WC: SUPERMAN’S GIRL FRIEND LOIS LANE #24

Just as with Jimmy Olsen, whose title we covered here a few weeks ago, so too was Lois Lane popular enough throughout the 1960s to headline a series all her won. This is thinks in no small part, I expect, to the portrayal of actress Noel Neill in the ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN television series, which went into syndication at the end of the 1950s and was broadcast regularly throughout the next three decades. I know that I watched it religiously as a kid. This was one of a number of issues of Lois’ self-titled comic that I got in my Windfall Comics purchase, paying just over three times the cover price for it. Like the rest of the Superman family of titles, it was in a good period when this issue came out. Editor Mort Weisinger had brought a new life and energy to the Man of Steel’s universe, and he slowly crafted a complex mythology around the last Son of Krypton, one that was expansive enough to engage the imagination, yet simple enough and based on such fundamental emotional touch-points that even the youngest readers could understand them. In Mort’s world, Lois was still a globe-trotting reporter, but she was cast a bit more in the image of Lucille Ball, a daffy, lovelorn she-child whose curiosity and meddlesomeness would get her into ridiculous scrapes and situations that her would-be boyfriend Superman would have to get her out of.

As was routine for the Superman books during this period, this issue of LOIS LANE contains three shorter stories. The author of this opening tale remains a mystery–there are a number of candidates who might have been responsible for it–but the artwork was by the always-entertaining Kurt Schaffenberger. Having worked on the original Captain Marvel for the now-defunct Fawcett, Schaffenberger brought eh same light touch and open style to the Man of Steel’s adventures. His depiction of Lois in particular became definitive during this time, and he was occasionally called upon to redo the faces of Lois and her perennial rival Lana Lang in other Superman titles (even those penciled by Curt Swan, who defined the look of the Metropolis Marvel at this same time.) There was always something playful about his work, and this proved to be a double-edged sword over time. While he was excellently cast on stories that were a bit wacky or bizarre and he exceled at exuding a certain playfulness in ihs art, he wasn’t such a good fit when the subject matter of most comic books grew increasingly grim and serious and often joyless.

In this opening story, Lois goes undercover when she learns about a criminal’s plan to smuggle in some kryptonite in order to trap and kill Superman. But her disguised is uncovered and instead she winds up as bait for the Man of Tomorrow. And Superman does fall into the trap–but suddenly, Lois bursts her bonds as though possessing super-powers herself. Superman is astonished by this turn of events, and he confirms that she isn’t Supergirl in disguise, nor that he gave her these powers through a serum or similar means. The answer is convoluted: this isn’t Lois at all, but rather Sylvia, the wife of Van-Zee from the Bottle City of Kandor, who is Lois’ identical twin. Having seen that Lois was in danger, the pait had used an exchange ray to swap out Sylvia for Lois–Van-Zee had used a special ray to give Sylvia super-powers even though she was a regular human being earlier (the ray won’t work on the real Lois’ blood type, fortunately.) And so, the day is saved. Silly and lightweight, but a little mystery that turns upon the details of this larger mythology that Mort and his creators were crafting. This last page contains a bottom strap that notes that the DC books are still 10 cents each–a deliberate jab at rival publisher Dell, who had been the leader in the field until they were forced by economics to raise their prices, and they went up to 15 cents, which killed their sales. The DC books were similarly in for a price increase shortly after this issue went on sale.

Next up was a single page filler humor strip by Henry Boltinoff, the brother of longtime DC editor Murray Boltinoff. henry did hundreds of these filler strips over the years. The bottom third also included another slate of Coming Super-Attractions, the house ads that Mort would create for his various Superman titles. As was typical for these ads, the copy is simple yet provocative–you could see exactly what Mort was selling in each instance: tragedy in SUPERMAN, horror and terror in JIMMY OLSEN, and spectacle in SUPERBOY. Even without much art, these little ads did a great job of whetting the appetites of prospective buyers.

The second story in this issue was also illustrated by Kurt Schaffenberger, and was in fact the subject of the cover illustration. In this instance, we know that it was written by Robert Bernstein, who did a lot of work for both DC and other publishers at this time. (He wrote a number of the earliest Iron Man stories for Marvel, for example.) The story revolves around a television program that mirrors the wave of early reality-based programs such as Candid Camera and This Is Your Life–Mort was always fascinated by such programs, it seems, or else thought their gimmicks would make teh basis for some good stories. In this instance, the show is based on the Art Linkletter movie “People Are Funny”–and the premise is that there’s a Univac computer that can determine a perfect romantic match for any contestant. Lois’s sister Lucy, concerned because of Lois’ obsession with Superman, enters Lois’ name with the show, and she is of course chosen to participate.

The cover makes it appear as though Lois will be matched up with Clark Kent, a situation whose irony would have been recognized by everyone. This is where the story proper takes a twist, though, as Lois’ match isn’t Clark at all, but rather Roger Warner, a sportsman who simply happens to look a lot like Kent. And he’s pretty great–he’s courageous, fit, intelligent, compassionate, and actually interested in her. And so, Lois begins to fall for her new beau. Even Superman approves of this guy. But of course, there’s a catch, and it turns up on the very last page. As Superman darts away at super-speed, his backlash succeeds in blowing Roger’s toupee off–the wealthy adventurer is bald, a crime that outweighs all of his other good qualities. Mortified that Lois now knows his shameful secret (which, let’s face it, she woudl have found out about were they to actually get married), Roger dashes off. Lois mutters that his baldness wouldn’t have mattered to her, though her thoughts follow that up with, “Or would it?” Lois was nothing if not shallow. Baldness was a recurring motif in the Superman titles, beginning of course with Lex Luthor but also turning up in stories such as this one. Mort Weisinger, of course, suffered from male pattern baldness, so what this says about ihs own self-reflection is relatively complex.

Next came the letters page of the issue: Mort had instituted these throughout his titles in the late 1950s, and most of his correspondents were clearly pretty young. Consequently, he pitched his answers at that level, albeit with a streak of nastiness that occasionally surfaced. He also maintained his anonymity behind the generic signature Editor. Again, though, this was another tool through which Mort engaged with his audience and found out more about what kinds of stories they wanted to read.

There’s also this great full-page ad for one of the SHOWCASE try-out appearances of Aquaman, a character that Mort himself had originated almost twenty years before. He’d hung on through the super hero downturn of the 1950s, becoming one of teh very few to be in continuous publication during that time. But he was a perennial back-pager, his stories limited to only a few short pages. Going book-length in SHOWCASE represented, if you will, a sea change for the character, and he earned his own regular title shortly thereafter. Being featured regularly in JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA no doubt helped with tis as well.

The final story in this issue was also written by Robert Bernstein, but this one was drawn by John Forte, who did a bunch of work throughout Mort’s office over the years. His work was competent but a bit stiff and lifeless, and I’ll admit I’ve never truly warmed to it. He would go on to do a long stretch of the earliest stories to feature the Legion of Super-Heroes in ADVENTURE COMICS–not a great fit for that futuristic series, but he rendered it in a straightforward manner. In this adventure, editor Perry White sends Lois off to the nation of Pahla, where a revolution is brewing (one wonders whether Perry was simply trying to get rid of his pain-in-the-neck reporter once and for all.) It’s a pretty racist story when you come right down to it–while the Pahlans are depicted with only slightly darker skin, they’re also shown to be a bit backwards and barbaric. They’re coded as being a Muslim nation, though the word is never itself said out loud. It’s the sort of treatment that was typical at the time.

While Lois is there incognito, there is an assassination attempt on the King, and Lois is eventually suspected as the would-be killer. The central portion of the story is a series of cat-and-mouse games as Lois attempts to elude the authorities who are convinced she did the crime. And indeed, the evidence all seems to point to her: the attempted murderer had her same voice and fingerprints. Eventually, Lois is captured, and has no way of proving her innocence. But she’s able to send a last cable to Clark Kent before her execution, which results in Superman showing up just in time to save her life. And in a parallel to the People Are Whacky story, the killer turns out to be a Bizarro Lois Lane–but one that speaks normally, and so was exiled from teh Bizarro planet. She attempted to kill the king in order to attract Superman’s attention, as like the real Lois, she is in love with him. Not the best thought out plan in the world, but hey, what do you want from a Bizarro? brought face to face with the true Lois, Bizarro Lois realizes just how hideous her own features are, and she steps backwards off of the cliff to her death (there’s a convenient kryptonite meteor at the bottom of the drop preventing Superman from saving her–the sort of abstract coincidence that these stories reveled in.)

2 thoughts on “WC: SUPERMAN’S GIRL FRIEND LOIS LANE #24

  1. Tom, after reading about 10 of your posts in a row, I IMPLORE you. Turn on spellcheck. In particular please do something about the constant use of “teh” in place of “the”. Please.

    Like

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