get some super powers next,” Kidder said. “As women’s liberation goes on, that’s how it should be. Know more and do more. I’m all for it.” She added with a laugh, “But skip the marriage. And make sure he does the cooking.”
Actually, Lois Lane’s super-empowerment has been a stubbornly persistent theme. She has been gaining and losing super powers, in dreams or in comic-book “reality,” since the mid-1940s.
“Our society’s ideals of fair play demanded there be super heroines,” wrote Danny Fingeroth in Superman on the Couch. “But our society’s ingrained, conflicted and unconscious feelings toward powerful women made the creation of truly crowd-pleasing superhero women take decades — generations — longer to develop than their male counterparts.”
In the 1960s, Lois acquired super powers with such frequency that she sported her own recognizable green-and-yellow super costume for appearances in Action Comics and Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane. Her romantic rival Lana Lang got a yellow-and-purple one, and the stories reflected the ambiguous attitudes of the times by trivializing women’s power as often as they celebrated it.
Instead of corralling killers or blowing out forest fires, Super-Lois and Super-Lana wiped up super-pancakes and super-pizzas in their efforts to impress Superman. So fevered were their desires to marry him that they even engaged in a flying super-catfight.
But something else was there, in the American air, beyond the condescending silliness. In fact, the cultural gravitational pull of this theme of an empowered Lois Lane has been strong enough to affect even the Superman stories outside the comic books.
In the final episode of the 1950s TV series The Adventures of Superman, All That Glitters, Noel Neill’s Lois gained super powers. And in the 1990s TV series Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Terry Hatcher’s Lois accidentally siphoned Superman’s powers to become Ultrawoman.