Lois Lane has been around as long as the superhero genre has existed. When Superman debuted in Action Comics #1 in 1938, Lois was there. She reluctantly agreed to go to dinner with her nebbish co-worker, Clark Kent, and then got kidnapped during the meal after she slapped a goon for getting fresh with her. A strongman in blue tights saved her from her captors, but insisted that she not tell anyone about him. Lois didn’t listen. She was keen to move from the lovelorn column of the Daily Star to the front page, and was in her editor’s office the next morning pitching her story.
Ever since that first appearance, Lois Lane has been a fixture in the superhero world. The Daily Star became the Daily Planet, and Lois was soon an ace reporter. She was also a damsel in distress who was head over heels in love with Superman, and by the 1950s she spent most of her time trying to prove that Clark was the Man of Steel. Her Silver Age solo series was a bestseller, but the bulk of her adventures involved patronizing lessons from Superman and romantic shenanigans; the book was titled Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane, after all. While the 1980s relaunch of the Superman line brought back the tough, fearless Lois of Action Comics #1, romance took over her plotlines again and she married Clark in 1996.
The past decade has not been a great showcase for Lois. The focus of her comic book appearances shifted from the Daily Planet to her home life, and she was often sidelined during big events because Superman wanted to protect her. She occasionally got to cover a big story or have a fun adventure with Superman, but spent most of her time in the background. Or dead. Several different storylines involved Lois “dying” in order to emotionally manipulate Superman, and not just in the comics world. The plot of the video game Injustice: Gods Among Us was rooted in the Joker tricking Superman into killing Lois, and for real this time. The New 52 relaunch hasn’t given Lois much more to do. Her marriage disappeared and Wonder Woman took her place as Superman’s lady friend, relegating Lois to sporadic appearances across the Superman line.
While the comic book world hasn’t done a lot with Lois as of late, she’s now jumped to a different medium where she can finally have a starring role. Lois Lane: Fallout is a new young adult novel by Gwenda Bond that follows a young Lois’ high school adventures in Metropolis. Bond is the acclaimed author of The Woken Gods, Girl on a Wire, and more, and specializes in young, tough female protagonists. She’s also a Lois Lane enthusiast, and pursued a journalism degree in part because of her love of the character.
Lois Lane has had successful incarnations in other genres before. Margot Kidder’s big screen Lois is beloved by fans, Teri Hatcher and Erica Durance’s live action television versions of the character are very popular, and many consider Dana Delany’s voicing of the animated Lois Lane to be the best ever take on the character. But all of these adaptations have had Superman at their center. In Lois Lane: Fallout, Lois is the star.
The novel begins with Lois’ first day at her new high school. An Army brat, Lois lived all around the world, and her inquisitive nature got her into trouble at every school she attended. She’s determined to stay under the radar this time, but just five minutes into her first day she ends up in an argument with her principal after he dismissed a student’s bullying concerns. Lois’ fierce sense of justice catches the eye of reporter Perry White, a guest speaker at the school, and he invites Lois to join the Daily Scoop, the Daily Planet‘s online teen section. Before long, Lois launches an investigation of the school’s bullies. With the help of her fellow teen reporters and her mysterious online pal, SmallvilleGuy, Lois fearlessly uncovers a massive scandal involving online gaming, the school’s hierarchy, and military contractors.
Bond’s Lois is a distillation of the most compelling traits of past incarnations of Lois Lane. She’s got the brash ambition of 1938’s Lois, the crusader for truth and justice qualities embodied by Margot Kidder, and the snark and smarts of Dana Delany’s animated Lois. While she may just be a high school student, she’s very much the Lois Lane that fans know and love. The prose format also provides an interesting angle that the comics and films lack. The novel is written in first person, so we can see the contrast between Lois’ focused and brusque exterior and her compassionate and concerned interior. Lois presents herself as a fearless fighter for the truth, but her tough demeanor belies the fact that she’s often in way over her head, using her sense of justice to do what she thinks is right even when she’s not exactly sure how to do so.
Lois Lane: Fallout is rooted in Lois’ comic book history without being overwhelmed by it. Her army brat past and military general father are both regular components of her backstory in the Modern Age of comics, and they inform the character in several ways in the novel. Perry White dates back to the Golden Age, but while his younger, pre-editor self plays an important part in the book, it’s more of a background role. The primary supporting roles go to Lois’ high school friends. The easter eggs are few; there is no bald, Machiavellian student roaming the halls, no John Corben or Lana Lang or Rudy Jones. Instead, Bond populates the school with all new, diverse characters with distinct personalities and backgrounds, giving Lois her own supporting cast rather than relying on Superman’s bit players.
Superman is Lois Lane: Fallout‘s biggest connection to the comic book world, though he has yet to take on the mantle. Like Lois, he’s still a teen, and very cagey about any personal details when he chats online with her as SmallvilleGuy. They met years before in a paranormal forum, where Lois was investigating a teen she saw leap high through the air while driving through Kansas with her family, and Clark was presumably keeping an eye on such reports. As Lois’ investigation grows, SmallvilleGuy is a helpful resource and a key player in how the conclusion unfolds. However, in a reversal of their usual dynamic, Lois drives the action while he chips in when needed.
Throughout Lois’ history, Superman has been the star of the show, even in her own series. The stories followed Superman wherever he went, from fighting villains across the Metropolis sky to the Fortress of Solitude to deep space, while Lois was limited to a very small box. For decades, Lois was primarily confined to Daily Planet storylines, and later to her home after she married Clark. She appeared when she was needed in Superman’s story, and rarely did much else. In Lois Lane: Fallout, SmallvilleGuy is the one at Lois’ beck and call, literally confined to a box. She interacts with him via her laptop when she chooses to; his involvement is dictated by her.
Young adult novels have become known for their focus on female protagonists, with settings ranging from the modern everyday to dystopian futures to fantastical pasts. The leads can be action heroes, princesses, all manner of supernatural creatures, or just a girl facing the problems of contemporary life. Telling stories about young women when female characters are a significant minority across most forms of entertainment is one reason that young adult fiction is a booming and rapidly growing industry right now. The female readership is substantial, and introducing a new Lois Lane into this market is an interesting step for DC Comics.
Superheroes have yet to stake much of a foothold in the young adult market, especially with established characters. Marvel took a shot two years ago with Rogue Touch by Christine Woodward and The She-Hulk Diaries by Marta Acosta. Reviews were mixed, and the line didn’t continue. The novels were polar opposites in terms of approach; Rogue Touch was barely connected to the X-Men and their history, while The She-Hulk Diaries was very much rooted in a deep knowledge of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. Lois Lane: Fallout avoids both of these pitfalls by finding balance in the middle, presenting a new take on Lois that is both tied to her iconic past but not overly dependent upon it.
This is an approach that DC Comics has embraced with many of their female characters in their monthly comic books. After 2011’s New 52 reboot resulted in a uniformly grim and gritty tone across the line, DC began to mix it up with some of their female characters, launching a darkly comedic Harley Quinn series that largely ignored her recent history with the Suicide Squad, and taking a sharp right turn with Batgirl from serious and often macabre to bright and fun. Both books were an instant success, and continue to sell well.
While Lois Lane: Fallout is published by Switch Press, not DC Comics itself, the book’s release is well-timed. In June, DC is set for a mini-relaunch, with two dozen new titles, many of which aim to replicate the success of Harley Quinn and Batgirl. Harley Quinn‘s creative team is launching a spinoff, Harley Quinn and Power Girl, and a new Starfire book that aims to correct her over-sexualized depiction in the early days of the New 52. The upcoming Black Canary spinoff was set up in the pages of Batgirl, and recasts the heroine as the lead singer of a rock group. A teenaged Lois Lane sleuthing out big stories and fighting bad guys fits right in with these bold new directions from DC Comics.
While discussing DC’s upcoming books, co-publisher Jim Lee said, “I think a big part of the June launch was really a recognition that the audience has changed. […] You see a lot more women that are into comics, at comic book shops and conventions.” Courting female fans is now, for the first time in ages, a priority for DC Comics, and their new line-up reflects that. As does their upcoming DC Super Hero Girls initiative, which will focus on new versions of DC’s superheroines aimed at young girls across a variety of platforms beginning in Fall 2015. Lois Lane: Fallout is an innovative and overdue revitalization of Lois Lane, and stands on its own as a stellar YA debut for the character, but it also fits in well with DC Comics’ larger aims. They want to tap into female fandom, and there are few better markets for reaching female readers than young adult novels. Lois Lane: Fallout is poised to serve as a gateway into what should soon be a much more female-friendly line, not just at DC Comics but across DC Entertainment as a whole.
At the same time, fans of the book will have a hard time finding a similarly strong showcase for Lois Lane in DC’s comic line. She’s not part of the mini-relaunch, and hasn’t headlined her own series since 1974. Lois is set to play a part in the upcoming “Truth” crossover but only because she exposes Superman’s secret identity, a development that has many Lois fans already up in arms. Betraying a friend in such a fashion certainly seems uncharacteristic of Lois Lane; in Lois Lane: Fallout, she puts herself in harm’s way and launches a massive investigation to assist someone she’s only just met. Lois usually writes stories to help people, not hurt them. Only villains should fear her front page scoops.