Who’s your favorite superhero?
Mine is Lois Lane!
Let me also suggest that Tika Sumpter be the first black actor to play Lois. She’d rock the part! (But I’m jumping ahead: Read on!)
Now that superhero science fiction is blockbuster-movie fare, with A-list stars lining up, I no longer downplay my lifelong love for the genre. Social-media big shots routinely debate whether Ben Affleck is right as Batman; which actor (Toby Maguire or Andrew Garfield) is the more authentic Spider-Man; and so forth.
Recently a friend on Google Plus, Mervik Haums, asked simply: “Who’s your favorite superhero?” My top contenders included Swamp Thing, Shrinking Violet, the Elongated Man, and Storm (along with all the X-Men).
None of these felt right, though. At last I realized why: For me, the only possible answer is Lois Lane.
Some readers may be thinking, “Lois? Lois? She isn’t a superhero! Have you lost your mind?” If this is you, please hear me out.
The Case Against Lois
In college, I once heard a feminist guest-lecturer rail against Lois. According to this speaker, Lois Lane, as a cultural icon, had “brainwashed” whole generations of boys and girls with the perpetual-damsel-in-distress myth. The one where women are weak, helpless wallflowers needing to be rescued by a macho man.
Apparently this speaker, like the handful who applauded, had never actually read the comics. If she had, she would have known that Lois has always been scripted as a tough-as-nails, hard-driven news reporter feared by every corrupt politician, corporate crook, mob boss, and mad scientist within a five-state radius of Metropolis.
Hers were the skills and the will to take them all down. Not once did she wait for Superman; she was doing this — at least in the classic version — before they ever met. Feeling the heat, her enemies tended to respond by putting her life in peril. That’s one reason she sometimes needed saving.
Another reason was her kind heart, coupled with reckless disregard for her own safety. Like Christiane Amanpour, Lois would show up in the midst of every unfolding catastrophe. Unlike Christiane (whose judgment is better), she’d slip into a runaway nuclear plant where she’d get trapped trying to save a stray cat. Another job for Superman.
So Who’s Saving Whom?
But at day’s end, with earth’s fate in the balance, it wasn’t a bird; it wasn’t a plane; and — often enough — it wasn’t Superman. It was Lois, saving the world by saving his sorry butt. He’d be trapped in the Phantom Zone, or dying from black magic, red-sun radiation, green kryptonite, or some other colorful threat. Not to worry: Lois would wade through any crocodile creek, swim past sharks, or crawl over miles of Arctic ice to reach and rescue him. She probably saved his life more often than he saved hers.
And she did it without super-powers! That’s what most impressed me, as an impressionable kid: She could be hurt; she could die; and she knew it. Still she did whatever had to be done.
The Lois Lane Lessons
Since its debut in 1938, the Superman legend has taught several key truths. Lois Lane has been the primary vehicle used by the storytellers to convey these ideas:
✦ You don’t have to be super-powered — or even perfect — to be a hero. You just need heart, compassion, courage, a sense of duty, and steely determination.
✦ Amazing men (and women) fall in love with potential mates and partners like themselves. They’re turned on — not off — by strength, intelligence, resilience, empathy, and self-reliance.
✦ Sometimes we all need saving — and that’s okay. Embracing that reality is one of the very things that makes us human. Even if (heck, especially if) we come from another world!
Lois in Real Life
Superman is imaginary: There’s no one with steel skin or heat vision. But look around, and you’ll find real-life women just like Lois Lane. I’d count my mom, Charmian Matthews; my wife, Cheri Matthews, and my sister, Janelle Ramsey. Among my mentors in the mass-media field were Marcia Day and Marzieh Gail, both now deceased, and both of whom even resembled the classic Lois!
Some of my readers will recognize Marcia as creator of (among others) the legendary rock duo Seals and Croft. They may know Marzieh as a gifted writer and translator (though not everyone knows she was a professional journalist, exactly like Lois, and that her amazing adventures included turning down a marriage proposal from the Shah of Iran).
I became a news reporter during the Watergate era, when budding journalists aspired to emulate Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. So did I — but I perhaps didn’t realize till years later that Lois Lane was even more my inspiration. She was always there in the background, along with her real-life counterparts, urging me to aim higher, dig deeper, and dare the impossible.
What’s Next for Lois?
In the comics, Lois has gone through various looks. On TV and in the movies, even more. She has been ably portrayed by Noel Neill, Phyllis Coates, Margot Kidder, Teri Hatcher, Kate Bosworth, Erica Durance, and Amy Adams, perhaps among others.
In Man of Steel, the curmudgeonly Perry White is for the first time played by a black actor, Laurence Fishburne. (He nails it!) My thought: Isn’t it time, if not past time, for a black Lois Lane?
There is no shortage of leading ladies who could step into those high-heel shoes. As I mentioned at the outset, I’d nominate Tika Sumpter, who lit up shows like One Life to Live and Gossip Girl and who deserves far better than her current gig, Tyler Perry’s The Haves and the Have Nots (on OWN).
What I’d predict is that by 2038, when Lois celebrates her 100th birthday, her story will just be getting started. Generations not yet born will cheer her on, as I did, while she saves the world. If I’m still around (as I’m planning), I’ll still be glued to screen and page (which by then should be one and the same, the way things are going).
Any other Superman fans out there who agree with me that Lois Lane is the most heroic hero of the legend? And who (of whatever ethnicity) do you think should next play Lois, assuming Amy someday relinquishes the role?