Saturday, January 15, 2011

Some Favorite Lois Lanes - Part 1

I don't even recall what I was doing, but I stumbled across this image and it got me thinking.

I didn't love the ending of Superman: Birthright, but when it came out, and then when you see it collected... man, I still really like both the look and emotional vibe of that comic. And I always liked Waid's characterization of Lois. Somehow, Yu's take also felt right as the "gangly girl who grew into a beautiful woman but doesn't know it".

This particular image of Lois from Birthright has such an odd sense of...  poetry to it.  (Yeah, I said poetry.  Shut up.) Its a cover, and it tells you what you need to know about the issue, too, I guess.

I think its important that artists remember who they're dealing with when they draw Lois Lane.  She's not deserving of respect just because she appeared with Superman in Action Comics #1, but because she's a great, tough, smart character.   So, you know, take care, fer goodness sake.

Anyway, looking at Lois here got me thinking about some of my favorite comic artists and how they handled Lois.  Over the the years, Lois has been drawn by, I'd guess, hundreds of artists in an official capacity.  Many don't seem to really know what to do when it comes to Lois, and draw "generic brunette woman" into the comic, just not even trying to give her any punch.  Its almost a hallmark of how invested the artist is in Superman how much they try to do something with Lois in the pages she appears.

It all started, of course, with Siegel and Shuster, two dudes who knew instinctively what kind of woman would catch the eye of their new hero.

This leads indirectly to the fellow freaking out on the cover of Action Comics #1
I LOVE Lois Lane in these early appearances.  She treats Clark like dirt for being a weasel, she takes no guff, and she's taking the world by storm.

Lois's foremost characteristic is, of course, fearlessness.  In most portrayals, she also has no idea that she's a very good looking woman (although John Byrne seemed to disagree on that point.  She seemed to know in Man of Steel.)   And she'll sell her child to the black market if it could get her a scoop, but that would be so she could expose the corruption of the Black Market Baby racket, ie:  she's a social crusader who uses the Daily Planet as her megaphone.

What every artist and writer has to strive to do is find a way a way to demonstrate that this person is the sort of person that would draw Superman's interest, and that's no small feat.  In comparison to Superman, fragile she may be, but she also has to be the kind of person who can go toe-to-toe with The Man of Steel, tell him when he's wrong without blinking, and all without writers sliding down the path of making her sound like an unpleasant person (which, some weaker writers have done from time to time).

In addition to Shuster, of the classics I'm a fan of the work of Wayne Boring and Curt Swan, the two primary artists on Superman back in the day.  Boring handled Superman in the 1940's and Swan came on in the 1950's, I think, and departed around 1986.

If Siegel and Shuster have a depressing cautionary tale to tell about Intellectual Property, then Wayne Boring is DC's answer to depressing stories about work-for-hire.  Boring drew Superman comics (hundreds of them) for years.  One day he showed up for work, and had been let go.  Because something was really, really wrong with editor Mort Weisinger.

His Lois is a little more fragile looking than most, but he was there for the post WWII Lois and took part in bringing Superman into the Silver Age.

This is pretty much the stylistic look I associate with Boring: a lot of WTF looks from Lois
He was first teamed with and later replaced by Curt Swan, who had been doing covers and backups and whatnot, and as much as I love Boring for his era, I'm amazed not just at Swan's prolific output, how he came to define a lot of what people think of when the concept of mid-century comics comes to mind. 

Swan would draw Lois for decades, and help bring her right into the 80's.  I actually quite liked some of his 70's-era updates as the "big city reporter" melded with an ERA-era Lois.

Kurt Schaffenberger's depiction, is actually a lot more fun than I think most comic readers know.  He really captured the bat-@#$% crazy mindset of Lois in the late 50's through the 60's and gave a lot of life to the character.  He was on Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane for a huge run of the series. Lois is, no doubt, out of her mind in practically every single issue of the first 80 or so issues of the series, and Shaffenberger displays an amazing ability to draw Lois's many states of crazy.  Below:  blind rage.

In this story, Lois is kind of the Betty Draper to Clark's Super-Don
But my favorite is Schaffenberger's "scheming Lois".

our hero, ladies and gentlemen
The fact that Lois was constantly plotting and petty during the crucial Silver Age era is seen as a big negative by some, especially as she was plotting and scheming to get married, but, you know...  times is times and I don't hold it against the creative teams any more than I would hold it against Lois if she were scheming to get a get stock tips or good seats at a basketball game today.  As much as I enjoy scheming Lois, I'm not sure what kind of comic that would be today.  But I would welcome it on the rack.

There's no doubt about my adoration of the much-more-recent All Star Superman, and as the series progressed, I really began to appreciate what Morrison had written for Lois, as well as how Quitely portrayed Lois.  At first I thought she was a little willowy, but I really grew to appreciate what he'd done in modernizing the look a bit (Lois is the Batmobile of the Superman universe, btw.  Every artist has their ideas.)

Man, this is a couple who has come to an understanding.

this picture is actually how I feel keeping up with Jamie, sometimes
Gary Frank took on Lois in Action Comics and Superman: Secret Origin, giving me a Lois I think I liked as much as Quitely and Yu's.  Frank's style lended itself to making Lois appear almost like someone you might know, and not an airbrushed image of a woman that comic artists do when they aren't allowed to hide behind superhero costumes (I'm looking at you, Ed Benes).

Tim Sale hasn't had extensive opportunity to draw Lois Lane, but I can't argue with the results.

And if you've never read Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier, for shame!  His Lois is a nice retroactive approach to the character, appropriate to the astronauts and trail blazers of the era.  And you never doubt the Superman/ Lois dynamic, not for a moment.

So there's a heaping, helping bunch of Lois Lane for you.  Next time we do this, I think we'll talk TV and film.

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