Lois Lane is a survivor. She’s survived 75 years of different comic book editors and writers as well as film and television writers and directors plus the cultural shifts that affected their take on her character. She’s survived rivals for Superman’s affections, too, and she faces a new challenge now as DC Comics has decided to pair Superman up with Wonder Woman. Who challenges her in this instance isn’t Wonder Woman, though. It’s the supporters of Wonder Woman’s relationship with Superman who use misinformation and outdated, faulty logic as their weapons of choice when arguing Superman and Wonder Woman are true loves who are meant to be together.
Such a display can be found in this recent post by a Superman and Wonder Woman advocate. In it, the author tries to make the case that Lois isn’t special. That Superman’s other love interests, and their love stories, in the Pre-Crisis era, present Lois as ill-suited for Superman and destined to the only logical result of their bond: tragedy and perpetual separation as the ultimate star-crossed lovers or merely platonic partners. To make their case, comics are referenced as are statements from creators themselves. Both of these types of evidence are dripping with the sexism of bygone eras and are cited without much critical analysis or thought as to the implications or context.
I love Lois Lane, and if she’s taught me anything it’s that words are powerful. The truth is powerful. Lois was, and is, my hero for standing up to lies and injustice. So to follow her lead, and return the favor, I’ve examined Superman’s romantic history in order to expose the arguments in support of Diana as Superman’s true love for the flimsy bit of rhetoric they are starting with a discussion of Superman’s other love interests: Luma Lynai, Sally Selwyn, Lyla Lerrol, and Lori Lemaris.
Before getting into the actual “love”’ story of Superman and Luma, it’s important to understand why the story exists at all. From the above image one can see Supergirl noting the similarities between her and Luma. Later in the comic, Superman has a very odd conversation with Supergirl where he says, “We can’t marry because we’re cousins! Though cousins can marry in certain countries here on Earth…We’re both from the planet Krypton, where the marriage of cousins was unlawful!” What Superman is thinking here is what readers of Superman’s comics had been pondering since Supergirl’s arrival: what if Superman and Supergirl could be married? Indeed, there were letters about Superman and Supergirl as a couple, and so this creepy tale about Superman being with what the comic later describes as a duplicate, but adult, Supergirl on the planet Staryl named Luma Lynai is DC Comics’ attempt to satisfy their readers perverse curiosity. Despite this strange premise, their brief romance is still worth examining as a narrative.
Of all Superman’s other love interests, Luma Lynai is the only one Superman considers marrying because he believes she’ll have superpowers on Earth like he does. Sally Selwyn was powerless, Lyla Lerrol was a Kryptonian like Superman thus could have powers but was stuck on Krypton before its destruction where Superman was going to stay with her, and Lori Lemaris was a mermaid but didn’t have any superpowers other than telepathy.
So, Superman’s attraction to Luma is presented as rooted in her having super powers; the relationship’s ups and downs are entirely attributable to them. After quickly becoming infatuated with Luma in “Superman’s Super-Courtship!” (Action Comics #289), Superman wants to bring her back to Earth with him. However, when it’s discovered that Luma’s main appeal—her superpowers—are eliminated under Earth’s yellow sun rays, which are as deadly to her as kryptonite, the love affair with his cousin’s lookalike hits an irreparable snag. Though Superman is willing to forsake his life on Earth as its protector in order to stay on Luma’s planet Staryl, she convinces him to return home without her.
Superman v1 #146 and #158
Lyla is another woman who captures Superman’s heart, this time when he is stranded without his yellow sun powers on a pre-cataclysm Krypton where Lyla is an actress much like Marilyn Monroe was at the time of the comic’s publication. Sadly, the love affair couldn’t last. Like his infant self, Superman found himself on a rocket ship headed to Earth just as Krypton, and Lyla along with it, exploded. At one point before the explosion, Superman compares Lyla to Lois saying, “Lois loved me because I was Superman, but Lyla loves me for…myself! On this world I’m just an ordinary mortal!”
Superman v1 #141
Superman, and his writers, apparently can’t grasp that the self Superman says Lyla loves is not the self he shows Lois as Clark Kent (a lie and a caricature of an ordinary mortal Superman affects precisely to be dismissed). His powers don’t define his personality, his choices about how to express his personality in his different identities do. And during this era, Superman was very much the more authentic expression of his personality. What Lois loved about Superman, and what she struggled with in regards to Clark, were his courage and heroism not his power or fame. Ironically, by falling for a beautiful, famous actress like Lyla, Superman mirrors what he fears is the basis of Lois’ attraction to Superman. He is unknowingly acting like a hypocrite. Their affair also demonstrates that his willingness to push for further intimacy, including marriage, is more dependent upon his belief that he cannot or will not be Superman anymore and is not directly related to his mate having superpowers, since Lyla clearly didn’t have any on Krypton where they were stranded.
Superman v1 #189
Lyla and Superman’s tale doesn’t end in one issue, however, and when it reappears it reveals further details about the nature of their relationship. Superman v1 #189 depicts Superman as overtaken once again by his infatuation with Lyla—“enraptured by [her] charms,” as the comics says. He even recalls how, for Lyla, he was willing to sacrifice his entire life and mission on Earth: “The only girl I’ve ever truly loved…I’ll forget Earth…live here on Krypton in the past…and know the bliss of having a devoted wife!”
Superman v1 #189
As Superman and Lyla’s reunion continues, they enter a hall of magical mirrors said to “multiply” love “dozens of times.” There, Superman pulls out pictures of his other loves, Lana and Lois, and tears them up to prove he’s “locking them out of [his] heart forever because there is only room” for Lyla. These theatrics would all be for naught, though, because almost immediately afterward Superman discovers the entire Kryptonian world he was inhabiting was fake, and Lyla was only an android. With the fantasy destroyed, Superman returns to Earth in a sad state.
Superman v1 #189
Superman has so much trouble forgetting Lyla that he responds to Lois’ question about whether she is Superman’s “best girl on Earth” with a halfhearted, “Sure, Lois!” At the moment Superman’s feelings for Lyla might appear stronger than his feelings for Lois, yet the context of these feelings shouldn’t be underestimated. Not only does the story strongly suggest an intense sense of infatuation with a famous beauty, which illuminates Superman’s hypocrisy when it comes to his demands of Lois’ affections for Clark over Superman. But it also indicates that Superman wouldn’t have let his relationship with Lyla go so far if he hadn’t thought the constraints he put on his relationship with Lois wouldn’t apply, since he would give up being Superman and living on Earth for Lyla. Giving up Superman for Lois would, of course, be ignored as a possibility because Lois wouldn’t want Superman to disappear. Whether Superman’s suspicions about the reasons Lois loved Superman were correct, the bottom line is that she loved him and would never want him to stop being the hero, Superman, she admired so much for her sake and for the sake of humanity.
For the Man Who Has Everything
Lyla makes a final appearance in For the Man Who Has Everything—a story where supervillain Mongul uses a dream of domestic bliss on Krypton with Lyla to subdue Superman. Using an organism that gives one his heart’s desire, Mongul is able to render Superman temporarily useless. What enchanted Superman was apparently a fantasy life—a futuristic suburban life on Krypton resembling that of The Jetsons’ but with Lyla Lerrol as his wife. Lyla being Kryptonian, which neither Lois nor Diana could ever be, and being from Krypton’s past so he’d have to give up Superman and Earth for her, serves to illustrate only that no one seemed to be perfectly compatible with Superman’s needs as he perceived them at that time. Part of this is a consequence of the societal mindset of his writers. For, in truth, Superman and Lois wouldn’t have to give up their jobs as hero or reporter for the sake of any relationship or marriage, and she was already so closely associated with Superman and so brazen in her own right that Lois would get in danger regardless of her knowledge of Superman’s secret or her bond with him.
Superman v1 #165
A key thing to remember in the story of Superman and Sally is that Superman didn’t know who he was at the time of meeting and falling in love with Miss Selwyn (he had amnesia). To him, and to those around him, he was the powerless “Jim” who Sally fancied.
Superman v1 #165
It took not being Superman for his relationship with Sally to blossom. Both Lois and Superman explain the implications of this best in the conclusion of Superman v1 #165. With a smile Lois says, “I doubt [Superman will ever marry]. I’m afraid his career comes first!” While Superman, who’s overheard her, says to himself, “She’s right! I’m too busy handling great emergencies ever to fall in love!” No matter if the woman was human or superhuman, this would always be the case as long as Superman was dedicated to fulfilling his duties as Earth’s protector.
Nonetheless, the issue closes with additional insight into what might be behind Superman’s reluctance to fall in love with Lois. Clark privately acknowledges his fear that “girls don’t love” him for himself and “are merely dazzled by [his] fame and super-powers.” The comic implies that his experience with Sally, which he has since forgotten with the recovery of the memory of his life as Superman/Clark, shows readers he can be loved for himself. But, again, modern readers don’t have to accept this conclusion as the truth simply because Superman writers at the time lacked the ability to grasp the idea that the person Superman was with Sally was not his true self either. Moreover, it’s a fear, not a fact, that Lois only loves Superman for his powers and fame. He hasn’t tested Lois to see if that’s true and neither he nor his writers seem to have considered that what attracts Lois to Superman is how he uses his powers and fame and not their existence alone. In other words, Superman’s choices, and not his abilities, are what draws him to her.
Superman v1 #169
Eager to explore the theme of loving the “real” him, whomever that was, Sally is reintroduced four issues later with the new development that Superman now remembers his experience with her. This inspires Clark to consider, “that all along I’ve had the love of a beautiful girl who loves me for myself alone—not just for my fame as Superman! And amazingly, I didn’t know it until now! […] Now that I’ve found her, I don’t want to lose her again, ever! I’ll take a brief nap, then decide what to do.” While asleep, Clark’s subconscious feelings about Lois (and Lana) are revealed. As he dreams of marrying Sally dressed as Superman, he conjures a Lois from his subconscious who says, “Superman says he’s marrying Sally because he knows she loves him for himself, not his fame! But I’ve always loved him that way, too, Lana!” And his subconscious version of Lana agrees, “So have I, Lois. But he didn’t believe me, either!”
Superman is clearly very confused and conflicted in this story. He is desperate to believe Sally loves him for him, yet doesn’t seem to realize how ludicrous that conclusion is when he hasn’t even revealed to her that he’s Superman. He also doesn’t seem capable of acknowledging that Superman is a valid expression of who he is—a humble, noble, hero—and that deep down his fears that Lois’ and Lana’s affection for that hero is because of his fame are unfounded; it is possible, and likely, they could and do love Superman for reasons that aren’t related to his fame. Moreover, he doesn’t seem able to recognize that the meek and mild Clark Kent who is often flaky and cowardly is not who he really is either. He shouldn’t want Lois or Lana to love that fiction and it’s hypocritical of him to expect that of them when he, himself, often prefers women who are obviously beautiful and bold and states as much repeatedly throughout this and other ages of Superman comics.
Action Comics #365
The love story of Lori Lemaris and Clark Kent appeared in both the Pre and Post-Crisis eras with very few differences. It’s a story of a college age Clark Kent who experiences love at first sight when he rescues who he believes is a handicapped Lori, and which deepens the more he sees her dignified approach to the handicapped life he believes she was given. In the Pre-Crisis era, where he’d been Superboy as a kid and then Superman as an adult, he becomes so taken with Lori that he decides he will tell her his secret—not because he thinks it’s worth the risk of villains potentially harming her to get to him as he often fears with Lois—but because he’s resolved to give up being Superman for her. Conversely, in the Post-Crisis era, Clark still proposes to Lori, but he does it when he hasn’t become Superman yet and thus doesn’t see a secret reveal as a threat to his beloved’s life. In both instances, he removes Superman as part of the equation.
Superman v1 #129
Going back to the beginning, one can find the earliest rendition of Lori and Clark in Superman v1 #129. It introduces the story by saying, “Everyone believes that Lois Lane is and always was Superman’s secret love, and that Superman can’t marry Lois because his crime-fighting career might endanger his future wife! But did you know that long ago, the Man of Steel was ready to forsake his Superman career in order to gain the love of a beautiful and mysterious girl?” That girl? Was Lori Lemaris.
Superman v1 #129
"She’s the kind of girl I’ve always dreamed of marrying—a girl of rare beauty and courage! I’m going to ask her to be my wife! But my crime-fighting career as Superman would endanger my future wife! If criminals ever learned my Clark Kent identity, they could seize my wife as a hostage to force me to stop fighting them! There’s only one way I can marry Lori and be sure she’ll never be endangered! I must tell her my secret identity—then give up my Superman career and remain only in my Clark Kent identity.”
Superman can suspect that Lois Lane loves him for his fame instead of things like looks and heroism, which he apparently loves about Lori (her “beauty and courage”), and dismiss her, yet he never stops to think about the obvious double standard on which he operates. Superman v1 #135 echoes this questionable sentiment when Clark states he “adored” Lori for her “beauty” and “courage,” which, again, are the characteristics he forces Clark Kent to hide yet wants Lois to overlook. Additionally, Clark hasn’t resolved the dilemma that keeps him and Lois apart, since he’s still convinced he can’t share his life with anyone and still be Superman because she’ll be a target. With Lori, he just proposes that he abandon his superhero life. Meanwhile, Lois believes in Superman and his mission, and she wouldn’t want him to give that up even for her, and frankly any relationship that would inspire Superman to make such a huge sacrifice of his own selfhood and of the world’s safety makes him look terribly selfish.
Superman v1 #129
The significance of Superman’s dilemma between duty and love is brought into focus further in the earlier Superman v1 #129. The story of Clark and Lori is told in flashback, and when it returns to the present Lois notices Clark’s pensive look and asks what was on his mind. He responds saying, “I was thinking about a friend of mine and why he never married!” Which reminds Lois of Superman. “I suppose he’ll never ask me to marry him because it would mean giving up his Superman career,” Lois tells Clark. She says she guesses he’d “never do that for any woman,” but Clark thinks to himself that “Lois will never know that Superman almost did once” for Lori.
The narrative logic is a mess here. In announcing his willingness to forsake Superman for Lori and her safety as college student, Clark shows he’d prefer to forsake the world’s safety. He’s choosing one over the many, and looking like an immature, selfish, idiot in the process. At least he was taught a lesson about this attitude in Superman II. What’s troubling and perplexing in Lori’s case in the comics and Lois’ case in the movie, is that it’s not even a consideration that he could do both—be with Lori or Lois and be Superman—by accepting that love and life isn’t predictable and that it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. And, most importantly, that Lois is already in danger and used as a pawn because she risks her life to print the truth as a journalist and she’s already perceived as close to Superman (because she is). Regardless of this ridiculous and contrived writing, the fact remains that Clark and Lori’s relationship is doomed.
Superman v1 #135
Despite the love story of Lori and Clark ending tragically, the comics of the age provide hints of future happiness with Lois. After losing Lori a second time—this time to her new marriage to a merman named Ronal—Clark returns to the Daily Planet dejected. Lois remarks on Clark’s forlorn attitude and says he looks like he’s lost a best friend. Clark thinks to himself that it was like he “lost more than a friend,” but then he also feels like he’s “awakened from a dream!” In a perfect segue, Clark compliments Lois for being a “grand cheerer-upper” and then finally asks her out on a date (Superman v1 #135).
Action Comics #365
Since Lori, unlike other temporary love interests for Superman, remains a more consistent presence in Superman’s life and stories (and Supergirl stories) during that period, it allows the narrative to address his feelings for Lois and Lori head on. Eventually it is shown that Superman loves Lois most of all. First, as in the Pre-Crisis, Lori informs Clark that she knows Clark only loved her out of pity (remember she’s telepathic). In the Pre-Crisis the conversation was, “Superman, you don’t love me! You only think you do! It’s pity you feel for me, not love!” In that incarnation, Superman is left to wonder, “Was it pity or love? I’ll never know” (Superman v1 #135). Years later when near death, Superman’s thoughts turn back to Lori along with his other loves. In this Action Comics #365 story, one of his final thoughts is that while he cared for Lori, Lana, and Lois, he “loved Lois best of all.”
Superman v2 #12
Moving into the Post-Crisis, Lori’s words to Clark about his love not being love but pity happened in that era as well and with little alteration from the Pre-Crisis original except Lori had a few words about Lois to share with Clark: “I see in your mind that you have also found another. A human woman named Lois Lane. She is the one for you, Clark. Not me.”
In the Post-Crisis retelling of the Lori Lemaris story, Clark recounts how “It was love at first sight…and I was happier than any man had a right to be. Despite her unwillingness to discuss her past I proposed. Unfortunately it was a relationship that couldn’t last. Strange as it sounded then, she was a mermaid! A telepathic creature from Atlantis. In time, we parted. Lori seemed to understand that while her destiny was in the seas mine was in the sky” (Superman v2 #63). What’s important to note here is how shallow the feelings are between Clark and Lori. He doesn’t even know her—her secret—and he doesn’t know how she’ll handle the secret of his alien heritage and powers, yet he wants to propose to her. Meanwhile, Lori is a perceptive woman—literally because she can read minds—and she could tell what was truly motivating Clark and who truly had his heart.
Superman v2 #63
First, Lori telepathically learns to her own heartache that Clark feels, in Lois, he’s found someone he “loves just as much” as he had once loved Lori (Superman v2 #63). Upon hearing this, Lori thinks to herself how there are “some things she’d rather not hear” and admits that Lois makes a “better mate” for Clark.
Superman v2 #118
By the time Lori resurfaces in Clark’s life at a time when he and Lois have dated and been engaged (and having troubles that are postponing their marriage), he’s able to say “Back in college [Lori and I] meant everything to each other. But that was years ago. Even though she left, I still love Lois. Always have, always will.” Lori listens intently, then responds “I’m a telepath. I knew you loved Lois.” Earlier, in Adventures of Superman #533, Lori said something similar (“I know you love Lois…I know better than anyone”).
Although other women came in and out of Superman’s life, only Lois remained constant and only Lois had her own comic which for years proclaimed her “Superman’s girlfriend.” During this period, Superman didn’t have long term, meaningful relationships with anyone. The intratextual reasons for this were that he was too busy being a hero, too worried about his lovers’ safety, and too concerned he was only loved for his fame. Meanwhile, the metatextual reasons were that the writers liked to do short resettable stories with little depth and didn’t think marriage stories could work since it was assumed, with the sexist mindset of the day, that such stories would revolve around grown up stuff like diapers and turn Lois from nosy reporter to nagging housewife. All of these reasons are so outdated and so illogical that they ought not be used as the foundation of any arguments for how Superman and his romantic life should be treated in the 21st century. That advocates for Superman and Wonder Woman’s current relationship rely on these rationales does them and their preferred relationship no favors.
One question that plagues these Superman and Wonder Woman advocates with regard to the other women in Superman’s life is why he was shown to propose to other women and not Lois. Strangely, their answer is Superman couldn’t be with who he really wanted, like Lois, because he didn’t want to put whomever was his spouse in jeopardy. But is this really the take away from the tales of Luma, Sally, Lyla, and Lori? It shouldn’t be. What should be the take away is that Superman, as he was written in that era, was an emotional coward and a hypocrite.
He apparently loved Luma enough to marry her purely on the prospect of her having superpowers on Earth, but not enough to stay on Staryl despite her protestations when it turned out she was weak under Earth’s yellow sun. He loved Lyla and Lori enough to propose marriage and forsake his life on Earth and his role as its protector for them, but doing that for Lois wouldn’t make sense because Lois wanted Superman just as he was—a hero. He loved Sally enough to marry, but their first encounter was when he had amnesia and the second was when he was operating under the false notion that she was the only woman who loved him for who he was, when she neither knew him as Clark Kent nor as Superman. In the tales of his relationships with Lyla and with Sally, the issue of whether Lois loves Superman only for his fame is raised as an underlying concern of Clark’s. Yet, in the story with Sally, Clark’s subconscious seems to think that Lois would love him for him, and in other stories, like the ones with Lyla and Lori, it’s made clear what attracts him is their looks and fame (Lyla) or beauty and courage (Lori).
"I’ve wasted both their lives, haven’t I? They’ve wasted their love on me, while I couldn’t let myself love either of them the way they deserved. I wish I’d explained. I wish I hadn’t been such a coward…Lois. Beautiful Lois…I love her so much but I can’t tell her without hurting Lana." — What Ever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (1986)
Ironically, courage is the one thing these stories reveal Superman lacks (along with sense). Many stories present the question of marriage between Superman and Lois as tricky for no other reason than it’s thought that Superman would publicly marry Lois to make her Mrs. Superman instead of quietly marrying Lois as Clark Kent. Then when Clark Kent is allowed to be a part of the equation, Superman seems irrationally anxious about his identity being compromised, which he believes would consequently put Lois in danger. What’s not considered is how Lois is already assumed to be close to Superman and already imperiled on a daily basis because of her brazen journalism. Moreover, if Superman can’t trust his Clark Kent identity to protect Lois then why does he use it at all? If it’s untrustworthy, it’s untrustworthy, and as such should be dismissed along with any marriage possibilities with Lois; yet it’s not. What’s also not trusted is Superman himself. He doesn’t have enough faith in his own heroism to believe that even if Lois’ life was threatened, he could find a way to save her.
Accordingly, the tortured logic of yesteryear shouldn’t become the tortured logic gold standard of today. Especially, since the mythology has evolved (see: decades of Superman Family books with “Mr. and Mrs. Superman” and Post-Crisis marriage era books) and since these days there are less mad scientist and criminal mastermind villains and more supervillains primed to threaten the lives of superpowered people like Diana. Not only are Wonder Woman and Superman not as invulnerable or untouchable anymore, but there’s just as much reason to apply the constraints of the never ending battle onto their relationship as well. Unless, of course, it’s assumed Superman and Wonder Woman would forgo romantic rendezvous entirely and either not care for their own children or not have any at all. In short, they are not exceptional and arguments using the Pre-Crisis era, particularly the love interest stories, are well past their expiration date.
Coming Up: The Evolving View of Marriage