Sep 14, 2020
He’s just not that into you, time travel edition: Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #20
It’s time for another installment of Bizarre Silver Age Comics, which is quickly becoming something I might as well rename Random Acts of Superdickery. Superman acts like a complete dick in this story—the dude literally changes history so he never has to deal with Lois Lane, then tops things off with a cruel and completely unnecessary remark about a woman’s appearance—but sadly, this one isn’t the subject of a famous Superdickery cover. That’s because it didn’t even make the cover of the comic it appears in, Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane #20, cover-dated October 1960.
The story that made the cover is an “imaginary”, i.e. out-of-continuity tale where Lois and Clark are married and they adopt Supergirl as their daughter. Yes, an “imaginary” story. Because the rest of the issue is obviously the hard-hitting, gritty reality of the life of Lois Lane.
Join me as I instead take a look at the story that leads off the issue: “Superman’s Flight from Lois Lane!” There’s no byline in the issue, but according to several sources it was written by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel himself, who had just returned to working for DC Comics after a 15-year absence. This was because, despite creating the most popular superhero of all time, the man was dead broke at the time. He and Joe Shuster had sold the copyright to Superman in 1938 for a mere $130, and twenty years later they were both struggling to make ends meet. It took the two men complaining to the media during the making of Superman: The Movie for DC to even begin to pay them what they deserved for creating Superman. And now that we’re all sufficiently bummed out, let’s get to the story.
This one starts in media res, picking up right in the middle of the Wacky Adventures of Lois and Clark, Intrepid Reporters. Perry White has assigned the two of them to do a story about “how it feels to make a parachute jump”, and they’re both about to jump out of an airplane. Clark is scared and hesitates, so Lois calls him “chicken” and kicks him out of the plane.
Clark’s nervousness is all an act, of course, because Superman has no such fear of flying, but trouble arises when his chute doesn’t open. Lois, thinking her colleague is falling to his certain death (which she’s now partly responsible for, but that thought sure doesn’t cross her mind), can only avert her eyes. But instead of Clark going splat…
It’s rare that I actually laugh out loud at old comic books, but Superman leaving a Clark-shaped hole in the ground sure did it for me. I mean, obviously it would have made more sense for Superman to slowly hover to the ground instead, but then we’d be denied the beauty of this ridiculous visual.
Naturally, Clark survives and climbs out of the hole and forces his parachute open with his super-breath. He blows himself back up into the sky just in time for Lois to open her eyes and see that Clark is miraculously still alive. But later on at the Daily Planet, Lois is thinking that Clark only survived because he’s really Superman, and Clark has finally had it up to here with Lois and living under her constant suspicion. His thought bubble says it’s time to take action once and for all. Will he bring in a Superman robot or a Red Kryptonite clone so Lois can see Clark and Superman in the same room at the same time? Will he finally reveal his secret identity to her and tell her to get off his case? Is he going to maybe snuff her out for good (my personal choice)?
Nope, he’s going to correct a mistake: Namely, the mistake of working for the Daily Planet and meeting Lois Lane in the first place. He flies through the “time-barrier” and travels back to the day he first came to Metropolis, and decides to take a different job this time, and follow another path in life. So, you know you’ve become a royal pain in the ass when someone is willing to alter the course of history just to avoid dealing with you.
Like most comic book stories of the time, nobody’s too hung up on the nitty-gritty details of time travel here. That sort of thing was strictly the domain of sci-fi literature, and hadn’t really filtered down to pop culture yet, and it certainly hadn’t filtered down to kids’ comics. If Superman really went back in time, there would of course be two Clark Kents arriving in Metropolis on the same day, but this never gets brought up. Actually, I wouldn’t put it past Silver Age Superman to have already murdered his past self and stuffed him in a broom closet somewhere.
Clark uses his super-vision to spy on Lois at the Daily Planet, and she’s temporarily subbing for the girl who works in the classifieds department. Is this the way things work at a major metropolitan newspaper? If the janitor calls in sick, does someone hand Lois a mop? She’s taking down a job ad from the manager of the local radio station, which is called WMET (even though in other stories, WMET is the local TV station). Clark sees this and decides he should become a radio disc jockey instead of a reporter. He goes to meet with the manager of WMET, and proudly proclaims that his primary qualification to be a DJ is “I like music a lot”.
But he easily passes the disc jockey aptitude test by using his x-ray vision to read the names of album titles from the station’s record library in the next room. He gets the job on the spot and is immediately introduced to his secretary, a curvy blonde named Liza Landis.
The “L.L.” thing is a pretty good tipoff this was a Jerry Siegel story. My hunch has always been that he came up with the first couple of L.L. names (Lois Lane, Lex Luthor) by pure coincidence, and then he and other writers decided to just run with it and keep the inside joke going with Superman love interests like Lana Lang, Lori Lemaris, Lyra Lerrol, Luma Lynai, Lisa Lasalle, and Linda Lee (cough). Clark is relieved when he learns Liza is absolutely fine with leaving him alone and not being a “pest” like Lois, and soon, Clark Kent is a smash hit with his overnight show where he plays the songs you want to hear.
I love how the lead characters in Silver Age comics would always display hitherto unknown talents based on whatever the plot demands. Gotta work in a Pat Boone cameo? Suddenly, Lois Lane can sing like an angel, and Clark Kent is a hit songwriter. Here, we’re supposed to believe dorky Clark suddenly has a golden voice and his finger on the pulse of America and knows the whole hit parade. But then again, how many listeners does it really take be a success from midnight to dawn? I think his primary competition is the Farm Report.
And the work schedule has an added bonus, because Clark can easily keep up his career as Superman during the day. Because as we all know, daytime is the preferred shift of operations for criminals everywhere. Alas, Clark falls into the trap of wondering how Lois Lane is doing. Thinking to himself, “I… kind of miss her,” he checks in on her with his super-vision. And he seems to be spying on her for a while, because he not only learns that Lois is writing a story about a counterfeit ring, but he sees the crooks about to run her down with their car.
Superman does the only thing he can do. He pulls out a “Clark Kent dummy” (what?), props it up in front of the microphone, then dashes out to save Lois. Everybody at the radio station yukks it up about Kent sleeping on the job, but Liza defends him with a baffling, “He’s smart to conserve his strength whenever he has the chance!” But considering the dummy isn’t breathing, I have to wonder why nobody’s worried that Clark maybe just dropped dead on the air.
Meanwhile, Superman tracks down the counterfeit crooks and puts himself between their car and Lois, saving her life and knocking the bad guys out. He quickly flies away, hoping that “saving Lois doesn’t become a habit again… as in my other life!” Narrator: Saving Lois became a habit again for Superman, as in his other life.
Remember when I laughed about Lois randomly falling off a building in the “Mighty Maid” story? Well, here, we get another context-free panel of Lois falling off a goddamn building… again! All these years, I thought Lois was just taking dumb chances with her life because she knew Superman would always swoop in and save her. But it turns out she simply lacks even the most basic sense of self-preservation.
It gets even dumber in the next few panels, when Lois goes bowling and Superman has to rush in to grab her bowling ball and toss it into the sky, where it promptly explodes. Yes, apparently some criminal types thought the best way to kill Lois Lane was to replace her bowling ball with an IED. It’s like the mob bosses of Metropolis are in a competition to come up with the least practical way to bump people off.
Superman reminds himself to be “careful”, lest he slip into “that same dangerous rut again,” even though he’s clearly already slipped into that dangerous rut again. He flies back to the radio station with a big WHOOOOOOSH, and it seems Liza Landis has the power to hear comic book sound effects, because she goes in to investigate. That’s right, she barges directly into the studio of a guy who’s currently on the air without a second thought.
Thinking quickly, Clark puts on a record of “the sound of Superboy in super-flight!” Wow, stock sound effects records. No wonder he’s a smash hit in the overnights. Liza thinks the WHOOOOOOSH was just a record and walks away disappointed, but it seems she’s now wondering if Clark Kent is really Superman. And with that, Superman is once again trapped in a hell of his own making as Liza sets about trying to prove her suspicions.
First, she tries to cut off a lock of his hair to see if the scissors break, but Clark foils this ingenious plan by using his x-ray vision to make the scissors fall apart in her hands. Apparently, just finding another pair of scissors is out of the question, because next time Liza sees Clark, she splashes him with perfume like it’s a vial of acid and he’s Harvey Dent.
Superman finds he can’t get the smell off his Clark Kent clothes or his costume, leaving him but one choice. Nope, he doesn’t cover himself in tomato sauce. Instead, he flies to the surface of the sun to burn off the perfume.
Superman makes his City Hall appearance that afternoon as scheduled, where Liza, who for all anyone knows is just some radio station secretary, gets really close to Superman for the sole purpose of sniffing him. She declares to everyone that Superman doesn’t smell like perfume, and somehow avoids being carted away for a 72-hour hold. Later, Superman puts his Clark Kent duds back on, which still reek of perfume. This conclusively proves in Liza’s mind that Superman and Clark Kent cannot be the same person. Then comes an odd statement on the part of Liza.
It seemed to be a common insinuation in these old stories that if Lois Lane (or any other woman) could prove Superman is Clark Kent, then he would be forced to marry her. I’m not sure where this idea came from or how it works, exactly. I mean, what if Jimmy Olsen found out Superman’s secret? Would Superman have to marry him? Also, why does Liza have to quit her job? I mean, other than committing a random chemical attack on one of her coworkers.
Regardless, a truly contented Clark Kent returns to work, blissful that at long last, he doesn’t have Liza Landis bothering him or Lois Lane around to “drive me dippy!” And then…
Superman finally throws in the towel, because despite changing the timeline, he still ended up having to rescue Lois all the time, and get harassed by her, and he even has “another L.L.” trying to suss out his secret identity. He flies through the time-barrier to the present—back to good ol’ 1960—and returns to working at the Planet.
And now, get ready for the horrifying kicker.
That’s the Shyamalan-like twist we end on: Clark sees his old secretary Liza Landis “grown enormously fat”, and now he’s thankful he never married her. Because one thing you can always count on is Superman standing up for the ideals of Truth, Justice, and No Fatties.
I could rake Jerry Siegel over the coals for this, but the truth is there was plenty of fat-shaming to go around in DC Silver Age comics. You could probably find about two dozen stories where the whole joke is that the superhero gets fat and breaks every chair in sight. “Fat Superboy” was a plotline of at least three different stories, and there’s even a story where Lois gets fat and Superman complains about how heavy she is while rescuing her. As if a guy who can move actual planets around with his bare hands would even notice some extra pounds.
What’s worse is there’s a good chance poor Liza was just eating her feelings after being humiliated by Clark/Superman and being forced to quit her job. Or did that even happen in this timeline? I also enjoy the subtle nod to the Mad Men-esque sexual harassment going on at the time with Liza ending up married to the station owner and no one finding anything wrong with this.
There you have it; another Silver Age story where you wonder what the point of it was, because actual superheroics were just background noise to support goofy sitcom antics. Superman traveling back in time and somehow taking the place of his past self makes no sense, as does his desire to change his whole life and career. Haven’t we been told repeatedly that Superman disguises himself as a reporter so he can always be on top of breaking news, and be first on the scene whenever crime is happening or someone needs rescuing? Wouldn’t becoming a DJ mean there are countless people he saved in the original timeline who end up dying this time around?
Frankly, I don’t know why the whole time travel angle was even necessary. Couldn’t they have just had Clark quit his job in the present to go become a DJ? It’s almost as it if the time travel shtick was only there to set up a completely unnecessary fat joke at the end.
Okay, next time I do Bizarre Silver Age Comics, I’m going to find a comic that doesn’t involve Superman being a dick. I’m sure it can be done.