Many of comics’ most popular heroes have been around for decades, and in the case of the big names from the publisher now known as DC Comics, some have been around for a sizable chunk of a century. As these characters passed through the different historical eras known in comics as the Golden Age (the late 1930s through the early 1950s), the Silver Age (the mid 1950s through the late 1960s), the Bronze Age (the early 1970s through the mid 1980s) and on into modern times, they have experienced considerable changes in tone and portrayal that reflect the zeitgeist of the time.
With this feature we’ll help you navigate the very best stories of DC Comics’ most beloved characters decade by decade. This week, we’re taking a look at Lois Lane.
1930s/1940s: “Superman’s Phony Manager”
Lois comes out swinging from day one: in the very first panel in which she appears, she's dropping sick burns on Clark Kent; literally five panels later she slaps a gangster full in the face. The Lois Lane of the 1930s and '40s is a no-nonsense, aggressive reporter whose only concern is getting the story.
Because of her bold, almost reckless, style and inexhaustible sense of competition, Lois is the first member of the Superman family to get her own solo feature without Superman, starting in Superman #28. These stories focus on Lois's need to get the scoop, no matter what the risk to herself.
All the classic elements of Lois — her love for Superman, her disdain for Clark, her nose for a story, her willingness to walk so far into the face of danger that an invulnerable alien has to save her — are all present in the selection here, in which Lois drugs Clark (!) in order to get the scoop on a phony Superman all to herself.
Best of the rest: “Champion of the Oppressed”/ “Revolution in San Monte” (Action Comics vol 1 #1-2), “The Bakery Counterfeiters” (Superman vol 1 #29), “The Googenslocker Robbery” (Superman vol 1 #33), “Framed by Moke Henders” (Superman vol 1 #34), “Lois Lane Loves Clark Kent” (Superman vol 1 #58), “The Suicidal Swain” (Superman vol 1 #28)
1950s: “The New Lois Lane”
By the time Lois got her own title in the late 1950s, the focus had shifted somewhat away from her “anything for a story” portrayal to stories that were somehow simultaneously more domestic and more bizarre.
During the Silver Age, most Lois Lane stories fell into one of the following formulas: 1) Lois tries to prove that Clark Kent is Superman; 2) Lois tries to trick Superman into marrying her; 3) Lois is transformed into something weird or gains temporary super-powers (this part of the formula was also very common in the main Superman title and Jimmy Olsen as well during this period); 4) Lois and Lana Lang try to murder each other; 5) Superman pulls an elaborate hoax on Lois either to teach her a lesson in humility or to protect her from organized crime (sometimes, though rarely, you get the reverse double hoax where Lois gets the upper hand in the end, as in “The Amazing Superman Junior”); 5) Lois wants to be a movie star; 6) Lois decides maybe she'll investigate a news story; 7) a combination of any of the above.
The selection here from Lois's first tryout solo issue in Showcase is actually an amusing reversal of formula: Lois resolves to stop trying to uncover Superman's secret identity, but this time Superman desperately wants her to.
Best of the rest: “The Sightless Lois Lane” (Showcase vol 1 #10), “The Fattest Girl in Metropolis” (Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #5), “The Amazing Superman Junior” (Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane #6), “The Ugly Superman” (Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane #8), “Alias Lois Lane” (Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane #13), “The Two Faces of Superman” (Superman vol 1 #126)
1960s: “Lois Lane's X-Ray Vision”
The majority of the Lois Lane stories of the Silver Age were drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger, who is, hands down, the definitive Lois artist. No matter how goofy the plot, Schaffenberger's lines could make any Lois story worth reading. His version of Lois was so definitive that editor Mort Weisinger would often have Schaffenberger redraw other artists' drawings of Lois when she appeared in other titles.
The selection here is a combination of formulas 1, 3, and 6 from above, as Lois gains X-ray vision and uses it alternately to solve mysteries and try to prove that Clark is Superman. The story is tightly plotted and beautifully drawn.
Best of the rest: “The Ten Feats of Elastic Lass” (Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane #23), , “The Incredible Delusion” (Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane #47), “Lois Lane, Slave-Girl” (Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane #33), “Courtship, Kryptonian Style!” (Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane #78)
1970s: “Superman Takes a Wife”
By the late 1960s, creators were trying to update Lois for more modern times. She started dressing in more contemporary mod fashions rather than her traditional conservative blouses and pencil skirts. Additionally, she became more independent and less reliant on Superman. By the 1970s, she was a fearless investigative reporter again, much more interested in real news than Superman's secret identity. And by this time, when she got in trouble, she didn't have to scream for Superman; she could defend herself with Kryptonian martial arts she learned in the bottle city of Kandor.
In the 40th anniversary story selected here, we see the first (and best?) wedding of Superman and Lois. Clark loses his memory and so forgets that he needs to pretend to be mild-mannered. Lois finds herself attracted to this newer, bolder Clark before uncovering his secret identity, and the two are soon married. I won't spoil the twist in this story, but eagle-eyed readers might be able to figure it out from the cover.
Best of the rest: “There Shall Come a Gathering” (Showcase vol 1 #100), “I Am Curious (Black)” (Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane #106), “My Death...by Lois Lane” (Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane #115), “The Girl With the Heart of Steel” (Superman Family #178)
1980s: “The Story of the Century”
When the DC universe was rebooted in the mid 1980s following Crisis on Infinite Earths, this included Superman and his supporting cast, whose new status quo was revealed in the John Byrne mini-series Man of Steel. In this new version, Lois was a strong, opinionated reporter who was nevertheless sympathetic to the plights of the oppressed: a natural match for Superman.
While Lois is a major player throughout the Man of Steel mini-series, issue #2 is something of a spotlight on her, as this is the issue in which Clark gets a job at the Daily Planet and meets Lois for the first time. For another notable Lois moment, check out issue #4, in which Lois confronts Lex Luthor.
Best of the rest: Lois Lane #1-2, “Enemy Mine” (Man of Steel #4), “True Love” (Action Comics vol 1 #600), “Have You Ever Told Me the Story of My Life?” (Superman Family #206)
One of the changes brought about by the reboot of Superman continuity was that Clark Kent was represented as more of the true identity rather than the fabricated cover story it was frequently portrayed as pre-Crisis. As such, Lois found herself falling in love with Clark (despite the somewhat heated rivalry they had enjoyed for some time), and the two were engaged before Clark even revealed his secret identity to Lois. Despite this shock and various other ups and downs (e.g., fake death), the two were married, at least until the next reboot.
The selection here is one of the first Lois Lane solo stories after Superman's Girl Friend was canceled in the 1970s, and, notably, the first one to be both written and drawn by women. The story focuses on Lois's role as investigative reporter as she seeks to uncover what has happened to some children who have gone missing in Canada. (The “Girlfrenzy!” title was the name of a fifth-week event in which several female characters got the spotlight in special one-shot issues. There is no frenzy of girls anywhere within this issue.)
Morrison and Quitely's love letter to the history of Superman of course features a tribute to comics' oldest and most storied romance. In the course of two issues, the story hits many of the classic story beats from Lois's history: snooping through the Fortress of Solitude, she is deceived by strange alien technology; legendary strongmen of history arrive to challenge Superman for Lois's love; Lois attains temporary super-powers. Any of these could have happened in a story by Otto Binder or Robert Bernstein, and, in fact, they did.
What makes this special are the authentic emotion that lies behind the plot here: Superman is dying, and he wants Lois to have the special day she has longed for and deserves. As the two spend this special 24 hours together, experiencing exhilaration and danger that culminates in perhaps the most romantic kiss in superhero history, you will believe a woman can inspire a man to fly into the heart of the sun to save her.
Best of the rest: “With This Ring…” (Superman vol 2 #168/Detective Comics vol 1 #756) , “Unconventional Warfare” (Adventures of Superman #627-632), “She’s a Wonder!” (Wonder Woman vol 1 #170)
And that's it for the decades we've experienced so far! The 2010s are halfway over; we'll have to see who comes out on top in five years! Could it be Superman: Lois Lane #1 from 2014?