Guest Post: Ultra Woman

The Super-Humanity of Lois & Clark’s Lois Lane  (And Why it’s So Important).

Pamela Bodziock

When Lois & Clark premiered in 1993, my ten-year-old self was instantly transfixed. Not, mind you, because of Superman (though I quite liked Dean Cain’s Clark Kent – and his super alter-ego). No, my heart belonged to one character and one character alone: Lois Lane. In a show about a super-man, it was Lois who was my hero.

Back then, I would have been hard-pressed to explain to you why I so admired her. Sure, there’s plenty to admire in the character: her command, her confidence, her humor, her kick-butt karate skills. Throw in an ace career in journalism and a silver Jeep Grand Cherokee (my dream car for a decade), and you’ve got a character I couldn’t help but admire. Still, looking back on it now, I find myself wondering if it didn’t go deeper than that. What is it about this Lois Lane that makes her so, well, super?

While Siegel and Shuster will always be responsible for her creation (with some inspiration from the 30s film character Torchy Blane, ace female reporter), credit must also go to three other individuals who brought Lois so uniquely to life in her Lois & Clark incarnation: comic book creator John Byrne, television writer and producer Deborah Joy LeVine, and actress Teri Hatcher.

It was John Byrne’s rebooted version of Superman that Lois & Clark borrowed its inspiration from – including such ideas as Clark Kent being Clark’s true identity, with Superman merely a disguise of sorts (it had been the other way around for Superman for a long time, cumulating in the portrayal of a fumbling, bumbling Clark Kent by Christopher Reeve – an identity only meant to mask Clark’s real life as Superman). Deborah Joy LeVine, the show creator of Lois & Clark, may have had inspiration thanks to Byrne for the character she wanted portrayed – but there is no denying the importance of her vision to the version of the characters we saw on our television screens from the pilot episode on. From an emphasis on the alien Clark Kent’s humanity, to the makings of a real woman – a real person – in Lois Lane, LeVine ensured that the emphasis of the show would be on the characters at its center, and not on the superheroics themselves. (Though replaced as showrunner after Season One with Robert Singer, LeVine’s influence was long-lasting: the relationship between Lois Lane and Clark Kent always remained the heart of the show.)

Teri Hatcher, who brought Lois to life, was the final piece of the puzzle that made the character work so absolutely. Hatcher made Lois smart, courageous, and capable, but with a realness at the heart of the character that kept Lois from being a cardboard cutout of The Ideal Woman. She may prove to be Clark Kent’s ideal woman, of course, but I’d argue that’s precisely because Lois herself is so completely human.

 * * *

The first time Clark encounters Lois Lane, he (along with the audience) immediately gets a sense of who she is. Clark is in mid-job-interview with news editor Perry White when Lois comes bursting into the office. So caught up in focused excitement on the story she’s currently working on, she literally does not see Clark until Perry calls her attention to him, and even then she spares him little time. Her entrance is loud, abrupt, forceful, fun, and played with just a touch of humor – quite a fitting entrance, then, since Lois is all of these things and more. The scene is not a quiet introduction where Lois drifts in and demurely shakes Clark’s hand, leaving her a blank template of a character to whom personality traits will be drafted onto later. Nor is the moment played with great theatricality, spotlighting the weight of such an iconic meeting. Instead, Lois bursts into the narrative already fully formed, with passions, goals, and personality traits all intact and on display – and with little time for dramatics. Like Clark, there’s more to her than meets the eye; but from the moment we meet her, we know something of who she is. Because, from the start, there’s something to her.

As we are introduced to character over the next few episodes, her admirable qualities are obvious. She’s brilliant. Daring. Courageous. Tough. Totally capable. She has a sense of justice – and a sense of fun. She’s at the top of her field in an environment traditionally dominated by men, and she has a self-confidence as a result of her own abilities and successes. (Fours years before Buffy, we had Lois: a woman who could kick some ass six ways from Sunday, thanks to the self-defense skills she’d studied.) Small wonder that Clark Kent fell for her – and that I, and so many other young girls watching, would want to be her.

But had the story given her nothing but strengths, it wouldn’t have been enough. Much as I have always admired what a strong personality Hatcher’s Lois is, there had to be more to the character than “perfection.” As the first two seasons progressed, we got to know more about who Lois is – and to see the different sides to her personality. And she turns out to be deeply, and delightfully, human.

She is not without her foibles. Lois is stubborn, headstrong, and brash, and it occasionally gets her into trouble: for every time she manages to successfully hide from a bad guy and avoid detection while investigating (the opening of Season One’s “Witness”), there’s a moment when her story-snooping gets her in more than a little trouble (getting caught spying and ending up tied to a veritable lightning rod in Season Three’s “Just Say Noah” comes to mind). She’s sharply competitive; when Clark is nominated for a Kerth Award (a journalism award that Lois has won three years running), her disappointment and jealousy at losing the nomination to him is tough for her to swallow.

Her biggest hurdle is her reluctance to let people in – a challenge that Lois must grapple with and overcome as the series progresses. She has friends and family that she cares about, but there are few people she’s been emotionally intimate with, and it’s a struggle for her (as it is, in many ways, for Clark) to take a chance on a relationship. Her wariness as seeing him as more than a competitor eventually gives way to friendship, only to be replaced by a wariness to consider him as a romantic partner. What if a romance affected their friendship? What if she got hurt?

It is interesting to note that the show was careful to spend time establishing a friendship between Lois and Clark before any sort of romance began between them. (If Clark confessed romantic feelings to Lois in the penultimate episode of Season One, he was quick to take them back an episode later, claiming he would have said “anything” to convince Lois not to marry Lex Luthor.) In the Season Two episode “That Old Gang of Mine,” before the two had begun dating, Clark steps in to stop Lois from being assaulted. Clark is promptly shot – and, not knowing what else to do when surrounded by a roomful of witnesses, must pretend he’s been killed. Even Lois has to be fooled, and the devastation and grief she feels – “He was my best friend,” she tells Perry, through her tears – shows the audience, and Lois herself, just how much she cares for that friend. When Lois and Clark do make it down the aisle in Season Four, Lois’s vows to Clark begin with her saying, “Clark – you’re my best friend. Before I met you, I never had a best friend.”

Her relationship with Clark helps her grow as a person (as it helps Clark), but it’s how she grows that can be found so inspiring. One of my favorite things about Lois is how the character ultimately finds ways to put her “faults” to good use. Stubbornness, after all, has its uses – like deciding to never give up. “What makes me a good reporter,” she tells Clark in Season Three’s “Ultrawoman,” “is that I don’t accept things. And I’m always questioning, and I’m never satisfied.” If she’s initially jealous of Clark’s Kerth Award nomination, she cares about him enough to find the determination to get past any jealousy (and self-doubt) and be there to celebrate with him once he’s won – while still taking pride in her own accomplishments. (“Superman reads my work!” she says to herself, delighted, in Season One’s “Witness.”) Her stubbornness is often tenacity; her recklessness often becomes courage. Above all, she is resilient – not a broken heart, an alien invasion, or a time-traveling psychopath can finish off her relationship with Clark. Her determination won’t let it.

Best of all, perhaps, is her humor. I think, as a ten-year-old kid, the one thing above all else that most drew me to Hatcher’s Lois Lane was Lois’s sense of humor. Hatcher is a wonderfully comedic actress, and she got some delightfully juicy comedy in her role as Lois Lane, from physical comedy to one-liners. And, like everything else about her, Lois’s humor is something more than just an excuse for laughs. Like all good humor, Lois is able to use hers as both sword and shield – a way of whistling in the dark. The show put Lois and Clark both through the wringer throughout the story’s four-year run, but Lois never lost her sense of fun; no matter how dire things got, her humor was there, a light in the dark. (“I’m going crazy. And I’m talking to myself! That’s a sign, isn’t it? … now I’m asking myself questions. Oh, this could be a problem. Well, maybe I’ll learn to enjoy it.”)

Hatcher’s Lois Lane is one of those rare television creations: a female character with layers. More than that, the show gave Lois something else that’s often a bit of a rarity in the realm of female TV characters: a character arc. Much of Lois’s journey throughout the show is about learning and changing – and that’s something many female characters are not given the opportunity to do. To see Lois not only be strong and capable, but also be strong enough to be capable of change – is what made her both heroic and relatable. She isn’t perfect – but she doesn’t need to be. Her flaws make her relatable. Her humanity makes her likeable. She’s finding her way, learning as she goes, discovering who she is and who she wants to be, and it’s precisely those struggles and strengths that make her a role model worth keeping.

For being a show about a superhero alien in a cape, the two characters at the story’s center were always wonderfully realistic. Over the course of four seasons, we saw Lois gradually teach herself to take a risk and let her guard down enough to let someone in – a partner. An ally. A super man – super not in his abilities, but in his choices. And her deep partnership with Clark was never simply handed to her; both participants had to work at it.

When I go back to the show twenty years later, it’s with grown-up eyes. The sci-fi effects seem dated; the villains are campier. But what hasn’t changed is the story of two people learning how to take a chance and trust each other. And so, too, is Lois Lane still the tough, smart, capable, and fun personality I remembered her to be, and still strive to be like myself.

And so I’m pleased to find, after all these years, that she can still inspire us gals to develop the best in ourselves. Clark wore the cape, but it will always be Lois Lane that I truly find super.

Because, like us, she is human.

* * *

Pamela is a part-time writer, full time librarian, and a major Lois Lane fan.

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One response to “Guest Post: Ultra Woman

  1. Pingback: All Star Lois Lane: Superman, icons, personhood and love | women write about comics·

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