The Misadventures of Lois Lane

Recently I posed the question of who is the most spankable girl reporter, and gave an answer that was true to my own particular taste and predilection, but may not have struck everyone as obvious or right. For I was ignoring Miss Lois Lane.

Lois was famously spanked in a 1960 issue of her own comic book, Superman’s Girl Friend Lois Lane, a moment that became so iconic that it was later sampled in advertising,

and also redrawn sixty years on to convey an important contemporary message:

She had been headed in that direction for some time. In 1951, the Superman newspaper strip featured a storyline in which Lois has promised an interview with Superman to a radio show, but has failed to get in touch with him. So she relies on Superman’s predictable response to peril:

As you can see, her plan carries the slight inconvenience, unforeseeable by her, that Clark Kent is in the room with her when she jumps.

Happily, he manages to find a way of saving her without compromising his secret identity, but the outcome does bring Lois close to another kind of peril:

And in 1972, the fashions had changed, but both the situation and Superman’s response remained the same:

But on neither occasion does the intention translate into action. After all, Superman’s relationship with Lois began, back in 1938, with these words:

The point is worth laboring because the early Superman was most definitely a spanker. In 1939, he spanks Princess Tania of Rangoria, who has tried first to seduce and then kill him:

In 1941, he spanks Lil Danvers, who also tried to kill him:

In 1946, he facilitates the spanking of Queen Arda of Suprania, who has tried to force him into marriage:

And that brings us to the case of the spoiled rich girl Olivia Hill in 1947, which has certain features that may strike you as familiar. Olivia wants to marry Superman, and she is a past mistress at getting what she wants. To that end she exerts pressure by letting it be known that, if he doesn’t accept her by nine-o’-clock, she will jump from a skyscraper – banking on the expectation that he will fly to her rescue when she does.

Superman can’t allow her a high-velocity downward encounter with the sidewalk, but has to find a way of averting it that won’t be mistaken for a romantic gesture. His solution entails interposing numerous mattresses to give her a soft landing, albeit also an undignified one:

This riles her:

But what’s especially piquant is her reaction to Superman’s threat of further humiliation: evidently she knows he is going to spank her, but her plea is not to be spared, but for it not to be done in public.

No dice, Olivia!

But its effect is also not quite as intended:

This was the basis of the ‘Lois takes a dive’ incident four years later, with only the spanking payoff sidestepped. So Lois’ action is risky whether she is rescued or not: it looks like she’s headed for either spanking or SPLAT! And she ought to know, because she did meet Olivia later in the 1947 storyline, with memorable consequences:

And back in 1943, she was actually a witness to the spanking of Lily Field for demoralizing the troops in wartime:

So there’s no doubt that Lois knows Superman’s approach to handling feminine misbehavior, meaning she’s lucky to have gotten away with it herself so often. And it’s also apparent that, even without a photograph, Lily’s spanking is going to be a prominent feature in tomorrow’s Daily Planet!

But it is noticeable how little Lois’ spanking-related misadventures so far have to do with her profession. One thing we don’t get in the Golden or Silver Age Lois stories is any version of the classic ‘girl reporter gets into trouble in the course of getting her story’ scenario. For that, we have to wait until 1988 and John Byrne’s story ‘How I Spent My Summer Vacation’. This was part of the World of Metropolis series that provided ‘origin stories’ for the Daily Planet characters, all centered around the enmity between editor Perry White and the paper’s former owner, Superman’s future arch-enemy Lex Luthor.

This particular chapter tells of how the teenage Lois got started as a reporter. After trying to get a job on the Planet, she is told to come back in ten years’ time, but also overhears talk of a dubious business takeover that Luthor is planning. Eager to prove herself by getting a scoop, she breaks into the Lexcorp building:

But she is disturbed as she goes through Luthor’s papers:

Luthor himself catches her as she tries to run:

After a strip-search finds nothing, she is given new clothes and taken to Luthor’s office, where he canes her:

Then she’s thrown out of the building with a sore bottom,

but also the vital evidence hidden in her mouth – which convinces Perry White to give her a job as a reporter. A career is born.

But in the early years of the Lois Lane comic book, which started in 1958, our heroine’s overriding ambition was marital rather than professional. Like Olivia Hill before her, what she wanted was to marry Superman.

But the ongoing narrative of the Superman stories didn’t lend itself to major life changes, so the characters and their relationships always had to end up back where they started, meaning Lois was doomed to perpetual disappointment.

Disappointment was also in store for a certain sector of the readership who pestered the Lois Lane letters page from 1960 to 1962 with a repeated suggestion about a particular development they wanted to see in the Superman/Lois relationship.

‘Lois Lane is constantly, to put it bluntly, messing up things for Superman. I love Lois, but I think she needs to be taught a lesson she won’t forget for a while. The next time Lois fouls up Superman’s plans, why doesn’t he bend her over his knee and give her a super-spanking?’

The editor, Mort Weisinger, replied: ‘Superman is too much of a gentleman to strike a lady.’

This drew a protest from a Superman fan club in Illinois:

‘We like Lois, but she is an awful pest at times. So please have Superman teach her a much-needed lesson and give her a good hard spanking.’

The club had taken a vote (or claimed to have done); 27 boys and 22 girls were for the motion and 2 girls against. All but one of them may, of course, have been imaginary, and Weisinger stuck to his guns:

‘Sorry, but Superman is a gentleman through and through, and would never inflict bodily punishment on a lady, Lois in particular.’

He went on to suggest that Superman might punish her with more ingenuity than a mere spanking.

If at first you don’t succeed:

‘A number of readers have requested that Lois Lane get a good spanking from Superman because of the way she is always trying to pry into his private life and guess the secret of his identity. I agree. She should be treated like any spoiled child who raids the cookie jar too often.’

Weisinger now offered a new and slightly peculiar argument:

‘If the Man of Steel ever spanked Lois, she’d go right through the time barrier from the force of the very first stroke.’

Try, try again:

‘I KNOW he’s a gentleman. But what about a story in which Superman meets up with Red Kryptonite. The effect is that it makes him forget his manners and he gives Lois a super-spanking. Later, when he recovers, he apologises to Lois and she forgives him. So that way Lois will have received her punishment and no one can accuse Superman of not being a gentleman.’

The editorial excuses were starting to wear a little thin:

‘But how could we keep producing further Lois Lane stories when we’d be unable to show her sitting down for at least two months?’

Yet still the letters came and still they found their way into print. What followed was a female reader’s comprehensive attempt to rebut all Weisinger’s different arguments:

‘Although I am a great fan of Lois Lane’s, I disagree with you for not having Superman teach her a lesson for her many impetuous tricks by giving her a spanking. You often state that Superman is a gentleman and would not hurt Lois. Well, my father is every inch a gentleman and he has spanked me several times for being far less mischievous than Lois is. Even if Superman were to use all his ingenuity to punish Lois, it can never be as effective as a good sound spanking. Her problem of sitting down after the punishment can be solved with the use of a soft pillow under her. Please do not refuse my request, for I know many readers like myself would like to see the Man of Steel turn Lois over on his knee and give her the good, old-fashioned spanking she deserves!’

It was to no avail: persistence was met with stonewalling. It looks as if Mort Weisinger, though happy to publish the letters, just didn’t want to include anything as straightforward as the kind of punishment spanking scene that had featured so often in the 1940s Superman newspaper strips. The other major connotation of spanking, as a step on the road of romance, also didn’t fit, because Lois Lane was, in a sense, an ‘anti-romance’ comic book: in contrast with conventional love story titles, the direction of travel is always away from matrimony, so Lois couldn’t be spanked towards a happy life with Superman.

That doesn’t mean Weisinger was averse to spanking as such, because in fact he had already run two rather unconventional scenes, the second of them just one issue before the first of the spanking letters. It was part of an ‘imaginary’ story about what might happen if Lois married Superman and they adopted Supergirl, whose secret identity is the pigtailed brunette orphan Linda Lee. This means that Superman and Supergirl spend a lot of their time out and about doing good works with their superpowers, while non-super Lois has to stay at home with a robot duplicate of Linda Lee to fend off any awkward questions about where the real girl is. But even sophisticated super-robots have been known to require maintenance:

And unfortunately, this is the very moment the orphanage’s inspector chooses to pay a surprise visit:

Which means the adoption is revoked and domestic bliss compromised:

In short, it’s something that looks like a spanking and is duly taken for one by Mrs Clayton, but isn’t really.

The famous spanking, in ‘Three Nights in the Fortress of Solitude’, is more complex still. Lois is granted a visit to Superman’s polar hideaway and wants to show him that it could easily be a Fortress of Marital Contentment rather than of Solitude. So she sneakily engineers a situation where she has to stay there for three nights, secretly writing of the scheme in her diary. She starts the first night on an anti-gravity couch, which mysteriously floats off with her on board, and crashes into a Superman robot:

She is flung off the bed, still wearing only her nightdress, and lands awkwardly:

The ‘thinks’ line is often remembered and quoted as just ‘Superman is punishing me for being a bad girl’, omitting the all-important ‘almost as if’. This is an embarrassing accident that just happens to look (and feel!) like a spanking, complete with the traditional outcome of a mantlepiece meal:

But there’s a further twist later in the story, when Superman reveals that he saw what she wrote in her diary and has been manipulating events in the Fortress to suggest that, contrary to what Lois is trying to prove, it would not be a suitable marital home. In particular, the couch flew around propelled by his super-breath, and as for the malfunctioning robot…

So the accident that only looks like a spanking turns out to actually be a spanking after all!

Lois is a reporter and she is spankable, but arguably she is not a spankable reporter in the strictest sense of the phrase. But the adjective is enough to make her a frequent visitor to Texas Jim’s sometimes sublime collage parodies of DC’s Silver Age.

This includes, on one occasion, a guest appearance by the tentacle monster from Superman’s interplanetary zoo in ‘Three Nights in the Fortress of Solitude’.

And if you think that one element there might not be quite true to the spirit of the originals, check out the predicament of Lois’ rival Lana Lang, and think again:

(That’s Lana as presented by DC, not Jim!)

And all of this sets us up for an interesting reimagining of the Solitude spanking:

Except of course that we all know, thanks to Superman’s X-ray vision in the 1978 Christopher Reeve movie, that in fact Lois Lane wears pink panties!

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