This month marks 75 years since Action Comics #1 landed on the newsstand. In that issue Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel introduced the world to one of the most important women in comics - Lois Lane (Superman made his debut in that issue, too). To mark this anniversary I’m chatting with some of her creators to get their thoughts on the character and her place in comic history.You can see the previous pieces here. Today I am chatting with multiple Eisner award nominee Colleen Coover who, with Paul Tobin, wrote the last standalone non-Elseworlds Lois Lane story that has appeared in comics for Superman 80 page Giant 2011 #1. She has also declared that she would “love to do a comic of Lois Lane as basically Nancy Drew with a press badge.”So Colleen, what’s your first memory of Lois Lane?I’m not sure I have an earliest memory, like I have no earliest memory of air. She was just always there.
I have the deepest respect for Colleen and, of course, I really appreciate her doing this interview. This has been such great fun and such a special treat for all the fans this past week.
But I gotta say….I just find some of these comments disheartening.
Lois Lane does not just exist to be the prize that Clark wins at the end of his hero journey. Women are not prizes to be won when the man finally achieves his goal and this idea that “marriage” is an end is just a really poor view of marriage and love to me and one that is truly disheartening.
Look, the bottom line is that this idea that men have to fight these incredible journeys in order to finally achieve their happiness with their true love is rooted in patriarchy and this idea that women were the “prize” that the man was fighting for. It keeps the woman fully positioned as an object and doesn’t allow her the opportunity to have true agency or grow on her own. Which may have been an accepted cultural mindset in the 1960’s when the Silver Age was written but it, at this point, in the year 2013, really insults me.
The problem is when you accept this premise as some kind of absolute truth about romantic drama you wind up supporting a cultural mindset that teaches young buys that their lives are “over” when they finally settle down. That their adventures are done. That’s depressing. And it contributes to a culture that gives us franchises like “The Hangover” where men go have to go on these benders to “escape” the chains of their wives and marriages because being tied down to a woman is just so not fun etc etc.
It also reinforces this idea that lingers and poisons our culture that paints the “wife” as lacking romantic mystery or “the ball and chain” and paints marriage as an endpoint on “adventure” as opposed to helping young people understand that choosing to spend your life with someone—-no matter your sexual orientation—-is a journey in and of itself and full of new adventures and challenges that you will work at every day for the rest of your life.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if instead of continuing to support this notion that romantic drama ends after you commit to someone that we, instead, start to help young people understand that there is adventure to be had in every phase of life and that two people SHARING their lives together can be just as much as an adventure as this never-ending chase that often paints the female in the equation like an object to be won?
I don’t want to read a million stories in which Superman fights for years on end to “win” Lois Lane at the end of his hero journey. Some of those stories are FINE. I’m happy to read SOME stories where that is the case. But this idea that that story can’t ever evolve and that these two people must always remain in a holding pattern because Superman’s journey is “over” when he finally “wins” Lois’s love is just an insulting concept to me. She’s not a prize to be won and life, love and marriage are just way more complex than that.
Maybe it I was a woman who existed in the time of Odysseus and Penelope (who btw were married) or a woman growing up in the 1950’s, I might be forced to accept this limited idea about the adventure being over when I got married. But, as it stands, that’s not acceptable to me and if it’s not something I support or believe in my own personal life than it’s not something I can accept when it comes to the narratives that inspire me. (I also can’t say I would ever choose a Silver Age comic where Superman is being a dick to Lois in an era ripe with misogyny over a comic written by a female creator decades later when Lois and Clark were both treated with respect in a culture that treated women a little better. But that’s a whole different disagreement for another time. )
I respect and love Colleen. But I think she’s wrong on this one.
Do you ever write meta you don’t knock out of the park? Just curious.
I’ll say this, though: 75 years after the debut of Superman…he ought to be in the public domain.
When Superman debuted, the expectation was that he’d be owned by the publisher for 56 years, maximum. Those 19 (so far) extra years were given by Congress to corporations, but the gift came from all of us, whether we agreed or not. Superman would have belonged to everyone by now, under the original deal. Not the publisher, not the creators’ estates, everyone. And I think it’s worth noting that we let — and are continuing to let — Congress and corporations simply take what would be ours and give it to the corporations.
Public domain enriches the world’s shared storehouse of artistic treasure. Unreasonable copyright extension harms that. Currently, Superman is scheduled to go into the public domain in 20 years. Unless copyright is extended again, of course. And that’s a big, big “unless.”
And keep in mind: when I say Superman should be in the public domain by now, I mean Batman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, Namor, the Shadow, Mandrake and others, too. All these characters should be as available to everyone as Dracula, Hercules, D’Artagnan and Dorothy Gale.
I’ve had a great time writing Superman and other DC characters, but there should come a point that Superman, like Sherlock Holmes or Tom Sawyer, can be used by anyone. And that time should have come years ago.
That wouldn’t mean DC couldn’t still tell Superman stories — they’d have a great advantage, in fact, since they’d still solely own all the bits that hadn’t gone PD yet, so they’d be able to maintain and continue their legend, while others would only be able to draw on those concepts that had been published 56 years ago or more. A little more stuff every year, but then DC would have another year of new stuff they’d created, too.
But if Superman, Batman, the Shadow and others could be used as freely as, say, Elizabeth Kostova used Dracula in THE HISTORIAN (or dozens of others who’ve used him, including me), it’d be an interesting world.
And as long as I’m musing on copyright: You know, if copyright length was tied to the life of the human creator, even in work for hire cases, companies would have good reason to keep those creators healthy and secure in their golden years. Food for thought.
Thought experiment for the tl;dr crowd: The natural realm of an idea is the public domain, copyright is a temporary allowance granted by law to encourage the creation of new ideas - not to mine one idea repeatedly for eons.
Thomas Jefferson, speaking about patents, extols the virtues of the public domain:
If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.
That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.
Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from them, as an encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without claim or complaint from anybody. Accordingly, it is a fact, as far as I am informed, that England was, until we copied her, the only country on earth which ever, by a general law, gave a legal right to the exclusive use of an idea. In some other countries it is sometimes done, in a great case, and by a special and personal act, but, generally speaking, other nations have thought that these monopolies produce more embarrassment than advantage to society; and it may be observed that the nations which refuse monopolies of invention, are as fruitful as England in new and useful devices.
13 August 1813
this is on it.
“Lois Lane, bless her heart, was a working girl.” — Noel Neill
“She was spunky; she was Lois! She just was a career woman and she didn’t take any crap from anybody.” — Dana Delaney
“She was intelligent, and clever, and fun and…her own woman.” — Erica Durance
“She’s fun and sassy, in control, getting into trouble, and always looking for a headline!” — Amy Adams
Happy 75th anniversary, Lois!
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