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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Thursday, March 2, 2017

MYTHCOMICS: "LOIS LANE'S SUPER-DAUGHTER" (LOIS LANE #20, 1960)



This story was actually the second in a series of two imaginary "what if Lois married Superman" stories, which ran back to back in issues 19 and 20 of the LOIS LANE magazine. I presume from this that editor Mort Weisinger accepted an initial pitch for both stories, instead of choosing-- as he sometimes did-- to wait awhile to gauge audience interest. There may have been a sequel or two that followed, but these two were produced so as to be read back-to-back.

The first story from #19, "Mr. and Mrs. Clark (Superman) Kent," however, is not as symbolically resonant as the second one from #20, though both stories were written by Jerry Siegel and drawn by Kurt Schaffenberger. "Mr. and Mrs" is not much more than a "beware what you wish for" homily. Superman marries Lois Lane, thus supposedly fulfilling the dream she's cherished since she first met him (at least in Weisinger's universe), finds out her dream isn't all it's cracked up to be, for in public she's simply the wife of the hero's alter ego Clark Kent. The fact that he's Superman is of course kept secret from the populace, so that no one-- especially Lois' longtime rival Lana Lang-- knows that the superhero is off the romantic market. It's a pleasant enough story, but "Lois Lane's Super-Daughter" strikes a deeper chord.

About three years after this story appeared on newstands, Betty Friedan's THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE was published. Building on material the author had gathered during the late 1950s, Friedan sought to make clear that modern American women had become desperately, symtomatically unahppy due to the imposition of a "mystique" upon their lives; one that kept them from fulfilling themselves as rounded human beings. MYSTIQUE was a major influence upon Second-Wave feninism from that time on. But Jerry Siegel's "Super-Daughter" presciently taps into some of the same discontents, though obviously it does so within a juvenile context, and within the context of a continuing superhero melodrama.

A few fans of Silver Age Superman have wondered why, after Superman's cousin Supergirl appeared on Earth in 1958, he didn't "man up" and adopt her in his identity of Clark Kent. I don't think the question was formally addressed in the actual continuity, and I'm sure that the proximate reason the character did not do so was that his editor and writers didn't want him playing Adoptive Daddy in every story. But there was still a kernel of logic in Clark's reticence, for during this time-period social services personnel generally took a dim view of single men or women adopting children of any age. Given this state of affairs, having the teenaged Kryptonian placed in an orphanage to seek adoption by a bonafide married couple-- which eventually does transpire-- doesn't strain my credulity.

What's interesting from the story's beginning is that the moment Clark and Lois are married, Clark springs it upon her that he'd like them to adopt this teenaged cousin that he's never mentioned before.



Lois looks a little bit poleaxed by this revelation, but she's married "for better or worse," and when the adoption agency complains that she might not be able to handle a new child and a job, Lois does what anyone in the period would deem The Right Thing.




Keep in mind that this Lois is not the fire-eater from the Golden Age. Though it would be absurd to assert that the Lois character was thoroughly consistent, since her moods could fluctuate according to the needs of a given story, it is at least part of Weisinger's conception of Lois that she has an irreducible domestic side to her personality. Mort Weisinger may well have been the sort of man whom Betty Friedan criticized for wanting women to become wholly domestic once they became wives. Nevertheless, for the time, the demands of the adoption agency seems not unusual, and the strength of Siegel's story is that one does see certain disadvantages to the world of domestic bliss.

True, there's almost no trace of mother-daughter bonding in the story, except for minor scenes like this one:




But it probably would have been a little beyond Siegel's skill-set to be THAT attuned to the ways of modern women, and besides, the main thrust of the story is all about Lois's discomfort with this perky intruder who's been thrust into her domestic world before the former lady reporter has even had a chance to get used to her new husband. The problem is only aggravated by the fact that both Lois' husband and her de facto daughter belong to a world of super-powered endeavors to which Lois cannot aspire. Here's one of the tandem "super-feats" to which Supergirl alludes on the cover of #20:




Worse by far, though, is that Supergirl's powers make Lois's function in the household irrelevant.




There's an exquisite irony in this setup that I wonder if Betty Friedan could have appreciated, even without the fantasy-content. Lois sacrifices the "exciting life" she enjoyed as a girl reporter, but her reward is to be marginalized within the household that is supposedly her domain. Yet through it all, Lois masks her pain, a veritable Stella Dallas of the comic books, an icon of maternal martrydom. Yet, where Olive Prouty's character accepts her marginalization, Siegel's Lois manages to manifest her hidden hostility in one of the most roundabout ways ever conceived, even in a Mort Weisinger comic book.




Yes, that's right: not only does Lois "just happen" to whale on the backside of a robot who looks just like Supergirl in her secret ID, a snoopy women from the adoption agency literally invades Lois's private home just in time to catch Lois in the act of unleashing her fury at the (first) unwanted intruder. I particularly enjoy how tearful Lois is in the story's final panel, perhaps revealing just a touch of the schadenfreude she may be experiencing from Supergirl's "unhappy ending." Will Lois ever make things up to Superman? Well, maybe or maybe not, but either way, she won't have a fifth wheel getting in the way.

I should note that though a fair number of stories from this time-period contain hints at some sexual stirrings between the two super-cousins-- particularly "Superman's Super-Courtship"-- "Super-Daughter" actually works just as well without any such elements of sexual transgression as it would with it. I could see the story entering new terrain if it were ALSO about a nubile young adoptive daughter nudging out an older wife from the affections of the adoptive father. But mythically speaking, the story works quite as well as a melodramatic-- as well as comical-- look at the marital disadvantages of a former working woman in the era of the Comic-Book Silver Age.

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