In tracking the publication dates of my earliest comics purchases via the Grand Comics Database, I’ve been a little surprised to find a lot of variation in how many (or few) comics I managed to pick up in a given month. I guess the fact that I was an eight year old without a reliable means of regular transport to the nearest Tote-Sum convenience store provides a plausible enough reason — still, I’ve been somewhat bemused to discover that I apparently made only one comics purchase in November, 1965 — and of all the comics on the spinner rack that month, the single comic book that I chose was Lois Lane #62.
Lois Lane is one of those comic book characters that practically everyone knows, but of whom people have widely varying conceptions, based on what version of the character they’ve been exposed to and when. If you line up all the renditions of the character in all media since her introduction in 1938, and look for qualities possessed by all of them, what do you have? Lois Lane is a journalist. Lois Lane knows Superman personally. Lois Lane is… not a blonde. Not a whole lot else, frankly.
The Lois Lane of the mid-’60s has these additional characteristics: She is notably compassionate — in fact, in the very issue I’m blogging about today, she’s shown volunteering as a hospital nurse (yes, you read that right). She is unquestionably gutsy, and determined. But — she’s also remarkably petty, surprisingly shallow in her journalistic priorities (though to be fair, none of her colleagues at the Daily Planet seem much better), and dismayingly quick to believe the worst about her friends — and in the case of Superman, the worst about her supposed boyfriend.
And about that “boyfriend” business — the full, official title of the publication might be Superman’s Girl Friend, Lois Lane, but the relationship depicted therein hardly seems more intimate than that between the Man of Tomorrow and the titular star of Lois Lane‘s companion magazine, Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen. Lois certainly admires Superman (most of the time, anyway), and expresses an interest in marrying him. So does her rival, Lana Lang. But there doesn’t seem to be anything especially passionate about their interest — it’s almost as though they want to marry Superman because he’s well, Superman — the most eligible bachelor in the world. For his part, Superman obviously admires both women (well, most of the time), and values them as friends, but he doesn’t seem seriously interested in a deeper relationship with either of them.
But let’s see how Lois and Superman’s relationship comes across in the comic at hand, shall we? Lois Lane #62 features a single, book-length story (editor Mort Weisinger liked to call such stories “novels”, anticipating the adoption of the term “graphic novel” for longer-than-average comic book stories by a decade or two) — “Lois Lane’s Anti-Superman Campaign!”, written by Leo Dorfman (according to the Grand Comics Database) and illustrated by the quintessential Lois artist of the ’60s, Kurt Schaffenberger. The story begins when Lois’ boss Perry White, the gruff but lovable editor of the Daily Planet, collapses at his desk and has to be rushed to the hospital. It turns out his condition’s not that serious — just an “attack of nerves” — but Perry is directed to take a month’s vacation to rest up, and must choose a temporarily editor to run the Planet in his absence. Lois is certain that she’ll get the job, since “Jimmy [Olsen] is just a kid… and Clark [Kent] is too wishy-washy to be an editor!” Perry, however, has other ideas:
Lois figures she’ll make the best of it, hoping to butter up Clark (who, as she notes, “likes” her) to get the juiciest assignments and other preferential treatment — but when she brings Clark her latest story idea, she’s dismayed by his response:
Remember, it’s the fall of 1965 — meaning that Congress has just passed the Voting Rights Act ensuring equity at the polls for African-Americans, as well as the Social Security Amendments establishing Medicare and Medicaid. The smoke from the Watts riots is still clearing, and the Vietnam War is heating up. But sure, OK, politics is “strictly Dullsville” — at least when compared with the story Lois has pitched: a piece she’s just written about her very own fan club. (Obviously, Lois’s priorities as a journalist are right in line with her boss Perry’s.)
Grudgingly, Lois’s obeys Clark’s directive to hurry over to the headquarters of the “Independent Party”, whose leaders are about to make a special announcement. Lois is startled to find her rival, TV reporter Lana Lang, already there, and even more surprised when the identity of the Independent Party’s candidate for United States Senator is revealed — it’s Superman!
Annoyed by what she perceives as personal snubs, Lois is quick to characterize Superman’s actions as self-serving — an opinion which grows only more certain as the Candidate of Steel goes on to perform stunts such as autographing baseballs at super-speed at a Little League game, and using chemicals to turn himself into a “ball of fire”. Eventually, Lois gets so fed up at what she sees as Superman’s egotistical, conceited behavior that she has the chairwoman of her fan club nominate her as a rival candidate for the Independent Party’s nomination. (Having your own fan club does have its advantages, it seems.) However, at the party’s convention, when the delegates’ votes are counted, Lois comes in a distant second.
A dejected Lois returns to the Daily Planet, only to have Clark send her off to Washington, D.C. to do a feature story about famous senators of the past (with instructions to “tie it into Superman’s campaign”). In this sequence, the stories’ creators finally seem to allow that Congressional service can be about something more than self-aggrandizement, at least sometimes:
After leaving the Capitol building, Lois wanders around the National Mall, daydreaming about what her own achievements as a senator could have been, until she receives a surprise visitor:
Mr. Mxyzptlk is one of Superman’s most enduring major foes, first appearing in 1944. His magical powers seem to be essentially limitless, and Superman has no real defense against them; luckily, in most of his appearances “Mxy” seems content to play a trickster’s role, primarily interested in tormenting Superman rather than in some more serious enterprise, such as conquering the Earth. Also luckily, there’s a built-in way to at least temporarily defeat the imp — tricking him into saying his own name backwards will send him back to his home in the fifth dimension for ninety days. Most Mr. Mxyzptlk stories (at least those published up to the ’80s) turn on how Superman and his allies manage to accomplish this trick.
Lois is well aware of how much havoc Mxy is capable of causing — in fact, she helped send him back home the last time he turned up, in the issue of Lois Lane immediately preceding this one. But she still really, really wants to beat Superman and become senator, so she accepts the imp’s offer to manage her campaign as a write-in candidate. Mxyzptlk proceeds to magically generate skywriting, campaign buttons — even an underground river, so that Lois can take credit for ending Metropolis’ drought when she “discovers” it. Lois begins to rise dramatically in the polls, but Superman’s campaign manger Jimmy Olsen starts to suspect that something’s up. Jimmy investigates, and eventually manages to expose Lois’ alliance with Mxyzptlk — only to have Superman admit that he’s known about it all along, and wants Lois to continue working with the imp.
As Superman reveals to Lois and Jimmy, he first became aware of Mxy’s return to Metropolis some weeks back, and quickly conceived his run for the Senate as a way of distracting the magical pest until he could think of a way to trick him into returning home. Lois, immediately contrite upon learning she’s misjudged Superman, resolves to help, and is in fact the one who ultimately manages to get the fifth-dimensional sorcerer to say “Kltpzyxm” by including the word within a coded message, supposedly from her supporters, that she asks Mxy to help her decipher.
With the imp banished, Lois prepares to formally withdraw from the race, but Clark tells her to wait until the the Planet publishes a story he’s currently writing, which he’s sure will resolve her troubles:
(Gosh, it’s a good thing that somebody finally thought to take a look at the election laws, huh? Lucky that Clark and the Planet were on the job, or things could have really gone embarrassingly for the state.)
So — who gets to be senator? The incumbent, Schlumm, has already bowed out of the race as of some thirteen pages earlier, and … hmm, assuming that Schlumm was either a Democrat or a Republican, it does seem like there should be at least one other candidate still in play, but never mind. No one else is running, so the state’s governor cancels the election (?) and appoints an interim senator to serve until the next (?) election — and it’s our very own Perry White, all rested up and recovered from that nasty attack of nerves! Hooray!!
But — if Perry’s going to be a senator, who’s going to edit the Daily Planet? This time, Perry doesn’t choose Lois, Jimmy, or Clark, instead bringing in a ringer from outside — a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter named Van Benson, who also just happens to be a handsome hunk. The story ends with Lois gazing dreamily into Van’s eyes and thinking, “What a dreamboat! Working for him might be even more fun than being senator! Maybe he can make me forget Superman!” Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how things turned out between Lois and Van, as I didn’t pick up another issue of this series until #67 in June, 1966, and Van was nowhere to be seen by then (which I guess does tell us something about his fate, after all).
Anyway, that’s our story. What sort of impression of Lois are we left with at the conclusion of Lois Lane #62? She’s petty, to be sure, and vain, no question. She doesn’t show a lot of faith shown in her alleged beau, Superman, either. On the other hand, Superman doesn’t come off all that well himself. Why doesn’t he call Lois and his other friends together when he first realizes Mr. Mxyzptlk is back in town, and say, “Hey, gang, I need some help tricking this imp back to the fifth dimension again”? Instead, he concocts an elaborate ruse that requires him to lie to Lois, Jimmy, and everyone else he knows, as well as to yank around the Independent Party and the rest of the state’s electorate. And at the end of it all, it’s Lois who, having finally learned the truth, actually manages to get rid of Mxy, with Superman having little result to show for all his subterfuge.
But this is really par for the course in the Superman comics of the 1960s. Sure, Lois spends a lot of time trying to prove that Superman is really Clark Kent, or conniving to get Superman to marry her. But Superman spends just as much time deceiving and manipulating Lois and his other friends, perhaps with good intentions, but often for reasons as flimsy as those given in Lois Lane #62. It seems that chronic deceit and habitual mistrust are just how things roll for the Superman family of characters in the Mort Weisinger era.
In today’s “main” DC Comics continuity, Lois Lane is not now, nor does she appear to have ever been, romantically involved with either Superman or Clark Kent, and pretty much anything that happened in the books prior to 2011 is irrelevant, save as potential source material for the comics’ current creators. There is, however, one series — Justice League 3001 (formerly Justice League 3000) — which takes place a little less than a thousand years in the future, and whose relationship to the present-day order of things in the DC Universe is rather sketchy. This series centers on genetically engineered duplicates of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and other superheroes, but it also includes a future version of the super-villainous Injustice League, who in this incarnation are led by none other than… Lois Lane!
Which of DC’s various versions of Lois this may be, and what has motivated her to turn to the Dark Side, has yet to be revealed in the comics — but for now, I like to think that this is the Lois Lane of the Weisinger era, who’s thought long and hard about the way Superman treated her for all those years, and has finally decided she’s had enough.
If they’ll only draw her wearing a pillbox hat, just once — that will clinch it.
And now, it’s time for another installment of The Most Intriguing House Ads for Comics I Never Bought.
To me, some of the most fascinating house ads that appeared in the DC comics of the mid-’60s were those for their “80-Page Giants”, thick, squarebound 25-cent comic books that featured material reprinted from years and decades past. Eventually, I’d get around to scraping together enough coins to buy some of these books, but at this point I was just looking at the ads and wondering about these ancient (to my mind) stories.
Regarding this particular ad for Superman #183, I remember being fascinated by how different Mr. Mxyzptlk (a character I was reading about in this very comic!) had looked in his first appearance way back when. And I’m pretty sure that I tried to take the book’s cover copy up on its challenge, asking one or both of my parents if they remembered that particular story from “when they were kids”. Of course, they had no idea what I was talking about. I didn’t know this at the time, but that story came out in 1942, when Dad was in the Army, and Mom was working for the government in Washington, D.C.. They weren’t kids, and comic books didn’t really figure into their personal entertainment choices. Oh, well.
But more than this, what really makes this ad stand out for me is that it’s probably the first inkling I had as a kid that old comic books could be worth considerably more than their cover price. According to the Grand Comics Database, the three stories featured on the cover of Superman #183 originally appeared in Superman #19 (1942) and #30 (1944). Superman #19 would have been the book with supposedly “less than 100 copies… in existence” in 1965, and which was also alleged to bear the astronomical valuation of “$30.00 and up”. (Just for grins, I recently Googled the issue and found a copy graded “Fine” being offered for $1,295.00. I guess times have changed just a little, huh?)
It would take a few more years for me to discover a reliable way to buy back issues through the mail, and to begin spending some of my own limited financial resources on them. As time went on, and my comics collection grew, I inevitably became more conscious of its monetary value, and eventually even learned to appreciate its “investment” aspect as sort of a cool auxiliary feature of my collecting hobby. But the economic factor would never become anything more than a minor, secondary aspect of my enjoyment of buying and collecting comics, which was mostly all about reading them. What my comic books were worth to me, personally, wasn’t something you could easily put a dollar value on. For better or worse, that’s still the way I feel.