Bizarro Back Issues: Lois Lane’s ESP — Extreme Space Peril! (1968)
If you’ve been reading ComicsAlliance for a while, you may recall that I was less than thrilled with the premise of the Injustice: Gods Among Us pequel comic. The major sticking point there was the scene where Superman, tripping balls on Kryptonite mushrooms or whatever it was, drags Lois Lane out into space and kills her. It’s not great.
I have to admit, however, that it is not without precedent, and back at HeroesCon, a reader dropped off the issue that proved it: Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #81, in which Superman commits the perfect murder… in outer spaaaaace! And he does it while he’s stone cold sober, too.
Even if it didn’t involve the promise of space-murder at the climax, “No Witnesses In Outer Space” would still be one of the strangest Lois Lane stories of all time, just on general principal. Written by Leo Dorfman and drawn by the astoundingly great Kurt Schaffenberger, this is actually the second half of a story where Lois decides that she’s done waiting around for Superman to wise up and ask her out and bails out of Metropolis for a new life and a new career.
To that end, she quits the Daily Planet, moves to Coral City, and becomes a nurse for a doctor who seems to specialize in conducting strange experiments on the inmates sentenced to Death Row, something that may or may not be important to the plot later. I don’t want to ruin the surprise. She even goes so far as to change her name, although admittedly, she changes it to “Lois Lorne,” and that’s almost as lazy as that time Dracula ran around insisting that everyone call him Alucard.
These are all pretty big life changes, especially for someone who has devoted her entire adult life to journalism, so you may be wondering what could’ve prompted her to take such huge steps instead of just deciding that they should see other people. As it turns out, she has a very important reason: Superman forgot her birthday.
Before we move on, can we all just stop for a moment and acknowledge that Kurt Schaffenberger is the best Superman artist of all time? I know that Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson get all the press, but nobody drew those expressions like Schaffenberger did. Nobody made Superman look more confused than he did, and when he drew Lois Lane losing her mind in the rain — which he was called upon to do pretty often, now that I think of it — he did it beautifully.
Anyway, Superman’s lack of respect for Lois’s birthday leads her to break it off completely, leaving Clark Kent surprisingly depressed about the whole thing. So depressed, in fact, that he mopes around the Daily Planet writing love letters and then using “super-coordination” to throw them across the country into her mailbox. It does not go well.
Of course, they’re not so broken up that Lois doesn’t spend the next two panels frantically dumping out the trash and taping his note back together, but still. It’s pretty rough.
So rough, in fact, that Superman decides that his only option is to go back in time and not miss Lois’s party. You’d think that this would be easy enough since there would be two different Supermen running around, leaving one to do his crucial scrapyard pounding and the other to celebrate Lois’s birthday, but he seems to be the only one left, and gets stuck with the scrap. He even manages to make things a little worse when he accidentally slams the scrap metal cubes all the way through the planet and into the Indian Ocean in a scene with all the cultural sensitivity that you’d expect from a comic printed in 1968. Either way, he makes such a mess of it that he forgets her birthday yet again despite breaking the time barrier for the sole purpose of sharing her cake.
I’m not sure I buy Superman’s insinuation that the timestream itself is responsible for a mental block that makes him a s**tty boyfriend, but I’ve seen worse excuses.
While Superman is pining his way through the timestream, Lois has moved on, sort of. She’s hooked up with a daring young astronaut named Rand Kirby (presumably because “Rand Ditko” would’ve been a little too on-the-nose), and he’s taking things to the next level by introducing her to his parents. Before their dinner, though, she has to attend to an “important medical experiment” on a dude named “Strangler.”
Sure enough, things go south on that one. Before he gets a sniff of the “Goody-Goody Gas” (amazing), Strangler starts a riot, knocking out the guards and attacking Lois. Fortunately, “Strangler” didn’t count on Lois’s mastery of Klurkor!
If anyone ever asks me why I love Lois Lane comics so much, I will probably point to this panel as being all the reason anyone ever needs. Lois is a woman who shrunk herself down to microscopic size and went to live in a miniature alien city for a while, and spent her time there learning forbidden outer-space karate moves. Who doesn’t love that?
During the scuffle, Lois is momentarily overwhelmed, and while Superman arrives to save her, “Strangler” sprays her with the Goody Gas before he’s stopped. “But Chris,” I hear you saying, “We all know that Lois is the Lane sister who isn’t a horrifying sociopathic monster in need of brain adjustments! What will happen to her when she’s exposed to chemicals that are explicitly designed to stop someone from being a murderer?” I’m glad you asked.
She gets psychic powers. Obviously.
I don’t know if it was Schaffenberger or the sadly uncredited letterer who was responsible for it, but the visual representation of telepathy as lightning bolt arrows from thought balloons to Lois’s head are basically my favorite things that have ever happened in comics. It’s perfect, and I don’t know why it happens more often.
Despite the fact that she’s able to read his mind and see how much he cares for her, Lois and Superman have another little spat, largely because he reacts to her beating up a bunch of convicts by referring to her as “you little idiot.” Stay classy, Superman. Needless to say, she heads off to meet Rand’s parents at dinner, and he flies back to Metropolis to check with Mystery to find out why his negging isn’t leading to a kiss-close.
As the day goes on, Lois’s telepathy somehow manages to mutate into precognition, and she gets a premonition of disaster. Specifically, she sees that an “automated space probe of alien origin” is cruising towards Earth, and while Superman has volunteered to check it out and make sure everything’s safe, what he doesn’t know is that it’s actually carrying a whole mess of Kryptonite.
Lois isn’t so mad about that “idiot” crack that she wants Superman to die, and fortunately, Rand is scheduled to fly out to space. She tries to get his superior officers to let him go save Superman, but they seem strangely reluctant to accept that Lois Lane has developed psychic powers. On the one hand, this makes them seem like complete and utter idiots who have forgotten that they live in a Silver Age DC Comic where this stuff happens all the frigging time to people, particularly Lois Lane. On the other hand, since this is a Silver Age DC comic, there’s a good chance that everyone concerned has been bilked by at least two fraudulent swamis. Besides, they only know her as Lois Lorne.
Eventually, they agree, but Lois gets yet another psychic flash about Rand dying in space if he goes up to save Superman. Things are starting to get complex, but premonitions of death in the cold, unforgiving vacuum of space aren’t the sort of thing that deters Lois Lane.
Obviously, her plan is to disguise herself as a robot and stow away on her boyfriend’s spaceship. What else could it possibly be?
She pulls of the daring rescue, and manages to confess her true love for Superman over the radio while Rand (who was on the verge of proposing marriage) can hear her, along with, presumably, everyone at ground control. That’s gonna be a rough landing. Before she gets to that point, though, on the last page of the story, we finally get the image promised to us by the cover:
It is, of course, a big misunderstanding. Lois and Rand’s lifelines got tangled up and Superman ripped them apart to save them both. I think there may have been a more anticlimactic version of the cover at some point during the Weisinger Era, but I’ll be damned if I can think of one.
Anyway, Lois and Rand decide to Just Bee Friends, Lois decides that moving across the country and changing her name may have been a slight overreaction to Superman missing her birthday party because he was busy smashing up cars for charity, and everything works out okay.
And best of all, nobody had to play Mortal Kombat to find out about it.