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Ask Chris #98: The Best and Worst of Lois Lane

Here at ComicsAlliance, we value our readership and are always open to what the masses of Internet readers have to say. That’s why every week, Senior Writer Chris Sims puts his comics culture knowledge to the test as he responds to your reader questions!

Q: What is your favorite Lois Lane story? Least favorite?@FellAndTerrible

A: Whenever I talk about the Superman family, I usually go straight for Jimmy Olsen, but I like those old Lois Lane comics just as much. In fact, I think Silver Age Lois has a pretty unfair reputation among a lot of readers. The view most people have of her is a swooning trouble-magnet who was always trying to trick Superman into marrying her, but that wasn’t really the case. She was in danger a lot, yes, but that was because she was a daring reporter, and there are plenty of stories where she outright refuses to trick Superman, because she just wants to show him that he can finally tell her he loves her without having to worry that she’ll be killed by his enemies. There’s a fearlessness, dedication and nobility to her character that often gets glossed over in favor of easy jokes about how kooky old comics were.

That said, if I’m honest with you, my favorite Lois Lane story is probably the one where she gets shot with a laser beam that makes her really fat.

I almost wish it didn’t, but I can’t lie: That opening panel cracks me up every single time I read it. Just the very idea that Superman, who can lift a car with one hand, would feel the need to actually tell a woman she’s “quite a load” while pretending to be out of breath is the most hilarious dick move that guy has ever pulled, and that’s saying something.

Originally printed in 1958′s Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #5, “The Fattest Girl In Metropolis” is about one gorilla short of being the Silver Agiest story of all time. It has everything else you could possibly want, including a convoluted and completely insane plot to catch a crook, Superman casually ruining someone’s life and then being immediately forgiven, and of course, the almost mandatory Bizarre Transformation. Seriously, you couldn’t go two weeks back in the ’50s without somebody turning into a lion or, in the case of Supergirl’s pet horse, turning into a human who starred in a rodeo.

But that’s another column. Point is, this story’s great, and a lot of that comes from the fact that Otto Binder‘s script was drawn by the always amazing Kurt Schaffenberger. I’ve mentioned this before, but while Schaffenberger may not get the (justifiable) attention paid to Curt Swan, he is hands down my single favorite DC artist of the era. His art is just beautiful, with fluid lines and incredible facial expressions. Swan’s Superman always had an air of confidence, but Schaffenberger’s frequently looked exasperated and bewildered by what was going on around him. And for good reason.

Which brings us back to “The Fattest Girl in Metropolis.” As the story begins, Lois is her usual slender self, out for a drive one night when she runs across the murder of a man with the ballerest name of all time:

If “Swag” Swanson doesn’t manage to make it back to comics with DC’s relaunch, then I don’t even know why we’re reading comics anymore.

Anyway, the killer turns out to be so average looking that he’s virtually impossible to describe, meaning thatLois won’t be able to identify him unless she actually sees him in person. And when she tells the police this, the officer’s response is, I kid you not, “Well, if you run across [THE MURDERER] again, notify us immediately.”

Thanks for the tip, officer. Very helpful.

But life at the Daily Planet goes on, and after snagging the front page with her story of how she can’t possibly describe this murder she saw, Lois is sent to cover a fantastic new invention from one of Metropolis’s many crackpot scientists:

You can probably see where this is going.

Sure enough, Lois has plumped up like a Ballpark Frank. It’s at this point that the story just goes all-in on this premise, with Binder taking the opportunity to refer to Lois in captions as “the Pudgy Planet Reporter,” “the Rotund Reporter,” and my personal favorite, “Lois ‘Chubby’ Lane.” Seriously, that one is in there.

For his part, in the scene where Lois calls up the scientist to see if he can cure her, Schaffenberger draws Lois’s apartment to feature a framed portrait of Lois herself hanging above her phone, so that you can contrast her usual appearance with her current state on the off chance that you forgot what she looked like on the previous page.

My favorite example of how ludicrous things get, though, is where Lois goes to pick up a new dress:

The Fat Girl’s Shoppe. I honestly don’t know if that’s the worst name for a business, or the best. Say what you want, but the proprietrix of the Fat Girl’s Shoppe is owning it, you know? Good on her.

That’s just the beginning for Lois, as things just get progressively worse with an intensity that’s only rivaled by the darker episodes of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. First, she tries to keep Superman from noticing her weight gain, only to find out that she’s been suddenly transported to a world that operates on Looney Tunes physics. Even more than usual, I mean:

Keep that fourth panel in mind, because I’ll be coming back to it in a second. For now, though, get ready for the kicker: All of this is happening on Lois’s birthday.

That is fantastic.

Even though she tries to keep herself hidden from Superman, Lois ends up saving his life and revealing herself. At a wedding where she’s acting as a bridesmaid — because of course she is — Lois discovers that the ring is actually Kryptonite when her Kryptonite-Detecting Charm Bracelet (introduced exactly one page beforehand) goes off. Thus, her secret has been revealed and she thoroughly humiliated in front of the man she loves. Ha-ha!

In order to distract herself from her sorrows, Lois heads out to cover the opening of a nearby carnival (newsworthy), where a leering barker tells her she only needs to pack on “a few more pounds” before he can offer her the job as the resident Fat Lady. And this brings up a pretty crucial element of the story, which is that with the exception of the neighbor who told her to check out the Fat Girl’s Shoppe, every single person in this story is a horrible person to Lois Lane. Superman, the carny, Otto Binder’s captions, they’re all just insanely mean.

Well, maybe not everyone. I’m sure Jimmy Olsen meant well when he offered her the “extra-strong chair” to sit in.

The average-looking murderer, on the other hand, has no such noble intentions:

Fortunately, as is so often the case, it turns out that Superman’s been following Lois to protect her. But more than that, it’s revealed that he’s actually the one who sabotaged the growth ray in the first place! See, since Lois could only identify the killer if she actually saw him, Superman needed to think of a way for her to recognize him without being spotted herself. Clearly, this was the best solution:

Ah. Mazing. And it’s worth noting that “I knew you wouldn’t consent if I told you, but it was for your own good” is still in the top three creepiest things Superman has ever said.

Thus, Superman reverses the ray and zaps Lois back to her normal size, but not before she stuffs herself with the biggest dinner Clark Kent’s paycheck can buy. But there’s one more thing to mention before we move on.

Remember that panel I told you to remember above, where Superman told her that she was “quite a load,” without realizing that he was talking to Lois? Well it turns out that since he arranged the whole thing, he did know it was Lois! That line is mean enough, but when he knows it’s her, it’s just astonishing. How in the hell does that help his plan?! He’s just being a jerk for no reason! The f***in’ nerve of that guy, I swear.

It’s probably what I love about this story.

As for my least favorite, well, that dishonor would probably go to Mindy Newell and Gray Morrow’s two-issue Lois Lane mini-series from 1986. It’s essentially a long-form PSA about missing children, and while its heart is in the right place, the execution leaves quite a bit to be desired.

Dr. Scott, a noted PSA comic enthusiast, has what’s probably the definitive write-up of it over at Polite Dissent:

As this mini-series starts, Lois is feeling low. She has recently bungled a major interview, and her reputation at the Daily Planet has never been worse. In the midst of a dinner date, she notices police cars tearing down the road and she ditches her date (and “borrows” his car) to follow them. She ends up at a crime scene where the body of a murdered little girl is pulled from the harbor. At that moment Lois Lane, prize winning journalist, has an ONISGS (Oh No, I Suddenly Got Stupid) moment and suddenly realizes that there are missing and exploited children out there, and all too often they turn up murdered.

[...]

The big shocker of the book comes near the end of the story, at a police press conference that Lois and Lana are attending. As the police are discussing a dead body that has been found, Lana gets nauseous and bolts from the room. Lois follows her. In the conversation that follows, we learn a little secret: While Lana was in Europe, she got married and had a son. This child was kidnapped by an Italian terrorist group who sent Lana a little memento – her son’s ear – before ultimately killing him. To this day, Lana keeps her son’s ear in her safe deposit box. So not only did Lana have a marriage and child in her past – a family that has never been mentioned before or since – but she keeps her dead son’s ear (which she describes as “a dried piece of skin that looks like an apricot”) at her bank.

Did I mention what an enjoyable comic this was?

So yeah, not exactly the laugh riot I was hoping to end on, but there you go. They can’t all have fat-rays.

That’s all we have for this week, but if you’ve got a question you’d like to see Chris tackle in a future column, just send it to @theisb on Twitter with the hashtag #AskChris, or send an email to comicsalliance@gmail.com with [Ask Chris] in the subject line!

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