Thursday, 10 November 2016

Heroine Fix: Lois Lane - Too Stupid To Live or Hidden Depths? (Spoilers)

(Fair warning: this post does have some spoilers for Superman Returns and Batman v Superman.  If that matters to you, bookmark this to read after you've seen them.)

Two things happened recently.  First, I found Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman on CraveTV and happily discovered I still enjoyed its kitchy, campy, soap operaish storylines.  Second, I saw an article describing Lois Lane as a Too Stupid To Live heroine.  It got me thinking.  Lois isn’t one of the heroines I aspired to be or wanted to model a character after, but does she really deserve such a condemning title?

I’m not a Superman fan.  (In the DC world, I will be a Bat-girl until the day I die.  Just a fact.)  Like everyone else with even a passing familiarity with the franchise, I’ve rolled my eyes at Lois’s apparent obliviousness. It’s hard to respect a woman who can apparently be completely fooled by eyewear accessories.  And it’s even harder to respect someone whose character only seems to exist to be rescued from increasingly improbable situations.

This panel should be followed by an immediate face palm.
But the more I’ve looked at this character, the more I’ve wondered if she’s gotten a bad rap.  She was designed in the 30’s to create tension.  Since Superman is morally incorruptible, invulnerable and physically superior to anything which might attack him, a vulnerable Lois was necessary to create any kind of suspense in the plot.  The question isn’t whether or not Superman can save her, but will he get to her in time?  Having him continually rescue strangers wouldn’t have created the same drama for the audience.

Despite the narrative limitations on her character, Lois actually has some redeeming qualities.  Especially when we consider the time period that she was created in.  She is independent, not married or looking to get married.  She is a reporter, fighting for stories in what was an entirely male dominated industry.  And she’s a successful, respected reporter, which is actually an Agent Carter-like achievement for the forties, fifties and sixties.

She was actually good at her job... even if she insists on calling herself a girl-reporter.
One of the reasons used to justify the Too Stupid To Live title was Lois’s relentless choices to throw herself in the path of danger.  There’s a valid argument there, but there’s also a valid argument on the other side.  She is ballsy, determined and fearless in the face of danger.  And most importantly, her character was that way before she met Superman.  She threw herself into danger before there was anyone to rescue her, suggesting that she was confident in her ability to rescue herself.  She goes into danger because she doesn’t stand back and allow others to do the work and reap the glory.  I may not agree with how her exploits are written, but they aren’t completely indefensible.

Some incredibly strong and talented actresses have taken up the daunting challenge of playing Lois.  Each has brought some interesting depths to the character.

Margot Kidder: Canadian.  'Nuff said.
Margot Kidder played Lois in Superman I through IV.  As furious as the endings of both Superman I and II made me (time travel rescue and mind-wipe respectively), her character isn't a weak damsel waiting to be rescued.  One sequence which sticks out in my mind is her sneaking into the bottom of an elevator to overhear the men inside.  She's hanging onto the machinery, risking a plummeting death, while her male cohorts are busy shrugging.  She's not doing it to get attention, she's doing it because that's what's needed to get the story before anyone else.

Terry Hatcher: My name is first on the marquis.

Terry Hatcher is probably my favourite Lois, especially since she played the character in the one Superman franchise which I enjoyed: Lois and Clark.  She is relentless when she's pursuing a story, even stealing one from Clark on more than one occasion.  She's determined and independent, not wanting help from anyone.  She's also fiercely protective, defending Superman and Clark when they're in trouble.  

Kate Bosworth: Single Supermom
Kate Bosworth in Superman Returns is probably the Lois I respect the most.  The storyline was an interesting premise: Superman comes back after 5 years away.  From Lois's view, he disappeared without warning or contact.  She's moved on with her life.  She's raising her son on her own.  She won a Pullitzer for a story about why the world doesn't need Superman.  She challenges Superman the most, out of all the Loises.  She's definitely not his cheerleader any longer and doesn't spare him the hard questions.  And we find out that she's protected her son to keep anyone from finding out that he's half-Kryptonian.

Amy Adams: New Lois on the block.
 Amy Adams plays Lois in the latest Superman franchise: Man of Steel and Batman v Superman.  The Too Stupid To Live article focuses on her in particular as during Batman v Superman, Superman has to stop battling the big monster to go rescue Lois.  Granted, that particular narrative moment didn't impress me either.  But it wasn't Lois who annoyed me.  She threw a Kryptonite spear into a watery pit to keep Batman from killing Superman with it.  Since she's well aware of Superman's secret identity and they're romantically involved, that's a justified move.  However, she realizes the spear is necessary to kill the big monster and goes after it, knowing that Superman can't do so without risking death from radiation poisoning. (And he's busy with the aforementioned monster.)  That's helping to save the world.  The writers are the ones who decided to seal up the hole, trapping her with a rising water level so that Superman had to come back and save her.

I would have much preferred her getting the darn thing out and then having a moment with Batman, possibly threatening him before giving him the spear.  That would have been more consistent with the character through the rest of the movie (and she'd already had a couple of damsel in distress moments).

I'm still not a Lois Lane fan, but having spent some time considering the matter, I'm willing to grant her some more respect.  Maybe someday we'll get a Lois who breaks the mold completely and casts off her damsel heritage.  I'd be curious to hear what people think: would that destroy the integrity of the Superman franchise or have we outgrown the need to have Lois exist only to give Superman someone to rescue?

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